As a derision of the notion that Nigeria has just conducted elections to choose political leaders, someone said candidly that voting was done at the collation centres and not at the polling units. That statement, biting as it might appear, represented a critical assessment of the experiences of voters during the 2019 general election.
Here is what I found weird about the elections. Voters stood dutifully in queues and defied all odds, rain or sunshine, on the assumption that they were waiting to perform their civic obligation to elect their political leaders. They performed their duty, cast their ballot, and left. They thought their votes would reflect their choice of political candidates. In practice, their votes counted for nothing. Their votes decided nothing. Joseph Stalin was widely credited with the loaded statement: “Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the vote decide everything.”
The statement could not be more germane or an accurate depiction of the conduct of the 2019 general election in Nigeria.
While voters went back home satisfied that their votes would decide the winners of the elections, they failed to take into account the Nigerian factor, our capacity to invent evil practices. Voters failed to recognise that actual “voting” commenced during the collation of results. That was when crooked political party agents, corrupt Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials, dishonest election observers, dishonourable and morally lax security agents overturned the wishes of voters. They swapped illegal and already thumb-printed ballot papers for authentic ballots cast by voters. That was when the criminal “mathematicians” at the collation centres added zeros and other fanciful figures to produce the magical results that suited their sadistic intent. It did not matter that the arithmetic was unsound and fallacious.
Nigeria is like a horse with blinkers on. We delude ourselves when we say credible and peaceful elections have just been conducted to select political leaders in the country. That is clearly a one-dimensional or unsophisticated perception of how credible, free, and peaceful elections are conducted in other countries that practice genuine democracy. There is nothing right, fair, free, peaceful, or credible about the way the 2019 elections were conducted in Nigeria. All the election rules were broken and done in a malevolent manner. There cannot be a valid election when juveniles or under-age voters are encouraged and dragged to polling units to cast their ballot. This was the case in various parts of the country. We make a mockery of the concept of elections when ballot boxes filled with legitimate votes are snatched openly, overturned, and incinerated in public view.
Nigeria has just demonstrated to the international community that it is seriously challenged by lack of capacity to conduct free, fair, peaceful, and trustworthy elections at all levels. It is painful to see countries that are less economically endowed than Nigeria teach us a lesson in how to organise lawful and peaceful elections. Political processes that other countries observe legally are violated and marred by chaos, confusion, and outright illegalities in Nigeria. We use corrupt, devious, crude, and fraudulent methods to achieve victory in elections while other countries use lawful and transparent processes to attain valid and unimpeachable results. When people refer to Nigeria as a failed state, they point to criminal activities that undermined the general election.
The widespread disappointment that followed the elections in which the rules were widely violated has prompted the question: Is there any value in Nigeria holding elections to select political leaders? The answer is an emphatic no, particularly when INEC and other crooked individuals have devised sinister methods of producing pre-determined results that do not reflect the votes cast by citizens. Surely, there is no need for elections in which voters will be disenfranchised, in which voters will be deprived opportunities to participate in the political process, and elections in which the processes are contaminated.
People say that what is worth doing is worth doing well. If we consider elections worth doing, then we must devise ways of electing political leaders credibly, validly, and transparently. Elections take years to plan, a lot of money to finance, and invaluable human resources to execute. All these are frittered in light of gross incompetence by INEC and political party leaders. It is pointless to spend huge sums of money to organise elections that turn into a joke, elections that end up causing pain and sadness to citizens. There is no value in holding elections in which voters will lose their lives while performing their civic duty. Elections in which votes are stolen are not worth dying for. Elections should not be conducted as a do-or-die matter. Nothing lasts forever. Political office is temporal and transient.
One issue that must be addressed as we investigate alternative ways of holding free and credible elections is the illegal use of soldiers and the police to harass citizens, to entrench anarchy, to enthrone chaos where there is order, and to intimidate and brutalise opposition political candidates and their families. Illegal use of soldiers and the police must be discouraged. Soldiers have a challenge to subdue Boko Haram insurgents who have waged a deadly war against the country. Soldiers should aim to dismantle Boko Haram terrorists in order to restore peace across the northern parts of the country in which many citizens have been displaced in their fatherland. Soldiers should not be apprehending, treating people cruelly, and killing innocent citizens.
It is odd that politicians who were elected by voters in 2015 do not want voters to throw them out of office because of their poor record of performance over the past four years. We live in a state of impunity. It is a disruptive state of hopelessness in which agents of the state and heads of institutions of government overreach themselves, exceed their powers or assume authority they do not have, and perceive themselves as untouchables who are above the law. These are all features of a failed state.
The geographic entity known as Nigeria is fast becoming unstable, insecure, and unpredictable. Everything seems to be falling apart. We face numerous challenges that pose serious threats to the unity of the country. Some ethnic groups are threatening members of other ethnic groups, harassing them to vote for a particular political party. I have always believed that elections are about free choice. Every voter has a right to vote according to their conscience. No ethnic group has the right to threaten other ethnic groups to vote in a certain way. To threaten members of one ethnic group to vote for a particular political party is the best way to sow the seeds of inter-ethnic strife that could inflame emotions and endanger social cohesion.
These are testing times. Cool heads are needed but they are unfortunately in short supply. The future of Nigeria is uncertain. How that future evolves will depend on how quickly and amicably politicians resolve the tensions in the land.