Nigeria operates plutocracy not democracy, says Falana

Ogunsakin Mustapha
11 Min Read
Femi Falana SAN

Human rights lawyer Femi Falana, SAN has stated that “plutocracy has replaced democracy in Nigeria”, the effect of which is that “people have lost confidence in the democratic process.”

According to Falana, “out of the 93 million voters that were registered, only 22 million voted in the presidential election.”

Falana stated this yesterday in a keynote address titled ‘General Elections in Nigeria 2023: A Review of the Nation’s Political Culture and Electoral Integrity’ and delivered yesterday at the 2023 Law Week Programme of the Nigerian Bar Association, Benin Branch, held in Benin City, Edo State.

Falana urged the NBA to put pressure on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to “address the problems of late arrival of INEC officials and ballot materials at the polling stations, malfunctioning BVAS machines, and limited or non-transmission of the results from the polling units to Results Viewing Portal (IReV).”

The paper, read in part: “INEC must also address insecurity at some polling units, including violent attacks on voters and officials, voter intimidation, snatching and destruction of voting materials, significant cases of vote-buying, and limited access facilities for persons living with disabilities.”

“The Benin branch of the NBA should prevail on the national body of lawyers to convoke a national summit to review the 2023 general elections as soon as the curtain is drawn on the election petitions by the various election petition tribunals, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.”

“The NBA should ensure that the summit is attended by the representatives of all relevant stakeholders. At the end of the programme, the NBA should collaborate with the judiciary committees of both houses of the national assembly in drafting amendments to the Constitution and the Electoral Act with a view to institutionalising credible elections in Nigeria.”

“All mass-based organisations must mobilise the Nigerian people to take their political destiny in their hands by participating in the democratic process.”

“Even though we cannot comment on the petitions that are pending in the Court of Appeal and the various election petition tribunals due to ethical restrictions, we are not precluded from reviewing the recent decisions of the apex court that have redefined the nation’s electoral jurisprudence.”

“The NBA must defend the democracy and human rights of the Nigerian people which have been recognised and enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] and in several human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.”

“By virtue of section 14(1) and (2) of the Constitution, the federal republic of Nigeria shall be country based on the principles of democracy and social justice.”

“Accordingly, sovereignty belongs to the people from whom government through the Constitution shall derive all its powers and authority, the security of the people shall be the primary purpose of government, and the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.”

“It may be said that the provisions of section 14 of the Constitution pertain to mere political objectives which are not justiciable it is submitted that the democratic rights of the Nigerian people are enforceable by article 13(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which provides that ‘every citizen shall have the right to participate in the government of their country, either directly or indirectly or through chosen representatives in accordance with the provisions of the law.’”

“But contrary to the Constitution and the African Charter which provide for popular democracy the members of the political class have monetized the democratic process in Nigeria.”

“During the 2022 party primaries, the APC and PDP decided to restrict participation by imposing nominations which majority of party members cannot afford. For instance the nomination fee paid by every aspirant in the presidential primary of the APC was N100 million while the sum of N40 million was collected from each presidential aspirant by the PDP.”

“And at the venue of the conventions of both parties held at Abuja last year, delegates were bribed with millions of dollars by many of the aspirants. The campaigns and the elections gulped billions of Naira and millions of dollars. In spite of the threats of the anti-graft agencies to end the monetization of the elections, the purchasers operated in an atmosphere of impunity.”

“With the total control of the political arena by money bags, democracy has since been replaced by plutocracy. As if that was not enough, armed thugs unleashed violence on voters who did not vote for certain political leaders.”

“The violence that marred the elections in many parts of the country claimed the lives of 137 people. The electioneering campaign was not based on the socioeconomic problems confronting the people but on religion and ethnicity. Instead of expanding the democratic space the national assembly members empowered INEC to deregister political parties that fail to win any seat in the parliament.”

“Having hijacked the democratic process the members of the ruling class have completely excluded majority of the people from the democratic process.”

“Since the ruling class will not peacefully relinquish power to the people it is suggested that mass-based organisations be mobilized to participate in politics. It is the only way to end the highly expensive and violent winner-take-all presidential system which has made a mockery of democracy in Nigeria.”

“It is however worthy to note that the use of BVAS machines eliminated the inflation of votes. Hence, many politicians lost their elections. In particular, many sitting senators lost their seats while some governors failed to win senatorial elections.”

“Even though the democratic exercise took place between February and March 2023 amidst challenges the legal battle to confirm the actual winners of the elections may not be determined until early next year. The reason is that the elections have shifted from the polling booths to the courts.”

“It is submitted that notwithstanding the shortcomings that characterised the 2023 general elections, the partial deployment of technology by INEC was responsible for the reduction in the number of election petitions filed by aggrieved contestants.”

“The National Assembly and state electoral bodies must ensure full deployment of technology in the conduct of national and local elections in Nigeria.”

“In 2022, general elections were conducted by electoral bodies in three African countries namely Angola, Kenya, and Nigeria.”

“The petitions filed against the results of the presidential elections declared by the election management bodies in Angola and Kenya were determined within 14 days by the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court, respectively.”

“But in the case of Nigeria, the results of the presidential and legislative elections will be confirmed after 8 months while the results of the governorship elections will be confirmed after 10 months.”

“At the end of the 2023 general elections, INEC declared the winners and gave certificates of return to them.”

“But in spite of the shortcomings that characterised the general election, the election petitions filed in the various election petition tribunals and the Court of Appeal are 436.”

“It is curious to note that it is the lowest number of election petitions filed against elections conducted in Nigeria since 2007!”

“As the results of the elections have been questioned by many aggrieved parties the courts are required by the Constitution and the Electoral Act to determine the final results of the democratic exercise.”

“Because the courts had resorted to technicalities in a number of political cases in the recent past and thereby awarded victories to those who never won elections the judiciary is in the eye of the storm.”

“In recognition of the dilemma in which the judiciary has found itself the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Honourable Justice Olukayode Ariwoola has warned tribunal judges to shun money and technicalities in deciding the ongoing election disputes.”

“Since INEC does not have the capacity to prosecute electoral offenders, the NBA has offered to mobilise lawyers to carry out the prosecution of the suspected electoral offenders who were arrested during the last elections. From the information at my disposal, the names of the prosecutors have been compiled for the prosecution. In fact, the prosecution will commence any moment from now.”

“It is on record that the political parties and leaders that have accused the Independent National Electoral Commission of mismanaging the 2023 general elections performed worse in conducting primary elections of the majority of political parties.”

“It is common knowledge that all the so called party chieftains engaged in the imposition of candidates. Hence, a total of 1,878 pre-election cases were filed in 2022 whereas 370 pre-election cases were recorded in 2019.”

“While 436 post-election petitions have been filed in respect of the 2023 general elections, 807 post-election cases were filed in 2019″.

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