Frank & Fair

November 23, 2019

Mbaise, Okene, Nembe, Obio Okpor: The Electoral Abracadabras of 2019

Bayelsa, Kogi

Security operatives manning the ballot boxes during the PDP 2017 National Convention at the Eagle Square, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida

Security operatives manning the ballot boxes 

By Dr Ugoji Egbujo

The dust is settling. The autopsy must begin.

And we can start with Mbaise, Okene, Southern Ijaw or Obio Okpor.

Long ago, during the Maurice Iwu days, I once went to my village to vote. On election morning, I  went to the polling unit beside my family house. I met a bemused presiding officer and two other officials. Some people clustered around them.

The story was simple. They had arrived with the election materials . Before they could settle down, two thugs with machetes jumped out of the bushes, slapped them  and seized the ballot papers and the result sheets. And disappeared. I waited a while and exchanged banters with village folks. As we waited, some other thugs arrived on two motorcycles. They came with machetes. But they came late. The materials they came to steal had been stolen by another group. They left frustrated.

A Nigeria without voter’s card and ballot boxes to snatch(Opens in a new browser tab)

We joked about the rivalry of the wolves. We wondered why the government bothered with the empty rituals of elections.  The presiding officer joined us in throwing curses around. Later that night, I met the thugs that hijacked the election materials.  They said they took the ballot papers to their house for thumb printing. They filled the result sheets too. They brought them back to the polling booth later in the evening. And they went with that presiding officer to the collation center  where he tendered them as authentic results. They were commissioned by a politician. They settled everyone involved. They  said that  was ‘how it was done’ .

I understood ‘how it was done’.

That was the Obasanjo / Maurice Iwu era. That was the season of ballot box stuffing. When INEC made the use of card readers compulsory we jubilated. No one could hijack ballot papers and thumb print and stuff the boxes any longer.  But our joy was short-lived. Vote buying crept in  and became the dominant evil. Vote buying meant  that voters rather than thugs would be paid.  That was perhaps a lesser evil. But  it appears that vote buying has even  become a little outdated. Some old demons have returned. Ballot boxes are again being rampantly hijacked. But they are smashed rather than stuffed.  The idea is to damage the contest wherever you may be beaten silly.  We saw it in Lagos around Ago Palace road. We have seen many clips of Kogi where armed youths stormed polling units and smashed ballot boxes and shredded ballot papers.

But these demons alone cant account for the miracles that have become rampant.  These are destructive demons. The miracles are perhaps works of more creative demons. These  creative demons  seem capable of turning mole hills to mountains on paper.

The INEC, the police and the DSS must huddle together in a locked room and tease apart , and  dig.

Take Okene for instance . There was near total PVC  pick up.  95% percent of those who collected  personal voter’s cards (PVC) turned up to vote. One party got almost all the votes.  Let’s  put Okene in proper perspective. Before the  Lagos  governorship elections in march ,   about 5.4  million  people collected PVCs. Only about one million people voted. So less than 20% of those with PVCs turned out to vote.

In Enugu,  by march, about 1.8 million people had collected their PVCs. During the Enugu governorship election only about 450,000 people turned out to vote. That means only about 25% of those who collected PVCs bothered to vote.    These elections were  equally hotly contested. So we have to study how Okene managed to conjure a 95% voter turn. We could learn something from that research which  could be used to stimulate apathetic  voters elsewhere.

Obio Okpor was perhaps more colorful than Okene. But Obio Okpor has a reputation. So we can say that Obio Okpor is the theatre of electoral magic.

In Imo, the largest local government in population is  Mbaitoli. But in the last governorship elections,  it was in Abhor Mbaise that  magic happened.  The three Mbaise local government areas have a combined  total  population of about 700,000. Imo has an estimated population of about 5 million. Imo has 27 local government areas. The three Mbaise local governments gave a certain candidate about same  number votes that  the other 24 local governments gave him. We know these things can happen, his kinsmen could have shown extra ordinary solidarity. Or they could have sworn to an oath to vote, and to vote only him. But INEC and security agencies must study these miracles and understand them.  They could help deepen democratic participation.

In Bayelsa, a few days ago some miracles happened too. Nembe and Southern Ijaw turned in some results that astounded everyone. These results may meet legal requirements for validity but they create credibility problems for the electoral process. In a state controlled by one party , another party scores 95% of the votes cast in a local govt area in a  hotly contested governorship election.  Not only are the votes mopped up so exclusively , the quantity of votes gathered fits no projections.

Some creative demons have been fingered. These creative highway demons are thought to operate somewhere between the polling units and the collation centers. They step in and simply alter the result sheets or replace them with new ones,  and step aside. That is a plausible  explanation. That could be why  even without committed efforts at vote buying, a 95% turn out amongst those with card readers can be achieved.

We can allow the INEC , Police and DSS  huddle  together and do an autopsy. And find out how these things happen even though INEC has compulsory card reader accreditation in its guideline.

Bayelsa Decides: Flood delays voting in PDP Governorship candidate commmunity(Opens in a new browser tab)

Then there is this other demon.  It may have  operated the day Imo governorship election results  were announced. It’s an irresponsible demon. I don’t know what else to call it. The returning officer of Imo governorship elections is a professor.  Imo state has 27 local government areas. The constitution requires that the candidate with a majority of votes can only be announced a winner if he has 25% of votes cast in at least two thirds of local governments areas. The Imo returning officer who is a professor announced a winner. The candidate whom he announced as  winner has 25% of votes cast in only about 12 states instead of 18. INEC accepted that announcement and asked aggrieved persons to go to court.

I haven’t been able to understand how the professor worked out his own math (2/3 x 27) . He has left millions of school children baffled.  It possible that some plantain mathematics  is used in  Banana republics to solve simple election  questions.

I believe  these miracles have to be studied and understood.  They could be the key to the unlocking of our great potentials.