By Casmir Igbokwe
“The power of the people is stronger than the people in power.” This statement was on the placard of some Algerians who recently held a series of protests against 82-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. You can only find this type of action in true democracies. But in our dear country, Nigeria, the people in power appear to be stronger than the power of the people.
Some have branded it militocracy. Or how do you describe a system where soldiers interfere in the electoral process with impunity? What do you call a person or group of persons who instigate thugs to attack some voters on mere suspicion that they did not vote their favoured candidate? And what do you say to the fact that a lot of people lost their lives simply because they came out to exercise their right to vote?
In Nigeria, election is war. Most times, if the security agencies and the electoral umpire are with you, victory is assured. Only in rare cases do you find a person with such power losing. The security agencies can snatch ballot boxes and turn things in favour of their man. The electoral umpire can cancel the election or declare it inconclusive. In supplementary elections, the losing party can do some abracadabra and win.
We saw such American wonder in the Osun State governorship poll last year. The candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was leading. But the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared the election inconclusive. At the rerun, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) upturned the PDP’s lead in a controversial manner and became the winner. PDP cried foul. But the deed has been done.
It reminds me of some of our childish pranks in those days. We used to start the tricks by singing, “Come and see American wonder! Come and see American wonder!” After the 2019 general election, you are free to change the song to “Come and see Nigerian wonder!” That is to say, the more you look, the less you see.
Little wonder, some Nigerians have baptised the electoral umpire as Inconclusive National Electoral Commission. Many people thought that INEC would be truly independent. They trusted in the ability of the commission to improve on the successes of the 2015 elections. But they were terribly disappointed.
The presidential and National Assembly elections, for instance, were anything but free and fair. Soldiers allowed themselves to be used by desperate politicians. In some parts of the country, especially in Rivers State, the military openly took partisan roles. They reportedly engaged in snatching ballot boxes and shooting/terrorising innocent citizens. Along the line, scores of people lost their lives. This was why some bold women reportedly formed human shield and stopped soldiers from carrying out similar acts in parts of Okrika and Ogu/Bolo in Rivers State during the governorship election on March 9.
In places like Lagos, thugs attacked innocent voters and destroyed ballot boxes. In some other places, card readers failed to function. Allegations of rigging were also rife. War-torn northern states like Borno and Yobe recorded more votes than many peaceful states in the South.
One had expected that INEC would correct some of the mistakes that occurred during the presidential poll. But that did not happen. Perhaps, the politicians became more daring and combative. Some polling booths and collation centres became theatres of war.
As a last resort, perhaps, INEC tarred six states with the brush of inconclusive elections. That of Rivers State was suspended outright. The six states are Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Kano, Plateau and Sokoto. However, INEC, last Friday, cancelled the supplementary election in Bauchi, saying the collation of results would continue on Tuesday. The commission will take a final decision on Rivers this Wednesday. Curiously, with the exception of Plateau State, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is winning in the other five states.
This has raised tension and suspicion. Could it be that there is a plan to unleash the Osun treatment on these states? The PDP has been crying like a bird with a broken beak. In Sokoto State, some women stormed the streets to protest the inconclusive election in the state. INEC has forged ahead with preparations for the election fixed for March 23, 2019. Will it produce more Nigerian wonders?
We keep our fingers crossed and watch events unfold. We also follow closely what goes on in the presidential and governorship election tribunals. The judiciary cannot afford to fail Nigerians this time. For many politicians who feel aggrieved, it is the last hope.
That is why I find it curious that some individuals and groups tried to dissuade the presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, from going to court. Some traditional rulers, including the Sultan of Sokoto and the Ooni of Ife, are in this league. They visited Buhari in Aso Rock and pleaded with Atiku not to go to court so as to allow peace to reign.
What type of peace will reign when you beat someone mercilessly and force him not to cry? Didn’t Buhari go to court in his earlier failed attempts to occupy the seat of power in Abuja? Is it not better to settle contentious elections like this in court than resort to violence?
To add insult to injury, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission began to arrest and investigate some relatives and associates of Atiku. Of course, whoever launders money or engages in other financial crimes should face the music. But why is it mainly the opposition members that face this music? And how do you explain the timing of these arrests and the fact that some of the victims are Atiku’s backbones in the legal challenge with INEC?
Good enough that Atiku and his party still went to the tribunal despite all these. Let them show the world the evidence they have. This will enrich our democracy and our electoral process. It will clear all doubts about the alleged manipulation and rigging of the election bearing in mind that injustice to one is injustice to all.
As for those who twist facts, cause ethnic tensions and militarise the electoral system, all I can say is, tread softly. Today, you control the levers of power, tomorrow, the tide may change. And you shouldn’t complain when nemesis begins to catch up with you.
We have good examples. In the Second Republic, politicians with the active connivance of the then electoral umpire soiled our democracy. They never bothered about the implications of their actions. Things were so bad that the military struck to restore some sanity. Incidentally, Buhari emerged the Head of State after that coup of 1983.
Now that he is back for his second term as a civilian President, what will be his legacy when he leaves office? He says he wants to be remembered as a leader who kept his word that elections must be free, fair and credible in Nigeria. He was quoted to have said, “I have maintained a position that elections must be free and fair and people have the right to make their choices and vote their conscience…Elected persons must be fair and just. This is the legacy I want to leave behind.”
I laugh. It is either that Buhari is pretending or he is insulated from the reality of happenings in his country.
Somebody needs to tell our President that the 2019 poll is one of the worst, if not the worst, in Nigeria. The election has dashed the hope of many Nigerians in our democracy. It led to low voter turnout in the last governorship and House of Assembly elections. It has taken us some years back from the democratic gains we had earlier made. And it will take a lot of time for Nigeria to recover from this electoral malfeasance.
But we should not fold our arms and watch things deteriorate further. This is the time to rescue our fatherland. There is no sitting on the fence. Unfortunately, many of our human rights lawyers appear to be out of circulation. Many civil society organisations are no more active. Could this be a case of selfish, ethnic and religious sentiments overshadowing the general interests of the people?
Though Nigeria is polarised, I would still advise that we take a cue from the Algerians’ peaceful and non-violent protest against President Bouteflika. The protesters cut across all ages and walks of life. The old man has been in power since 1999. He wanted a fifth term despite his poor health and the deep economic crisis rocking his country. But his people demanded a return to the rule of law and an end to the rule of Bouteflika and his clan.
Their sustained protests forced the man to announce last Monday, March 11, 2019, that he would no longer seek a fifth term. The people of Algeria won. But there are still pockets of suspicion here and there. Last Friday, they trooped to the streets again in protest. That is people’s power in action. Can we ever have something like this whenever things begin to go wrong in Nigeria?
You answer that yourself!
- First published in The Sun of Monday, March 18, 2019