• Saturday, May 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

Nigeria Decides 2023: How elections are stolen (1)

Now that we are back on the march again  

If we can rely on INEC’s timetable, voting will commence in 361 days, on February 18, 2023, with the presidential elections. For those who want Nigerians not to move away from the traditional school of political chicanery and entitlement, to start winning elections, the dilemma is how to disrupt the traditional means by which elections are won. There are at least 3 means of manipulating elections: voter registration, election officers and security forces.

Voter registration

Impressive resources are being deployed to ensure more Nigerians are registered and have their Permanent Voters Card (PVC) for 2023. Popular belief, even within politicians, is that the higher the voter turnout, the harder it is to rig.

However, increasing voter turn is not easy even when we ignore how difficult it is to register and go straight to collecting PVCs. On the eve of the 2019 elections, INEC’s data indicated that over 11 million PVCs had not been collected and the state with the lowest collection rate at 71% was Ogun State. The states with over 95% collection rate were Gombe (95.76%), Katsina (98.69%), Kebbi (95.13%) and Taraba (97.30) and in total 15 states had collection rates of over 90%.

While the veracity of these numbers may be questioned considering our national predilection to not counting properly, we cannot ignore the stories told by frustrated Nigerians about how difficult it was to collect their PVCs, especially in opposition strongholds.

Another challenge is the ‘mass’ collection of PVCs by influential people, ostensibly to distribute within their communities. It is anyone’s suspicion if this actually happens or if the PVCs are handed out to those who can be instructed on how to vote; this would explain underaged voters a lot better than trying to understand how INEC could register children in the first place.

Finally, there are indications from the just concluded local government elections in the FCT, that having a PVC is no guarantee that a person is captured in the register and can vote.

Read also: Elections and redefining politics in Nigeria

Election officers

There are 37 Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) and they play a critical role in elections: distributing election material and staffing the polling units with presiding officers and other election officers. It is through the staffing process that governors or opposition with the required funds, get one of several holds over election results. Governors have a long-term edge with RECs because they can cultivate a relationship over time, regularly sending them gifts, and setting them up with accommodation and transport. This bond results in governors being able to influence the hire of thousands of election officers responsible for everything on election day: when or if polling material arrives and how results sheets and unused ballot papers are handled. By the time RECs are rotated on the eve of elections, the foundation is cast.

This is one of the reasons governors are so powerful they are increasingly insistent that candidates for president and vice president must come from the select cohort of governors – after all – they deliver elections.

Security forces

The corrupting role of the army and police in our elections is well documented and that is what is most concerning about the unmasking of Deputy Commissioner of Police, Abba Kyari, of money laundering and drug cartels. It means the police, like those in power over the last 23 years, are becoming more entitled and brazen about their abuse of power. How many more like him are out there, being groomed through the ranks till the fateful day that they are appointed Commissioner of Police (CP). For all we know, considering Kyari was already two ranks ahead of his peers, he might have been in place for 2023.

The alliance that governors have with RECs is similar to the one with CPs; a clue is the number of times President Obasanjo changed the CP of Lagos State during Governor Tinubu’s tenure. The police intimidate opposition by arresting and restricting the movement of key mobilisers on the eve of elections as was done in Ekiti in 2014; provide protection for thugs and actively aid and abet the rigging of elections.

In 2019, INEC officials reported how soldiers of the 6th Division invaded collation centres across Rivers State during the Presidential and National Assembly elections; led in one case by Rotimi Amaechi, the minister of transportation. The violence was amplified two weeks later during the gubernatorial elections, and voting had to be suspended. The popular defense was that the violence was orchestrated by ‘armed men in military uniform’ as if to admit that the Nigerian Army can be easily impersonated is less shameful. We had 626 election related deaths around the 2019 elections and it is not unreasonable to deduce that violence and the perception of illegitimacy that envelopes our elections play a huge role in suppressing voter turnout, which at 34.75% is one of the lowest in Africa.

Conclusion

The campaign to encourage Nigerians to get their PVCs and vote is valid; it is another thing entirely to secure those votes and anyone serious about giving PDP/APC a good fight must plan to mitigate the risks and neutralise the dangers.

First, alternative candidates should work together across the divide of parties and collaborate on how to tackle risks collectively, including working with INEC to iron out the kinks in the voter register. It is necessary to repeat Sun Tzu’s wisdom here: “We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbours.”

Second, we need hundreds of thousands of conscientious volunteers ready to serve as election officers across the country and be prepared to put volunteers forward as independent observers even if we are not asked.

Third, 22 out of the 37 REC positions are up for new appointments in 4 months’ time – this presents an opportunity that candidates and civil society should be ready to exploit. Fourth, in addition to asking young Nigerians to reject violence and encouraging candidates to sign peace accords, we should insist that the IGP and Chief of Army Staff sign pledges of non-partisanship and commit to publishing the names of officers deployed for elections with their locations. This way, they bear the responsibility for not preventing violence and for any disruptions involving the security forces. Fifth – long term, we must move to holding all our elections on the same day thereby ending reign of governors that negotiate to deliver the president before earning the right to deliver themselves.

Finally, organising and strategising to disrupt the 2023 elections cannot take place online – on zoom calls and Twitter spaces. Those who plan years in advance to win elections and invest in status quo structures are not above spying and thwarting plans. Many are wary of participating in the criminality it takes to win elections in Nigeria today, which is why they do not participate. For those committed to influencing our trajectory, there should be no mistaking the fact that to struggle for the soul of Nigeria is a war that requires cunning, stealth and a determination to show that there are other, more legitimate ways, to win elections.