On Saturday, Nigerians will go to the polls in the first of two batches of elections to elect their leaders. Nigerians have borne the brunt of the All Progressives Congress’s (APC) catastrophic economic management and inept governance for the better part of eight years.
Inflation, poverty, unemployment, and insecurity are at an all-time high and the government at all levels seems increasingly dissociated from the people and behaves as if the people are a conquered lot whose opinions and feelings do not matter.
The people will, hopefully, have a chance to decide who will govern them and make laws for them for the next four years. Unlike past elections, the youth have become visibly engaged in the process and the main force behind an outsider candidate threatening to topple the old/established political order.
But they have to contend with built-in obstacles – a rigid and inflexible voter registration process that ties an individual to a particular polling booth, a voters card whose distribution has been hijacked and politicised by desperate politicians who want to ensure some segment of the population are not able to vote, lack of provision for early voting, vote by mail or even diaspora or absentee balloting, and an enforced lockdown on election day making it impossible to move around to access polling units – that depresses voter turnout. Regardless, enthusiasm is sky-high.
Judges now justle and lobby to be on electoral petition panels and ending up in one could settle the financial needs of a judge for the rest of his/her life
Former Russian dictator, Joseph Stalin, once remarked that “the people who cast the votes decide nothing; the people who count the votes decide everything.” That was literally true in Nigeria since 1999 when corrupt electoral management bodies just wrote election results in Abuja even while people were still voting. A classic case was the 2007 governorship election in Anambra.
So desperate was INEC under Maurice Iwu to install Obasanjo’s undertaker, Andy Uba, as governor of Anambra state, that the electoral body did not even bother supplying election materials or even conducting elections in the state. While most people in the state, including the government, could not vote, INEC promptly announced Andy Uba as the winner with more than a million votes on election day.
When it was pointed out to Iwu that the tally of votes cast was higher than the total number of registered voters in the state, INEC was now forced to begin subtracting votes from the candidates to bring the declared results below or at least, at par with the total number of registered voters in the state.
So embarrassing was the conduct of the 2007 elections that the president committed to electoral reforms to prevent such blatant cooking of results by INEC. Since then, INEC has been gradually and slowly improving on the conduct of elections.
But desperate politicians are not willing or ready to leave their fate and electoral chances to citizens to decide. They easily find new ways to rig, to manipulate and predetermine elections. Ballot box stuffing and snatching used to be the in-thing. Later, it moved to writing up fictitious results.
With a corrupt INEC, it was easier to just get INEC in Abuja to write the results regardless of how the actual voting on the ground went. But with reforms, politicians moved to collation centres where returning officers are bribed and made to change results. But even that may no longer be possible with INEC’s electronic voting and tabulation of results.
Not to be outdone, politicians have since settled on another strategy of rigging – vote buying and corruption of the entire process. Politicians simply stack up huge war chests and simply buy up as many votes as is possible at polling boots.
That strategy has been tested in Ekiti and Osun states already and it tends to produce amazing results. In fact, it is an old and time tested strategy in primary elections.
That is precisely why politicians will resist the reform to ensure all card-carrying members of the party vote during primaries. With the delegate system, it is easier to buy off a chunk of the delegates than deal with a mass of party members.
Fate is even helping politicians as most Nigerians are now living in extreme poverty, unable to afford basic necessities. An impoverished and pulverised citizenry is extremely unlikely to refuse to sell his or her vote on election day.
Then there is another layer to the rigging strategy, which is the judiciary. The nature of electoral contests in Nigeria is that they inevitably end up in court. The courts were vested with the powers of being the final arbiters of elections – and they are now instrumentalising that role to get rich quickly.
Since the judiciary realised its awesome powers to decide electoral victors, it has gradually and shamelessly replaced the people as the decider of elections in Nigeria.
Judges now justle and lobby to be on electoral petition panels and ending up in one could settle the financial needs of a judge for the rest of his/her life. Such is the brazen nature of judicial interference in writing up election results that the nation’s highest court – the Supreme Court – where all election cases ultimately end up, has effectively replaced the people in deciding who is elected and who is not.
They reserve the powers – and have used it too frequently – to declare candidates who are not on the ballot as winners. In some instances, they go into arithmetic, making candidates who come fourth in an election become the winner. Of late, they have been using all sorts of asinine arguments and rationalisations to foist leaders on the people.
Of course, politicians have also gotten the cue and have positioned themselves to influence the judgments of the courts in their favour. It makes the job easier for them. If nothing is done to curtail the powers of the courts in deciding winners, elections will lose all their meaning in the nearest future.
Regardless, the people must do their part. They must vote and ensure the votes are counted to be able to have any chance of producing the outcome that they truly desire.