By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North
The postulation by Alexander Herzen, (1812-1870) became manifest during the last set of elections in Nigeria.
The Russian reformist had written in one of his famous essays “that the men who proclaimed the Republic became the assassins of freedom”.
Herzen submitted that those who claimed to be pure revolutionists in Russia had in a way abandoned the real struggle to secure true liberty for all, and that though they had broken the chains they inadvertently left the prison walls standing, making them assassins of freedom. The manipulations and high level intrigues that characterised the just concluded general elections in Nigeria can be likened to a coup of some sort by those who claim to be Nigeria’s most liberal politicians.
They proclaimed to the world that they wanted a free, peaceful and credible election but they connived with many forces to rob Nigerians of the chance to freely elect their leaders and deliberately arm twisted the electoral umpire, Prof Attahiru Jega’s Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to short change Nigerians voters.
No doubt the elections have come and gone, producing winners and losers but the ripples generated have left many Nigerians with sour taste because of the conspiracy of high-ranking politicians, who worked hard to subvert the will of Nigerians just to maintain their electoral status-quo and keep smiling to the bank.
Nonetheless, while the winners are in high spirit, working round the clock to fix themselves on the reins of power, the losers continue to gnash their teeth, wondering what might have hit them like a volcano. In a way, the just-concluded polls, made history, broke the jinx of incumbency and wrote a new chapter in the Nigerian polity.
Surprisingly, although the changes introduced by INEC to add credibility to the elections, succeeded in certain ways to checkmate mass figures of electoral victory usually associated with Nigerian elections, it failed in many ways to checkmate electoral fraud and violence, effectively defeating the goals of the innovations factored into the polls. It appears that once majority of Nigerians achieved the change they longed for in the Presidential elections they overlooked many flaws that marked the Presidential election and actually floored the governorship elections in some states.
Smart Card Readers and Permanent Voter Cards: The good, the bad
The vision of those who contemplated the use of the card readers and permanent voter cards for the 2015 elections shows a clear evidence of thoughtfulness and readiness to part with the ugly past of Nigerian elections. In the recent past, Nigerian leaders with an eye for rigging, simply engaged in mass thumb-printing according to the earmarked or ascribed voter population in their respective domains because there was no means of ascertaining who reported for voting or not. But with the introduction of the SCR the PVC, it became clear to election riggers that it would be difficult to continue with the dubious business as usual.
The SCR simply put a ceiling to what governors, lawmakers and their parties could declare in the just-concluded polls. In fact, a clear pattern simply emerged as the results of the 2015 elections began to roll in: Out of the 36 states and Abuja, none of them was able to declare up to 50 percent score of the votes when juxtaposed with the number of the voter population claimed by the states and the FCT, leaving political pundits to wonder what might have happened to the remaining ‘voters’.
In the recent past, Kano, and Lagos, which emerged with the highest voter population figures of about 5 million, would have accordingly returned something close to that figure without the use of the card readers, which automatically pegged the number which any state could declare at the end of voting. But because of the application of the technology, Kano which registered close to five million voters and was actually issued with over four million PVCs, could only return two million votes while Lagos which had about four million voters with PVCs was only able to turn in about 1.4 million at the end of the day. Thus, in a way the SMR worked to some extent.
INEC’s dilemma and limitation in SMR usage
It is obvious that the success of the card readers in the last election depended to a large extent to the cooperation of key political actors with the electoral umpire. It was curious that in most PDP states, particularly in the Southern part of the country, where the governors had frontally opposed the use of the technology on the grounds that it would disenfranchise their citizens, the card readers, accordingly ‘refused to work’ on election days. It ‘failed woefully’ during the Presidential and National Assembly polls in most PDP states until Jega was compelled to authorise manual accreditation when no such mass failure rate was reported in the opposition controlled states particularly in the northern part of the country.
Two extreme cases in Daura, Katsina State where Muhammadu Buhari reported for voting and Otuoke in Bayelsa State where President Goodluck Jonathan and Dame Patience Jonathan were slated to vote, would suffice. In Daura, the SCR seamlessly accepted GMB’s and Aisha’s fingerprints within seconds and they went home while in the latter, the ‘sensitive machines’ stubbornly refused to accept the fingerprints of the president and Mama Peace, leaving them standing on the sun as common citizens for close to half an hour.
The scenario was simply frustrating, confusing and provocative to the president’s minders and those who watched the disappointment on their faces. But most disappointing was the INEC official, who appeared as if he was handling a Rocket Science apparatus that could easily explode to consume him: he was helpless. As at today, nobody knows what happened to the machines in Otuoke and other PDP states.
Were they jammed by malevolent elements to embarrass the first family or was it just an innocent coincidence that nobody had envisaged? A Correspondent of one of the leading Tv stations in Nigeria, attached to the Presidential Villa almost gave an inkling of what was to happen during the accreditation during a live transmission of the event, when he warned his anchor man, not to disconnect from the location but to ‘just stay on and watch and see what is going to happen”. It was a warning loaded with meanings, which most people did not take seriously until the ‘failure’ occurred, to the chagrin of all.
Where is the SCR magic?
For all the benefits and promises which INEC said the SCR would contribute to making rigging impossible in the last election, the cards simply could not significantly stall mass rigging in most states where the governors had already connived with compromised security agents, INEC officials and thugs to deliver a premeditated results to prove that they were in charge or were working for ’our son’.
Those governors simply made a ship wreck of the card readers and still rolled out impossible figures for INEC to announce at the end of the day. They slapped Jega on the face with their actions. After failing to browbeat Jega to abandon the smart card, the governors gladly sought and obtained the support of security agents to back their well-trained thugs and party agents to make a mockery of the cards.
In most states, the government-backed thugs merely waited for INEC officials to conclude accreditation using the cards for them to snatch both the result sheets, number of accredited voters and the card readers and move to their fortified locations to compute the ‘result’ before handing over to the INEC officials to announce with fanfare. In these states, those masterminding the rigging were fully aware that they could not win in a free and fair contest, given the fact that some of them insisted on certain candidates not minding the feelings of the electorate.
One of the media coordinators for one Southern governor said in a chat with this reporter that they had to resort to hijacking of sensitive election materials and writing the results by themselves so as to avoid being defeated in a free contest with the opposition, which was very strong.
“We knew that without using our boys backed by the security that we would lose to the opposition governorship candidate,” the source explained, adding “we have put the opposition in a tight corner with our electoral ‘massive victory’; it is their duty to prove whether we rigged or not but that is none of our business.”
Eclipse of the security agencies or electoral fraud accomplices?
For all the promises to help ensure free, fair and credible polls in Nigeria, can the Nigerian security agencies say boldly that they helped in a significant way to advance credible election or acted as a spoke in the wheel of progress? The answer is yes and no. Although the police high command and other security agencies gave the world the impression that their officers and men would provide a level playing field for a credible and peaceful election, the reverse was the case when the interest of the two leading parties-APC and PDP was factored in.
Most of the security men wanted to ‘deliver victory’ at all cost for those who paid them and by extension protect their jobs while a handful insisted on doing the job dispassionately and in the overall interest of Nigeria. But the ‘big bosses’ would not allow that to happen, hence the resort to ‘obey the last order’ and comply with the ‘order from above’, a situation which manifested in most security agents aiding and abetting electoral fraud and violence just to maintain the status quo in many cases.
The elections cost Suleiman Abba his job as Inspector General of Police. Some suspect that Abba was being difficult to the ruling party. He was accused of ‘not being sensitive enough’ by posting a police officer suspected to have sympathy for APC in Rivers State. The PDP insisted on having a Hosea Karma to conduct the election since he understands the riverine state more than any other police officer in Nigeria.
The attempt by Abba to ‘foist’ Ogunshakin on the state to conduct the election alongside three other AIGs and 2800 police men merely infuriated the powers that be and quickened his ouster from the force. While Ogunhakin was forced to flee Port Harcourt for Calabar in the early hours of the election day, the other police officers and men, never dared to set their feet on the Garden City throughout the duration of the election.
At least, it will teach those who contested for power that ‘what a man is afraid to do, a courageous woman can accomplish that with audacity and damn the consequences. Security men were used to rig these elections.
What worked and what didn’t work
Perhaps, the electoral umpire will be ready to return to the drawing board to work out more strategies to advance the Nigerian electoral system. It should be able to demonstrate to us that the card readers have the capacity to transmit how many people were accredited in all the polling units and indicate clearly where cards readers were not used at or deliberately manipulated for electoral fraud. Without that, it may not make any sense using it in future elections.
But the best way out is to launch Nigeria into a full scale electronic voting to eliminate intimidation, killings and snatching of electoral materials. The earlier this is done, the more likely the hope that the votes of Nigerians will begin to count. Again, that is the only way that those who spearheaded our democracy will not turn round to oppose reforms that will bring about sanity in the system and become ‘’assassins of freedom” like Herzen said .