The title of my article last week was “2023 elections: Will Nigerians, INEC, Politicians, or the courts decide? I put Nigerians first because it was supposed to be an election and Nigerians are supposed to choose those they want to represent and govern them. But historically, it has not always been so. More often than not, the electoral management body, politicians, and even the courts, have acted to foist a predetermined candidate on Nigerians regardless of what Nigerians really want. The history of elections in Nigeria is a history of open brigandage, voter suppression, ballot box snatching and stuffing, violence and threats, manipulation and cooking of results at the result collation centres, judicialization of elections, which has exposed and corrupted the judiciary.
Let me start with the electoral management body – the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It was formed in 1998 to conduct the 1999 elections. Although, it was meant to be independent, in reality, it was not. It was subjected to undue executive control and supervision and it lacked the capacity to conduct free and fair elections. The impunity that greeted the 2007 elections where even the elected president openly confessed to the flawed nature of the election that brought him into office, led to the first real attempt to reform INEC and make it a truly independent electoral body. Although the president that initiated the reforms in 2007 died in 2010, his successor appeared even more determined to carry out the reforms to their logical conclusion. That effort paid off with the massive improvement in the 2011 and 2015 general elections that led to the defeat of an incumbent president in Nigerian. However, since then, the reform of INEC has stalled. Although they continue to strengthen INEC institutionally and its capacity to conduct free and fair elections, the body has always performed far below expectations and with no transparency.
In the 2019 election, INEC blamed the refusal of the president to sign the act allowing INEC to use technology to conduct the elections and collate results electronically for its below par performance. At that elections, politicians targeted INEC’s collation centres, seducing, bribing, coercing and threatening collation officers to change or cook up entirely new results at the collation centres. When the president eventually signed the law permitting for electronic voting, it was a euphoric INEC that announced that the 2023 election was almost rigging proof as all voters would be accredited and authenticated electronically and all results at the polling booth uploaded to INEC’s server electronically. INEC even claimed to have test-run the electronic voting system during the Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections and it was fully ready for the elections.
What happened on Saturday? The elections were not only marred by shoddy preparations, but the extremely poor logistics also made INEC look extremely incompetent and incapable of conducting elections. What was more, INEC’s electronic voting systems mostly failed and most importantly, INEC reverted to manual collation of results. Expectedly, the results collated manually and the once uploaded electronically don’t seem to match and show glaring cases of vote cooking in favour of the ruling party. Expectedly, some international observer teams – namely the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) – jointly issued a statement alluding to the “inadequate communication and lack of transparency by INEC in the just concluded elections.” They concluded that this “created confusion and eroded voters’ trust in the process”. At what point did INEC decide it was going to do the collation manually? Did it inform all the political parties? And why is it that many of its manually collated results do not tally with results uploaded to its server by polling officers at the polling booth?
Politicians, on their part, have been one of the greatest stumbling blocks to the conduct of free and fair elections in Nigeria and are determined to rig the elections no matter the level of reforms and strategy adopted to stop rigging. They would sponsor thugs to wreck violence on voters, employ voter intimidation, threats and ultimately inducement. Prior to the 2023 elections, it seems they have settled on voter inducement and have deployed that strategy effectively in the Ekiti and Osun elections. What was more, with the almost total lack of government accountability, politicians easily divert public resources and use them to buy votes during elections. And with most Nigerians living in extreme and multidimensional poverty, most are unable to resist selling their votes during elections
On Saturday, besides whipping up ethnic sentiments and using thugs to disrupt elections and disenfranchise a segment of the population that is unlikely to vote for them, politicians, especially of the ruling party, seem to have targeted the returning and collation officers who are massively seduced to change election results. The embarrassing spectacle of manually collated results not tallying with electronically uploaded ones is the result of this strategy.
Then there is another layer to the rigging strategy, which is the judiciary. Politicians generally try to win at all costs – including open and blatant rigging of the elections. They always have one response to those who call the results of the election to question: go to court.
The courts are constitutionally positioned to sit on election matters. Judges are now instrumentalising that role to get rich quickly. Like I wrote last week, “since the judiciary realised its awesome powers to decide electoral victors, it has gradually and shamelessly replaced the people as the decider of elections in Nigeria. Judges now justle and lobby to be on electoral petition panels and ending up in one could settle the financial needs of a judge for the rest of his/her life. Such is the brazen nature of judicial interference in writing up election results that the nation’s highest court – the Supreme Court – where all election cases ultimately end up, has effectively replaced the people in deciding who is elected and who is not. They reserve the powers – and have used it too frequently – to declare candidates who are not on the ballot as winners. In some instances, they go into arithmetic, making candidates who come fourth in an election become the winner. Of late, they have been using all sorts of asinine arguments and rationalisations to foist leaders on the people.”
Judicializing elections has made it easy for politicians to target and easily corrupt the judiciary into doing their bidding. Truth is, all the burden of proof of irregularities of such scale as to affect the results placed on the shoulders of the petitioner, and judges are always shopping for reasons – from a misspelt name to the tiniest of error on the part of the petitioner – to dismiss the petition on technical grounds.
Leave a Reply