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Nigeria’s endless cycle of undemocratic elections

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By Olu Fasan

LAST year,  Ibrahim Mantu, a former  Deputy Senate President, told Channel TV how he helped rig elections. Apparently incredulous, the interviewer, Esther Ogun-Yusuf, repeated what she heard. “Can I just clarify one thing”, she said, “Did I hear you say you helped to rig elections before now?” Mantu replied: “Yes, I did, I am now confessing the truth”, adding he was now a “born-again politician”. The rigging, he explained, didn’t always involve tampering with ballot boxes, but “giving  money to INEC boys to help if they can see any chance that they can favour you  and  providing  money to security agencies”.



In case anyone found his confession shocking, Mantu said that “all our elections in the past”  had  involved  rigging, adding  for good measure:  “I’ve been in this game for about 20 years.”  Heaven rejoices over a repentant sinner, but there is a special place in hell for the unrepentant reprobate. Sadly, Nigeria is infested with too many election riggers, past and present, who, like Mantu, should publicly confess their heinous crime. Did I say”heinous crime”? Yes, because ballot fraud is iniquitous; it’s illegal, immoral and deleterious! Of course,  rigging is illegal because it violates all conceivable constitutional and electoral  rules and norms. And it’s immoral, because it undermines the key requirement for legitimate government: the consent of the people, as expressed by votes in free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections. If someone secures power by electoral fraud, the fundamental doctrine of consent of the governed is breached, and the emergent government lacks the legitimacy and moral  right to govern.

Officials count votes in front of voters during the presidential and parliamentary elections on February 23, 2019, at a polling station in Port Harcourt, southern Nigeria. – Nigerians began voting for a new president on February 23, after a week-long delay that has raised political tempers, sparked conspiracy claims and stoked fears of violence. Some 120,000 polling stations began opening from 0700 GMT, although there were indications of a delay in the delivery of some materials and deployment of staff, AFP reporters said. (Photo AFP)

But election-rigging is also damaging. It impairs democratic, political and economic development. Economists and other social scientists have argued that electoral fraud erodes  political and policy accountability and, ultimately, leads to bad public policies. Surely, if a politician becomes governor by handing over the most cash  to electoral officers or voters, or  by causing the most violence, he would, as we have seen in Nigeria, turn his state into a personal fief and amass fortunes, rather than govern in the interests of the people. He is not beholden to the electorate! And, of course, he can secure re-election, regardless of performance, by using his incumbency power and state resources to buy votes, co-opt the security agencies and influence electoral officers.

So, electoral fraud is legally and morally repugnant, and politically, economically and socially malignant. Which is why civilised nations have zero-tolerance for election malpractices.  But, not in this country. Here, in Nigeria, with politics so broken and rotten, rigging is integral to elections, and hardly any politician can cast the first stone at Mantu!

Nigeria, of course, has a long history of election-rigging. In the1960s, violence and ballot-box stuffing were the norm. Under the military, elections were steered in favour of preferred candidates, as in 1979 and 1999. Take the 1999 general elections. In his book, Vindication of a General, Ishaya  Bamaiyi, former chief of army staff, said that General Abdulsalami Abubakar, then head of state, entered a pact with Generals Ibrahim Babangida, T Y Danjuma and Aliyu Gusau to hand over to General Olusegun Obasanjo. Put simply, if Bamaiyi  was right, the 1999 presidential poll was a sham because it was fixed!  Of course, the two elections conducted  by Obasanjo himself, in 2003 and 2007, were massively rigged. I mean, in 2003, Obasanjo got 99.9% of the votes cast in his home state, Ogun; it was so outlandish the courts later annulled the entire results. The 2007 presidential election was described by international observers as “a charade”; even Obasanjo’s hand-picked beneficiary of the election, Umaru  Yar’Adua,  admitted it “had shortcomings”.

In 1999, all the 36 governorship elections were conducted in one day, but in this year’s elections only 29 were held simultaneously. Why? Well, because the courts later annulled the elections of nine of the state governors for various electoral malpractices, leading subsequently to staggered elections. Two weeks ago, an election tribunal nullified the election of  Gboyega  Oyetola  as governor of Osun State, declaring illegal the so-called inconclusive election that denied Ademola Adeleke, the frontrunner,victory. How many of the 29 state governors elected in this year’s elections would survive the election petitions kicking off across the country? Or, indeed, what would the court say about the re-election of President Buhari, which Atiku Abubakar, his main rival, described as a “sham”, and is challenging in court?

But no serious electoral democracy should be so dependent on judicial interventions.  Yet, the judicialisation of Nigerian elections is inevitable because of many flaws. For instance, why are elections still militarised in Nigeria when the courts have declared the militarisation of elections illegal? Why must elections be declared inconclusive because of rejected votes when this would incentivise disruptions to force unnecessary reruns? What about vote-buying? In the UK “treating” is an offence,  defined as “directly or indirectly providing any food, drink, entertainment or provision to corruptly influence any voter to vote or refrain from voting”.  Why is Nigeria’s law on voter inducement so lax?

The cycle of sham elections will certainly continue until Nigeria’s electoral laws are fit for the purpose, and the politicians and state agencies are accountable for their actions.

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