There was much enthusiasm and optimism among Nigerians that the 2019 elections would record some progress in the development of participatory democracy in Nigeria. The postponement of the presidential election on the eve of the event took citizens by surprise and those that had travelled to vote at the wards where they had registered were caught between staying to vote or returning to base and abolishing the idea altogether.
Among the efforts made by the Federal Government to assuage the pains caused by the postponement was the payment of salaries of workers before 23 February, the new date fixed for the presidential and national assembly elections. Besides this, the usually taciturn president took to addressing the nation, not once but twice within the period. Governors had their time on the airwaves. The security chiefs equally took to the airwaves to underline the fact that they were determined to carry out whatever actions may be needed to secure the ballot boxes.
With all the preparations and assurances that the weather would not subvert the delivery of election materials to where they were needed, Nigerians kept watch, hoping that while they slept another postponement would not be thrown at them.
So, Nigerians had federal elections on February 23 and state elections on March 9. The outcome of the presidential election is expected to be challenged in court. While some governors-elect emerged, a number of outcomes were adjudged by the National Electoral Commission (INEC) to be inconclusive. In the notable case of Rivers State, elections were held but the collation and announcement of results were suspended.
It was astonishing to see an electoral official announcing senatorial election results under duress. Some INEC officials got kidnapped, rough-handled and even raped. There were reports of ballot boxes being snatched, ballot papers being burnt, votes being sold/bought and massive thumbprinting of ballot papers captured by citizen-journalists on social media. At a point, the military issued an alert that politicians were planning bombings and assassinations. Happily, such plots did not play out or were nipped in the bud. In fact, while addressing his staff, the Chief of Army Staff stated, “Some [politicians] also intend to infiltrate domestic staff of political opponents, employ mercenaries to carry out acts of assassinations, use the social media for smear campaigns, hate speeches and spread fake news in a bid to disrupt the peaceful conduct of the elections.” Scary stuff.
With thugs reportedly donning security uniforms, it gets difficult to know who is the real army, naval, air force or police officer. The scenario makes it difficult to pin obvious malfeasance on anyone since phantoms had supposedly masqueraded as security officials.
What has happened to our dear country, Nigeria? The 2019 election will be recognised as a low intensity warfare in parts of the nation and bloody encounters in some areas.
It has been said that no election has been as militarised in Nigeria as the just held ones. Not even the ones held when the country was under military rule. This situation has to be checked otherwise some of us have the impression that politicians are merely caretakers in the governance apparatus with hidden puppeteers calling the shots.
The army does not need to issue more statements on the election as they have already made quite a few. It is doubtful if the military scores any point when it responds to comments made by foreign or domestic election observers unless such comments were made directly against the institution. Were they to have the military vet their observations before releasing them to the public? We do not need a situation where we question the neutrality of the military. Assurances of their neutrality do not appear to be matched by the reports of their intimidating presence from the field. The military should step back from the nation’s electoral processes.
One of the things that we learned from the election season is that the size of the crowd at a campaign rally can be deceiving. It is likely that politicians know this very well since the crowd is often rented, imported and schooled to shout the slogans. It is likely that the same folks showed up at the different rallies and the politicians do not really mind, as long as the crowd size massaged their egos. The battle was to be able to say, “My crowd is larger than yours.”
The election also showed the crude nature of party politics in the country. Candidates that could not secure a ticket from their parties quickly jumped ship and ran on the ticket of another party. In extreme cases, leaders remained in one party but supported candidates in an opposing party. This scenario played out in Imo State and Ogun State and manifested in a rather ugly, embarrassing and threatening manner during the APC rally at the latter. The drama in Imo State continues as the current governor, whose election into the Senate was “announced under duress,” has his name missing from the list of those to receive certificates of return from INEC.
No matter how we wish to coat it, elections in Nigeria are a do-or-die affair. Sadly. While there are many good fellows in the State Houses and the legislative chambers, many of them battle to get there because elections have become the avenue that assures winners of hefty returns on investment. The antidote to the madness that has become of our election processes is making it clear that elected persons are chosen to serve and not to amass wealth from public coffers. Being a legislator should not be a full-time job and remuneration should be computed as such. Allowances should not be outlandish and while being commensurate to the work expected of them, should not be much different from what obtains in the civil service.
The idea of constituency projects should be delinked from legislators so that they focus on law making and on holding the executive to account. This separation is essential because even though the cash may not be handed to the legislators, it is popular belief that they exercise fiduciary control over it and this is seen from the bicycles, motor bikes, sewing machines and the like that they loudly share in their constituencies.
Citizens can also help elected officials to curtail the drive for accumulation of cash, by not seeing them as bottomless cash pots. The pressure for “help” piled on politicians by constituents can get to very high levels of harassment and may be a factor in their dipping of hands into the public purse. In addition, citizens must engage the system and hold political office holders accountable. Our votes should not be wasted.
There is no reason why Nigeria must continue with a manual electoral system with result sheets conveyed in hard copies to collation centres. We don’t even need to put the electoral officers through the ordeal of reading results for hours when the results can simply be projected on screens and party agents can comment as they deem fit. It is not clear what the intent of that ritual is.
If some of the gubernatorial elections were inconclusive, what was conclusive? The short answer is pretty much little. It is time for INEC to return to the drawing board and conduct a post mortem of the entire exercise, leaving no stage out. We can do better.