A recurring feature of Nigeria’s electoral history is one of widespread irregularities, manipulation of election results, compromise of electoral staff, use of federal or state might to scare electorates and force the pendulum of the ballot to swing the way of the ‘powers that be’. In many cases, this has led to loss of lives and destruction of properties worth several billions of naira. But perhaps the most debilitating effect of this spate of affairs in a democratic state is the erosion of the confidence of the electorates in the electoral process.
It is not unusual therefore, to hear statements such as, “what is the need for voting when my vote won’t count at the end of the day” from Nigerians who obviously have lost every shred of confidence in the system, and as such have decided to vote with their apathy. This situation is put in proper context when considered against the voting statistics of the 2015 general election. Whereas, over 60 million Nigerians registered to participate in the process, only about 28 million of that number eventually came out to participate in the exercise. The question that has therefore agitated the minds of pundits and stakeholders alike is: what are the remote and immediate factors that sustain the citizen apathy towards the electoral process. But the answer is not far-fetched: it is informed by the lack of transparency in the process, hence why many Nigerians would rather play football on the streets; visit beer parlours to quaff alcohol or stay indoors on election day; a day they ought to exercise their greatest duties as citizens as recognised and sanctioned by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
It is against the background of this institutionalised rigging of the electoral process that one tends to look with askance the current clamouring for Nigerians to get their PVCs ahead of the forthcoming 2019 election. It has been restated with so much gusto that one tends to wonder if it is definitive of the electoral process as the reality on ground seems to suggest otherwise. As much as it is important for Nigerians to go get their PVCs, mere ownership of same does not translate to an inside-out cure of the disease of our electoral process. It is at best an accessory. It is not an end in itself, but rather a means to an end. It is not necessarily a primary factor, but a secondary one which can, and has always been circumvented by the electoral umpire as the history of our elections has shown. And so while sensitization efforts are being made for citizens to get their PVCs, we are of the considered view that equal energy should be spared in emphasising on how to protect the ballot when the PVCs have had their day in the sun. This suspicion is even more instructive given that we have not particularly seen the electoral umpire in the vanguard of those on the PVC overdrive. On the contrary, disgruntled Nigerians, Civil Society and interest groups have been in the forefront of this advocacy.
The imperative for citizens to protect their votes side by side getting their PVCs was perhaps put in proper context last Tuesday, 1st of May, 2018 at the just concluded 11th edition of The Platform organised by Pastor Poju Oyemade of the Covenant Christian Centre with the theme “Get Involved” which we attended. Speaking on the topic: Rigging election in developing countries and how to protect our votes”, Dr. Donatus Okonkwo, Chairman, Board of Directors of Tetrazzini Foods Plc, emphasised the need for protecting votes cast at elections to avoid a doctoring or rewriting of results. Using the 2003 gubernatorial election in Anambra state as a case study, the Man who just clocked 50 the other day, went on a graphic account of a situation whereby the results that was announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were at variance with the actual votes cast, and thus did not reflect the aspirations of the masses and concluded by instructively stating that “getting your PVC is important but what is more important is protecting your vote”.
While it is conceded that the gale of misrepresentation of votes cast at election has considerably improved with the introduction of the electronic card readers in 2015, there is nothing to show that mechanics of compromising the system hasn’t been discovered. In any event, cases of malfunctioning of these devices at virtually every election where it has been employed abound, thus necessitating a revert to the manual system of accreditation that is prone to compromise by unscrupulous INEC staff working in cahoots with partisan security agencies. While also speaking at the just concluded 11th edition of The Platform, Pastor Francis Adebayo of the Harvest Place, Maryland –Lagos who was an aspirant to the Lagos State House of Assembly at the 2015 general election told the story of how officers of the INEC had approached him to rig the election in his favour through the instrument of the card reader but for his refusal to play ball. Whether he lost or won the election is anybody’s guess.
But where does all of this anchor? It is this: there is only but a limit at which the PVCs can ‘travel’. When the stakes become so high, the PVCs, whatever their numbers, tend to buckle under the weight of compromise. What happened in Kano at the last general election even though the INEC has handed it a clean bill of health, speaks to the fact that all of us, including our PVCs are all slaves to the whims and caprices of the electoral umpire who constitutionally has the mandate to determine the result. Many people have argued that the reason why the last administration lost to the incumbent government may not be unconnected to the fact that the leadership of INEC at the time, had a sympathy for candidate Buhari and thus orchestrated a ‘technical rigging’ of the process that brought in the current administration.
And assuming we are allowed to take the point even further, an understanding of our democratic system would reveal that the primary elections at the party level are the big deal. It is not for anything that they are referred to as “primary”. You could call it the fundamental election if you please. These platforms often throw up a narrow cast of individuals from which electorates can only make a choice through the instrument of the PVCs. And it is understating the point to say that they are often left with the sorry option of choosing between a rock and a hard place eventually at the general ballot.
To make the point clearer, as much as there is an apprehension over the Buhari presidency, there is nothing suggesting that he’ll not eventually pick up the ruling party’s presidential ticket whenever the party agree to a scripted primary election, thus leaving the electorates with a Buhari option at the end of the day. And whoever emerges at the primary election of the opposition political parties whatever their leadership pedigree, the electorates must make a choice between them and the incumbent with all the possibilities of interference by the electoral umpire lurking in the corner. In making reference to the electoral umpire in ugly colours, we do not necessarily indict its leadership, Professor Mahmud Yakubu; we are only suspicious of the system which has proven in many cases to be incapable of total control and sanity by its leadership. And so when the chips are down, the PVC for all its ‘majesty’, can only go as far as the electoral officers want it to. That is to say, its potency is at the mercy of INEC in the absence of an institutional framework with the capacity to monitor all the stages of the electoral process that normally come to a head at the collation and announcing of results to the end of protecting the votes cast at the ballot.
If democracy must make sense to the citizenry, it must allow for a system whereby the choice of citizens is allowed to find expression in unison at the ballot. It would not strangulate through acts of subterfuge the collective will of the people and the electoral umpire must be seen to be above board in the conduct of periodic elections. And as there are no guarantees that the electorates won’t be short-changed at the forthcoming 2019 elections, Nigerians would do well by ensuring that their votes truly count beyond going out in droves to get their PVCs, lest it becomes a means of identification as against a means of changing the face of power.