The Nigerian government and its corrupt and hollowed institutions have perfected the art of deception and isomorphic mimicry- looking like institutions in other places that are perceived as legitimate, but, which, in reality, are not, or carefully choreographing actions and practices, like elections, to look legitimate like in other places.
Thus, there could be a surfeit of anticorruption laws and institutions that are, on paper, one of the best and tightest in the world, but corruption would be so rife the country would still be contesting the position of the most corrupt country in the world.
We could also have institutions and laws – like Nigeria’s electoral management body – with the word “Independent” boldly inserted into its naming, or in mimicking institutions in other countries, write laws and guidelines guaranteeing independence and non-interference – like the central bank – to avoid spooking financial markets.
However, these laws, guidelines, and names would mean nothing, and those institutions and laws would still be run like any helpless agency in the office of the president and used to run domestic errands for the president and his family.
This is one of the best and most useful frames with which to understand Nigeria and how its institutions work. That is how we must see the just concluded 2023 elections. The so-called Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, budgeted and was given N355 billion to conduct the 2023 elections.
It relentlessly campaigned and told Nigerians that it had developed a foolproof measure of electronic voter vetting, the conduct of elections, and the transmission/uploading of results electronically to avoid the usual practice of result tampering and falsification at its notorious collation centres.
Heck, it even blamed the refusal of the president to sign into law the electoral act permitting it to collate and transmit results electronically for the fiasco of the 2019 elections where results announced at the polling booths tend to differ significantly from those announced at the collation centres.
Feelers from the commission went as far as to allege that results collated from polling booths electronically indicated that the president lost the election. But since it was not permitted by law to do it, it could neither publicly present it nor admit to it in court when the loser of the election, Atiku Abubakar, based his case on it.
Naturally, we assumed President Buhari refused to sign the act into law so that he could benefit from the corrupt electoral system where those who vote decide nothing, and everything is decided by those who count the votes.
Then, in February 2022, the President finally signed the amended electoral act into law, allowing INEC to electronically transmit results. INEC even claimed to have test-ran the new system in Ekiti and Osun states that had off-season governorship elections and assured the entire country that it was ready to conduct the cleanest and fairest election in Nigeria’s history.
Then, on election day, February 25, Nigerians received the shock of their lives. The election, as usual, was marked by extremely and shockingly shoddy preparation, poor logistics, and utter incompetence by INEC.
Shockingly and without warning or notice, INEC reverted to manual collation of results once more to determine the winner. Like in 2019, some of the electronically uploaded results are diverging from the manually collated ones, showing glaring signs of vote tampering in favour of the ruling party.
Despite result falsifications and vote-tampering, the declared winner of the election still lost his home state of Lagos, Nigeria’s most solvent entity, which he has lorded over for 23 years, and on which he has depended for his famed wealth.
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Fearful of losing the governorship elections rescheduled for March 18, the ruling party unleashed Rwandan-type hate speech against another ethnic group (s), ordering them not to dare to come out to vote and threatening them with death if they dared to come out. Despite doing so publicly and with a surfeit of evidence to show, the police and security forces largely stayed away, claiming that the hate speech and threats were only a joke.
On election day, not only did the ruling party and its members, as promised, unleash Zimbabwean-type violence on the opposition and stigmatized ethnic group(s), they systematically used the INEC to clinically disenfranchise voters and suppress votes from assumed opposition enclaves that it could not in any way be termed an election but a charade.
Worse, manual results collation and tabulation went on across all the states elections were conducted enabling ruling parties in those states to attempt to influence the collation and announcement of results.
Normally, the standard reply to those who lost or are rigged out of the election is: ‘go to court’. No doubt, the courts, overtime, have supplanted both INEC and the voters in determining those who won elections. Those declared winners are only said to be temporary winners until the courts give their rulings.
The stakes are now higher, and the corruption of the judiciary has proceeded in tandem. If there is any doubt that there is anything like an independent judiciary in Nigeria, the way that branch of government and judges were relentlessly bullied and cowed for the better part of eight years should give an answer.
I got mine in 2019 at the election petition tribunal at the Supreme Court, the president refused to even enter a defence against a plethora of allegations, including voting result falsification and perjury. The evidently cowed Supreme Court justices took on the job of defending the president in their judgment.