If there is any issue that Nigerians, even the greatest critics of the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, will appear to have a consensus on, it is the genuine effort of the President to bequeath a legacy of free and fair elections in the country. Apart from supporting the various progressive electoral reforms initiated by stakeholders, the President has provided the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with the necessary wherewithal to deliver on its mandate. I am also aware that in virtually all the past elections, the President warned the enforcement agents to refrain from any form of compromise. Hence, it can be said that, not only through his pronouncements alone but also through his deeds, he has demonstrated his commitments towards transparent elections in the country.
Of course, this is not to say that we still don’t have some black legs in his administration that are hell-bent on sabotaging these genuine and patriotic efforts of the President. To this I shall revert later in this discussion. In the next two months plus, Nigeria will be witnessing another general election that will usher in a new set of leaders for the country. Not up till of recent, precisely the last three gubernatorial elections in the country, could it be said that our elections were gaining the traction of credibility. All the previous elections, prior to these latter ones, suffered from one affliction or the other. In most of those general elections, they were characterized by political thuggery, material influence, incumbency factor, electoral outcome manipulation such as alteration of results, ballots snatching, defacement of results, etc. In order to tame most of this malfeasance, INEC introduced several legal and policy measures and mechanisms, particularly with technological aids, with the aim of boosting the transparency of the country’s elections. Among the early innovations were the permanent voters’ cards (PVCs) and card readers.
While the former sailed through and is now a feature of the country’s electoral process, the latter failed to be legally recognized, courtesy of the apex court decision that denounced its usage without the appropriate enabling legal instrument. Undaunted and resolute, the Commission continued to strive for the improvement of the process by introducing electronic transmission of results in the elections. The experiment was successfully test run in the gubernatorial elections of Edo state, Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states.
Based on the experience, in the then ensuing legislative reform of the Electoral Act, the provision was boldly and clearly introduced in an unambiguous manner by the Commission. Expectedly, politicians, who are used to the manipulation of the electoral outcomes would not easily concede to it. All manner of resistance were strewn on the way of the continuous legislative recognition. The main argument canvassed against the introduction was the inadequate network coverage, otherwise known as internet connectivity penetration. The politicians, again as naturally expected, found ally in the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), another agency manned by political appointees. Notwithstanding this onslaught, the INEC remained committed to its vision by insisting on the continuous legal recognition. With the support of the other stakeholders, arising from the public hearings, the legislators became overwhelmed and all resistance put up by them crumbled, thus leading to the legal recognition of the electronic transmission of results at the polling unit level.
This transmission is enabled through the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), a device that replaced the card reader and used not only for the registration of voters but also used for the accreditation of voters on the election day. This is, therefore, beyond the transmission capability of the device. Contrary to the misconception in some quarters, particularly amongst politicians, the device does not require internet connectivity to function, provided the battery is charged and is well configured. The only point that the connectivity might be required is in the transmission which can be ignited at earliest opportune time once the results have been inputted in the device. Beyond this, I understand that the device is also satellite-enabled as a backup. With the BVAS, it is now difficult to manipulate the electoral process. The legislative intervention has also largely enhanced the process. Under the Electoral Act, the discretion to accredit voters, hitherto vested in the presiding officers, has been eliminated.
It is either there is facial or fingerprint recognition of the potential voters or denial to vote. No more use of incident forms through which electoral frauds are perpetrated with the use of PVCs. It is therefore puzzling to hear that politicians in Nigeria are busy buying permanent voters’ cards now. How they intend to use them still beats one’s imagination. The good news is that we have been assured for the umpteenth time by INEC that the attempt and effort will ultimately turn out to be illusion, arising from delusion. Of importance amongst other novelties in the new Electoral Act is the fact that overvoting is now a function of accreditation rather than registration. All these innovations, amongst others, are already rendering the journey to credible election pleasurable for Nigerians. However, two major hiccups still militate against the full realization of this potential of credible election. The first of this constraint is the provision of security for the potential voters and the electoral materials. This is in addition to securing the election process.
This is of immense challenge to the country as the number of security personnel in the country cannot certainly provide the adequate coverage, more so in the face of the various agitations and criminalities going on. The electorate need to be secured to cast their votes in a conducive atmosphere. My antidote to this is the intensification of intelligence, targeted at prevention rather than enforcement in which the country lacks capacity. Potential flashpoints are to be identified and accounted for ahead of the elections. Beyond the threat of insecurity is the menace of vote buying. This is a major threat that is extant. Politicians seem to have largely resorted to this as the only available option. Riding on the vulnerability of most of the potential voters, having subjected them to excruciating poverty, they freely buy their conscience and sap their free wills. Poverty in Nigeria has been so much weaponized to the extent that the psyche of the people has been bastardized.
Most voters are hardly able to think again as they are ever in quest and search of stomach infrastructure. I strongly suspect that politicians consciously unleash this on the majority of the potential voters who live below the poverty line. It seems to be a deliberate policy of those in government to perpetuate poverty among the people. This probably informed the unfortunate statement recently credited to the (Honourable) Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, when he said, “Whether they proceed to Busi to defeat Sirika or Kahun to defeat Aminu Bello Masari, it is impossible. And I swear, we shall see if it is achievable. Of course, the general election is approaching. Therefore, we shall involve money and other resources, and we have it all”. As if that boast was insufficient and for emphasis, he continued, “Money? I swear, we have it all. I swear we have the money and all. We have the money. I swear we have the money to get the job done”.
Is this not reckless, pathetic and disgraceful? Should this be coming from a supposed leader of a country?
This is one of the rulers foisted on us by the President. I even suspect that the opinion expressed by him must probably and largely be reflective of the preponderant view of those in government. This is understandable against the background of the stake they have in the succession of the ruling party in terms of self-preservation. The strange thing about the development is that, while the President and the Commission are striving to ensure a free and fair election in the country, the Minister and his co-travellers are busy plotting the sabotage of a transparent process through the use of money. In a sane clime, this kind of person should have been relieved of the position; or compelled to tender his resignation.
That there is disharmony between his selfish desire and dream and the government he serves is worrisome and disturbing.
Why should the centrifugal force be allowed in a government. This is becoming classical of the present administration. Remember the recent acrimony between the Minister of Finance and the Central Bank Governor. Well, as much as it is an unfortunate statement to be made by a Minister, it also shows the level of corruption in the government because the question is, where does the ruling party get the kind of money sufficient to win an election as boasted by the Minister? Is the party having an investment somewhere that Nigerians are not aware of?
What is the source of the party’s financial chest that the anti-corruption agencies are not beaming searchlights on? God help the country. Again, recall that there is restriction as to election finances under the law. Is the Minister oblivious of this? Raising such fund as mentioned by the Minister requires businesses to be done in usual manner. Certainly, there is no free lunch anywhere. At the risk of suggesting any inference, should the state of our airports be as they are, an embarrassment to Nigerians? Using Lagos airport as an example, it does not only permanently stink, it is ever intemperate and hot. All the conditioning system has collapsed. The baggage conveyor system is ever epileptic while pilferage, bordering on insecurity, is still on the loose. Just barely two months ago, the savage beasts still pounced on my luggage at the arrival and delivery point, stealing enough items.
My thesis in arresting this vote buying trend has been the prohibition of the use of phone cameras or any other identical device within the vicinity of the polling cubicles. Glad to read that INEC has already embraced this. While bathing in the euphoria of this ban, little did I realise that the Central Bank of Nigeria was coming out with a bang in this direction. Cash withdrawal limits policy seems to be the joker. With this policy, politicians are already sweating as to how to circumvent this. Let me confess that this is the second policy of the apex Bank that is agreeable to me since the inception of the Emefiele’s tenure. All the others I consider not only experiments but mere ruse.
There must be no going back on this policy if truly we desire credible elections. The anti-corruption agencies need to focus on the Banks and the public officials as well as their cronies who might want to sabotage same, particularly the abusive use of the security votes channel. As I was scripting this piece, I stumbled on the news item on the attempt by the State Security Service officials to procure an ex parte order towards the arrest and detention of the Central Bank Governor for sixty days. I was in rude shock and wondered what could be the rationale beyond the facade contained in the affidavit in support of the application, terrorism financing and economic sabotage.
The gossip in the public space which seems corroborated by the fact that the relief in the ex parte motion is for sixty days detention, is that the trigger actually lies in the monetary policy of cash limit. The game plan is to incarcerate the man who enjoys no admiration from me, for the period of the election, during which time the policy would have been reversed. In Yoruba parlance, there is a proverb that o jo gate, ko jo gate, o fi ese mejeiji tiro which literally means when abused of being a handicap, one should not be found tiptoeing .
Our leaders are hellbent on destroying every good policy of government for selfish reasons but as the Yoruba would say: ti owo o ba i tii ba osika, aa ni awa won la jo n to ilu t’o fi n gun (until the wicked is caught in the act, he will indulge in self-adulation of being responsible for good governance in society)In the light of the above, Nigerians cannot afford to be docile and passive in the affairs that concern them. The suspension or reversal of the monetary cash limit must be resisted like the electronic transmission of votes. The neglect or failure to pursue this ideal implies the emergence of misfits as our leaders. The implication of this is that good governance in our country will remain a utopia and mirage.