Punish electoral offenders or risk Nigeria’s democracy – Utomi

“To understand what happened in those three weeks is to understand why nations fail and others succeed,”

Pat Utomi

Prof. Pat Utomi, a Nigerian Political Economist says Nigeria must punish all electoral offenders in the 2023 general elections or risk truncating the nation’s democracy.

Utomi, the Convener of BIG-TENT, a coalition of Political Parties, Social Movements and Civil Society Organisations for Peter Obi-Baba-Ahmed Datti, made this remark at a news conference on Monday in Lagos while assessing the process and outcome of the Feb. 25 and March 18 general elections.

According to him, unless those who commit electoral fraud, disrupt the process, harassed, killed and maimed voters are jailed in Nigeria, the phrase ‘go to court,’ will continue to be a regular line among election riggers in Nigeria.

He added that unless the judiciary was reformed and regained the confidence of Nigerians, phrases such as ‘go to court,’ would continue to become a mockery on the institution.

“Consequences management of impunity which has become widespread and everyday, moves us further down the road to Somalia and is widespread mainly because consequence management is poor in Nigeria.

“What happened to yesterday’s electoral processes offenders? So why will the offence not be committed again?

“I do hope our judiciary can draw a lesson from Kenya and if not its reputation to go down the drain.

“But it must then punish offenders. If this does not happen then the essence of institutions in setting boundaries is gone and we can kiss democracy Goodbye,” Utomi said.

Utomi also said the Big Tent was putting finishing touches to its plans in partnership with other well-meaning organisations, to prosecute election riggers, not only in Nigeria but also in the International Criminal Court (ICC), to serve as deterrent to others who might want to go that route in future.

“Governors, politicians and other public officials, who undermined the 2023 elections, should be dragged to the ICC. The only reason impunity thrives is that yesterday’s offenders were not punished.

“Electoral offenders must be punished and we are determined to do that. We are compiling their names and very soon, we will take action on that,” he added.

Utomi, founder of Centre for Values in Leadership and a former Presidential Candidate, called for strong institutions, reliable systems and values to save Nigeria’s democracy and to birth a new Nigeria.

“The push of the strongman for power usually is either pushed back by strong institutions and reliable systems (BVAS, IREV).

“Strong institutions and values remain key to saving Nigeria, and true patriots are obliged to intensify the struggle as we smell freedom from the hard work of Obidients and the Big Tent in 2023.

“Nigeria cannot afford the crisis of legitimacy that comes every election cycle.

“It hurts growth and development and we need to work our institutions to maturity to avoid these negative disruptions.”

According to him, there are many still in shock about the Feb. 25 Presidential and National Assembly Elections and March 18 Governorship and House of Assembly elections.

Commending Nigerians for uniting to secure the nation under ‘Obidients’ Movement in the build-up to elections, Utomi said “the ring of a new Nigeria is possible.

Utomi said that INEC had sold and even oversold the new infallibility of the BVAS/IREV tech system which later failed on election day and gave room for manipulations.

Utomi said that when it mattered,  the system did not just fail, it collapsed “whether it be a glitch or was tampered with, is left for the tribunals and competent Court to establish”.

The professor said that between the Feb. 25 and March 18 elections,.  things had deteriorated so badly in some states, especially in Lagos, Rivers and Kano, the development, he noted, dimmed the vision of a united hopeful country.

“To understand what happened in those three weeks is to understand why nations fail and others succeed,” he said.

Emphasising the need to exalt the rule of law, Utomi said that an emerging consensus from historians, political scientists and economists was that “institutions separate the success from the failures of the race of progress for the human race.”

He said that INEC failed to deliver on its promise of uploading polling units results by BVAS to IREV which made most people including foreign election observers lose confidence in the commission.

Utomi said that if the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, knew anything about the Moral Authority of the intellectual, he should have resigned at that point.

The convener said that The Big Tent was satisfied that it gave impetus to the most issues-based campaign since the return to Democracy in 1990 policy thrust of the Obi/Datti campaign which was unprecedented in political campaigns in Nigeria.

Utomi, who noted that the group owed what it accomplished to quite a few notables, the support groups and Nigerians at large, thanked former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Ayo Adebayo and Afenifere, Chief Edwin  Clark among others for their vision of a new Nigeria and the courage of their conviction.

“On our front burner right now is returning Nigeria to Democracy, making elections meaningful, and providing examples of how political parties should be organised,” he said.