Impunity of padded votes

POLITICS is war by another means.  The process of voting to choose leaders and representatives is a battle in the larger front of the war theatre.

The means employed are diverse and are either pristine or crude both in concept and execution in the struggle to gain primacy over the opposition.  To many, laws or regulations are either observed in the breach or repudiated to feather a particular nest.  In some cases, counsel for some parties to a contentious petition before an election tribunal adopt belligerent postures and tactics to harass, embarrass and finally mislead witnesses to gain undue advantage and prominence especially when such counsel are bereft of ideas in a particular circumstance.

Without dabbling into the core issues before any election petition tribunal for adjudication, one will dwell on those issues that drive elections in the country and that were singularly thrown up in the public court of opinion by the Edo State Governorship Election of September 28, 2016, which in the main exposed the inadequacies and partisanship of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC .

Importantly, we will show how the national elections arbiter, INEC, reneged or shoved aside many of its legal and conventional responsibilities, either out of unavoidable expediency or a programmed “Look-the-other-way” attitude that benefited one party in the ensuing jostle for power.  What baffles men of good heart is why the beneficiaries of this fraud will choose to defend their illegal acquisition even when all available and correlative evidence points to the contrary. One major and defining characteristic of the Edo election, among myriad others, is the blanket condemnation and unanimous call for its out-right cancellation by all the foreign and local observers and monitors of the exercise.

The election scored a first as the premier such exercise that did not elicit a complementary report or assessment from both domestic and foreign election monitors and observers, who have had diverse experiences in all the continents of the world.  With all unanimity, these groups trumpeted the effusive and rank condemnation of what INEC, in conjunction with the ruling party, perpetrated under the guise of conducting a “peaceful” election that was shorn of all the other ingredients of free, fair and transparent conduct.  Without any iota of dissent, the monitors and observers recounted tales of woe  and disreputable behaviour of both the national electoral body and security agencies deployed on election day duty.

At an interactive media session held in West View Hotel, Government Reserved Area, GRA, Benin City, few days after the elections, the Head of the African Union, AU, Mission, Professor Hameed Ansari, recalled with regret how he and other observers were barred from entering the collation centres, an order that he was experiencing for the first time.

He disclosed that the INEC officials, on ground, informed him and others that they (INEC officials) were acting on orders relayed from above.  To make matters worse, no Certified True Copies, CTCs, of the so-called Official Result, was given to any observer or monitor gathered outside the state collation hall.  As observed elsewhere, a major and unprecedented move was the postponement of the collation of the results from all the 18 local government areas of the state by 1.38am on Thursday, September 29, 2016 to 8am same day, inspite of the glaring fact that all the required result forms and ballot boxes were already at the venue of the state collation exercise, with no violence or altercation threatening the processes precedent to the seamless announcement of the governorship election result.

The Head of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, ECOSOC, delegation to the election, expressed his utmost surprise and bewilderment that “Money was flowing all over the place and voters were openly asking for money in the presence of policemen.  Thugs, openly, moved around”.  In a similar vein, he said that all INEC-accredited observers and media persons were cleverly obstructed by security officials and barred from entering the various collation centres, especially the state one held in Benin City.

The Head of the Domestic Observers Group, aligned himself with the fact that some party officials, INEC staff and security men, connived to skew and subvert the electoral process in favour of a particular party.  He asserted that the figures read on television on Thursday, September 29, 2016, were at a variance with the ones that were officially signed for by all party agents from the unit level to the local government stage.

He stoutly, disagreed with the unprecedented decision of the INEC to shift the overnight collation at the Benin City State Centre to 8am.

Before this latter stage, a series of untoward incidents played out.

There was open display of financial inducement in most of the polling units; voting without accreditation and multiple voting in many units in Etsako West, Etsako East and Etsako Central while Ikpoba Okha, Igueben and Esan North East, witnessed ballot box  snatching and stuffing of ballot papers through gross intimidation and violence.  The latter occurrence was a fallout of INEC officials and security operatives displaying open partisanship i.e the restriction of INEC-accredited observer group and monitors from observing vote collation, counting and announcement at the various stages of collation.

The cavalier attitude displayed by most INEC officials and representatives of other agencies assigned varied election duties, created a yawning gap of irresponsibility that was exploited by some party chieftains and agents to gain undue political mileage.

It is in this context that the scourge of the “padded vote” reared its ugly head and were slipped into the ensuing fiasco that played out on September 29, 2016, during the INEC State Collation exercise.

Apparently, INEC was under tremendous pressure to conduct and conclude the election without rendering it inconclusive.  Thus, the “careful” allocation of votes to political parties and the declaration of a “winner” without due consideration to the people’s choice of who will rule over them.

As a further proof that the Edo election was a quintessential example of one programmed to be “conclusive” by all means possible, the sarcastic evaluation and trite condemnation of the exercise and result by a top member to the INEC’s operational hierarchy, showcases the actual mindset of the body.

If what Mr. Solomon Soyebi, the INEC Commissioner for Voters Education, said on Monday, October 2, 2016 on Africa Independent Television, AIT, Kakaaki public affairs magazine programme, that “the collation of results in Edo Election was not transparent but it was credible”, is anything to go by, it underpins the INEC operational module that all available paraphernalia of credibility must be sought to dress up a mummified result of conclusiveness.

Soyebi was not speaking in “tongues” but may have been engaging in a deliberate semantic somersault to justify, and at the same time deprecate the injustice perpetrated by his fellow INEC men in respect of the Wednesday, September 28, 2016 governorship election in Edo State, which went awry with the announcement of fathom figures by INEC.

His muddled reaction may be likened to a Chief Priest who may not know how best to describe a Big Masquerade which tumbled and fell during a command performance.

Read in the real sense of the key words in Soyebi’s caustic summarisation one will disagree with him and ascribe his comments to gross confusion on how best to bail out his men who have been floundering from one election to another.  Those who know what has given “victory” to the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Edo State governorship election in 2016, will not share Soyebi’s semantic rascality and /or indiscretion.

Given that the “election was credible but not transparent”, it served INEC’s purpose of returning the APC’s candidate as governor of Edo State without going through the embarrassing modem of an “inconclusive” one.

In a fit of euphoric celebration, Soyebi betrayed the official INEC feeling of having “Killed two birds with one stone”, by its successful conclusion of a key election and at the same time appropriating it to the ruling party.

As the tribunal gets set to deliver judgment in Benin City, Edolites, nay Nigerians, are desirous of a milestone and all-embracing judgment that will impart, positively, on Nigerian elections, now and in the future.

Dr. Okhakumhe Ijebor,  a public affairs commentator, wrote from Benin City, Edo State.

 

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