| By Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda |
THERE is obviously a dire desire by every citizen of Nigeria for a free and fair election devoid of violence, come February 14 and 28 in the midst of a palpable fear. These two dates and in particular, that of the 14th is so crucial and pregnant, giving everybody goose pimple resulting from the fear of an outbreak of violence, particularly because of the experience of what is happening in the north earthen part of this nation and the unfortunate reaction that trailed the last general election. The reminiscence of the orgy of killing, abduction and destruction is giving every person concerns. For those of us who witnessed the civil war, we are particularly very apprehensive of the current state of the nation. As a result of this apprehension, the signing of a pact by the two big political gladiators was seen by many as a welcomed development.
However, I not very optimistic and therefore received the news of that signing of the nonviolence pact with subdued optimism. This is because of what I witnessed during the so-called PDP primaries that took place in my home state — Akwa Ibom, despite the TV show that tended to give the impression of a “Free, Fair, Credible and Transparent” election. The exercise left me very worried and concerned with lots of misgiving about what to expect in the forthcoming general elections in Nigeria.
The display of the supposed “free, fair, credible and transparent election” on TV, by showing the voting process can only be described as so-called. The greatest manipulation of electoral process called election rigging are not mostly carried out at the polling booth particularly those that are monitored and are located in the urban centres. Admittedly, some sort of rigging happens during voting. I witnessed the following manner of rigging at the polling station in a particular party dominated area: (a) people suspected of supporting other parties other than the dominant party were not allowed to vote, by physically preventing them from entering the venue (b) some party men either during casting of vote, thump print the ballot papers as the people are thumping it to make it invalid or during collation they thump print votes cast for the other party that is not very strong there, thereby making the vote cast invalid (c) members of the dominant party in sorting out the ballots cast, thump print the votes of the other parties so that the ballot will be declared invalid. Also there is the issue of ballot box snatching. This, I have witnessed; and the other is diverting the electoral materials and official to a pre-arranged location while the electorates wait in vain. At the collating centres, figures are changed in favour of the dominate party.
During the last primaries in my state, I notice a novel method introduced; that was by sending photocopy materials to the other centre while the original was retained in government house, where they sat down and filled the form and returned who they wanted. That was how they came up with the delegate list; hence the other aspirants rejected the list. This saw to the emergence of many lists thereafter. The party that was supposed to be an unbiased and a neutral umpired, was to have the list signed by the party national chairman or the organising secretary, but turned around to accept a list signed by the state chairman a day before the election, while the law requires that it be signed by the national chairman or the national organising secretary, and published days before the election. Their action thus flouted the guidelines for the party primaries, yet they went ahead and accepted the result howbeit. The list so fraudulently produced had out of the 23 aspirants only the name of one aspirant as a delegate. Therefore the other twenty two aspirants were not delegates in an election they were candidates. By implication therefore, the aspirants could not even vote for themselves. That was how in Akwa Ibom State delegate election, some aspirants had no votes at all. So what was shown on the TV was a charade, very many kilometers away from free, fair, credible and transparent election.
On the day of the election, the guideline required that accreditation should be conducted in the venue. But what did we have? When the 22 aspirants arrived and questioned the returning officer as to where the accreditation was conducted, he answered that it was done in the government house. And when asked, by whom, he responded by the chief security officer to the governor. This type of acts invalidates the concept of free, fair, credible and transparent elections. A situation where the delegates are camped in a hotel hired by the government, and conveyed to the venue in a government hired bus, does not make the election free and fair. A situation where the number of votes cast outnumbered the registered number of delegates both ad-hoc and statutory does not make the election free and fair particularly when known figures boycotted the process. That very act made the election not free, not fair, not credible and not transparent. So the TV show to portray the election as free and fair was an arrant nonsense. In such a situation, in a national election, violence will naturally erupt. My question here is, how will the signing of a pact prevent violence when obviously the will of the people have been subverted ab initio?
Signing a pact or accord and on the other hand allowing any method of manipulation to occur will not be an antidote to violence. What the government must do to guarantee peace is not to subvert the will of the people in any form and by any of its agencies. I see this manipulation happening with the government agency whose responsibility it is to handle the election blundering in many respects. Recent of them is the matter of permanent voters register, PVC. An agency that knew it was going to conduct election in February 2015 using the permanent voter’s card only, if it was sincere with its work, would have produced the PVC before the end of December 2014. This agency that has been so pampered in the desire of the government to move this nation forward out of the dark era of bizarre election rigging, by giving it all that it needs, yet it flounders in the performance of its primary responsibility; leaving much to be desired. What I don’t understand is why the President has kept quiet over such misdoing by INEC. The president should not have waited so long. He should have given INEC a marching since November 2014 to produce the PVC before the end of that year. Commendably INEC has never complained that the government is under funding it, but instead has acknowledged that it has received all the money it required.
I and my wife have not got our PVC, and we are only carrying the temporary Voters Card issued by INEC, though we registered in two different locations of Akwa Ibom and Lagos, respectively. Other prominent Nigerians have also complained of not receiving their own permanent voter’s card. This means that if election holds many people will be disenfranchised. Such disenfranchisement will not engender a peaceful election. So peace accord or pact in a situation that people are disenfranchised will not guarantee the much desired non-violence.
Looking at the record released by INEC, which shows Borno State as recording a zero percent collection, what impression and implication has this? Would we be wrong if we classify this as a structural disenfranchisement, which is capable of making the election unacceptable? Is this not a recipe for more violence? How would accord signed by the two gladiators avert such ugly incident? I submit that there is nothing in signing an accord, when we are trudging on the path to an inevitable violence! The government had better gotten it acts together. This is a better accord than a paper signed whose value is as useless as it becomes.
What am I then saying? For the benefit of those who cannot read between the lines, I am by my position urging the authority to pursue righteousness in its dealing with the people. There is a social contract which they must respect and not assume that all Nigerians are fools and ready to accept just anything they dish out to us. I very honestly subscribe to a campaign that does not intone insult and abuses on anyone. However, this does not imply that we cannot bring out somebody’s weakness to strengthen your view. It has to be done with decorum and civility. Election to public offices should not be a do or die thing. We should understand the underlying intention which is to serve the people.
The way to do this is to inform and enlighten the electorate on what you intend to do for them, and then leave the people to decide if that is what they desire. It does not include hoodwinking the people to accept you by subverting their will with force and brutality. In the last general election, by the time I arrived to cast my vote I was told that they have voted for me. I suppose you know what that means! Yet we all sang that it was a free and fair election. What manner of free and fair election. As it happen in Akwa Ibom during the primaries, 22 of the 23 aspirants were exclude from casting a vote for themselves and they showed on TV that the election was very transparent, credible, free and fair. If that is what we mean by election being free and fair then we can expect the worst on February 14. God help us!
Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda is a medical sociologist, security consultant, a social commentator and the author of the books – The Bewitched Church; and- Issues in Security Awareness.
— Feb. 2, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT