The outrage over the bill sponsored by Mr Olusegun Odebunmi, APC member from Oyo State in the House of Reps, to basically regulate media practice in Nigeria out of existence had hardly died down when the National Assembly on Thursday foreclosed what many Nigerians, particularly those who sincerely wish for a clean electoral process, actually see as an opportunity to indemnify Nigeria against national electoral fraud.
Again the All Progressives Congress, APC, has proved once more that it has very little consideration for the political development in Nigeria. It threw that opportunity into the dustbin with its party-line votes against the key amendments of the electoral act that could ensure this.
And what a churlish show against good reason! But why? Why did they do it? Here is the story, just for background: the amendment of the electoral Act which was concluded in 2019 but which the President – Mr Muhammadu Buhari – refused to sign into law was designed to pre-empt, and stop the kind of brigandage that has characterized elections in Nigeria since 1998.
Frequently, electoral materials have been snatched by political thugs at gunpoint, between the point of collation and the point of reporting. Frequently, voting figures are changed, and there have been cases of disparity between what is often reported and actual votes cast. Frequently, the resulting electoral fraud has meant that Nigeria democracy has been shaped and determined by thugs who have been deployed to hijack the will of the people and push candidates with very little electoral value into public offices.
Sometimes, those who carry out these heinous electoral crimes are policemen and soldiers deployed to do election security duties, or who are recruited from the barracks on election day by powerful politicians mostly from the ruling parties.
They organize to snatch electoral materials; rewrite results, and force election officers to declare these fake results sometimes in pain of death. This kind of “might-is-right” democracy has frustrated INEC, the independent electoral board established by law to conduct Federal elections in Nigeria. To restore the credibility of the ballot, INEC proposed to use new digital technologies to first, capture the actual footprint of voters.
This should ensure that the actual identity of voters can be fully verified, and certified. No one can vote twice, nor would there be the opportunity as having happened might before our very eyes, of people thumb-printing ballot papers, and stuffing it in ballot boxes, and declaring ghost votes other than what was registered on the electoral list. This was how APC’s Uzodinma was declared governor of Imo State by the Supreme Court in the most brazen of judicial travesties in recorded human history. The use of digital technology would also possibly be the end of underage voting.
In the 2015 and 2019 elections, there was footage that went viral of children lined up to cast votes in the presidential elections up in the North of Nigeria. In those areas where the APC have dug in. These votes were counted, and Buhari “won” with such clearly illegal votes cast by minors. This should be unacceptable. Election security and ballot integrity have long been an issue in Nigerian elections. In Lagos in 2019, aside from gerrymandering, votes were recorded for APC which had no clear validity.
Thugs went on a rampage in opposition areas to raid voting booths, seize ballots, and change voting figures. That the APC won Lagos, even with such razor-thin votes, would not have been possible if a proper accounting of the ballots were ensured, many an analyst has concluded, post-election. There is a general feeling nationwide to date that Muhammadu Buhari did not win the 2019 elections. It was a mandate obtained by fraud.
The APC bulldozed its way to power. It was Buhari’s fear of a clearly imminent electoral loss in this past election that led to his refusal to give assent to the Electoral Act as amended by the 8th National Assembly, which would have ensured that votes cast would be reported digitally in real-time.
That was the basis of the amendments: the use of contemporary digital technology to ensure ballot accuracy. The technology is available. It is cheap. It is everywhere. It is near-fail safe. Wherever there is a cellphone in this country, votes can be reported electronically. And cellphones are currently in use in the remotest part of Nigeria. Nigeria also has the IT resources to ensure this.
If the issue is energy in the rural areas, cheap solar power technology can be deployed and the use of satellite phones is provided to INEC even in the remotest areas of Nigeria. It is thus very untrue that the deployment of digital or electronic voting might disadvantage remote rural areas in Nigeria. This is the excuse that was given for shutting down the provision of clause 52 (3) intended to ensure that INEC could transmit election results digitally, or electronically, in real-time on election day.
That would make certain, as I have noted, that the incident of ballot snatching and the changing of figures of votes cast between the electoral booths and collation centres would be a thing of the past. Last Thursday, members of both the Senate and the House of Reps voted down these key provisions along the party line. In other words, members of the APC have ensured with their votes that Nigerians would not get accurate votes.
But a key provision in the amendment on which these legislators voted is both unlawful and worrying in its implication. First, Senator Sabi Abdullahi from Niger State inserted the amendment that gives the National Communications Commission and the National Assembly power over INEC to announce election results. In other words, INEC is no longer the Independent Electoral Commission because its key function of conducting and announcing elections have been taken from it under this amendment and handed to the National Communications Commission.
This is an obnoxious piece of legislation, and must not be allowed to fly. Second, and well, the quite worrisome and truly problematic part is that Isa Pantami, a confessed radical Islamist and APC partisan is the minister under whose charge lies the Ministry of Communications which supervises the National Communications Commission (NCC). Nigerians cannot trust Isa Pantami with their digital communications, much less the integrity of their electoral outcomes.
This is dangerous and illegal legislation. This Electoral Act must very quickly be challenged in the Supreme Court for two reasons. First, as a piece of legislation, it contradicts the cardinal constitutional law establishing the Electoral Commission as an Independent board for elections. In whittling its powers it violates a key contingency of the Nigerian constitution that gives life to our democratic life. It must therefore be vacated by the Constitutional court. Secondly, it is a clear case of overreach.
The National Communications Commission and the National Assembly of Nigeria are not established nor are they provisioned statutorily to supervise elections under the constitution. This Electoral act as amended amounts to handing a license to the lion to hunt in the forests when to all intents and purposes it is already the lion.
The amendment which was finally voted on was outside of the report by the Committee on Elections of the National Assembly. The extraordinary aspect introduced by Sabi Abdullahi falls outside of the sensible and normal legislative procedure.
It is an act of legislative hijack and rascality intended to cause a rift in the body politics of the Nation rather than heal it. Why do I say this? Two weeks ago, Southern governors and representatives presented a coherent, unified position that demanded that the South would produce the president in 2023 after the tenure of the current president.
Groups in the North have of course rejected this. Southern political leaders hoped that credible elections, using modern technology would provide the grounds for a balancing of the forces which could secure the South of Nigeria, and the Middle belt, some reprieve from the electoral fraud that has serially been committed by Northern politicians using very bogus population figures. The APC is clearly intent on securing the electoral interests of these Northern politicians and actors inside the APC.
Those Southern politicians who betrayed the position of the South must be punished politically. I mean the likes of Orji Uzo Kalu, Opeyemi Bamidele, Frank Ibezim, Oluremi Tinubu, and such like, including those who deliberately avoided the votes, must be voted out their current seats by all means necessary, come the next electoral cycle.
They must be made to lose their deposits because in voting for this electoral act in its current form, they have proved with their votes that they do not have the backs, nor are they led by the interests of their constituencies. They are clearly far more governed by self-serving political interests.
There is also a lesson in all this: Southern politicians must learn not to boycott key votes in the National Assembly. They must learn the fine art of bargain, and alliance-building, particularly with the politicians from the Middle belt whose interests are far closer with the South than with the upper North in certain matters.
They must also work at partnering with progressive politicians from the North for the general interests and stability of Nigeria. What this obnoxious electoral law portends is a clash that might threaten the political stability of Nigeria, because, in the current scenario, the South is beginning to lose its patience with the Nigerian project, for good or ill.
Only the Supreme Court now provides the recourse of saving Nigeria from the crisis of 1964 in which the South rejected the census and boycotted the elections, spinning the country eventually to the tragedy of 1966. We know that history too well and need not regurgitate it. But this, quite clearly, is a serious political development along those lines.