Urhobo Historical Society

The Way Forward
By The Patriots

Text of a Statement Issued by the Body of Elder Statesmen, in Lagos, May 22 2003, on the Nigerian 2003 General Elections

HE Patriots are greatly perturbed by the grave situation arising from the April/May 2003 general elections and the results declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). We have at three separate meetings reviewed the said results and the processes by which they were obtained together with the serious threat they pose to peace, order and stability in the country and are concerned to find ways of averting it.

We have had the benefit of a useful exchange of views on the matter with the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) at a meeting held at their instance, and are impressed by the expressed desire for a peaceful resolution of the crisis in a way that will preserve the country's fledgling democracy. We have also made effort to hold discussion with the ruling party (the People's Democratic Party) but although we have not received any response from that party, we have no reason to doubt that that party is also in favour of a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

We consider unfortunate and regrettable the Federal Government and INEC's condemnation of the International Election Observer Teams for castigating the cases of electoral irregularities and malpractices which they observed. We are very unhappy at the insulting imputation of bad motives against members of the Teams who have obviously come to Nigeria to give independent testimony on the quality and transparency of our general elections. In our view, the opinion expressed by the International Election Observer Teams clearly show that the very serious allegations made by the CNPP cannot simply be brushed under the carpet. Nor is it a satisfactory solution to the crisis to say that anyone not satisfied with the conduct of the elections should go to the Tribunal. Anyone who is knowledgeable about procedure before the Tribunals will readily agree that there is a limit to which the machinery of the Tribunals can cope with massive riggings at gubernatorial or presidential elections, which The Patriots unhesitatingly condemn.

The Patriots have also taken note of the prayers submitted by the CNPP to the National Assembly, and would like the Assembly to consider those prayers very carefully and decide as it may think fit.

We take note of the fact that the CNPP and the International Election Observer Teams strongly condemn the massive rigging through various irregularities and malpractices, which characterised the April/May 2003 General Elections, especially the dumping of ballot boxes stuffed with ballot papers, thumb-printed in places outside the polling centres and numerous other electoral malpractices.

We are firmly convinced that it is wholly unacceptable to allow the results obtained by means of these well-attested electoral malpractices described by the CNPP and also the International Election Observer Teams to stand. To allow it to stand will subvert the democratic form of government instituted by the Constitution and, worse still, would entrench election rigging as a permanent feature of the Nigerian polity. Democracy would have been irretrievably stultified, together with the legitimacy, which democratic elections confer upon government; the obligation which the fear of defeat at an election imposes on government not to neglect the welfare of the people; the role of elections as the people's ultimate and most effective weapon for enforcing a government's responsibility and accountability to the people; the character of elections as a free competition in which all the contestants can equally aspire to win; the role of free elections in insuring against the emergency of a one-party state, with all its dangers and against the risk of violence, with a possible breakdown of law and order, attendant upon massive election rigging.

We call upon all members of the National Assembly to rise up to the occasion and demonstrate the qualities of leadership and responsibility, which the entire nation expects of them at this hour. In particular, what has happened should not be seized upon and used as something to score a political point against any political opponent. Rather, they should seriously consider the situation in which our nation finds itself at this hour and, in the light of representations made to it, decide on measures, which will resolve the crisis and enable the Nigerian Nation to move forward.

The proposal by CNPP, Ohaeneze and others for the setting up of an Interim or Transitional Government of National Unity is worth very serious consideration. Furthermore, the idea must be put into effect on the following conditions:

It should be composed of persons nominated by the political parties and other interest groups and should be headed by President Olusegun Obasanjo (by the present incumbent Governors in the states), not by virtue of his disputed victory in the April 2003 presidential election, but rather in recognition of his being the person currently holding the reins of power in the country.

We recognise that the idea of an Interim Government of National Unity is not free of inherent, though not insurmountable, difficulties, e.g., the problem of how and by whom, legislative power is to be exercised during the interim period. In case the idea is not acceptable for this or any other reason or is otherwise considered unfeasible or impracticable, we would like to revert to our earlier proposal of an immediate amendment to the Constitution to limit the President and the State Governors to a single, non-renewable term of five years, the amendment to take effect from 1999. We believe that, with the agreement and co-operation of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and the other political parties, the amendment process can be completed before May 29, 2003. During the additional one-year allowed to the present incumbent President, the specific tasks mentioned in paragraph 8 above must be taken in hand and accomplished.

We end this statement by appealing to all political leaders in the country to avoid any action capable of destabilising the nation. In particular all political leaders should resolve to maintain their determination that Nigeria does not welcome any intervention by the Military in the government of this nation. However serious any political crisis may be, our political leaders have the capacity to resolve it without the armed intervention of our Military.