Sometimes I ask myself if we, as a nation and a people, are really serious. In a country prided as the biggest black settlement in the world, we most times fail to take the initiative, take action or address decisively things we ought to. We tend to allow others fight for us and then stand on the sidelines to applaud.
At present, Nigerians are clapping and celebrating that the United States of America (USA) and the United Kingdom (UK) have come out smoking hot over election fraud in our country. We are chanting eureka that other nations are ready to take action on things that directly concern us, not knowing that this is an indictment on all of us. A nation and a people ought to fight their fight. No nation should rely on others to do this for it, especially those things it is should, ordinarily, solve itself.
Last week, the USA and UK took official positions on the governorship elections in Edo State, which held last Saturday, and Ondo State, scheduled for next month. These two nations did not mince words in saying that they would not tolerate election fraud in the exercise. They announced their readiness to impose visa restrictions on anybody involved, directly or indirectly, in election rigging in the two states. The UK went a step further to say assets of those found culpable would be seized in its country.
The United States, whose presidential election comes up in November, is so worried about what happens in Nigeria during elections that it has restated its commitment to deny individuals involved in election fraud visas. The US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, who made this public, said her country insists on punishment because “the integrity of the election process is important to the fundamental trust of compact between citizens and their government. It is fundamentally important, and that is why we are taking steps to internally identify people we believe can credibly be construed to have interfered in the process.”
The ambassador said although “names of offenders would not be made public as US visa processes are in fact confidential, and so, we do not publish a list,” anybody identified “who intends to travel or apply for visa would be refused and impeded, but it is not something that we advertise. These individuals are those who had been involved in election processes in Nigeria, and should reflect upon that notorious behaviour in this regard, which may have consequences on their ability to travel to US.”
United State Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in an earlier statement, in relation to this, had said: “In July 2019, we announced the imposition of visa restrictions on Nigerians who undermined the February and March 2019 elections. Today, the Secretary of State is imposing additional visa restrictions on individuals for their actions surrounding the November 2019 Kogi and Bayelsa states elections and in the run-up to the September and October 2020 Edo and Ondo states elections.
“These individuals have so far operated with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and have undermined democratic principles. The Department of State emphasises that the actions announced today are specific to certain individuals and not directed at the Nigerian people. This decision reflects the Department of State’s commitment to working with the Nigerian government to realise its expressed commitment to end corruption and strengthen democracy, accountability, and respect for human rights.
“As the Edo and Ondo off-cycle elections near, we urge all stakeholders, including the Independent National Electoral Commission, the political parties, and the security services, to uphold the tenets of democracy and facilitate genuinely free and fair elections, conducted in an appropriately transparent and non-violent manner.”
The UK, on its part, in a statement by the British High Commission in Nigeria, said: “As a friend and partner of Nigeria, we are closely following the lead-up to the off-cycle governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states scheduled for September 19 and October 10, respectively.
“The UK takes a strong stand against election-related violence and, just as we did in the general election in 2019, will continue to take action against individuals we identify as being responsible for violence during the elections.
“This could include restrictions on their eligibility to travel to the UK, restrictions on access to UK-based assets or prosecution under international law.”
It is really a shame that actions we ought to take as a nation for ourselves are being taken by others on our behalf. Election offences are some of our biggest problems in Nigeria. The people who perpetrate this offence are Nigerians. The institutions that aid and abet this offence are Nigerian. The government that should take action against offenders is ours. The institutions that should take action, on behalf of government are ours. Sadly, nothing is being done, in the true sense of it, to address the problem.
It is far more than one year after the 2019 general election. In that election, many infractions were identified, including violence, disruption, intimidation of voters and denial of electorate the opportunity to exercise their franchise in many places. Security agents, from the police and the army, were accused of taking actions that impeded election process. Till date, we have not heard much about people being prosecuted or found guilty of these election offences. However, the US and the UK, as they stated in 2019, have already taken action against those they identified as guilty of election fraud in Nigeria.
It is no longer news that some top politicians, including governors in Nigeria and ministers of the federal republic, have been denied visas to the US and UK as consequence of their alleged link to actions that negatively affected the 2019 elections. Although the US and UK have not made public the list of those involved, those affected know themselves. If foreign nations, which are not directly involved in the conduct of elections in our country, could identify those who took actions one way or another to thwart the will of the people during elections, while we here cannot, it says a lot about our country.
We all witnessed what happened in Lagos, for instance, where people came out en masse to vote in the 2019 presidential election. Some of the voters did cast their votes, while others were waiting in the queue to vote for a candidate of their choice. Hired thugs and hoodlums, who perceived that the majority of the voters in those areas would vote against a particular candidate, invaded the polling booths, destroyed ballot papers as well as ballot boxes and chased away everybody. No thug or hoodlum was arrested or put on trial for that. Their sponsors were not arrested or mentioned.
It is here in Nigeria that the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, shouted from the rooftops as he accused soldiers of taking sides in the electoral process in his state to favour a particular political party in 2019. Election observers also alluded to this. It may have been investigated, but nobody was put on trial for this. There are other cases across the country where known politicians employed violence to subvert the will of the people in elections. Nobody is held responsible. Nobody is punished.
The UK and US have taken action over election fraud in Nigeria. Our government, which has not taken strong action, apart from blowing hot, is complaining that they are interfering in our internal matters. We should actually hide our faces in shame. Until we rise up as a nation to tackle this hydra-headed problem of election rigging, it will persist. If politicians are not ready to play by the rules, they should be made to, using the instrumentality of the law. Those who seek elective offices should know that election is about the will of the people. Voters should be allowed to decide who wins by freely voting, without let or hindrance. Any candidate who has the majority vote should win. Those who lose, in free and fair elections, should accept defeat.
The political parties should rise up to their responsibilities also. The process of election fraud starts from the selection of candidates. Officials of political parties have made themselves so pliable that the emergence of candidates is always fraught with issues. Different factions of political parties, supported by national officers, organise their own primary elections, select different candidates and then allow the courts to determine the authentic one. When electoral matters go to the court, shenanigans also play out, and justice is not seen to have been done.
By the way we conduct our affairs, it is apparent that this is not real democracy we have. A system that ought to be “government of the people, by the people and for the people” is now becoming government of the strongmen, where crooks and those who have the instrument of violence are manipulating the process to put themselves or their lackeys in power and government. It is a problem we must address ourselves. What other nations are doing to help us address this is complementary. It goes beyond saying that election offenders would be punished. They should be found out and jailed. Election fraud is corruption. It is criminal and should be treated as such.