EDITORIAL: African Politicians Must Desist From discrediting Their Elections

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The social media space has been awash recently with a snippet from an interview on a South African TV channel with a SABC correspondent lamenting about the inability of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to stamp its feet on the floor against the resurgence of military coups in West Africa.
The interviewer had asked: In the neighboring countries of Niger, Mali, we have just seen now that the US has placed sanctions on some of the military officials. What does this all mean for the ECOWAS region? The interviewee, a female correspondent responded thus: It is quite unstable right now. And unfortunately, you have currently the chair in Nigeria, and the president of Nigeria, you know he is facing a lot of pressure in his country in terms of how the election panned out, in terms of the results, some questioning the credibility of the election. He issued a strong statement yesterday. But already, when you read the reaction to that statement, people are already saying, you yourself, you are not legitimate, and therefore ECOWAS is not as strong as the ECOWAS that we are used to. You’ll recall where there were challenges in the region previously, they were quick to react and to respond and there was that credibility because those who were speaking at that time, who were leading the regional body had credibility but right now they are on a very shaky ground.
It is very obvious from the response of the interviewee that she simply parroted the opinion of opposition parties and their supporters about the election in Nigeria. The germane question that needs an answer is does the current ECOWAS Chairman – President |Bola Ahmed Tinubu truly suffers from a credibility challenge? That an election is being contested at the election tribunal does not confer illegitimacy on an election. The right to contest the result of an election is simply a democratic right of every participant. It is only the courts or the electoral tribunals who possess the power to declare if a president is illegitimate. Until they do so, every elected and sworn-in president is legitimate.
If the contest of the result of an election by a participant in the election is what confers illegitimacy on an election, then there has been no legitimate president in West Africa in the recent past. This is because there is hardly any election in West Africa that has not been contested. Since the return to democracy in Nigeria in 1999, three Nigerian presidents had chaired the ECOWAS before President Tinubu. All of them had their elections contested at the courts by opposition candidates. It did not make their presidency illegitimate. So also are the elections of past ECOWAS chairmen like President John Mahama of Ghana, President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Faure Gnassingbe and President Umaro Sissoco Embaló of Guinea Bissau. In fact, the case of Umaro Sissoco Embaló who just handed over to President Tinubu is quite interesting. He won a hotly contested presidential run-off against his opponent Domingos Simoes Pereira of PAIGC party. Pereira had declared the election fraudulent but that did not stop the swearing-in and recognition of President Embalo by the Heads of State of ECOWAS.
So, contrary to the opinion peddled by the SABC correspondent, ECOWAS is not on a shaky ground at the moment because of an alleged illegimate President Tinubu. The new chairman did immediately respond to the coup with a statement condemning the toppling of a democratically elected president and promised to rally other leaders in the region to protect democracy in line with the universally acceptable principle of constitutionalism. The regional body is therefore simply taking its time to study the situation so as to be able to act decisively. Niger is a sovereign country and can not be invaded by another country because of a military coup. But measures such as sanctions or moral suasions can be employed to make the coup plotters see reason and restore democratic rule in the shortest possible time.
We think the ECOWAS is lucky to have a Nigerian President as its current chairman. The reason is not far-fetched. Nigeria have always played a prominent role in the regional body. Even when she was headed by military juntas, Nigeria singlehandedly led the formation of ECOMOG to rescue Liberia and Sierra Leone from internecine civil wars and under democratic presidents have helped to restore normalcy in countries like Gambia when a defeated Yahaya Jammeh refused to relinquish power after an electoral loss and in Sao Tome and Principe when President Menezes was toppled when he was out of the country, on a private trip to Nigeria
We want to conclude that Africans must give democracy a chance to grow. Yes, democracy is still in its infancy in most African countries and many participants are yet to come to terms with its many tenets. In a democracy, there is always another time, in most cases in another 4 or 5 years when an election can be held and contested again. Africans and its politicians must learn that democracy should not be a do-or-die affair. If one losses today, he can win tomorrow. Participants and their supporters should desist from bad-mouthing every election in which they lost. When they do this and think they are de-marketing their opponents, they are simply discrediting democracy. The day they win in the future, someone else will discredit their election. It becomes a vicious cycle. Democracy is weakened by these incessant cries of rhetorically contrived illegitimacy.

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