I’m writing this piece first thing on Sunday morning, so I don’t know yet which candidate and party won by fair or foul means the governorship election in my home state of Anambra. But here’s what I can say with confidence: the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) lost.
Reports indicated that voting started late at many locations. Ballot papers and result sheets were often missing. As in past elections, many voters were unable to find their names on the voters’ roster. And there was little or no voting in many parts of Idemili local government area. In the end, INEC was compelled to reschedule voting in 65 wards in the area.
In many other societies, what transpired in Anambra last Saturday would be regarded as a portrait of utter failure. The INEC officials who oversaw the colossal mess would have been too ashamed to hold on to their jobs a day longer. If they didn’t resign, they would have been fired.
Alas, it’s Nigeria! It’s in a country where few are willing to call failure by its proper name, and where failure even when acknowledged is never anybody’s fault. Botched elections, like aircraft falling from the sky, are “acts of God.”
It’s important to put INEC’s disastrous outing in perspective. Anambra is only one of Nigeria’s 36 states, and INEC had no other election on its calendar last week. In other words, the commission had time and human resources on its side. It had all the time to get things right, to ensure that the name of every registered voter appeared on the register, and that electoral materials were shipped on time to all polling centers.
If INEC couldn’t conduct a hitch-free, credible election in Anambra, what are the odds of its handling the fast-approaching 2015 nation-wide elections with any integrity? If the names of many Anambra voters were missing, then imagine the scale of the crisis when many more voters around the country will come out to vote in 2015.
There’s hardly ever any good excuse for the disenfranchisement of voters, period. The kind that happened last week in Anambra was particularly egregious, especially since INEC had time to prepare, enough manpower to do the right thing, and the logistics to pull off hitch-free polls. There’s no reason why the governorship election could not have gone through fluidly; no reason why voting did not take place on Saturday in many parts of Idemili. The kindest view is to blame it all on sheer incompetence. And if incompetence be the cause, then the incompetent electoral officials deserve to be fired.
A more likely explanation for the Idemili imbroglio is that it was a man-made glitch, a calculated, well-designed, deliberately engineered cog in the electoral wheel. My suspicion is that the electoral fiasco in Idemili was a scheme to suppress votes, subvert a candidate, or grant undue advantage to another. Electoral fraud is one of the gravest infractions in any society that cherishes the free exercise of the vote. And if Nigeria were a country where serious crimes are frowned upon, the electoral screw-up in Anambra, and particularly Idemili local government area, would have invited serious prosecutorial scrutiny.
Nigeria is 14 years into what we used to call our “nascent democracy.” Today, unlike the first few years after this particular phase of Nigeria’s political adventure started in 1999, there’s nothing nascent about it anymore. And, as in the first few years, it’s still hard to argue that there’s a lot of “democracy” in Nigeria’s political experiment.
I received numerous telephone calls the last few days before Anambra’s governorship election. Some of the callers were curious that I had not come out in support of any of the candidates. I explained that, as a principle, I never endorse any candidate. Instead, I champion the sanctity of the electoral process. If Nigeria professes to practice democracy, then that profession must be borne out, at minimum, in the way elections are conducted. Nigerians ought to be able to trust INEC to conduct credible elections in which the declared winners match the true choice of the electorate. That is no great expectation; it should be non-negotiable.
Sadly, that’s far from the case. Olusegun Obasanjo, who became this nascent democracy’s first president, could have advanced the cause of electoral probity. Given his military antecedents, he was cast by many as a necessary bridge from years of military dictatorship to a dawning democracy. Instead, the man made himself into an imperial president and militarized Nigeria’s politics. He approached each election after the fashion of armed combatants as a “do-or-die” affair. In many ways, Nigeria has not been able to shake off Obasanjo’s legacy of going to war against voters, rather than wooing them.
In 2003, the Peoples Democratic Party or, specifically, one of its “godfathers,” Chris Uba imposed Chris Ngige as Anambra’s governor. It was widely known that the true winner of that election, and the dispossessed candidate, was Peter Obi of the All Peoples Grand Alliance (APGA). I opposed the PDP’s imposition. Even when many in Anambra were lauding Mr. Ngige, a medical doctor, for renouncing his political godfathers and grand godfathers, for tackling the state’s ghastly roads, and for paying civil servants’ salaries (yes, a responsibility ignored by his predecessor, Chinwoke Mbadinuju), I insisted that Mr. Obi should not in fact, could not abandon the legal battle to reclaim an office the voters of Anambra voted to have him hold in trust for them. It took several years, a lot of political maneuvers and legal rigmarole, but Mr. Obi finally became governor. It was as it should be.
I had hoped that Mr. Obi’s eventual triumph would set Anambra as the epicenter of electoral propriety in Nigeria. That hope has been far from realized. Last week’s shame in Idemili gave another red eye to INEC, and further cast doubt over the electoral commission’s ability or even will to earn the word “Independent” that sits, like a bad joke, at the beginning of its name.
No, even the soundest elections would not begin to solve Nigeria’s myriad crises. Yet, there are at least two solid reasons why enlightened people must insist on transparently credible elections. One: once we establish that votes count, always count, then elected office holders would be placed under notice that they serve, and will be re-elected, at the pleasure of voters. Odds are that a higher percentage of office holders would then spend some time serving the common good, instead of making the “godfathers” that enthroned them happy. Two: once Nigerian polls become discernibly credible, rather than expensive scams, the chances will be better of attracting better candidates especially those equipped with vision, imagination, and the talent for translating lofty dreams into reality.
It’s tragic that INEC officials, through sheer incompetence and/or criminal treachery, continue to make the arena of Nigerian politics the preserve of sponsored mediocrities and would-be looters. ###