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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Election and some Nigerian incongruities

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With just few days after the presidential election that has become enmeshed in the troubled waters of litigation, yours faithfully was invited by one of Nigeria’s most illustrious television stations for a review of the election.

Seated with me as a co- guest, was this young man of Northern origin who was very reticent whilst we all sat the waiting guestsroom for our time to proceed to the studio. He carries a surname that appears to show that he is from a politically exposed family in Katsina State because someone with a similar name was once a member of the National Assembly. Shortly after him and his friend entered the waiting room abd sat down for about 5 minutes, we were ushered into the studio for the main business of the day.

The review got on well but became heated when both of us couldn’t reach a common ground regarding the credibility of that contentious and badly damaged Presidential and legislative assembly poll of February 25th 2023.

Whereas this my co-guest painted a picture of a very perfect election and even branded it as one of the most successful polls, whatever that means, I took the other opposite end of the stick and summed up the election as ‘stolen’ and ‘manipulated’.

For instance, one of the reasons my other interviewer believed that the election was free and fair was the election results that showed that a majority of the outgoing governors failed to clinch senatorial positions as they drew near to the end of their second mandatory final tenure.

But my reaction was to pose the simple question with the example of a standard football match and then asked what will happen should a referee in a competitive football game, decides to adjust the size or position of the goal post at the middle of the match.

I alluded to the wilful failure of the electoral umpires to follow the statutory rules for the conduct of that election, with specific reference to the modality for uploading the compiled results right from the polling units almost instantaneously as the law prescribes.

Then something happened as soon as the programme was over and we got out of the studio to our different locations. The location of that television station is remote and is on top of a hill and not easily accessed by commercial cars.

So this man, with whom we got nearly to a point of fisticuffs inside the TV studio, requested a lift since his friend had driven to the Mosque to pray hoping to link up with him before the programme was over but it ended earlier than envisaged.

He hitched a ride with me and immediately began to agree with some of the points I made which he had disagreed with vehemently whilst we were live on air watched by probably millions of Africans.

But I begged him to let me finish a conversation on WhatsApp that I was engaged in. This was to cut him off from holding any sort of discussion with me. I was miffed that someone that young and from a terrorists infested state of Katsina exuded so much happiness that All Progressives Congress that has been in power for 8 years and worsened our situation has just manipulated the election to fix their own candidate who is so old and sick that Nigeria has become a laughing stock international just like Cameroon that is led by an old, sick Paul Biya. The truth is that Tinubu and Paul Biya are different sides of same coins.

So, as we proceeded to where he would hop out of my ride, he got into a discussion with someone I later noticed was a serving governor of a Northern State. And the discussion was on his appearance and the voice from the other side told him that he did so well. They spoke in fluent Hausa.

He also told the man that I, who was his co-guest, was the one giving him a lift. He is completely unaware that my first ever language at the elementary school in Kafanchan, Kaduna State of the early 1980’s is Hausa. So I comprehended all their discussion including the one incongruity that shocked me- the governor told him that he has decided to double his fee because he performed much better than they anticipated.

Apparently, this young man who is in his early 30’s and is educated up to a masters degree, argued on live TV about the election, not based on his conviction, but for pecuniary reasons. It shocked me to my marrows.

It baffles me, not necessarily because there is anything untoward or unprofessional about making money from a television appearance because there are actually persons whose entire career is on appearing on national televisions to degend a line of thought based on commercial settlement.

But my shock is that a young man from Katsina State, which has been a flashpoint of terror attacks since President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress, came on board, is the one that was singing the praises of the same political platform that has misled the nation of Nigeria and has made millions of citizens poorer than they were in 2014.

But here he is defending the conduct of the just ended election which even a Muslim scholar from Australia said, was rigged beyond human imagination. Also, a respected British tabloid said the election was rigged and even the states Department that congratulated Nigerians on the poll, said it is a controversial poll. Chatham House which most politicians seeking national offices go to to deliver campaign manifestos on the belief that the institute gets international media coverage, similarly condemned the Independent National Electoral Commission for deceiving Nigerians prior to the poll even during an appearance at the Chatham House by the INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu that his agency will upload results of the Presidential election from the polling units in real time which the electoral commission failed to do.

On 5th march 2023, an Australian publication said the controversial Imam of Peace, Mohammad Tawhidi, demanded that the outcomes of Nigeria’s recent presidential elections be rejected by the world community. Tawhidi, who has a large social media following, called the elections “full of corruption” and encouraged Nigeria to demand a new round of voting.

Tawhidi claimed that the process had been tainted by corruption and that the result was not genuine.

Tawhidi, who serves as Vice President of the Global Imams Council, an obscure organization based in Iraq, has a history of making controversial statements. He has previously been criticized for his views on Islam and his support for the State of Israel. However, his comments on Nigeria’s elections are likely to resonate with those who have concerns about the country’s democratic credentials, says the publication.

That Australian publication made a valid point that the controversy surrounding the elections in Nigeria has drawn attention to how crucial equity and transparency are to a healthy democracy. The international community has a responsibility to keep Nigeria’s bellwethers accountable and to ensure free and fair elections in the nation. It is imperative that the nation’s bellwethers take the required actions to allay the worries expressed by Tawhidi and others because the upcoming months will be crucial in determining the future of Nigeria’s democracy.

Then closely following the Australian medium is the British publication financial Times of London which said the February 25 poll “failed to set the example needed for West Africa, a region where too many national leaders have extended term limits or resorted to seizing power at gunpoint”.

In an editorial titled, ‘Nigeria’s badly flawed election’, the United Kingdom-based publication said what Nigeria needs is a clean election to reiterate the basic message of democracy: that a sovereign people can choose its leaders.

It, however, regretted that a “clean election” did not happen.

“The election — which appears to have delivered the presidency to Bola Tinubu, a wealthy political fixer running for the incumbent All Progressives Congress — was badly mismanaged at best,” the editorial stated.

Financial Times said the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) “badly misfired” having failed to “transmit voting tallies electronically from polling stations that would eliminate ballot stuffing”.

Voting started late in many districts, depriving millions of the right to vote. The system to upload results from 177,000 polling stations stuttered, causing legitimate concerns of vote tampering during long delays. Violence was troubling. Party goons invaded many polling stations in what appeared to be blatant acts of intimidation. The Financial Times witnessed armed men remove a presidential ballot box in Surulere, Lagos.

“The official result put Tinubu on 37 per cent, Atiku Abubakar from the People’s Democratic party on 29 per cent and Peter Obi on 25 per cent. But some individual results do not pass the smell test. That includes Obi’s ever-so narrow victory in Lagos state, where crowds had greeted him like a rock star.”

“If Nigeria’s courts find suspicions, they should not shrink from annulling individual contests or even the whole result, Financial Times stated.

Chatham House, an independent policy institute based in London, has stated that from its analysis of the February 25 presidential election, it would appear that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) failed to learn new lessons.

The organisation stressed that the electoral umpire failed to adhere to its own guidelines, which it enunciated before the poll, especially the one bordering on the uploading of results in real-time.

The London-based institute made the assertions just as Fitch Solutions lowered Nigeria’s Social Stability score in its proprietary Short-Term Political Risk Index (STPRI) to 17.5 out of 100, down from the 25.0 previously projected, following what it described as the aftermath of the “weak” mandate claimed by the country’s president-elect, Bola Tinubu.

Stating that Nigeria’s presidential election results had put disenfranchisement in the spotlight, Chatham House noted that despite boasting the biggest electoral register in Africa of 93.4 million voters, fewer than 25 million valid votes were counted in Nigeria’s 2023 election.

Writing for the body, the Associate Fellow, Africa Programme, Dr. Leena Koni Hoffmann, noted that the delayed opening of polls meant that many potential voters were not able to vote.

Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs, prides itself as an independent policy institute headquartered in London. Its stated mission is to provide commentary on world events and offer solutions to global challenges.

Founded in 1920, Chatham House engages governments, the private sector, civil society and its members in open debates. All the major presidential candidates in Nigeria were visitors to the organisation before the presidential election.

Chatham stated that Nigerians queued in the sun and rain to cast their votes, despite recurrent fuel crisis, epileptic power supply, record inflation, and a painful cash crunch.

Yet it noted that thousands of voters were disenfranchised, and multiple irregularities were recorded as well as intimidation and violence as noted by election observers.

Chatham House stated, “Less than half of eligible voters could participate in the elections, despite the commission’s N305 billion budgetary allocation. While Nigeria’s youth seemed energised leading up to the elections, it seems their ability to turn out is still being hugely constrained by how difficult and potentially dangerous it is to cast a vote in Nigeria.

“The INEC’s performance and controversies over these results mean that the electoral reforms and lessons declared to have been learned were not fully applied

“At just 25.7 per cent, the elections have the lowest recorded turnout of any election since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, despite being the most expensive. These dwindling numbers highlight how Nigeria’s politics and state institutions continue to exclude rather than include.”

The commission’s patchy deployment of technology in the use of a Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), Chatham House stated, was still being intensely scrutinised and criticised.

“It failed to adhere to its own statements and guidelines, which derive from its laws, that election results would be uploaded to its portal using the BVAS directly from the polling unit in real-time for the public’s viewing,” Chatham House added regarding INEC.

Having just 23 per cent of the public’s trust going into the 2023 election, Chatham noted that the need for strict transparency by INEC in this crucial phase of electronic results transmission could not be overstated and should not be downplayed.

The second incongruity is that INEC has gone to court to ask that it be allowed to reconfigure the computers used to store the results of the election which is a subject of litigation by the labour party, and the PDP.

INEC said it needed to do this so the governorship election can hold. Too many questions that follow are: does INEC not anticipate that election would be challenged and so makes adequate arrangement for logistics so it does not have to commit the illegality of tempering with the information that is needed by those contesting the poll? Secondly, is INEC such a dysfunctional house of jokes that it has gone to court after litigants got the order of court to look through these election materials which INEC failed to give them access to even when a court of law said so? Sadly, the Appeal Court has granted these suspicious and dubious prayers made to it by INEC.

The most disturbing incongruity is the aspect of ethnic profiling that is taking place in Lagos against the Ifbo speaking residents of that city especially since Peter Obi won the Presidential election in Lagos and definitely made a historical statement debunking the false narrative that Bola Ahmed Tinubu controls the entire voters in Lagos.

Only Yesterday, some suspected political thugs burnt down Akere spare parts market in the Apapa Ajegunle area of Lagos State.

The criminal elements according to reports stormed the market around 2am on Wednesday and shot a security guard and two other persons before razing down the market’s facilities.

In a video captured at the scene of the incident which was obtained by SaharaReporters, a man privy to the incident said, “A security man and two other guys were shot dead and they have gone to bury them immediately.”

An official of the Red Cross at the scene also confirmed that the market was burned down but he did not provide further information on who was responsible.

Reacting to the incident, an online user, identified as Frazee, said, “Akere spare parts market olodi Apapa is not so big because it’s in a residential area. So you have about two to three Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) members guarding the market at night. Igbos have become a target this period.

“Politicians are really using brainwashed people to forment trouble. Burning people’s means of livelihood just because of a stupid agenda is the lowest. In less than four months, the market will stand again, the people are so cooperative and financially strong.”

“So it is just one security man that secures such a market? The Igbos in Lagos need to be more vigilant and security awake. The enemies of good governance are not going to be taking things easy with them. This is a fight they must win. If they don’t successfully dislodge Lagos from the grip of these evil cartels come next gubernatorial poll, they will all be doomed,” another man, Pierocash added.

The grandfather of all incongruities is the compromised nature of security forces in Nigeria and the ugly scenario that the police were aware that that Ajegunle spare parts market dominated by Igbo traders was almost set ablaze by political thugs, but did nothing and allowed the market to be finally razed down. There is something dysfunctional and corrupt about the Nigeria Police, not just in Lagos but all across the Country. Photos that trended on the social media on the last election on February 25th showed policemen standing and letting armed thugs destroy ballot boxes and attack voters just in their attempt to suppress voting and unfortunately both the Army and the Department of State Services were no where near enough to prevent these disruptions. What kind of a Country is this that the police will stand and watch as crimes are committed and the crooks are let off the hooks? This February 25th Presidential and Legislative elections have manifested more things than one which showed that Nigeria has failed as a Sovereignty. A reading of how INEC stole election results from Jigawa and supplanted for some local government areas in Imo State whereby the electoral commission willfully refused to let registered voters exercise their franchise, should truly tell us much more about how Nigeria under the watch of President Muhammadu Buhari has deteriorated.

*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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