Even as late as the morning of February 23 when the presidential and National Assembly elections were rescheduled to hold, the issue was still, will it or will it not hold? Well, happily, INEC defied the naysayers and conducted the elections with a high level of efficiency. Of course there were incidents such as late arrival of election officials and or materials, skirmishes between partisan party people, malfunctioning of smart card readers, a few shots, stray or targeted, that killed or wounded a few people.
These are the usual occurrences in elections in Nigeria and if you consider the intense hype about election violence before the first vote was cast you would be happy that we came out of it with minor bruises, in a manner of speaking. But it is not over yet. The votes are still being counted or collated, especially in some of the treacherous terrains where you need boats or bicycles or donkeys to reach. When the final results, especially of the presidential election, are released, we will see how the winner and losers take their fate. How they react to their victory or loss will largely determine how their supporters respond to the announcement. My hope is that we will quietly accept the official announcement made by Professor Mahmood Yakubu, whether it makes us happy or unhappy. Those whose candidate has won should be sober in their merriment and quietly send their curriculum vitae for processing. Those whose candidate has lost should lick their wounds quietly knowing that in four year’s time another election will be here and, with it, another chance to play the lottery. If the loser is unhappy with the verdict of the Nigerian people or he feels that that verdict has been twisted then he can get a battery of Senior Advocates who are standing by to head to the courts for this is the season for legal gymnastics and eruditism and their big payday, too.
The results of the National Assembly elections have been released in many states while the collation of the presidential election results was going on as I was writing this. Maybe the verdict will be given by Professor Yakubu before you get to read this piece, but whatever the result is please accept it with equanimity. But let me ask you, who did vote for or, better put, what did vou vote for? There was, as expected, a big war on the social media by Buhari and Atiku supporters as each person tried to market his candidate and de-market the other candidate. But you needed a large dose of sanity drugs to keep up with the insanity as they threw caution to the wind and called the candidates names that decency and lawsuits would debar me from repeating here. You heard something about the saintliness of one and the business acumen of the other, which meant that someone would fight corruption better and someone would manage the economy better. But the social media is not a platform for vigorous substantiation of viewpoints because most of those who ply their trade on that platform do not expect any serious scrutiny of their assertions, a robust debate of the pros and cons of the issue or any form of reasoned, logical analysis backed by facts and figures. Because it is called a social media platform they assume, and I think they are partially correct, that what that platform calls for is gossip, scandal, attacks and counter-attacks, violent and virulent. That is the platform that brings out the worst – and sometimes the best – in all of us who get remorselessly trapped in its vortex. But you expected more from the television stations, for them to reschedule most other programmes and focus like a laser beam on this all-important event that comes once in four years and puts Nigeria on tenterhooks. A couple of them did well, giving us backgrounders, voter aggregation by region, age, sex, etc, and the issues that influence voting in certain regions or states. But even when the result of the presidential election is announced it will still be difficult to ascertain whether such issues as restructuring, Biafra, jihad, candidate endorsement, money, violence, Boko Haram, farmers/herders’ crisis, played a part, significant or small, in the outcome of the election. The television stations can be commended for refraining from announcing results that INEC did not officially announce at the voting centres. So, what did you vote for? Person, party or issue or all of the above?
If you were interested in tracking the results as they were released you needed to confirm them from various platforms of repute to get what could be regarded as authentic. If you just relied only on one platform, especially a social media platform, where partisans had a field day, you could be inhaling fake news.
It is unclear how much impact President Muhammadu Buhari’s tough statement on ballot box snatching had on the election. Before the election, Buhari had announced after an APC caucus meeting that those who snatch ballot boxes may be doing so for the last time. He confirmed that he had, as Commander-in-Chief, commanded the security agencies, including the Army, to be “ruthless” in dealing with ballot box snatchers. The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, affirmed that the Army would carry out Buhari’s order to the letter. This caused quite an uproar in the country because people interpreted this to mean putting a stamp of government’s approval on extra-judicial killing. The problem here is that many people trained in military affairs often think that killing is the only way to solve a problem, any problem. And I am told that there is very little human rights content in their training.
Actually, election rigging is an evolutionary process. The rigging method varies with the election management method. In the First Republic, political parties/candidates had separate ballot boxes and it was easy to destroy the ballot papers of a competing candidate by pouring acid in his ballot box thus destroying all the votes cast. To keep acid away from ballot boxes the election managers decided it was better to have one ballot box for all candidates. That method has endured from 1979 till this day. So, that method gave birth to the ballot box snatchers. The duty of the ballot box snatcher is to run away with the box, remove the ballots of the opponent of his sponsor and stuff it with newly-minted votes. The other idea is simply to seize the box in an area that is considered the stronghold of the snatcher’s godfather’s opponent and burn, depriving him of the electoral strength he needed to win. The third way is to simply snatch empty ballot boxes before polling and then stuff them with their own thumb-printed ballot papers. With the current voting method, the ballot box snatcher has come to stay. But if there is electronic voting sometime in the future maybe he will be out of business.
A few ballot box snatchers were killed during the election but other people, non-ballot box snatchers, were also killed. So, it is unclear whether the snatchers killed were killed in obedience to Buhari and Buratai’s illegal and illegimate order, or were cases of accidental, voluntary or involuntary discharge or on account of the madness that had come on the killers after a round of tramadol and Indian hemp consumption. But Buhari’s and Buratai’s orders were absolutely unnecessary because there is an existing law on ballot box snatching. Many of Nigeria’s gun-wielding officials seem to think that once you wear a uniform and carry a gun you can do anything and get away with it. But even the conduct of soldiers in a war, a full-blown war, is regulated by the Geneva Convention. Our conduct at elections is regulated by the Electoral Act 2010. In section 129, sub-section 4, the Act says: “Any person who snatches or destroys any election material commits an offence and is liable on conviction to 24 months imprisonment.”
The entire country has 119,973 polling units and, from information available so far, we did not record up to 50 cases of ballot box snatching. That is not a serious enough matter to impose a death penalty on some Nigerians, especially if we want to be a rule-of-law country. In any case, even if there were as many as 50 cases, they will not make a substantial difference to the overall result of the election and elections are always decided on substantiality.
Buhari and Buratai have a military mindset and it is easy for them to forget that the bulk of the Nigerian population have a non-military mindset, a mindset that enabled them to wrestle to the ground all the military dictators that Nigeria had the misfortune of having as their leaders.
But a surprise came from an unusual quarter. Mr. Festus Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and spokesman of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, had the courage, infact, the temerity, to tell us that ballot box snatching is the same as treason. I think it is either the copy of his Electoral Act 2010 is missing from his library or he simply wants to mess up his career because of the honey-pot of partisan politics.