By Idris Abiodun Usman
At the heart of any democratic rein is the presence of periodic elections. That is why election is considered as the soul of any democracy. It is the event that legitimizes a government; as many scholars have argued that the difference between autocracy and democracy is the presence of election and adherence to the rule of law.
Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recommends how elections should be conducted. It also states that elections are the only source of political legitimacy. It says, “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”
There is no doubt that democracy is the world most preferred style of governance hence the rush for people even dictators to shield themselves in curtains of election. Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klass in their book How to Rig Election observed that: “most incumbents have learned to transform elections from a threat to their grip on power into something that can instead be used to tighten it. They’ve figured out how to rig an election, leading to the greatest political paradox of our time: There are more elections than ever before, and yet the world is becoming less democratic.”
The fact that elections in Nigeria are rigged by political parties and INEC officials is clearly an open secret even though details of the manipulative predispositions of the electoral body may still be a mystery to the general public. For decades, INEC and the political parties in the Nigerian space have perfected the art of rigging. The amendment of the Electoral Reform Act though not fool-proof was intended to correct the flaws in previous elections since 1999, but the Buhari administration deliberately dilly-dallied to allow for unfettered rigging in the just concluded 2019 presidential and national assembly elections.
First, the rigging of elections by political parties by various means, such as the age long voter inducement, now manifesting as vote buying before the elections and during the elections by sharing or giving out various food items that has given way to what we now know as “stomach infrastructure”. Also, financial inducement by encouraging voters to vote for a candidate for monetary rewards at the polling unit.
In addition, the political parties have been known to mastermind electoral thuggery for the benefit of their candidates. A political party will sponsor thugs to cause mayhem/violence to disenfranchise electorates in certain areas identified as “opposition strongholds” to reduce the votes that will be garnered there for the opposition candidate. In some cases, the thugs are used as hired assassins to kill perceived political opponents before or during elections.
In all of these, the political parties only contribute to 30% of the electoral fraud/corruption in Nigeria. The highest rigging machinery that constitute about 70% of the electoral corruption is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the singular electoral institution saddled with the responsibility of conducting general elections at all levels (from the State House of Assemblies, State Governors, National Assemblies and President) in the entire country.
Election rigging is an art as well as a science. Elections riggers deploy different tactics of rigging depending on the nature of the election, the region as well as the candidates in the election. As some analyst have said that if you must wait on election day to rig election then you already failed. Many believe that the strategists of the All Progressives Congress (APC) were conscious of this position when they lobbied and fought hard to ensure that the amended Electoral Act was not passed into law because if it had, it would have greatly affected their rigging plans. Also, not few analysts are convinced that the suspension of the Chief justice of Nigeria few weeks to the general election was all in the grand plan of the incumbent and his Ahithophel’s to rig the elections.
Let us examine the various stages of INEC and its mastery of the various stages of rigging elections in Nigeria before, during and after election day.
Top INEC officials systematically rig election even before election day. This happens during registration of eligible voters through Continuous Voters Registration (CVR). It is believed that while the CVR processes are enhanced to function seamlessly in the Northern part of the country, its efficiency is deliberately reduced in the Southern part of Nigeria to ensure that more eligible voters are registered in the North than in the South. Also, the fact that INEC allows under age registration in some part of the country speak volumes of INEC insincerity and duplicity. The registration process in a section of the country is always seamless while in other part, voters are frustrated with the process.
INEC also believed to ensure that the there is an uneven distribution of Permanent Voters Card (PVC) in the country. Over the years PVC collection rate in the North is always higher than those in the South. Systematically the umpire ensures that PVCs for those in the Southern part of Nigeria are either missing or electorates are frustrated at the point of collection of PVCs. How else can one explain the high PVC collection rate in the North even in the war-torn and crises-ridden states.
One way that the 2019 elections was rigged was through the distribution of election materials. In the Southern parts of the country voting always started late while in the North, voting commenced as early as 9am. The North is known to be a region with wide expanse of land however, voting materials and ad hoc staff arrived early at PUs while in the South, majority of the PUs commenced voting as late as 1pm or 2pm. Voting went on into the night and electorates were not able to defend their votes or wait for results to be announced at the polling units, thereby giving room for manipulations of results. There were also instances were INEC staff had to stop voters from voting, citing INEC guidelines that accreditation shouldn’t exceed 2pm.
The most common way of systematic electoral rigging in our elections today are through vote cancellation, invalidation and voiding of votes. This stage is in two folds. Rigging and voiding ballot papers masterminded by the INEC staff at the level and snatching or burning of ballot papers by electoral thugs. However, the focus will be on the complicity of INEC officials. For instance, if candidate A, is favoured by the electorates and is clearly leading, INEC officials can void the ballot papers of this candidate just to reduce the outcome of the results to favour the other candidate. At this point, the INEC officials will engage the security agencies to help in chasing away agents of candidate A or in some cases, chase out all the party agents to allow these atrocious acts to be implemented. This is evident in the outrageous numbers of voided votes in the recently concluded elections and the ridiculously offensive way figures have been bandied around by the INEC officials.
In the last Presidential Election, INEC while announcing the results stated that the total number of rejected votes was 1,289,607. Also the discrepancy between the total number of accredited voters and the number of votes cast lends credence to INEC involvement in electoral fraud. Since INEC had adopted simultaneous voting; why then should there be as many as 750,000 missing ballot papers? It is instructive that INEC had declared that the total number of accredited voters in the elections was 29,364,209 while the total number of votes cast was 28,614,190. What INEC is saying in effect is that over 750,000 voters went to polling units, collected ballot papers and walked away. This defeats every sense of logic. Last week civil society group had demanded explanation from INEC on why about two million votes were rejected during the last election. Until till day INEC is yet to find an answer to this question and INEC will never find an answer to this question.
Elections today are also rigged systematically through voiding of votes; At the polling units where candidate A, is favoured by the electorates and is clearly leading, top INEC officials and the ad hoc staff do conspire with party agents and security officials to void some of the votes cast for the leading candidates. This is done by double thumb printing on the ballot or by burning of ballot papers as we saw during the last presidential and national assembly elections.
INEC and its senior officials and ad hoc staff consisting of Professors, senior lecturers and NYSC members in collaboration with security agents preside over this semi-final stage of Nigeria’s electoral corruption. This stage of institutional rigging happens at the point of collation from the Polling Unit (PU) to the Wards and then at the State collation centres, where, in collaboration with the security agencies, the INEC Officers responsible for writing results, falsify results to favour the highest bidders or preferred candidates. While in some parts of the country, the collusion maybe to favour a preferred party or candidate due to religion, tribe, or ethnicity by senior INEC officials and security agencies, in other parts, the collaboration maybe to favour the highest bidder.
The seventh rigging tactic employed by INEC in rigging election is one that is the most glaring. This is the final stage and is presided over by the INEC Chairman. This stage is particularly interesting as it is the most incendiary and is in three folds. The INEC Chairman, at the top echelon of our electoral institution, procures Card Readers for the 2019 elections even though after the 2015 elections, the use of card reader is still not accepted in our courts. Then he gave several press briefings where he incessantly told the electorates that the Card Reader(CR) must be used in all parts of the country. But in actual fact majority of the States in the North jettisoned the use of the CR on election day, while the States in the South complied with the use of the CR which its inefficiency deliberately disenfranchise majority of the voters in the South. This is not different from what Jega did in 2015. The INEC boss then insisted that the CR must be used on election day, then midway into the voting where most of the voters in the South had given up and left the voting area, since most of the CR malfunctioned, he announced that manual accreditation was acceptable. Unfortunately for voters in the South, the North had jettisoned the use of the CR before Jega’s inconsequential announcement. As if that is not bad enough, as was the case in 2015, the INEC Chairman in 2019 also accepted and announced results from these States that jettisoned the CR for manual accreditation and voting alongside results of States that complied with his strict sermons on the use of the device. It leaves much to be desired when the INEC Chairman, the umpire who is supposed to provide a level playing field for all political parties plays to the gallery by setting different parameters for the different regions in the country.
The indiscriminate application of the law by INEC during elections undoubtedly constitutes election rigging. Take for example, INEC insisting on the use of card reader accreditation during election while permitting manual accreditation and the use of incidence form in some parts of the country, as it was in the case in the 2015 and 2019 presidential elections. INEC deliberately creates an unlevelled field for political players across the country. It is not a coincidence that card readers in some part of the country in elections work seamlessly while card readers in some parts of the country always malfunctioned.
While this guideline is enforced strictly in some parts of the country, in other parts, INEC relaxes the law and allows for incidence forms as it was in the case with the 2015 and 2019 presidential elections. The question is, why are the same states that where disadvantaged by the malfunctioning of the card readers in 2015 again disadvantaged by the malfunctioning of these card readers in 2019? Why does INEC insist on the use of card readers and procure more card readers for the 2019 elections when the card reader is not recognized by our laws, especially as President Buhari did not sign the Electoral Reform Act?
As the country goes into the next round of election this weekend, INEC, must rise to its responsibility of an unbiased umpire and ensure that elections are not only free, but fair and political parties and incumbents must allow the wish of the people to speak. Fairness is a binding principle in any contest. In the game of boxing for example you can’t pair a heavy weight boxer against a feather weight, just as a examiner will be considered unjust if he gives pupils in primary three questions meant for secondary school students. The greatest democratic evil is to threat equals as unequals and equals as unequals. The State Assembly elections is essential to the electorates as they elect those who will represent them at the State levels as results rigged even at a Ward can affect the outcome of the total votes and favour the wrong candidate against the people’s choice. INEC must conduct elections with the same standard and parameters all over the country and not accept results from some parts that did not use the card readers alongside those who were compliant with the use of the card readers as the INEC Chairman reiterated in all his press briefings.
After twenty years of democracy, Nigeria, it is time to make our election process transparent and truly functional; at least by ensuring that the peoples vote count. We can’t continue to lay wreath on yesterday’s crime nor reward democratic imposters with stolen mandates. For us to stand among nations of the world that run free, fair and credible elections, the INEC must tow the path of technology and fairness in forthcoming elections. As failure to do this, in Aristotle’s words, will be a case of democratic inequality; “the worst form of inequality is to try and make unequal things equal”.
*Idris Usman is the publisher of www.corruptionreporter.com