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Elections are becoming organised crime in Nigeria –Chukwuma

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Elections are becoming organised crime in Nigeria –Chukwuma
 

Mr. Innocent Chukwuma is the Regional Director of FordFoundation, the frontline American private foundation with the mission of advancing global human welfare, in West Africa. An international observer in several elections across the world, he relieves his experience on the last polls in Nigeria

 

What is your general impression about the last polls in the country?

Well, as you very well know, election is not an event, but a process that begins with the pre-election preparations, voting day activities and the post-election process of adjudication on election petitions where aggrieved candidates go to court to seek redress. So if we begin with the preparations, to put it mildly, it was not a tidy process, although one would have to give the current leadership of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) kudos for getting the voter registration right, unlike previous elections, the continuous voters registration exercise enabled a lot of people to register, although, many, especially in the southern part of the country still had problems getting their permanent voters’ cards. One would have thought that INEC would extend the PVC collection since the election day was shifted. That must have accounted for the fact that out of the 84 million registered voters; about 73 million collected their PVC and disaggregate that to zones, states and perhaps local governments. Yet we had low turnout.

 

Besides that, you also had the failure of government to release their budget on time. Up until late last year, they were still debating on the N247billion that INEC requested for the elections. So when the money eventually came, they had limited time to effectively prepare for the election which impacted on the logistic crises that we witnessed.

And the third important pre-election thing to talk about is the legal framework governing the election. Up until few weeks before the election, INEC was uncertain about the legal framework that would govern the elections. They had hoped that they would be allowed to use electronic election results transmission system which was provided for in the amended Electoral Act, which the President, on four occasions, four record occasions, refused to sign the amendment of the Electoral Act into Law until late in the day when INEC decided to drop it. These challenges were indications that no matter what happened on election day, the election was already challenged, if not compromised.

 

What did you observe on election day yourself?

On election day, I moved from my house around 10am, which was supposed to be two hours after the commencement of election, from Ikeja in Lagos to Surulere, from there to Lagos Island to Ikoyi and Lekki and Ajah and discovered that election did not start by 8am in any of these places. In fact, by 1030am, in Ikoyi, people were still waiting for INEC officials and security people to arrive. In some places they did not come with presidential ballot boxes, while in one particular polling unit the ballot boxes had no cover. So you had a rowdy situation such that one thought that with the benefit of over 50 off-cycle elections that the current leadership of INEC had organised since 2015 when they were inaugurated till now, they should have mastered this election logistic supply chain management. But they hadn’t, which affected everything because, logistics is the major determinant of how peaceful or violent an election becomes. Because an otherwise peaceful atmosphere can turn to something else when the logistics, whether the ballot boxes, result sheets is not being complete or INEC officials not there in time and all of these are still challenging us 20 years after six cycles of elections.

 

Beyond the areas where you monitored elections, how will you assess election security during the period?

There were reports of significant acts of violence and voter intimidations in many parts of the country. In Lagos here, though I did not go as far as Okota area, but we did see videos that have been verified to be credible, that showed how elections in those areas were disrupted. On the face of it, you might say that these were isolated cases if compared with about 176,000 polling units and centres according to data given by INEC, but if you disaggregate that with the places where these violence and intimidation occurred, were minor. But is you begin to look at these neigbhourhood, who live there? What is their voting habit? You will see that what may be isolated on the surface may actually be planned with a view to a pre-determined outcome. I will leave it at that.

There are lots of researches going now, because if you come to Kano and the attacks happened in Sabongari; you came to Plateau State, it happened in Sabongari and you came to Lagos it happened in Okota, you go to Surulere, it happened in Aguda and you go to Rivers State, it happened in Abonenema, Anambra, Imo and you look at these whole areas, in terms of demographics, who occupy there and in terms of voting habits, who do they vote for and what is the interest of those who disrupted the election there? If you look at these vis-à-vis the outcome of the elections then it ceases to be isolated events, rather it begins to assume the character of pre-determination and planning with a view to an outcome.

 

Was it not baffling that such still happened despite the level of deployment of personnel during the elections by security agencies across the board?

Yes, the whole thing is that security agencies, I must make exception with the police, because the appointment of IGP Abubakar Adamu doused a lot of tension that would have arisen if Ibrahim Idris, the former IGP was in place, because a lot of people reasonably performed their jobs, with the exception of institutional challenges that they faced. But if you look at the Army, because there is an extant case law, where the Supreme Court ruled against their direct involvement in election matters, but as it happened they were not only deployed but were directed to deal ruthlessly with anyone who is supposedly snatching ballot boxes. The impact of such a message on what they actually did on election day is something to worry about.

But if you also look at the leadership of security agencies at the level of the Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, Chief of Defence Staff, these are people who should have been retired three or four years ago. At some point, there were serious calls for their retirement for younger ones to be able to rise, but they were deliberately retained. The excuse we were given was that you don’t retire commanders in the middle of a war. But we have been prosecuting the war against Boko Haram in the last 10 years. Does that mean that if the war continues and the security challenges we are facing continue, does that mean that they will retain their positions?

And if you look at the roles some of them played, you would have known that they should have done better, to put it mildly. And the one to which I take serious exception was the involved of the Comptroller General of Customs in this exercise. The CG is one person who is openly partisan as far as the candidature of one of the presidential candidates is concerned and why the occupant of that position is allowed to continue in an election where his appointer was a candidate was a blatant case of bias against the other candidates. So security agencies, the bulk majority of them, I will say, did their best, but in certain cases, they were reported to be bias. We saw the case in Rivers State, where a number of people were killed, allegedly by the military.

 

With regard to that extant case law, would you not agree that the involvement of soldiers in election security amounted to illegality?

 

Yes, as far as that case law is concerned, it was an unlawful deployment. However, I should hasten to say that election in developing countries have peculiar presentations. Why did I say so? I monitored the UK election in 2010 and I was deployed to Birmingham, an area that was reportedly challenged in terms of electoral malpractices. I was shocked that when I came this particular unit, the electoral officials were old people, an old man and an old woman. The ballot box was black and you cannot see through. When the election commenced, it was not upturned to see whether ballot papers were hidden inside. Voters were not required to bring a voters’ card. They simply named their post-code and their number, and the electoral officials searched through and were given ballot papers. When the elections were concluded, these two old people loaded the boxes into the boot of their car, drove to an intersection where they handed it over to a truck guided by private security guards, I did not see any police or soldiers, the kind of things that if we don’t see here we will allege electoral malpractices. I left with the impression that what was actually required for an election is trust and confidence in the role players and for them to play their roles diligently.

Contrast that with elections in Nigeria which is in fact a battle. Election in Nigeria is becoming a referendum on whether people want to live together or not. Instead of being a time to either validate those who are ruling us or replace them, election in Nigeria has become a time to determine whether we want to live together or go back to where we are coming from. It is also becoming an organised crime where criminal networks masquerade as godfathers, basically, organised to subvert the system and elect candidate who will go and do their biddings. And the voice of the electorate actually begins to count so little in many parts of the country and that should worry many of us. And if you look at the turnout, you will see that people have begun to lower their interest in elections in the country. In 2015, the participation level was 44 per cent of registered voters, but in this last election, it dropped to 35 per cent and if you disaggregate that number to the zones in the country, in the South-East it was only about 20per cent. That means that about 80 per cent of registered voters had no role in determining those who were elected and in an environment or society where less than 20 per cent elected the rulers it means that the majority was not represented in that election.

 

How did you see the case in Imo State where the Returning Official said he announced the result of a senatorial election under duress?

The situation in Orlu Senatorial District election of February 23 in Imo State is the best reason I describe the Nigeria election as an organised crime. This was an election in which people trooped out and voted, but after the election official collated and tabulated the results, a group of criminals, because that is what they are, held them incommunicado and forced them to declare a particular candidate the winner, which he had to do if he must stay alive. And after this, despite the video record of the event going viral that everybody saw that it was done under duress, the national leadership of INEC upheld this announcement. So the people who were rigged out are now required to go to court to prove their case. So the whole thing is a charade if you ask me.

 

The collation of results from polling units to wards, local government, state and movement to Abuja, especially for the presidential election has been said to be cumbersome and subject to abuse. What is your view?

The process was too cumbersome and as you said subject to high level of compromise and abuse. As somebody who monitored the June 12, 1993 election and witnessing retrogression, instead of progression more than 25 years after, it is very painful. The Electoral Act that governed the 1993 election said that after the election at each polling unit was conducted, results collated, the two agents counter-signed and were given copies which were as authentic as anyone the electoral officer now took to their national headquarters, and it was on the basis of that that the then Social Democratic Party (SDP), tabulated their numbers and knew that they had won which was validated last year by President Buhari recently.

So fast forward, over two decades later, why were we waiting for the results to be announced at the national level before we can say this is the authentic result? For me that is bad and are not making progress and that is why electronic transmission of election results system would have taken care of that. Because all that was required was that after the election results are collated at polling units and party agents counter-signed, in their presence, the presiding officer will key in the figures and at the national level, the server will munch the data and you will see it on the electronic score board going up and down from all the 176,000 polling units across the country. So one is left to conclude that those who prevailed on the President or maybe he was acting on his own, in his refusal to sign the amended Electoral Act that would have given legal cover to electronic transmission of results knew what they were doing. That was why I said earlier that election is not just an event, but one that begins with series of pre-election activities and in many cases it is actually what happened at the pre-election stages that actually impacts on the outcome and that is exactly what you are seeing from the outcome of these elections.

 

Does that not validate the fact that pre-election activities like the party primaries were preceded by crises, violence such that INEC said it has more than 200 litigations arising from it?

That is exactly where the organised crime begins, because I remember in one of the elections, not this one, the primary for Imo State was scheduled during the Peoples Democratic Party tenure, and one of the contestants was given a different venue for the primary. As he was busy going there, the election was taking place elsewhere! By the time he arrived at the real venue, they said the whole thing had been concluded.

If you also remember what happened to Professor Pat Utomi in Delta State, in relation to the All Progressives Congress, in preparation for this election. He was again given a different venue for the primaries, such that while he was looking for it, the result was being announced at another venue. That means that people who conduct some of these primaries are not interested in the participation of some candidates. This is why you cannot see any of the leading political parties doing any serious membership campaign. In any country where parties are actually what they are supposed to be – the engine of election- they embark on aggressive membership drive. But here sometimes, you see party deregistering some members to satisfy the whim of some godfathers.

Yes, the compromised election begins at the primaries and that is why our democracy has not been able to throw up credible candidate who have real vision for transforming the country, because they are all weeded out through the primary process. So by the time the candidates emerge, all decent people would have left the race.

 

Then, do you see any wind of change soon, like it happened in Kwara State recently and some are also clamouring in Lagos?

 

In general yes. No single family should be allowed to hold the people like a private estate for the period of time the Saraki family did. But if you again look at what happened in Kwara, without incumbency factor at the federal level, do you think that would have happened? But this is not to in any way diminish what the Oto ge movement did. But again, it is akin to what happened in 2015 when, for the first time we had an inter-party alternation of power and we celebrated. Yes, on the surface, without some elements of the ruling party at the time moving to the opposition party would that have happened? And we saw that repeat itself again in the buildup to these elections. The same people that moved in to deliver results from APC in 2015 tried again but they failed. So this cross-carpeting or political prostitution, which is the right word to use gives you the impression that we are making progress, but then when you look a little deeper, it is what Fela Anikulapo called arrangee politics- the same people moving from one party to another. When they are in one party they are demons, corrupt and all the rest but when they move to another party their sins are washed away and they are no longer corrupt.

 

NewTelegraph 

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