President of Liberia, George Weah last Friday conceded defeat to opposition leader Joseph Boakai after a tight presidential race.
President Weah showed that he was indeed a Liberian patriot when he broke the tension in Liberia by acting in this exemplary statesman-like manner. By taking this step in following the footsteps of former President Goodluck of Nigeria, President Weah has earned the respect of all Africans.
According to Liberia’s Electoral Commission, Boakai, 78, a former vice president who lost to Weah in the 2017 election, led with 50.9% of the vote over Weah’s 49.1%, with nearly all the votes counted. With a vote margin of less than 2% and to save Liberia the cost and trauma of a rerun, President Weah truly acted presidentially when he announced his concession. By Liberia’s laws, he was entitled to a rerun but he chose the route of the statesman. Indeed, this column commends him and wishes him well.
Breaking The Norm
His concession stands out and breaks the norm in West and Central Africa where the shoddy conduct of elections has eroded public faith in democracy resulting in eight military coups in the last three years. The norm in elections in the region has been less than salutary. Most elections tend to be brazenly rigged against the will of the people. Most elections in the region are marred by official fraud and accusations of fraud with results frequently contested acrimoniously in the courts.
In the West Africa sub region, a region where political transitions are often marred by disputes, legal battles, and a reluctance to concede defeat, Liberia’s President George Weah has set a commendable precedent by gracefully conceding the election to opposition leader Joseph Boakai. Of course, he was not the first to set such an example in West Africa. Former President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria set an unprecedented example for greedy politicians in Africa when he conceded defeat to the opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, in the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria, while the votes were still being counted. The enormous respect that Jonathan enjoys and commands all over the world today is largely as a result of that statesmanlike concession of defeat in 2015. That concession of his saved many lives in this country. Imagine the chaos and civic situation that would have enveloped this country if he had done otherwise in 2015.
Sadly, because the electoral process has steadily deteriorated since 2015, that example by Jonathan is not being followed by his countrymen in the political space. Recent elections are being more brazenly rigged despite the many promises of INEC and the many billions allocated to INEC to conduct free and fair elections. This failure of INEC to conduct elections that are acceptable to the generality of the people is the major reason why after eight years of Jonathan’s historic concession of defeat, his gesture had remained an oasis in Nigeria’s electoral desert. What Nigerian politicians failed to learn from Jonathan courtesy of INEC’s shortcomings, Weah has obviously learned.
President Weah’s decision to accept defeat and honour the democratic process is particularly noteworthy when contrasted with the prevailing trend in West African countries, including Nigeria, where electoral outcomes are frequently contested in court rather than be conceded graciously. In Nigeria the conduct of elections by this Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) left much to be desired and it would be clearly unfair to condemn “losers” for not congratulating “winners.”
For instance, the presidential candidates of the opposition parties, Peter Obi of the Labour Party and Atiku Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) strongly believe the presidential election was rigged in favour of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Even the last off-season governorship elections in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi states did not witness any of the major losers conceding defeat for the fact that they were many obvious instances of vote padding and vote under counting.
The Rigging Conundrum: A Barrier To Concession
The reluctance to accept defeat in this region is often attributed to the widespread perception of election rigging. In West African countries especially in Nigeria, elections are sometimes marred by irregularities, manipulation, and allegations of rigging. This lack of transparency in the electoral process makes concession of defeat a challenging proposition for many politicians. When elections are perceived as neither free nor fair, conceding defeat may be viewed as an endorsement of a flawed system rather than an acknowledgment of a legitimate outcome. To foster a culture of concession and promote genuine democracy in West Africa, including Nigeria, several crucial steps must be taken to ensure that elections are free, fair, and transparent. If we want to build a culture of concession of defeat in West Africa in general and Nigeria in particular, the elections must become more transparent. How can contestants concede defeat when the processes are marred by underhand dealings, vote buying and vote suppression? However, when the capacity, independence, and transparency of electoral bodies are enhanced and made impartial, contestants and political parties will be more than willing to accept defeats. Electoral commissions must be fortified with humans of integrity and impartiality required to conduct elections impartially and efficiently, unlike now when known partisan persons are appointed to high offices at INEC. Voter education is crucial in this endeavor but the training of INEC officials in civics is even more important. A situation where election officials see election season as “juicy” cannot allow elections to be free and fair. It is such mindset that leads to victory of the highest bidder.
Furthermore, the security agencies need to owe allegiance to the constitution rather than to the government in power. Many of the infractions that happen during elections cannot happen without the collusion of law enforcement officials. In recent past, the police have been implicated in ballot box snatching, voter intimidation and even violence against voters. Even on the matter of technology, no matter the type used, once the humans who run such applications are bribed, the system will collapse. We have seen that severally, so technology is not the solution. The solution to our election blues rests squarely in getting the right people to run INEC. Prompt and transparent election results must be prioritized if we want sustainable acceptance of defeat after elections.
President George Weah’s gracious concession in Liberia serves as a beacon of hope for the West African region. It underscores the importance of leaders prioritizing the well-being of their nations over personal interests and ego. By addressing the root causes of electoral mistrust and implementing reforms that ensure free and fair elections, West African countries, including Nigeria, can pave the way for a democratic future where losers can graciously congratulate winners, confident in the legitimacy of the electoral process. The time is ripe for the region to embrace these changes and foster a political environment where the will of the people prevails, and democracy flourishes. In conclusion this column awards President Weah with its first ever Badge of Honour. May they be more politicians and presidents like him. So be it!
Eroding Public Confidence In Judiciary
One of the ways that the judiciary can maintain public confidence is by ensuring that court judgements are not only rational but must be seen to be so. After all, judgements are based on clearly written laws, as such, they are open to public scrutiny and discussion. An emerging scenario where court judgements are discordant leaves much to be desired. This discordance creates confusion in a system based on precedence. Anarchy often results in societies where the judiciary ceases to be blind.
MAY NIGERIA REBOUND