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07.01.2009 Feature Article

Where were the fixers in Ghana?

Where were the fixers in Ghana?
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There were moments of extreme anxiety last week, when it appeared as if Ghana had careered towards the vicinity of Nigeria's notorious reputation for acrimonious and bungled elections.

Considering the severe battering they had received, officials of Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would be forgiven if they were already sneering at their Ghanaian counterparts when news broke that the equanimity and maturity that benchmarked Ghana's general elections on December 7, had begun to give way to a cut-throat contest to secure the presidency.

Ghana had been the toast of all with the exemplary conduct of its general elections on December 7, last year. But the presidential ballot was inconclusive, and a run-off was rescheduled for December 28. As close and intense as the first round of voting three weeks earlier, the presidential run-off was a cliff-hanger.

But the flurry of untoward events as the final results emerged left many wondering whether the encomiums showered on the country in the immediate aftermath of December 7 were not misplaced.

The presidential run-off threatened to unravel Ghana's reputation. Officials of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) went to court, on New Year's Day, to secure an injunction forbidding the declaration of the final results of the election by the Electoral Commission of Ghana.

The court sat on that day, but rather than grant the NPP ex-parte prayer, it directed the applicant to put all other parties on notice by way of service.

The NPP also boycotted voting in the Tain constituency, where it had hoped to reverse its overall losing streak, and overtake the candidate of the opposition New Democratic Congress (NDC). Violence had flared in a few places.

Politicians from either side had also ratcheted up the political temperature by levelling allegations of rigging against each other. Combined with the court action and the boycott, the mix was taking on a familiar colouration of election Nigeriana.

Yet, in pulling back from the brink, Ghana has important lessons for Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Kenya, where elections are a do-or-die affair. Today, Professor John Evans Atta-Mills, the opposition NDC candidate, is being sworn in as President of the Republic of Ghana.

The transition catapults his immediate predecessor, John Kuffour, to a pedigree of statesmanship so thoroughly lacking these days on the African continent. While his party men were seeking to stop the announcement of the final results, Kuffour urged caution and restraint. His followers listened, and the party's candidate, the urbane ex-Foreign Minister Dr Nana Akufo-Addo conceded defeat.

Clearly, if Kuffour and his ruling NPP wanted power at all costs, the court action would have landed them in a June 12 situation - with the results in suspended animation, precipitating a constitutional crisis and social upheaval.

Two days before he was due to handover, aware that all was well with his country's constitutional democracy, John Kuffour suggested a redrafting of the clause on the length of term of office for a President. It should be five, rather than four, years with no more than two terms, he suggested.

The reason, according to him, being the necessity of sufficient time to follow through with projects. Kuffour did not make the proposal selfishly, knowing that he would not be qualified to run again. He respected his country's constitution, and today he steps down. It is worth reiterating that some other African leader would have courted and stoked chaos, in order to continue to rule and ruin.

Sweeping generalisations aside, it is fairly certain that what happened in Ghana in the past one month is unthinkable in Nigeria - whether of 2007; or of today.

In the first round of voting, the ruling party's candidate won, although he fell short of the constitutional requirement of scoring at least 50 per cent of valid votes cast. Dr. Akufo-Addo scored 4,159,439, or 49.13 per cent. On the other hand, Atta-Mills had 4,056,634, that is, 47.92 per cent.

Wouldn't the fixers of Nigeria's elections have overwhelmed INEC to simply "award" 50 per cent to Akufo-Addo, since 49.13 is nearer 50, than 47.92? The fixers of Nigeria's notorious elections would have rationalized the step in a number of ways: it would cost more money to arrange a run-off; since "our" candidate already has the majority votes, it is obvious that it is he who is wanted by the voters, otherwise they would have voted for the opposition; and, you see, the handover date is so close, we have to worry about the transition exercise; and, in any event, what is the value of incumbency if it cannot return a successor?

"We want continuity," the fixers would have retorted, and proceeded to alter the results in favour of the NPP candidate. To achieve that objective, the fixers would have needed to create more havoc. In the December 7 elections, the opposition won more seats in parliament.

That majority in parliament would have been consequentially cancelled and realigned in favour of the ruling party, so that a hostile parliament does not badger the President, once in office. That is the ideology of the political fixers in Nigeria. They are purveyors of arbitrariness and manipulators of the will of the electorate.

Political fixers have done far more incalculable harm to our country than we even acknowledge. In truth, elections in Nigeria do not represent voter preferences. Instead, it is the will of a cabal of fixers that is often imposed on the people; and the country's present standing is proof enough of the counter-productive effect of the far-reaching menace of political fixers. But, of course, in a country where anything goes, political fixers, the real kingpins of election robbers, are feted and courted for their subversive capacity.

It should be interesting to read the opinions, by way of interviews, of some of Nigeria's well-known political fixers on the Ghanaian poll and what lessons it holds for Nigeria. Unless and until we recognize, and deal decisively with political fixers, as formidable enemies of Nigeria's democracy, we are bound to endure the woes of frustrated hopes, such as happened with the April 2007 general elections.

The fixers could not have had a job in Ghana, because the system is intolerant of their ilk. And the evidence shows in the outcome of the presidential run-off elections. It is amazing to most Nigerians, who are so used to the capricious manipulation of election results, that an opposition candidate has performed such a feat in Ghana. The statistics of the run-off are interesting.

Unlike the first round of voting, Atta-Mills of the NDC scored 4,521,032 or 50.23 per cent, while Akufo-Addo of the ruling NPP scored 4,480,446 (i.e. 49.77 per cent). Atta-Mills had a better national spread of votes, winning more than 50 per cent in eight of the country's 10 regions. It was only in the Ashanti and Eastern Regions that Akufo-Addo scored more than 50 per cent.

It is fairly easy to predict that chaos would have been the natural consequence if political fixers subverted the wishes of Ghanaian voters. To show how enthusiastic Ghanaians were about the elections, the percentage turnout of voters in the first ballot on December 7 was 69.52 per cent.

In the run-off, the voter turnout hit a high mark of 72.9 per cent. Interestingly, whereas invalid votes by way of rejected votes were 2.4 per cent of the votes cast on December 7, that figure came down dramatically to only 1(one) per cent of the votes cast in the run-off, with the Upper West region recording the highest invalid votes of 2.1 per cent. Now, these and related statistics are useful for analyses, because the figures are genuine.

Can we say the same of the election figures that are so whimsically concocted and awarded by political fixers and their confederates in INEC?

Nigerians are generally enamoured of good examples, especially when such examples are from outside our shores. But because of our impatience, we often pay scant attention to the creative processes that produced the good examples we readily cite. Ghana has now conducted its fifth successive general elections since 1992, with a high approval rating from observers and participants alike.

Yet, it has taken that country and its relevant institutions a lot of hard work, harsh lessons from mistakes, and unflinching determination for consistent improvement. Ghana's 1992 presidential and parliamentary elections were undermined by disputes over ballot-stuffing and result manipulation.

By 1995, the country's electoral commission undertook the compilation of a credible voters register. In our case, Nigerians will recall that in 2006 when INEC embarked on a new voter registration exercise, data-capturing machines were found in the private residence of the then henchman of Ibadan politics, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, even though his house was not a registration centre.

Ghana's electoral commission also embarked on a number of other confidence-building measures. The commission has put to good use a crucial feature of Option A4, whereby vote counting and declaration of authenticated results take place at voting centres and are then collated upwards, with a tracker for integrity.

In 1996, the electoral commission introduced the use of transparent ballot boxes. In the same year, political parties were represented at the printing houses where the ballot papers for the general elections were printed. Can we see how Ghana has left us behind? In the April 2007 elections, INEC was running from pillar to post, at home and more especially abroad, to print ballot papers that were not even serialized and therefore prone to use for fraud. So embarrassing was INEC's performance, it is alleged that some of the ballot papers for the presidential election of April 21, 2007 arrived after voting - by which time the fixers had secured victory for the ruling People's Democratic Party.

By Kingsley Osadolor, The Guardian, Nigeria

Kingsley Osadolor
Kingsley Osadolor, © 2009

The author has 1 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: KingsleyOsadolor

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