With the Independent National Electoral COMMISSION given a pass mark in the 2015 elections, building on this year’s improvement is still necessary, writes Ojo M. Maduekwe
The United States embassy in Nigeria, on Monday April 13 congratulated Nigerians and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) “for an electoral process on April 11, 2015 that generally went well across the country and built on the success of the March 28 polling process.”
While commending President Goodluck Jonathan and the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari as well as calling on aggrieved politicians to pursue their grievances peacefully through the judicial process, the press release said in part: “We have seen the REPORTS of violence and alleged irregularities, particularly in Rivers and Akwa Ibom States.”
Pre and post-election violence has claimed nothing less than 20 lives in Rivers State. Some put the casualties at 50 persons. The election-related violence in the state can be first tied to how the governor-elect and member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Nyesom Wike emerged through imposition by the presidency.
Secondly, the “do-or-die” attitude of the PDP to winning Rivers and the party’s use of thugs and militants to achieve political victory, along with heavy monetisation of the electoral process and the attempts to compromise election officials, were some of the things that gave Wike an edge over his main rival, Dakuku Peterside of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Local Government Areas (LGA) that had been hitherto REPORTED as experiencing violence during the April 11 elections were later disputed by INECs returning officers. Shooting and ballot box snatching were said to have been rampant in those alleged LGAs.
One of the most controversial 2015 elections, INECs Returning Officer in the state, Professor Faraday Orumwense, declared that Wike won by polling 1,029,102, which represents 87.77 per cent of the votes while Peterside, according to him and the obviously made up figures, came second with a paltry 124,896 votes, representing 10.65 per cent.
INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, once said politicians have always been the hindrance to peaceful elections. With the preparations put in place by the commission preceding the March 28 elections, several stakeholders had thought Nigeria had witnessed the last of a shabby electoral process; but it seems there’s only little Jega’s reform can achieve.
What is the benefit of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and card readers to the conduct of elections if politicians could still win through the use of thuggery, resort to MANUAL process, ballot box snatching and illegal ballot paper thumb-printing that characterised the March 28 and April 11 elections held in the state?
Jega, during a workshop in February 2014 said to ameliorate election-related violence, “the commission has introduced transparent measures in order to elicit the trust and support of stakeholders.”
Aside the introduction of PVC and card reader, “enlightenment with stakeholders such as the media, civil society organisations, politicians and political parties,” were EMPLOYED by INEC to ensure a peaceful electoral process.
There are some politicians who remain unwilling to conducting themselves peacefully during elections, and Wike has proven to be top on the list. There are allegations that results were written under Wike’s supervision, and that INEC officials were financially induced by the PDP with Jonathan’s police providing security cover.
The unfortunate experience witnessed in Rivers can be likened to the Maurice Iwu era, especially the elections of 2007 that produced the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and outgoing President Jonathan as his running mate, which observers that monitored the process gave a dismal mark.
For instance, the Chief European Union observer, Max van den Berg, had classified the election as fallen far short of basic international standards, saying that “the process cannot be considered to be credible.” He had cited “lack of transparency, significant evidence of fraud, voter disenfranchisement, violence and bias,” as some of the issues that tainted the election.
Other observers had said the 2015 election was the worst they had ever seen anywhere in the world, with “rampant vote rigging, violence, theft of ballot boxes and intimidation.” The sad part of all the reforms made by Jega’s INEC is that the same issues observers complained of in the 2007 elections were witnessed in the elections held in Rivers this year.
Except something drastic was done by the incoming government of Buhari, Nigeria may be back to square one and INECs reforms would come to naught. Having been a victim of poorly conducted elections on three occasions, Buhari is likely to take serious the continuous reforms of the electoral process before the next election year in 2019.
Already Buhari has assured that he would prosecute electoral offenders. Buhari who made this known to journalists after casting his vote in Daura, Katsina State during the governorship and State House of Assembly elections, was reported as saying that his party the APC was critically following developments in Edo, Rivers and Imo States in the gubernatorial and House of Assembly polls, and gathering evidence to present to INEC and the courts.
“The running battle from Rivers, the South-east and the rest of the South-South, especially by Governor Amaechi, Governor Rochas Okorocha and governor of Edo State with INEC officials and law enforcement agencies and the Army is remarkable.
“I think it has to be totally exposed so that Nigerians will know which of the law enforcement agencies and at what levels is undermining the Constitution of Nigeria because the Electoral Act is derived from the Constitution of the country, so that in future, those who are in position will know that they are not beyond the law. I think that is what will bring more stability into the system,” Buhari said.
Continuing, he said, “In view of that, I will try and work with the National Assembly to make sure that we do something about it. I will like to work within the system because we believe in it. I have just told you about three governors and the battle they have with the law enforcement agents in their states.
“We discussed and advised them to try and document these things legally so that it can be taken before the court and we will make sure that we register the cooperation of the court so that people who work against the law are prosecuted, especially those who have lost their immunity and those who think they have immunity because this is the best way to stabilise the system.
“People must not benefit from being lawless. You can’t be in a position by virtue of the Constitution, subvert the Constitution and continue to enjoy the privileges offered by the Constitution. I don’t think that will be acceptable by the APC. So, whether you are in the opposition or the government, you have to behave yourself. I think that is the way we can make progress.”
Thus, whilst the obvious brigandage and daylight heist in Rivers and Akwa Ibom State are a major stain to this year’s electoral exercise, it is gladdening to know that Buhari’s administration is coming in as a corrective regime and this ugly practice would be rested for good. Indeed, it gives hope that the presidential conspiracy that cost the lives of about 50 people in Rivers State would be addressed and sanctions dished out to those complicit in the act.