Nigerian politics is thoroughly rotten. It is sharply defined by cheating, violence and, ultimately, rigging that utterly subverts the popular will. As a self-confessed accomplice in the systemic rot, Ibrahim Mantu, has shed light on the perfidy of the political class, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu, says the disturbing but rapidly increasing trend of election meddling through the deployment of counter-technology on a global scale by state and non-state actors must be confronted “to protect democracy”.
Mantu, a former Deputy Senate President, recently spilled the beans on how elections have been serially rigged in the country. Fittingly, he has been widely castigated for validating the obvious, but his exposé can only be ignored at our collective peril. For the INEC boss, it should now be obvious that the use of technology does not guarantee an iron-clad assurance of a free and fair poll.
Strikingly, Mantu’s confession is opportune, hitting the airwaves less than a year before the 2019 general election. It encapsulates the blight on the political class, which has been enjoying stolen mandates all along. The Peoples Democratic Party apparatchik says, “… we make provision for INEC, we make provision for security, we make provision for even agents of other political parties so that they will not raise any objection to whatever we are able to get. So whether I rig the election or not, by providing those resources … I have rigged the election.”
With the controversies that surrounded most elections in the past, Mantu’s words ring eerily true. Campaigns are scarred by rented thugs. On Election Day, ballot boxes are snatched and stuffed with pre-thumb-printed papers. Underage voting is extensive, as confirmed by video evidence from the national polls in 2011 and 2015, and the 2018 local council election in Kano State. Politicians buy off security agents to look the other way.
It is not surprising that though the police, State Security Service, military, civil defence and other agents of government are deployed during elections, they seem powerless in taking action against electoral heists. The Nigerian Army was forced to investigate the role of its officers and sanctioned some of them in connection with the 2014 Ekiti State governorship election.
Unabashedly, desperate politicians bribe voters openly in the voting queues. Following the 2015 elections, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission indicted 295 INEC staff for malpractices, of which the electoral umpire has temporarily suspended 205 of them. A number of officials, including former ministers, are on trial for allegedly compromising the 2015 elections with the sum of $115 million. The judiciary is not left out as desperate politicians shop for judgements. A former Justice of the Supreme Court, the late Kayode Eso, described some of the judicial officers involved in these dealings as “billionaire judges.”
Although the people vote, their votes do not count, principally because their fate is determined at the collation centres. There, crooked electoral officials rewrite the figures to favour their paymasters. All this begets apathy and violence. The Human Rights Watch said 800 people died in three days of riots in 12 Northern states following the 2011 presidential polls.
However, Mantu is not the only politician to declare that politicians are guilty of electoral fraud. In 2010, Donald Duke, a former governor of Cross River State, admitted that Resident Electoral Commissioners and the police commissioners were routinely cultivated to be on the side of the party during elections. The late President Umaru Yar’Adua admitted after assuming office in 2007 that the election that brought him to office was badly flawed. Indeed, the 2007 polls were described as the worst globally by international observers.
In recognition of this, Yar’Adua established the Muhammadu Uwais panel which proposed reforms to the electoral process in Nigeria. Its recommendations have since been swept under the carpet, perhaps because the initiator of the project died in office. His two successors have lacked the will to overhaul the rancid ballot system. Goodluck Jonathan barely gave it a look; between 2015 and now, with Muhammadu Buhari in power, there has been no noticeable improvement in the bye-elections, reruns and governorship polls that have been conducted.
However, the June 12, 1993 presidential election offered an exception. Although it was annulled without justification by military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, it was widely acknowledged as the freest and fairest ever held in Nigeria, perhaps because it was conducted using the open ballot system. Seeking to improve the polls, INEC introduced the Permanent Voter Card and the Card Reader ahead of the 2015 elections. The result was mixed. Although the innovation worked in several areas, it was deliberately compromised in some states, making the officials to abandon it in favour of the fraught manual accreditation and voting.
Free and transparent elections are, however, integral to a virile democracy. Without such, corrupt and debauched politicians will perpetually occupy high public offices. Only a strong President, in conjunction with the judiciary, can reform the system. So, all election riggers, be they politicians, INEC officials, thugs or security personnel, should be prosecuted.
The courts have habitually let election riggers wriggle out of trouble. Therefore, the National Assembly should tighten the electoral laws, putting the onus of proof on the accused. Similarly, those who rig should not benefit from their fraudulent victories. Elections should be held early enough to allow sufficient room for litigation before any winner is sworn in.
Although INEC wants politicians to stop compromising the system with violence and bribery, a major task lies with the security agencies. In 2014, hooded SSS officers invaded Osogbo, in the run-up to that year’s governorship poll in Osun State, disrupting the system. This was just a few months after the disturbing interference of the military in the Ekiti State governorship election. This is outrageous. The heads of the security agencies that engage in illegal electoral acts should be made to face the law.
The introduction of the PVC and CR in 2015 instilled some sanity into the system. To deepen it, INEC should upgrade its operations, with simultaneous accreditation and voting. In 2017, Somaliland introduced advanced voting technology, using the sophistication to clean its voter register. INEC should adopt the technology that will make its register foolproof, removing underage voters, duplicated names and deceased persons. But to ensure “trust, transparency and integrity” of the electoral process, the existing legislation needs to be reviewed to accommodate harsh penalties for election meddling through the deployment of counter-technology.