How to identify your enemies before they destroy you, is a tested toolkit that has become as relevant in management as it is in politics. Knowing genuine threats and how to prevent them from causing inevitable disruptions and serious damage is the first step toward ensuring the credibility and transparency of election outcome. It is so because democratic elections require more than the casting and counting of ballots. And in a healthy democracy, elections hold governments and institutions accountable to the governed. But that is only possible when citizens are free to choose their representatives. And all votes must count.
The truth however is that our elections have not ensured accountability. They are rarely free and credible. They lack full conformity with electoral guidelines. The agencies of government saddled with this task have often failed to deliver. If you ask Nigerians this simple question: Can you trust the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security personnel to conduct, supervise free, fair, credible, impartial and peaceful elections? The answer will always be an emphatic NO. It hit a low slough of despond during the 2019 general elections. One definition of “trust” is the assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something”. Reliance on people or institutions is prudent only after they have demonstrated that they can be relied upon. Everybody knows this to be true, including President Muhammadu Buhari, that when it comes to elections, both INEC and security agencies, including the Nigeria Police have consistently failed.
No surprise therefore, that ahead of 28 rerun and by-elections slated for January 25, in eleven states, President Buhari last week seemed to have identified the enemies of our electoral process. Tuesday last week, he was reported to have directed INEC Chairman Prof. Manhood Yakubu and other top officials of the electoral body and the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to ensure free and credible electoral system process.
Though the meeting in which the President was reported to have issued the order was behind closed door at the Aso Rock Villa, the President was quoted to have told the INEC boss and the IGP to get their acts together, give no room for underhand tricks or manipulation.”Those that you declare as winners must be the candidates that the people have chosen “, the President said. He also assured of his determination and commitment to give Nigerians an electoral system that meets best practices anywhere in the world. He also charged INEC to stick to the rules of fair play and justice. Turning to the IGP, the President tasked him to secure the electoral process without bias or favouritism, adding that “our elections must be done in a violent-free atmosphere”. The process, he urged, must be free, fair and decent, devoid of intimidation or malpractice. He reminded the IGP that it’s the duty of the police to accomplish that, and that is what he (Buhari) expects “immediately ahead and going forward”. Well spoken, you will say, coming from the President. The statement by the president’s spokesman on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said that both INEC boss and the IGP pledged a fidelity to the rules and regulations.
But, will they obey the President’s directive? Both men are already trading blames. These are the enemies that may destroy the rerun and by-elections of January 25. Just last Friday; the INEC Chairman threw the first spat. He came very hard on the security agents deployed to monitor elections, alleging that their negligence has been fueling thuggery and other electoral violence. The venue for this blame game was at the meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security in Abuja. Yakubu’s anger was visible in his voice. He said:” The commission is concerned that security deployment in some of the most recent elections left much to be desired. There is much emphasis on number of security personnel to be deployed but less consideration on strategic deployment to protect the process, leaving the voters, election officials, party agents, observers, the media and even unarmed security personnel at the polling units vulnerable to attacks by thugs and hoodlums…No thugs and hoodlums can be more powerful than the Nigeria Police and other security agencies”.
The INEC boss is right. Anyone who has monitored our elections will agree completely with him. Very often, the security personnel are not more than window dressing, more in number, always in fury, doing nothing to help the integrity of the elections. Indeed, the aid rigging and other electoral malfeasance like vote buying in clear view of the voters and observers. As the INEC boss said, no thugs or hoodlums can be more potent than the police. Often, it is the failure of the police to act decisively and collaboratively that encourage thuggery. We know the IGP will not want to hear this about his officials under his leadership. Reality bites, but that’s the truth. It’s not surprise he has pushed back Yakubu’s allegations, throwing back his own stones at INEC and its officials for the various challenges in our electoral process.
The IGP is also right. Many INEC officials have compromised themselves. The recent court conviction of some INEC officials in the 2015 elections buttresses the IGP’s claims. Perhaps never in recent election history have we seen an electoral body and its leadership and officials so maligned, their integrity so impugned and rubbish as we have witnessed today. Some people have even invoked curses on INEC and its leadership. It’s that bad. INEC must redeem itself. The truth is that the President can give orders to INEC boss and the IGP. These two men can also give directives to their personnel in the field of election, but they have little to do with the final outcome. The officers deployed see elections as opportunities of a lifetime to make money. And they are determined to sell their souls to politicians with the highest price. Some INEC officials and security officials don’t see their assignments on Election Day as a duty to be done, but as a prize to be won in cash.
I still find the revelation of the former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke in The Sunday Guardian of July 18,2010, as perhaps the greatest indictment of INEC in our election, and what Yakubu must know (if didn’t know already) of how his officials compromised elections. “The Chairman of INEC”, Duke said, “has little or no bearing on the success of elections. That’s the truth. To me, it’s actually immaterial because he is the head of administration, he takes the brunt. The best he can do is perhaps draw a blueprint but the implementation of the blueprint is outside his control”. Duke was governor for 8 years. He knew what he was saying. In hindsight, he saw it all. The same seeming helplessness is what the IGP goes through. He can give orders, but he cannot command rain to fall or thunder to strike. In other words, you cannot lead from behind. Duke went into seamless details of the revolving door of Resident Electoral Commissioners, Presiding officers and Electoral Officers form the Trinity in the rigging process. It looks like a mafia kind of operation. Read the Donald Duke interview for details.
Altogether, President Buhari may mean well for our democracy and the electoral process. INEC chairman may want to see the electoral umpire as doing its job well, but faces challenges from the security personnel deployed to monitor the elections and prevent thuggery and electoral violence. In the same vein, you cannot expect the head of the Police Force to rubbish the integrity of his own officers. The unassailable fact in all of this is that none of these leaders is sincere enough to admit failure on their own part. For now, let’s see whether the January 25 rerun and by-elections will show whether useful lessons have been learnt, the President’s assurances notwithstanding.