November 18, 2023

INEC and the Port Harcourt Protocol, By Ugoji Egujo

INEC and the Port Harcourt Protocol, By Ugoji Egujo

Before the 2023 elections, INEC appeared ambitious and determined. After inserting biometric accreditation and electronic transfer of polling unit result sheets in the rule book, it blew its trumpet from the rooftops. At the Chatham House, it swaggered and bragged about its determination to sanitize the electoral process.

BVAS and electronic transfer were the magic wands. With them, INEC believed it had the demons of over voting and result-substitution in a corked bottle. By the time the elections came, INEC wobbled. Overcome by the demons of self-sabotage and state-supervised rigging, INEC slipped into abject unscrupulousness.

From the pulpit of righteousness, INEC fell into the cesspit of ambiguity and lies. Once the preacher, now the pimp. Troubled by moral elephantiasis, INEC now skulks where it once pranced. INEC may be immunocompromised, but the tigbuo-zogbuo, egunje-mediated disorder that has crippled the system was fashioned in Port Harcourt. The mechanism is called the Port Harcourt Protocol.

The Port Harcourt Protocol has a pre-election phase. In collusion with INEC, an astute politician smuggles names into the register of adhoc electoral staff. Sometimes he compiles the entire list. He feeds INEC with crooked hands. Presiding, collation, and returning officers are recruited mafia style. The palms of the Resident Electoral Commissioner are greased. The electoral battle starts with the infestation of INEC structures.

Before the elections, the pawns who have been inserted in the list are given honorariums. The idea is to boost their morale and prevent political hawks from pinching them. On the eve of the elections, they get the commitment fee. Then they are reminded of the consequences of treachery. Sometimes university administrators are co-opted. They collude with politicians and issue ID cards to thugs to become senior non-academic staff, enabling them to be appointed as INEC collation officers. 

On 16 May 2023, the BBC revealed the story of one Dr Dickson Ariaga. He was the collation officer for Obigbo LGA, Rivers state, for the 2023 presidential election. At the State Collation Center, he announced himself as a don of the State College of Education, Omoku. There, he read out and presented what seemed a fictitious result. Despite protestations from opposition parties, INEC accepted Dr Ariaga’s result sheet.

Provoked by the absurdity, because Ariaga’s results were in manifest conflict with IREV results for Obigbo, the BBC visited the school to interview him. The school received the BBC crew and confessed that Dr Dickson Ariaga wasn’t their staff. He was neither on the payroll nor staff register. The BBC went to INEC in Rivers. INEC said the man was recruited on the morning of the election from the streets. That INEC collation officer did the job and disappeared.  Nigeria election: The mystery of the altered results in disputed poll. So the Port Harcourt Protocol has an important pre-election phase. 

On the eve of elections proper, a smart politician will make attempts to corner INEC materials. Particularly, result sheets. On election days, wolves are summoned for enforcement. Each crew will have policemen and party bulldogs. In February, the wolves went late. Voters had forced the presiding officers to capture results before the wolves arrived. That was why the INEC collation figures didn’t resemble the IREV results.

Thereafter, the Port Harcourt Protocol was revised to eliminate the problems faced with naked discrepancies between uploaded results and INEC collated figures. So in March, the wolves moved in early. By the revised Protocol, wolves should strike when most voters have finished accreditation and voting but before results are tallied. Timing is important for optimum, indubitable outcomes. An active pack of wolves can take care of an electoral ward. Any resistance will be met with savagery. The result sheets are still unstained.

The BVAS machines have the total number of accredited persons. All the seized documents and machines are taken to designated centers that are heavily guarded by law enforcement canines. There, the results will be carefully written making sure that the accredited figures are not exceeded. Some of the presiding officers who ran away when the tigbuo-zogbuo team stormed their units and harvested materials will sneak in to sign the results. But their signatures don’t matter.

In the revised Port Harcourt Protocol , the doctored results can be uploaded to IREV with fake signatures. The minted result sheets will now leave the special sorting center for Ward Collation Centers. There, any resistance beyond howling by opposition party agents will be contained by the police. Opposition agents can be flung out of the window. Collation will process rapidly to the state collation. Before TV cameras, INEC will ignore prostrations and discrepancies, and announce the triumph of democracy.  

The post-election phase of the Port Harcourt Protocol starts with elaborate celebrations. Once the cooked results are announced, the wine will begin to flow. Friends and family will assemble. Bishops and Imams will come. The initial party is to mimic American politics. After that, an emergency owambe will follow. Big musicians who have lamented bad governance all their lives will be in attendance to supply expensive music.

Colourful asoebis will be on display. Political associates will congregate to hound losers with homilies. Some opposition politicians seeking instant green pastures will, in the name of politics without bitterness and national unity, sneak in. There will be speeches about joining hands to build the state. The Sunday after, the party will move to church, so that God can be given the glory. The social media will be agog. Minnows will revel in bragging rights till their landlords begin to knock at their door.

When the celebrations subside a little, the new task will be to put wedges on the path of petitioners. Carrot and stick, push-and-shove, will be used. If the case survives the mediation of hungry elders and traditional rulers, and reaches the tribunals, money will be needed. Big lawyers will be hired. But more importantly, emissaries will be sent to the judiciary.

Sometimes the senior lawyers do the negotiating. However, the Port Harcourt Protocol espouses the active involvement of the astute politician and political family in the negotiation with the lords. Once an agreement in principle is reached, it will be the duty of the lords to find a fitting technicality. Often, the lords will pick holes in the electoral law and willfully sabotage the drafters of the law in the name of constitutionality. 

The revised Port Harcourt Protocol has become popular in many states. It was used in many states in March. Since the courts succumbed to its menace, it became inevitable in the off-season elections in November. In Imo and Kogi, the protocol was rampantly abused. Those who configured some of the results didn’t bother keeping an eye on accreditation figures. Regardless, once election results are announced, the crying losers are asked to go to court.

The Port Harcourt Protocol has become the manual. An incumbent who applies it cannot lose an election in Nigeria except something extraordinary happens. The future is also bright for election thieves because the dynamics of the Port Harcourt Protocol will undermine any new legislation on BVAS. With the cynical application of INEC ad-hoc staff and law enforcement, even mandatory electronic transfer will be defeated. More importantly, with the Port Harcourt protocol, the meddlesomeness of the youths will soon abate. Apathy will return in full force and allow grassroots politicians who have paid their dues to continue to dictate democratically.

Nigeria, I hail thee.