By Femi Aribisala
The APC complainant-in-chief, Lai Muhammad, is suddenly now in love with INEC.
In my article on the recent election in Osun State, provocatively titled “How APC Lost the Osun Election;” I was lavish in praising the INEC. I said: “Attahiru Jega is by far Nigeria’s best public-servant. He is yet again, the real winner of the Osun election; and he is doing a fantastic job transforming the electoral-process in Nigeria for the better and even the best. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Jega and his entire INEC team for the excellent job they have been doing.”
However, in one fell swoop, INEC has contradicted this assessment by becoming yet another instrument in the hands of the #Bring Back Our Northern Domination brigade. These conspirators have tried several gambits in their determination to wrest power from Goodluck Jonathan and the South-South. They have used threats, blackmail, defections, Boko Haram insurgency, and even the Chibok kidnapping; all to no avail. Now, it would appear that they have also succeeded in conscripting INEC to their plans to shift power back to the North by hook or crook.
INEC has recently taken two self-contradictory actions, one after the other. Unless the latter is immediately reversed, it will go a long way to compromise the integrity of the forthcoming 2015 elections. In the first place, INEC decided to clean up the voters register, a task for which it has received widespread public commendation. So doing, it discovered millions of ghost-voters. In the determination to lay the foundation for inflating their poll numbers in elections, our political parties have been careful to orchestrate multiple voter registrations.
INEC’s clean-up exercise testified to the #Bring Back Our Northern Domination brigade. It confirmed the Northern supremacy over the South in the business of cooking up voting population figures in order to promote Northern supremacy in elections in Nigeria. INEC discovered far more ghost-voters in the North than it did in the South. One of the biggest culprits here is Zamfara State, which had ostensibly 2,045,131 registered voters. However, during the clean-up exercise, it was discovered that 1,130,245 of these were ghost-voters. That means a whopping 44% of the names in the Zamfara voters register were fictitious
After screening the register, INEC was able to reduce the national voting population considerably. In 2011, we were told that there are some 70 million registered voters in Nigeria. Now that figure has shrunk to less than 60 million.
Having cleaned up the register by drastically reducing it, INEC then decided to contradict itself. It created some 30,000 additional polling-units in the country, when the clean-up exercise suggests there is actually no basis to create more polling-units at all. Indeed, the more logical conclusion should be that we need less, and not more, polling-units.
But then INEC actions became even more bizarre. It decided to award far more additional polling-units to the North than to the South; in spite of the fact that it discovered more ghost registrations in the North than in the South.
It would appear that when some people in INEC woke up to the fact that their clean-up exercise had led to a greater decrease in the Northern voter population than in the South, they decided to make amends by the creation of additional polling-units; on the excuse of the need to decongest the existing ones. It just so happened that they then discovered conveniently that the “congestion” was far more prevalent in the arid and desert North than in the coastal savannah and rainforest South.
The decongestion of polling-units may indeed be desirable in light of the experience during the 2011 elections, but INEC’s solution becomes highly suspect because of its regional bias. INEC created 29,129 additional polling-units. 20,715 of these are in the North (including the Federal Capital Territory); while only 8,414 are in the South. The regional breakdown is as follows: North-West 7906; North-East 5291; North-Central 6318; South-West 4160; South-South 3087; South-East 1167; and FCT 1200.
In effect, what the North lost by the removal of the fictitious ghost-voters was then re-awarded by the allocation of additional polling-units. For example, Zamfara that was discovered to be the guiltiest state in the inflation of its register with over one million ghost-voters was then awarded 1,000 more polling-units. Given the fact that each polling-unit has a maximum of 500 voters, this means Zamfara was awarded additional 500,000 potential voters as compensation for its loss of ghost-voters. It also means INEC compensated the North with 10, 807,500 potentially new voters; as opposed to 4,206,000 in the South. This is more than enough to swing any election to the Northern advantage.
Since ballot-papers would be provided for these new polling-units, INEC has also surreptitiously increased the scope for ballot-stuffing; and it has made this disproportionately to the Northern advantage. That illicit advantage would be available for Northern use in the 2015 election as well as in future elections in Nigeria; if these additional polling-units are not scrapped with immediate effect.
In the zonal allocation of new polling-units, INEC awarded 7,906 to the North-West alone; the bastion of the anti-Jonathan #Bring Back Our Northern Domination brigade. This is nearly as many as the 8,414 it awarded to the entire South. By some strange logic, INEC gave more additional polling-units to the Federal Capital Territory (1,120) than it gave to the entire South-East (1,167).
Not surprisingly, there has been widespread outcry over INEC’s new arrangement, and justifiably so. The people of the South-East especially are mortified. How can the Commission justify such blatant short-changing of the South-East vis-à-vis other all geo-political zones in the federation?
Olisa Metuh, the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, was loud in rejecting the exercise: “The people of South East PDP reject entirely the alleged allocation of polling booths by INEC. We view it as a great disservice to the unity and progress of this country if the entire South will have 8,000 polling booths and the North will have 21,000. We demand that this should be suspended forthwith as it is completely against the spirit of one Nigeria, the unity and progress of our dear country.”
“By these allocations the north-west allocation of 7,906 is equivalent to the whole of southern Nigeria with just 8,412. Similarly, each of the North-East and North-West zones gets more polling units than the whole of South-West along with Lagos, which is the state with the highest number of eligible voters nationwide.”
The Social Democratic Party was also quick to reject INEC’s sleight of hand. Its spokesman, Prince Frank Ukonga, describes INEC shenanigans as designed to manipulate the 2015 General Elections in favour of the North. As a presidential aspirant under the SDP, Ukonga also saw the development as a possible scheme for the North to continue to dominate the South in future elections even after the departure of Goodluck Jonathan.
Afenifere chieftain, Chief Supo Shonibare, also considered INEC actions mischievous. He said: “I am not aware INEC is an authorised body on population census. If it is based on estimate, it is wrong to give a section of the country more polling units at the expense of the other.”
“What has happened, however, is that Nigeria’s INEC, led by Professor Jega, has insinuated itself into a dangerous political game which defies simple logic. After carrying out a cleaning exercise to sanitise the voters register, which has reduced the total number of validly registered voters in the country, the same INEC has gone ahead to allocate its new 30,000 units in such a manner that some states that had already lost so much to ghost registration still ended up getting more polling units.”
One telling element in all this is the silence of the APC. Suddenly, the APC, the traditional cry-baby of the Nigerian politics, is maintaining a deafening silence on this issue. The APC normally complains about everything to do with the electoral system. Every so often, it comes up with broadsides that it has unearthed another ridiculous plan by the PDP, in collusion with INEC, to rig elections and truncate Nigerian democracy.
But now, suddenly, the APC is singing a different tune. Its complainant-in-chief, Lai Muhammad, is suddenly now in love with INEC. He said recent reassurances by Jega offer hope of free and fair elections. This turnaround should be enough to make any right-thinking person suspicious.
It is not difficult to see why APC should be pleased with the new face of INEC. APC is the vanguard of the #Bring Back Our Northern Domination brigade, and it is determined to choose a Northerner as its presidential candidate. INEC new polling-unit shenanigans are clearly to the advantage of the APC and the North.
APC has its projected strength in the North-West, North-East, and South-West. INEC has given 17,357 additional polling booths to these areas. PDP, on the other hand, has its projected strength in the North-Central, South-East and South-South. INEC has given only 10,572 units to these areas.
Since the same INEC will be responsible for determining the precise location of these additional polling-units, there is no guarantee that the bulk of them will also not be placed in areas likely to favour one party to the detriment of the other.
INEC has not been able to give a satisfactory explanation for its actions. The Commission said it decided to create additional 30,000 polling-units across the country in order to decongest existing polling centres. This brings the total number of polling-units in the country from 119,973 to 150,000. This is ridiculous. By having 150,000 new polling units, we now have 75 million potential voters but only 60 million actual voters.
INEC must not only be above board, it must be seen to be above board. In life, perceptions are often more important than reality. By its actions, INEC has made itself complicit in the plot to marginalize the South. This poses grave dangers to the integrity of the coming elections. There is only one option left for INEC. The 30,000 additional polling-units must be scrapped. Otherwise, the 2015 elections will be compromised even before they begin.