By Ochereome Nnanna
LET me start by wishing you a Happy New Year, 2015. May I also wish Nigeria a peaceful election and transition to the next regime.
Paramount in my mind (and it should be in yours too) is that we must have a smooth and rancour-free transition. For me, its not who wins that matters. A successful transition with the nation remaining intact is more important than any presidential candidate. Without peaceful Nigeria, there will be no political party, no presidential candidate, no elections, let alone economic prosperity. I am deeply worried about threats of any kind by politicians desperate for power at all costs. It is this desperation that fuels all sorts of electoral malfeasance, particularly that thing they call “election rigging”. The opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) has threatened repeatedly that they will form a “parallel government” if the 2015 elections are rigged. President Goodluck Jonathan, while inaugurating his presidential election council replied to that threat with ominous words: “we shall see”.
To begin with, what is a “rigged election”? Any fouling of the rules of the game encapsulated in the laws of the land, especially the constitution, the electoral law and guidelines spelt out by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) constitutes election rigging. Anything done to ensure that an election is not free, fair and reflective of the true wishes of the electorate, constitutes election rigging. For an election to be seen to be free, fair and credible, all the stakeholders in an election must play the game according to the rules. Who are these stakeholders?
The most prominent stakeholder in the coming elections is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It is the body set up and empowered by the constitution to regulate and conduct elections in Nigeria. INEC, which is headed by Professor Attahiru Jega, had four years to prepare for this election, but in its usual sloppiness, it has put the election in danger. With just one month to the presidential election, Nigerians are still battling to get their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), forcing President Goodluck Jonathan to direct that all eligible Nigerians must be able to vote. Information has it that the PVC collection rate has been more in the Arewa zones of North East and North West than the rest of the country.
Unless the distribution rate improves in the south before election, it might lead to massive disenfranchisement of voters in some parts while those in other parts are unduly favoured. What else is rigging? The INEC must ensure that all eligible voters in all parts of the country get their PVCs or it must bear the consequences of favouring a particular presidential candidate by pushing PVCs to areas he has massive support, while starving the other. Right now, the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, is having the advantage of his support base being almost over-supplied with the PVCs.
The political parties are also major stakeholders. So far, I think the PDP and APC have done well trying to focus on the issues, even though the usual jabs below the belt are there. However, the war at the social media level is horrible because for now it is not regulated. The social media could create problems because it is a free zone for all manner of mischief makers.
The parties have handled themselves well. The same cannot be said for their supporters in some parts of the country. Already, there has been a reign of intimidation and reported violence. The major flashpoints are in Arewa north, Jos and Rivers State. In Arewa north (Buhari’s main support base) supporters of President Jonathan are living under threats. His posters are not being allowed to be displayed. Those who try are threatened with death. Known Jonathan supporters are bombarded with threats of their elimination along with their family members. Even governors have not been spared. There are some parts of the North where no bus bearing the campaign insignia of the president can dare to travel the roads for fear of being attacked. We read in the media a few days ago about a couple of the president’s campaign buses being razed in Jos in an area populated by Hausas, who were shouting they did not want Jonathan. If you do not want Jonathan why not wait and say so on February 14th with your vote? Why deprive the president of his right to campaign?
Meanwhile, Buhari and his campaign train are enjoying an unfettered run through the three zones of the South. Apart from a reported case of gun attack and bombing of APC secretariat in Okrika by unknown persons, Buhari has addressed his supporters in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Uyo, Calabar, Aba and Owerri without any harassment. He was even given a chieftaincy title by the traditional ruler of Eziama Aba, Eze Isaac Ikonne. In fact, Buhari’s campaign has been so smooth that one of his ardent supporters from Zaria has been ecstatically calling my line rejoicing that Buhari is making “in-roads” and South East and South-South, which are Jonathan’s main support base.
With Jonathan’s supporters being attacked and threatened with death in Arewa North, while Buhari’s campaign train is being allowed to enjoy his constitutional right to campaign in all parts of the south, it is obvious that the elections are already being rigged in the North against Jonathan. The INEC and the political rabble in the North must allow a level playing ground for all candidates to canvass for support. Otherwise, the election cannot be free and fair. Unless the situation is corrected, it can be interpreted that Nigerians are not yet ready for the elections. There must be a level playing field for everybody. Just as APC says it will form a parallel government if the elections are rigged, I don’t think their opponents will fold their arms when they are being deprived of their constitutional rights.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander.