By Ochereome NNANNA
ELECTION rigging is not just about falsification of the results of elections, snatching of ballot boxes, illegal thumb-printing of ballot papers or announcement of results different from the expressed wishes of the electorate. Any action that violates the Electoral Act will automatically result in election rigging. Any act that renders an electoral contest not FREE, FAIR and CREDIBLE means the election has been rigged.
Free means every eligible voter is given full opportunity to register, obtain his voter’s card, given unhindered access to relevant information to enable him choose whom to vote for (voter education), and on voting day, is not hampered in any way while exercising his electoral franchise. Fair means that the conditions for the electoral contest are the same for all the political parties, candidates and the voters, and that no one is favoured above the rest. No obstacle is deliberately placed against anyone involved in the election from achieving his constitutionally-guaranteed political ambitions and rights. Credible means that an electoral process is not only free and fair but also seen to be so.
The process must produce a result that squares with the general wishes of the people, and must be acknowledged and applauded both by the stakeholders and third party observers as acceptable. The credibility of an electoral process is what gives those elected through the process LEGITIMACY, or the approval of the people to form the government and govern with their consent.
Free, fair and credible elections can only take place when all the stakeholders to an election – the Electoral Commission, political parties, voters, the Media, security agencies and so on – play their roles in accordance with the laws of the land, especially the Constitution and the Electoral Act.
In the history of Nigeria, the only election that was considered free, fair and credible was the June 12, 1993 general election that Chief Moshood Abiola won, though it was annulled by the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida.
The people of Nigeria forgot their regional, ethnic and religious differences and came together to give their mandate to Abiola. The only other election that came close to it in terms of being free, fair and credible was the 2011 general election that produced President Goodluck Jonathan. Also, Jonathan, a Minority element, was able to garner a landslide victory with over 22 million voters, failing to score the mandatory 25 per cent only in one state: Borno.
There is a phenomenon that has been at play in the Muslim North but which, for some queer reasons, no one seems interested in raising serious objections. It is the ugly incidence of child voters. And it is going to be a big factor rigging the forth-coming presidential election in General Muhammadu Buhari’s favour.
On the 27th of April, 2007, I covered the presidential election in Katsina State because two of the major contenders for president – Yar’ Adua and Buhari – were from the state. When we went to monitor the elections I was shocked to find that a large number of the voters on the queues were children as young as eight years old!
As I watched the electoral officials accredit and issue ballot papers to these minors to vote without the slightest raising of eyelids, I walked up to a presiding officer and asked him why he was allowing children to vote. He looked up from his work and gave me a blank stare but kept mute. I received a lot of hostile glances, and a colleague came and whispered that I should drop the issue. I had no choice, knowing the situation could rapidly turn into something else, especially in the heart of Arewa North.
Now, you could argue that since all the three main presidential contestants – Yar’ Adua of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Buhari of the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP) and Atiku Abubakar of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) – were Arewa Northerners, they shared the unholy largesse of unqualified, under-aged voters among themselves. But this time, those illegal voters unpatriotically registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are going to be unleashed mainly for Buhari. It is estimated that no less than three million child voters are headed to the polls in Arewa North.
These illegal voters, added to imported foreigners from Chad, Niger and Northern Cameroun are chiefly responsible for the consistently large number of voters recorded in favour of North West and North East. These are the things that baffle watchers who wonder why it is only in Nigeria that more population figures (including registered voters) are reported in favour of semi-desert zones over and above the coastal and rainforest zones which, in other parts of the world, are usually more populated.
Another area of pre-election rigging is the issue of internally displaced persons who are fleeing for their lives from violence, threats of violence and terrorism.
There are numerous camps in the North, especially Maiduguri, Yola and Abuja harbouring our countrymen and women uprooted from their homes by agents of darkness. Maiduguri alone is said to have seventeen IDP camps, and governments (both federal and state) are doing their best in the circumstances to cater for them. The INEC also has been making arrangements to enable them vote in their camps during the elections.
But there are other types of IDP’s that are often not spoken about, let alone INEC making preparations to enable them cast their votes. Apart from Northerners who are hiding up with their relations and friends outside the IDP camps or migrated down South, there are thousands of Southerners, especially Igbos, who have also moved, or are planning to move, away from the volatile North for fear of being attacked if Buhari loses the presidential election.
Majority of these people are assumed to be supporters of President Jonathan, while majority of the IDP’s in camp across the North are perceived to be pro Buhari. Nothing has been said by the INEC about ensuring that those who fled the North will be given an opportunity to cast their votes. Somebody is going to benefit unfairly from the exodus for fear of violence in the North. That is rigging.
Another form of rigging, which is pointedly ranged against President Jonathan, is the continued destruction of his campaign buses, posters and banners in Arewa North, coupled with the series of personal attacks aimed at him during the electioneering campaigns.
Meanwhile, his opponent, Buhari, had a smooth ride throughout the South and North Central, non-Muslim Nigeria. He was even given a chieftaincy title in Aba! Jonathan has not enjoyed a level playing field in Northern Nigeria. Terrorism, threats, intimidation, violence and personal attacks have been deployed to undermine him and harass his supporters.
These are machinations put in place by enemies of the North masquerading as Northern leaders, and many of them are actually behind the Boko Haram terrorists. Yet, the president has favoured the North more than any other zone in terms of appointment, distribution of projects and government largesse. This is the first time that a sitting president seeking re-election has been turned into an underdog, a victim, in any part of the country. President Jonathan’s gentle disposition and refusal to kick his political opponents in the groin as Obasanjo regularly did could very well become his undoing.
These and other factors that constitute preconditions for rigging of the forth coming polls must be addressed. A government that emerges from this unacceptable situation will be ILLEGITIMATE.