How To Steal A Nigerian Election
–Sen. Yusuf Tuggar
By ROBERT AMSTERDAM
The presidential election held this past April in Nigeria were seen as sufficiently “free and fair” by many observers, but at the local level for the gubernatorial election, reports of fraud, violence, ballot stuffing, and intimidation were rife. In several key states, candidates for the opposition party Congress for Progressive Change were subjected to bureaucratic harassment and attacks from the media, while in some cases the ruling Peoples Democratic Party enjoyed the support of the military to deliver the vote. Now the victims of the vote fraud are beginning to speak out.
Over the course of my law firm’s 30-year history in Nigeria, we’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the country’s most impressive entrepreneurs, young leaders, and impressive public servants, but this latest story stands out as a sad example of how the political system sometimes works. The experience of Yusuf Tuggar, a popular former member of the Nigerian House of Representatives (2007-2011) who ran for governorship in Bauchi State as the CPC candidate, featured nearly every trick in the book, from fraud to violence to curfews to basic cheating. The overwhelming popularity of his campaign in Bauchi – an important northern state with a population the size of Norway – led his opponents to undertake desperate measures to manufacture a stolen victory.
This week we caught up with Mallam Tuggar by telephone to learn about his background and find out what happened this past Spring in Bauchi State.
How did you first get involved in politics?
Well, I come from what you could call a ‘political family.’ My father was a national politician, serving as the Organizing Secretary of the ruling Northern Peoples’ Congress in the period before and after independence in 1960, and later went on to become a Senator in the Republic. Growing up in this family home, I was fascinated by public policy, and later went on to earn my degree in International Relations at the university in the United States. Even during my career in the public sector working as an oil and gas consultant, I regularly published columns in newspapers and magazines, where I proffered my own opinions and possible solutions to Nigeria’s political and economic problems. But following the death of my father, I finally made the decision to get involved in politics, having realized that would be the best way to give back to society and strenghten the linkage between myself and the people of Bauchi and Nigeria as a whole.
During your tenure in the House of Representatives, what were some of your goals and accomplishments?
To begin with, I was the Chairman of House Committee on Public Procurement, which oversaw government spending on a variety of projects, be it construction, oil and gas, education, health, water resources, and beyond. Our goal was to ensure, as much as possible, compliance with the Public Procurement Act that had been recently been passed in 2007 by the incoming president Umaru Yar’Adua, aimed at increasing due process, openness and transparency. We created a tracking and monitoring system of government contracts open to the public on the internet, connecting with civil society groups to monitor and discourage instances of corruption – and I saw this as an important new link between civil society and the legislature. We also actively pursued the creation of the National Council on Public Procurement, which we felt would separate the day-to-day affairs of awarding contracts from the meddling of the president’s cabinet, allowing transparency to prevail.
I was also a member of several committees, and worked on the passage of Local Content Bill, which was geared towards ensuring that Nigerian companies became more active in the oil and gas sector. I served as a member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Committee on Agriculture. Before all of that I was also Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Public Petitions. In this department, we successfully carried out several petitions that helped common Nigerians seek redress where it was not possible from other arms of government – in the past, this had been a big problem, in that a petition filed with the National Assembly would often not go anywhere, but we provided real and lasting solutions for many citizens.
On my own, I was also the sponsor of quite a number of legislative items, including a bill looking into the inhumane transport of livestock, much needed amendments of past bills, such as the procurement act, as well as motions that drew attention to youth issues.
In your opinion, what do the people of Bauchi State need from their leadership? How did you seek to address these needs in your campaign for governorship?
What we saw as really deficient in Buachi was a lack of focus, policy programs, for governance. As such, before even declaring my candidacy we worked avidly on ensuring that we knew what we wanted to achieve in getting into government in Bauchi state. Our primary focus was agriculture, because Bauchi is one of the leading states in terms of agricultural resources and tax potential that is yet to be realized. In order to do this we focused on a number of policy areas. Education was a major initiative of my platform, as we aimed to implement programmes that would provide more skilled and unskilled labour for the agricultural sector. Water infrastructure is another primary need for the people of Bauchi, and because of my experience on procurement in the House of Representatives, I could see what needed to be done in the state as a whole. My constituency was a microcosm of the state as a whole, and I experimented with water projects within my constituency and could see what could be achieved as a whole. The next thing is health: of course, access to primary healthcare is still a major issue in Bauchi State, and one that has a big impact on the economy. And lastly, our focus was on building quality roads – providing access to the market, access to the source of production of cereals and other agricultural products. These are the five things we wanted to focus on.
Do you feel that you were running a successful campaign?
Compared to the other candidates we had almost a flawless campaign. There was little to no incidences of violence. I was the only candidate who campaigned throughout the entire state. Out of 212 wards in Bauchi, I visited voters in 202. The 10 wards I wasn’t able to go to were only delayed because the governor decided he wanted to go on the same day. We carried out a very responsible and positive campaign emphasizing the programme I described earlier, and we sought to avoid any clashes with the opposition. Whenever an opponent or the opposition was going to be in a particular area, we kept all of our people away. We eschewed violence and trouble making.
The popularity of our campaign was self-evident from the beginning. As Bauchi has a youthful population, and I happen to be considered ‘young’ by Nigerian standards, we were able to capture a strong appeal among many influential youths. Other voters told us they were attracted to our campaign because of our record of achievement and competency in local government. My constituency, which had become a model of sorts for other wards, was seen as a success story. But a key difference, I believe, was that we had our policy programme clearly defined. We did not simply promise to provide water, medicine, and hospitals out of the sky – no, instead we decided to break it down to show voters how we intended to fund, plan, and implement the projects at the grassroots level. This had not been done before.
Lastly, I think that our willingness to campaign broadly and travel to nearly all the wards was new. For most of the wards, it was the first time they were seeing a candidate visit. It was quite remarkable experience, and by the end, as the vote neared, all the polls showed a very comfortable lead: we were expected to take approximately 44-45% of the vote, well ahead of the other three major parties, leading a 10-15% margin over second place.
So what happened?
Well, after the presidential election, which preceded the governorship election, the ruling party, the governor and some of his supporters instigated violence, which provoked an already unsettled reaction from much of the Bauchi population to the presidential outcome. Fearing a defeat at the ballot box, they sought to create a ‘security situation’ as a pretext to put in place a curfew, which is what they did, on April 26. They put in place a curfew, enforced by the Army, followed by crackdowns – although we have evidence that members of the PDP were given passes and allowed movement. Needless to say, many of our supporters were arrested.
During the violence I was actually called upon by the head of the security agency to come out and help calm the situation down, and appeal to people. It is interesting that this was not something that they were asking the governor to do, because you know if the governor goes out, the people were obviously not on his side, and probably he would not be able to perform that function. So I agreed to go out and help calm the situation, at the behest of the security agencies.
Of course the main issue here is that there is nowhere in the world you have a free and fair election with a curfew in place. There was a curfew the day before the governship election, as well as the Election Day itself, from 7 am all the way to the election. This of course meant our election workers, monitors, and representatives were not allowed to freely monitor the dispersion of election materials from the local governors all the way to the ward levels, which was the norm. And under the laws of Nigeria every political party has a right to have its agents witness the distribution of those materials. Our agents were deprived of doing that because of this and subsequent curfews.
To the best of my knowledge, the only time you have curfews imposed during elections is when you don’t want free and fair elections to be held. It happened in Ivory Coast in 2010; Iraq in 2010, when terrorists imposed a curfew; and I think it also happened in Honduras when people in opposition to a military coup also declared that there would be a curfew, they would not go out and participate in elections. So when a state governor who is also contesting in a particular election, decides to impose a curfew, clearly he’s looking to take advantage. Which is what the governor did. He retreated to the government house and started issuing passes for his own operatives and supporters. They could move freely because they were given these passes. Whereas our own supporters, CPC members, were not allowed to move.