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2O19 and the menace of underage voting

By Ikechukwu Amaechi

If Kano State points to the direction Nigeria is headed when the electoral bell tolls again in 2019, then Nigeria is in clear and imminent danger. The augury is stark. The prognostication is as portentous as it is scary.

Every election circle brings out the beast in us as the legendary Afrobeat maestro, late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, would characteristically sing.

That is true. Our democracy is a jungle where the will of the powerful and vicious minority, who take no prisoners, will always prevail.

Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)

But there is something particularly telling about the Kano electoral stench.

On Saturday, February 11, 2018, the Kano State Independent Electoral Commission (KANSIEC) conducted local government poll. A day after, the chairman of the commission, Prof. Garba Sheka, announced that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) won all the 44 chairmanship and 484 councillorship seats, in an election where 25 political parties participated.

Home-grown democracy

In the context of the democracy variant maladroitly foisted on Nigeria by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, which he impishly labelled home-grown democracy, that is the new norm.

Today, the rule is that every party in power, through the state independent electoral commission whose members are handpicked by the governor organizes local government poll where it usually wins all the chairmanship and councillorship seats. Some “magnanimous” governors may concede one or two per cent of the seats to the opposition political parties but others who neither give a damn nor revel in the nicety of taking prisoners go for the kill. That was what happened in Kano. It was a zero-sum game. The winner simply took all.

But report of underage voters sharply contradicted the claims of the KANSIEC chairman that the poll was peaceful, free and fair. Children barely ten years old were captured in videos casting their ballot in the so-called free and fair election.

The instant national outrage has led to some startling confessions.

First, the impetuous Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, while visiting the presidential villa, which has become a weekly, if not daily ritual, for most governors, dismissed the trending photos and videos of children voting in the election, describing it as “propaganda” by his political opponents.

He particularly blamed his predecessor and political benefactor with whom he is now locked in a bitter political struggle, Senator Kwankwaso, for the scandal.

“Ask the international observers who went there, they held a press conference after they went round. All those pictures of children are pictures of assembled children they took, so it’s not true, it is part of the propaganda,” he said.

He said the Senator resorted to propaganda because of his failure to travel to Kano and participate in the election.

“Ask them, did they go back to the state to queue up and take part in the election? They were not able to do so, so we don’t even need to respond to such falsehood,” Ganduje boasted.

But the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), unlike the governor, didn’t believe that it was a hoax. So, it swiftly played the biblical Pontius Pilate by washing its hands off the scandal, laying the entire blame on the doorstep of KANSIEC.

INEC spokesperson, Oluwole Uzzi, while acknowledging pictures of the underage voters, said “as far as we can ascertain, they (the pictures) relate to a local government election conducted at the weekend (in Kano).”

“While the Commission remains resolute in our commitment to sanitise the nation’s electoral process and deliver free, fair and credible elections, we cannot be held directly or vicariously liable for a process outside our legal purview.”

But it was an excuse many discerning Nigerians took with the axiomatic pinch of salt because in conducting the election, KANSIEC used the INEC’s voter register and the underage voters were accredited using the register.

Sensing that it had been boxed to a corner, INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, vowed to investigate the matter even as he acknowledged that the voter register used for the contentious Kano poll was INEC’s.

Speaking at an “Election Project Plan Implementation Workshop” in Lagos, Yakubu described the Kano saga as “deeply disturbing.”

“It is true that the State Independent Electoral Commission had requested INEC for a copy of the voter register. I can confirm also that a soft copy of the register was made available to the state. The voter register in Kano State is the one used for the 2015 general election,” he said wondering if the register used by KANSIEC for the controversial poll was the same INEC provided.

That comment apparently riled Kano State government which shot back, throwing a power-packed sucker punch at INEC. Climbing down from its high horse and disclaiming its earlier position that the story was a hoax, the state government now claimed that the footage showing underage persons voting during the local government poll was actually recorded during the March 30, 2015 general election conducted by INEC.

An angry Commissioner for Information, Muhammad Garba, who ostensibly was not impressed by INEC’s narrative said, “What you have seen in the video clip showing underage kids voting, did not happen now. It was recorded during the March 30, 2015 elections” for the offices of the president and National Assembly members.

It was apparent that both INEC and KANSIEC were being economical with the truth. Underage voting in Kano is not only real, it is an existential threat to our democracy that is still fledgling after almost 19 years.

Kano has suddenly become the game-changer in Nigeria’s power calculus. It wouldn’t have been a problem if this status was merited. But it isn’t. It is a dubious standing.

In the 2015 presidential poll, the state posted 2,172,447 out of which 43,626 were voided with the All Progressives Congress and its then presidential candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, polling a whopping 1,903,999 votes.

It is instructive that five days after that incredulous electoral feat, the state’s Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr. Mikaila Abdulahi, his wife, Zulaiha; and two daughters, Aisha and Asmau, were killed in a fire incident described as ‘strange’ by neighbours?

The then Kano State Police Commissioner, Ibrahim Idris, who is now the Inspector General of Police performed the unpleasant task of rushing Abdullahi and his family to the Murtala Muhammad Hospital, where they were confirmed dead.

Today, Ganduje is assuring Buhari five million votes in 2019.

Buoyed by the 2,677,469 votes with which his party won the local government poll, Ganduje told the crowd that gathered for the swearing-in ceremony that, “The overall number of votes scored by the APC candidates is more than what President Buhari scored in 2015 general election, that is to say that if eventually he agrees to contest 2019 general election, I assure you, we will give him five million votes.”

When one factors in the claim by a former INEC National Commissioner, Prof. Lai Olurode, that he almost lost his life for refusing to allow underage voters to vote some years ago, the picture of impunity looms large.

Children must vote

The former INEC commissioner said, “There are certain areas of this country where even if they know the person is a kid, they will insist that the child must vote.”

“I had to run for my life at one of the election centres in a part of the country because these people said children must vote or there would be no election at all. It is that bad.”

And he admonished Nigerians: “The Kano State example is a bad signal and a warning that we really have a lot to do and the voter register is key. The register must be clean, it must not have ghost names or underage voters.”

There are no signs that anybody is about to heed his advice that “the APC government has a responsibility to deliver an election that will be better than the 2015 election.”

As I write, underage voters are still being registered by INEC to vote in the 2019 elections. As it was in 2015, so will it be next year.

In Nigeria, the end will always justify the means when it comes to electoral contest. Come 2019, the register will not be cleaned, underage persons will gleefully cast their ballot, Kano will deliver five million votes or more as promised and there won’t be as much as a whimper in the land. It will all be dejavu!


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