By Our Editors
The dynamics of democracy and, in particular, the intricate process of choosing the political actors who help to define it, will continue to remain in the front burner of public discourse. Recently, a shade of political opinion joined the fray when it asserted that staggered elections have tended to be sluggish if not cumbersome and expensive.
This school of thought suggests that all elections, from the Presidential to the House of Assembly, could be held in one day at a tolerable cost. This is coming as the National Assembly commences debate on the envisaged amendment to the Electoral Act intended to fine tune the legal framework that is the backbone of the entire process.
Spear-heading this debate is a group of political actors under the auspices of Inter-party Advisory Council (IPAC). This body that draws its membership from most of the registered political parties strongly believe that elections in one day is not only feasible but also doable in line with perceived international best practices.
It also claims that if adopted, a unified election schedule will address what it considered as unnecessary challenge of huge spending and the needless grounding of businesses during multiple elections.
Furthermore, in their opinion, it will have the advantage of eliminating the bandwagon effect of the party in power as well as tame the desperation by politicians to manipulate the polls.
As a newspaper, we consider this argument persuasive but not without its own flaws. Even worse, it begs the real issues. We are compelled to accept without conceding that staggered elections are wasteful, economically disruptive and exposes the polity to avoidable stress and pressures as virtually national life literally comes to a standstill. And to that extent, undesirable.
Before now, experts have tried to point out that the habit of shutting down the socio-economic life of the nation to avert certain untoward behaviour of politicians and their hangers-on as well as to attain the chimerical free and fair election is unhelpful and makes democracy in this clime appear unattractive.
They also point out that in spite of those preventive measures, the country still ends up with a process punctured by violence, disputations and endless litigations that question the integrity of the entire electoral process and the effort that went into organising it.
On the basis of this, one may be tempted to buy the position of this political group. However, in our considered opinion, elections in one day, if adopted as an option, will certainly compound the observed challenges.
We note that in developed democracies, active political parties are very few indeed. But in the case of Nigeria, the parties are in multiples including those that hold no prospects whatever but must nevertheless be accommodated in the arrangement as provided for in the constitution and other extant laws.
It is pertinent to emphasise that in all cases, not just in Nigeria, the conduct of elections is tasking and capital intensive. This reality derives from the inexorable need to ensure that the system, defined as participatory, is seen to be so in words and in deed. That is to say, that the people, the electorate, the ultimate custodian of democratic power, are given an unrestrained opportunity to exercise their franchise without let or hindrance.
The average politically exposed persons in Nigeria, usually inordinately ambitious, incurably optimistic, perceptibly rambunctious, lacking in sportsmanship and richly endowed in brinkmanship often insist on exercising their rights as they see them regardless of the cost. The political class see their participation in politics as an investment which must not be allowed to go waste hence the desperation that the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in an attempt to curtail, expand their budget.
INEC, therefore, in the preparation of the same budget, makes provision for pre and post- election litigations which involve heavy legal fees. When an election is postponed or cancelled outright what it means is that a chunk of its budget has been wasted and must have to be replenished. In preparing for the conduct of elections, the budget for security is heavy. Often, some of the election materials are procured outside the country not because they are not available locally but as part of the commitment to ensure that there is no manipulation. This adds immensely to the cost of the elections. These are the issues that stretch resources beyond elastic limits. Not whether they are held in one month or in one day.
In our view, the infelicities in the electoral process as pointed out by IPAC can be effectively controlled if politicians accept that losing is also part of the electoral contest that, under normal circumstances, should attract statesmen not political jobbers who want public office and the power it attracts just for the heck of it.