A former Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr Mike Igini, was in the delegation that recently assessed the preparation of Ghana ahead of its December general elections. Igini speaks on the mission.
You were said to have been selected along with Dr Oby Ezekwesilli and other prominent individuals by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), both of the United States, to carry out assessment of Ghana ahead of its December general elections. What was the mission all about?
Since the return to civil rule in 1992, Ghana has been showing good example in West Africa and has crossed critical democratic thresholds that must be consolidated for other countries in Africa to emulate. The purpose of the mission was to support Ghana’s ability to deliver credible and peaceful elections in 2016.
The delegation’s specific goals were to: Assess the preparation for Ghana’s December 7 presidential and legislative elections; identify opportunities for and potential risks to the good conduct of the electoral process, specifically in terms of pre- and post-election periods; provide recommendations to increase the integrity and transparency of the electoral progress; and promote dialogue among political actors and electoral stakeholders.
IRI and NDI are Washington-based institutions, non-profit, non-partisan organizations dedicated to supporting and strengthening democratic institutions and advancing freedom across the world. IRI works with civil society and religious leaders in Ghana to support peaceful elections through inter-faith dialogue and youth engagement and plans to conduct a gender assessment of women’s participation in the December elections.
NDI has worked closely with Ghanaian civic and political organizations since 1992 to support the development of the country’s democratic institutions and promote transparency and integrity of the electoral process through advanced techniques in election monitoring. So the visit of the delegation is also in the context of deepening these cooperative efforts of supporting and strengthening democratic institutions and advancing freedom across the continent of Africa and the world.
Who are the stakeholders that your delegation visited on this mission?
The delegation was a joint team and we met presidential candidates, political party leaders, women groups, civil society groups like Western African Network for peace-building presided over by one brilliant Nigerian Emeka Eze, media owners and journalists, head of security, and several eminent Ghanaians, such as Koffi Annan, a former UN Secretary General, former presidents: Jerry Rawlings, John Koffour, and others too numerous to mention, who are key to democratic stability and accountability in Ghana. The delegation used the meetings to stressing the gains Ghana has recorded and that they should not be reversed. If you are familiar with the standard measures of democracy, namely, competition, participation and legitimacy of electoral outcomes , you will agree that they rely on the perceptions and buy-in of the gate-keepers and agenda setters of democratic practice in a country.
Ghana is reputed to be the leading democracy in West Africa and many people wonder why there should be a pre-election assessment of this nature undertaken?
No matter how mature a democracy may be, as you can see in some countries like the United States, it is not perfect and so there could be desperation by political actors leading to concerns at some critical junctures, as there are in Ghana rising fears about the forth-coming elections. In Africa, we fail to realize that election is just a means to the goal of development and not an end in itself. We must also bear in mind the fact that the development of democratic value is work in progress with no hope of final completion and it feeds on eternal vigilance from internal and external stakeholders. Apart from our delegation, there were also the UN team led by Dr. Mohammed lbn Chambas, the A.U as well as the Ecowas delegation for the same objective.
As I told some of the stakeholders during our meetings, Ghana, in terms of benchmarking, is one of the shining lights of the West African region, it is like the democratic cockerel crowing to all of us in West Africa, to remind us that it is the dawn of democratic value change in Africa. Although this democratic cockerel is owned by Ghanaians, its crow is for all of West Africa, Africa and the rest of the world. Therefore, the world must help the owner of the cockerel to see to its well-being, otherwise we may all lose its valuable crow. The IRI and NDI as lead organizations facilitated the visit as part of that necessary vigilance to remind the Ghanaian people that their relative democratic advancement is of a regional, continental and global importance.
There are reports that the December elections would really put to test the extent of institutions that have made Ghana a more mature democracy. What is your assessment of these institutions?
Election is the only activity that is all-involing that a nation would embark on in peace time. Every election is a test of the commitment, vulnerability and resilience of the democratic institutions of a country. But it should be noted that Ghana has conducted six transfers of power through democratic elections – two of which changed between opposing political parties in 2001 and 2009 respectively. In that light, Ghana has proven to be a profoundly resilient bastion of democratic practices in West African and Africa. The stakes are very high in the forthcoming elections under dwindling revenue base, high unemployment, rising militia groups or thugs and of course gradual loss of faith even in democracy all pointing intense competition and possibly high participation in the December election.
How mature are political parties’ management and the process of selection of candidates for the elections?
Unlike our country, there was not much noise in this regard. There is no internal party crisis and in-fighting among party members about the choice of candidates for the election. The main opposition party is fielding the same presidential candidate it fielded in 2012, who is contesting for the third time, while the incumbent NDC is presenting the sitting president for second term.
Given that these two political parties have been able to ensure six peaceful transfers of power through democratic elections, two of which changed between opposing political parties, we can say that there is political maturity on the part of the parties and their followers. What appears to be a stabilizing factor for Ghana democracy is the existence and dominance of two almost equally matched political parties in terms of spread and capacity to win election which are the NDC and the NPP with influence over the electoral space. These parties are what the APC and the PDP appears to be in Nigeria hopefully if they can manage themselves maturedly for adversarial competition for power.
How do you describe the politicians in Ghana and those of our country?
One has not made a deliberate exhaustive comparative analysis, but, on a preliminary assessment, I will have to admit that Ghanaians are ahead of Nigeria in terms of the necessary ingredient that democratic consolidation, namely, broad area of basic agreement or a shared consensus on important democratic values. Ghanaian politicians are doing relatively better in certain levels of shared democratic values, than our politicians who are yet to agree on the pillars of consensus, how much more reaching a common consensus, even about the entity called Nigeria except the benefits derived by the elites.
Are campaigns in Ghana issue driven and what are the defining issues for debate by their candidates?
The groups that we interacted with were of the view that not much of the issues that matter most to the ordinary Ghanaians have been in focus, even though the candidates maintained that they have been engaging on those issues. Our delegation encouraged the stakeholders to stay with and engage on the economy, job creation, reducing inequality and unemployment. But for the elections, key issues of debate include the fidelity of the voter register, particularly the Supreme Court decision that people who were registered with NHS identity cards, most of whom allegedly are Togolese and foreigners, should be removed from the register; and the electronic results transmission system (ERTS) for the 2016 elections, in which it is proposed that hand-held scanners should be used to scan constituency collation forms that contain the polling station results and sent electronically and directly to the National Collation Centre. The hard copies would then be sent physically to the Head Office of the EC.
Also there are issues relating to the biometric verification of voters, the “No biometric Verification, No Vote” (NVNV) rule, where there are calls for modification of the biometric accreditation laws to make it possible for voters to cast their ballots, if the machines fail to capture their details already accommodated by the EC. Proponents favor the extant NVNV rule and view the 2016 provision for manual registration as a substantial risk to the integrity of the process. Generally, the economy, with the global downturn in commodities such as oil, has influenced the discourse along with other domestic issues but, as the political parties publicize their manifestoes, their positions on such issues will become clearer.
The electoral umpire is reported to be under intense scrutiny over the register of voters and allegation of likelihood of bias of the commission. What are your team’s findings on these?
There were some electoral issues that were of concern, raised mainly by members of the political class and the opposition in particular, but when we met the chairperson of the commission, a lawyer, we were very impressed with her thorough explanations, regarding the concerns. She made it clear that the elections are about the Ghanian electorate that would cast the votes and their votes counted and taken into account in an open and transparent manner, to determine who becomes what, that the election should never be about the umpire. She maintained that the process is what is critical and important because, if the process is credible and transparent, contestants would accept the outcome without fuss, and that is what she and her team is committed to deliver come December 7.
She appeared confident, strict and very committed to the adherence of the rules that guide the elections and wants all candidates standing for election to abide strictly to the rules of the game. She came across as brilliant, re-assuring and philosophical when she said that it is the will of the Ghanian people expressed through the ballot in December that would govern and that is what the commission is working to achieve, to build on what she met and leave behind a heritage of democratic tradition.
Our delegation was impressed and also shared our thoughts on the need for the Electoral Commission to establish a baseline, by disaggregating data on women’s participation including voter registration, voter turnout, number of women candidates and analyzed according to geographic region and age; target civic education to promote women’s participation as voters and as poll workers; need to utilize a transparent system that will not allow recruitment of partisan election ad-hoc staff, but one that allows for credible, known and respected individuals from institutions and agencies to administer elections ; and ensuring engagement with relevant stakeholders at every stage of the electoral processes up till election day.
The fears so far reported about the forthcoming election in Ghana are associated with unrestrained and unprofessional role of the media. How true is this claim?
The fears raised about the harm that the media could cause, in the build up to the elections and after, if media regulatory bodies like Ghana Journalists Association and National Media Communication of Ghana fail to call its members to order, were confirmed by all stakeholders including journalists. The real problem is not so much about the fact that there are 200 FM stations, 50 registered publishing newspapers and 50 television stations, but the fact that most of them are established and owned by politicians who use these platforms to unlease hate campaigns daily against opponents or any individual who holds contrary opinion to them or those of their parties. This is the heart of the fears being expressed about the elections, that the stage for possible violence is gradually being prepared with generous airtime being devoted to hate speeches and threats, even directed at judges and officials of the Electoral Commission.
What was your delegation’s advice to the media in Ghana and our colleagues here in Nigeria
I kept reminding the practitioners there of Dahl’s two key attributes of the media, that they as practitioners must not abuse, which are: Availability and observance of the right to free speech and protection to exercise it from abuse that may lead to widespread disruption of public life. We all must always bear in mind that liberty, as an index of freedom, is not absence of restraints necessary to protect social order. For democracy to flourish, and this is also a message to my friends here in Nigeria, the media should not relapse to cognitive Cherry-picking and must avoid the echo chamber effects, wherein certain views are played-up with the relegation of alternatives, during electioneering campaign.
We made the point clear to the media guys that they should not undermine the progress made so far in Ghana on the democratic front, that they owe Ghanaians the obligation to be normatively and descriptively controlled by codes of practice as well as journalistic ethics that include the need to ensure respect, justice, Nonmaleficence and beneficence which, when expanded, have to do with: respect for persons/autonomy, that is, the need to acknowledge a person’s right to make choices, to hold views, and to take actions based on personal values and beliefs; justice– the need to treat others equitably, ensure distribution of benefits/burdens fairly; Nonmaleficence (do no harm)- the obligation not to inflict harm intentionally; and beneficence (do good)- the social obligation to provide society with benefits to persons and contribute to their general welfare.