By Peter Claver Oparah
The shambolic conduct of the governorship election in Anambra State has revved to the fore the need for a credible electoral system that audits the leadership selection process of the troubled country. Many people have rightly identified the protracted leadership crisis afflicting the nation on the absence of a free and fair electoral process that is trusted to meet the people’s expectation of a proper leadership at any time. The macabre state of the country’s electoral process is reflected in the near state of war that is always levied on any area that is undergoing election. All manners of both legal and extra-legal militia are mobilized and laundered on any part of Nigeria where elections are scheduled. Be it as small as Oguta State constituency or as average as Delta Central Senatorial constituency or as large as Anambra State, there is visible display of military, para military and extra-legal forces such that inhabitants of the given area are made to either cower away in fear or become pliable to the interests of whichever interest that mobilises the greatest force. And often elections are always determined by this singular factor. Curiously, the police and the army that are expected to be neutral have been mobilized on the side of the interest the party in control of the federal government supports and this has rather exacerbated the problem of security which has been recurring in every election in Nigeria.
Jega’s woeful performance in the Anambra governorship election did not come to many as a surprise. Even with the syndicated effort to pass what was largely an arranged 2011 election as credible, Jega’s INEC has struggled to shrug off the tar which had stuck to it like a cosmic sore thumb with every election it conducts. In fact, the Anambra electoral shamble was like the rain that fell on Jega and his INEC’s heavily powdered face. Since the 2011 electoral heist, I knew that such ugly experience will soon dawn.
I suspected Jega’s commitment to a credible process during the tail end of the expensive data capturing voter registration process that gulped over N100 billion. When the then Action Congress of Nigeria raised the alarm that there were no central data capturing servers to store the data being captured of Nigerian electorate and as INEC waffled to explain this great laxity, my fear and those of most Nigerians heightened that we were threading a familiar path of electoral chicanery. It took my observation of the National Assembly election during the 2011 polls to conclude that the nation had been made to undergo another expensive charade. Subsequent elections were to prove skeptics right that in Jega, we merely had a change of face in the nation’s rich history of electoral malfeasances. The highlight of the 2011 elections was the presidential election where flattering electoral results that returned close to 100 percent of all registered votes for the ruling PDP in the South South and South East states. It was a monumental shame any electoral umpire, worthy of his name should have instantly disowned but Jega, with a straight face, accepted it as part of the election he and the beneficiaries of that heist has been passing as free and fair.
The opportunity Jega had to prove the credibility of the 2011 election was deliberately truncated at the electoral tribunal where he submitted, with a straight face again, that the CPC demand that he submit the election results to a cross check with the voters’ data he collected, tantamount to a threat to the nation’s security. It was then that I finally gave up on Jega and my belief that somehow, he might bring some redemptive impetus to the country’s farcical electoral system, went up in smokes. Come to think of it, what really was the purpose and merits of the very expensive voters registration exercise, if not to employ it to prove the validity of votes cast? Why should Jega and his INEC put up such an evasive position if they had nothing to hide? Why was he so much afraid of the votes confronting his data, if he was not playing the hideous role of a fixer for the party in power? Can Jega actually tell Nigerians the essence of the data he captured with over N100 billion if it cannot stand the contest with the votes he release at the end of every shambolic election?
Fact is that nothing has changed of the electoral process since Jega came. If anything, it had even become more worrisome. It is still one long stretch of mangled process where the fiercest warrior always have his way. I came to this conclusion when during the 2011 presidential election; I observed two people thumbprint the entire ballot for a polling center in my native Imo. It was a picture writ large in all states in the South East and South South. It could be pervasive all over Nigeria but the shameful results of nearly 100 percent of registered voters turning up and voting for one candidate makes the case in the area an exceptional instance. I didn’t much bother because I thought that somehow Jega had a magic wand with which he could weed off these cases of electoral fraud but I was disappointed when Jega gleefully announced these fake figures as the results of his ‘credible, free and fair election.’ I gave up. For whatever it was worth, it was a national shame and tragedy and the nation is buckling under that burden today.
What happened in Anambra was a disaster foretold and followed a new rigging strategy involving sexing the voters register by secretly padding it to reflect the interest of whoever the presidency wants to favour, voters massively disenfranchised from opposition strongholds through deleting from the voters register, voting materials denied strongholds of those the presidency wants to shield from power while the same voters materials are excessively deployed to areas the presidential favourite stands strongest, the police and other arms of the security agencies sent after those that are opposed to these interests while giving cover for all manners of gerrymandering in the chosen’s stronghold. These were some of the methods tested in Ondo State and fully deployed in Delta Central and Anambra State.
Some people have rightly said that the blame should not all be dumped at the doorsteps of Jega. They are partly right. Yes, the weak institution that opens all public institutions to serial abuse by those in power accounts for why the country is in its pallid state at present with those in power riding rough shod over all of us. But Jega seems to hide under this illegal alibi to supervise monumental heists that pore at the soul of the Nigerian state. But think of what a strong willed person would have done with such serially abused institution. We may not wander far for an instance of what value a strong willed head stands to imbue on the electoral system for we have the case of Humphrey Nwosu who withstood the pressures of those in power to deliver Nigeria’s best election in 1993. Again, the case of Eme Awa is poignant here. Sure he got sacked for not bending to the inordinate desires of the power that be. Yes, Humphrey Nwosu got unceremoniously booted out for his audacity to go contrary to programmed wishes of those in power then but their names remain intact, free from stain and difficult to tar with the kind of odious stench that trails the names of just every other person that had warmed the headship of the country’s electoral process, especially in recent times. Just cast a picturesque glance of a Humphrey Nwosu clarifying and re-clarifying the electoral process, its stages and how it would strike result, not forgetting to warn in every of his speech that there would be ‘no magomago and no wuruwuru.’
Among the weighty recommendations of the abandoned Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reform Committee was the one that places the onus for proof of conduct of a credible election on INEC. If such a recommendation is in place, does anyone think that the INEC ranks and file can freely indulge in the kind of bizarre liberty and corrupt indulgence they take with every election while transferring to the victims of their wily acts the extra burden of proving they did not hold any credible election?
But then, you wonder; why was the Uwais Panel Reports, like the legion of such other reports in our mangled national history, thrown to the rich dustbin of our national decay? The answer may be blowing in the wind of our national tragedy, of which Jega and his INEC rank supreme.
•Oparah wrote from Lagos. e-mail: [email protected]