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Opinions of Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Columnist: Rashid Abdulai

5 Things Ghana can learn from Nigeria’s 2015 elections

It was February 7, 2015. We woke up to a cold harmattan Saturday morning greeted by a shocking press conference by the INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jaga. The rumours had been confirmed. The election has been postponed by six weeks. Yes, six week.

To the government news outlets, it was a decision by the military to intensify an onslaught on Boko Haram, the terrorist islamist group in the Northeast of Nigeria. To the most general public, the incumbent was buying time to position themselves better for the elections. To be seen serious with the war against terror in the north east. To die-hard supporter of the opposition All People’s Congress (APC), the breaking point had finally come. Postponing the elections simply means declaration of war.

There was no war. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was in full control and demonstrated no fear nor favour to any political group but total commitment to the electoral process. With this line clearly drawn, nerves were calmed. The sudden postponement of the election created a situation perfectly reminiscent of the 2014 Champion League Final in Lisbon when Real Madrid was trailing Atletico by a lone goal until and late injury time equalizer forced the game into extra 30 minutes. In both cases, the perceived fairness of the referee was decisive to avoid the spell of doom. In spite of the twists and turns, the Nigeria election was conducted with remarkable peace and fairness. Arguably, lot fairer than the 2016 US elections that could not declare results from some areas until after a whole month and still marred by allegation of mass rigging by quarters of both the winner and the loser parties.

Turning the compass a little further to the West Coast of Africa, Ghana holds general elections in less than 48 hours. We do not hear a lot of doomsday assurances but conspiracies are never short of. The World does not care but Africa is watching. While much of Africa see Ghana as a beacon of hope for democracy, there are others who seem to treat this legacy with some cold shoulders. I read a beautiful article about Ghana Election 2016 on Kenya’s Daily News website dubbed “What you need to know about Ghana’s Election”. The article preaches that Ghana is losing the lustre. Why not? What kind of publications would you expect from a Chinese Newspaper about the US democracy?

The election 2016 will come to pass with the least bruises possible. Come this day next week, Ghana will have a new president elect. It will be John Mahama or Akufo Addo. But excesses on election day or during results declaration will cost a few lives. These lives matter. These lives should not be lost. As President Olusengu Obasanjo said during the weekend, no life is worth losing because of the elections. Ghana expects the same message from leaders of all contending political parties. We are not hearing that from all leaders though. Regardless, how can we reduce the potential casualties? Maybe a couple of lessons from Nigeria may help us in Ghana. I was privileged to observe Nigeria’s 2015 Elections up close from campaign to declaration of results and swearing in. And make no mistake, it was a beautiful and enviable. I highlight below five useful lessons Ghana can learn from our best of neighbours, Nigeria.

1)Public Calm: Election is not won by the loudest voices. It is won by the most votes. Shouting out loud on the streets of Accra, Kwesimintim or Zabzugu will not make your candidate win elections. You may rather put yourself in harm’s way as a soft target. In Nigeria, people were uncharacteristically calm during the elections. They remained calm even when postponement of the election meant declaration of war. May folks in Ghana simply cast their vote on election day and wait patiently for results. Party representatives will take care of monitoring your vote. They have insurance for that job. You do not. You can assist them in many ways. Provide food and refreshment for them. Give them additional resources to fuel their motorbikes. Or just give them a pat on their back and tell them you are praying for them. And if you choose to spend your time at the polling station on election day after voting, then just stay calm and wait. Do not foment trouble.

2)Disciplined Media: If you think the media in Ghana is vibrant, visit Nigeria. Quality of print media is impeccable. Television stations are heavily proliferated that each State have their own television station. But during the 2015elections, all media, including social media adhered to the rules set by the INEC that “thy shall not declare results”. The media was so disciplined that they got boring. Even when the winner of the Presidential Election was evident to all, the media still waited for counting of results from the very final state. In contrast, I remember how TV stations projected winners of previous Presidential Elections in Ghana. I bet Joy TV, Metro TV, TV3, and all others, including FM Stations will do it the Nigeria way this time. Let us give Ms Charlotte Kesson-Smith Osei her very first opportunity to declare the results in her new position as Chairperson of Electoral Commission (EC).

3) Transparency of EC: During 2015 elections in Nigeria, INEC was the kind of referee every team will want to manage a match. Professor Attahiru Jaga made his greatness from this transparency. EC of Ghana should not give any Political Party a genuine reason to cast doubts on results of the election. Political parties at polling station, Constituency, Regional and National levels should be given equal access within the electoral laws to ascertain representativeness of results. EC should not dismiss concerns of political parties. And more importantly, the set rules should be strictly followed. If in doubt make reference to the election rules. Do not use your discretion. 4) Magnanimity of EC: Officials of the EC should see the institution as facilitator of the electoral process. EC officials at all levels should treat voters and party representatives with total respect and should not expect reciprocation rather they should be ready deflect provocation. When tensions were zenith during the Nigeria’s 2015 elections, Godsday Orubebe, a former Minister of Niger Delta suddenly appeared. He challenged and abused the INEC and practically ambushed the declaration of election results. It was a total chaos lasting almost an hour and not even the military nor police could control Mr. Orubebe. But the INEC did with grace. The bar for Managing Elections in Africa has been set high by Professor Attahiru Jaga but what a man can do, a woman can do better and we trust Charlotte Osei would not disappoint.

5) The Role of Respected Africans: During the Nigeria elections, Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambers and Kofi Annan were at their usual best with the former playing his formal role as Special Representative of the United Nation’s Secretary General to ECOWAS. This time both Ibn Chambers and Kofi Annan are home and supporting the electoral process as always. Imminent Chiefs, the Otumfuo Asantehene and other Kings and Chiefs, and the National Peace Council should brace for duty when the soup begins to burn. Do not wait for the International Community because there is no International Community. If there were International Community, Rwanda would have been saved from the 1994 Genocide and Kenya would have been saved from the brutal election violence in 2007-2008

God Bless Our Homeland Ghana!