By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
You can never see it all in Nigeria. When you think you have seen it all with mediocrity and unscrupulousness, someone pulls something new, egregious, off the top drawer, and we all laugh about it.
A few weeks ago, February 16, some woke up and started heading out to the polling booths. Unknown to them, while they slept, INEC postponed the presidential elections. The same INEC had told them before they changed into their pajamas that night that it was 100% ready for the elections. And like every other thing in Nigeria, we laughed over it. And incorporated ‘logistical challenges’ into our social lexicon. Subsequently, it could prove when we fail woefully to live up to our responsibilities.
But that wasn’t all. When INEC got ready, logistically able and ready, something new cropped up. We saw professors, at INEC collation centres, embarrassing the nation with their baffling clumsiness. Professor, after professor, could not stand or sit firmly and give correct tallies of figures written on paper. But it didn’t end there. INEC gave us something new. A professor announced the result of a senatorial election in Imo State and then turned around hours later to tell the nation that he announced the results under duress.
Nigeria, we “no dey shame!”
The concept of duress has been democratized. Everywhere now people will deny responsibility for their actions and claim duress, the way politicians deny themselves and claim they were quoted out of context.
How can a professor, a returning officer, of an important election in a state with tarred roads and electricity, like Imo State, claim that he announced, perhaps false results, under duress? And he announced the results while the police and other security agencies watched.
But INEC, has agreed with him, and has disowned the results. So INEC has lent credence to the absurdity that its returning officer announcing results at its coalition centre under the protection of policemen could actually be under some kind of duress? Make no mistake, its possible the officer was coerced and he didn’t want to be martyr. But the fact that such an officer could be coerced or could use coercion as an excuse tells so much about where we are.
“We no get shame”
Since we left ballot box stuffing and embraced vote buying, elections have become more hotly contested. And the concept of inconclusiveness has become a part of us. The other day, an angry man told his wife that he would invite his in-laws for further discussions because he has found out that the marriage he entered into 10 years ago was inconclusive. Perhaps he wants to renegotiate the terms and make room for a supplementary wife. You can laugh. But who would blame him. The definition of inconclusiveness now varies from place to place. In a place like Imo, no governorship candidate met the required constitutional requirement of having 25% of votes cast in 2/3rds of local governments. Yet, the election was not deemed inconclusive. But in Abia, in one of the senatorial elections, the margin between the winner and the second placed contestant was less than the total volume of cancelled votes. Yet, INEC deemed the election conclusive.
And nothing worries more than the fact that INEC electoral officers at all these levels are nearly all professors. So what kind of professors do we actually breed?
In Kano, we learnt a new version of protective custody. The police arrested the deputy governor of the state, and a state commissioner at a collation. They said the duo were fomenting confusion at the centre. They whisked them away to the state police command. And granted them bail afterwards. When it dawned on the police that they had no powers under the constitution to arrest a serving deputy governor, they announced that they had only offered him protection. But you must have some pity for the police. How can a deputy governor be associated with so much nuisance that the police would think it necessary and proper to restrain him.
The police must,however,be condemned. The constitution is clear. The quality of immunity the deputy governor enjoys is as same with that enjoyed by governors and the president. Now imagine the police in Rivers arresting and taking away Governor Wike. But we clapped for the Kano police for being professional. We must worry about setting dangerous precedents. We seem to take everything, even abominations, with some cheer and humour.
And just when we were exiting the election season and its absurdities, tragedy struck. A short building that grew into a three story building out of the greed of its owner and the ungodly appetite of building control officers gave up the ghost in Lagos. It crumbled and sent school children to their early graves. The building had been identified as unfit for human habitation, and marked for demolition, twice. But the children had to die because some adults around them chose money rather than life. And the state government played politics with public health. Without shame, the state government started demolishing all such hazardous structures in that vicinity in a haste. You can take it to bank. Nobody will go to prison for that wilful criminal negligence.
But wait a minute. Aren’t our towns filled with those red ‘X’ marks. They are often regarded as invitation to come and settle. So, who can even blame the landlord of the ill-fated Itafaji building, now collapsed, mini skyscraper?
May the souls of those innocent children of Itafaji who died in the hands of greedy and incompetent and careless adults, rest in Peace.