The Institutionalisation of Electoral Fraud

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Following the outcome of the recent rerun elections in Rivers State and the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States, there are strong indications that many Nigerians and the international community are fast losing faith in the nation’s democracy. Iyobosa Uwugiaren writes

President Muhammadu Buhari recently sworn in six newly appointed national commissioners of the Independent National Commission (INEC), challenging them to ensure the conduct of future elections in the country was free and fair.

The President said the new appointed commissioners were coming in at a critical time and drew their attention to the contentious elections recently held in parts of the country.

Buhari said his administration was concerned about the integrity of elections in the country and wanted to leave a legacy of good governance when it leaves power.

“You are coming on board at a critical time of our political development. I am sure you have truly observed the bye-elections from Kogi to Bayelsa, Rivers, Edo and Ondo. I am sure you are even concerned about the carnage in some of the elections and the resources dissipated,” he stated.

He sermonised that his administration was extremely concerned about the integrity of the electoral processes, saying the government would demand of the commissioners to be firm and fair.

As a victim of dubious electoral process in the past, especially when he contested the presidential election with two former presidents – Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and the late Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua – those close to Buhari could swear that the President would not be in any gathering of his party’s members to undermine the very fundamentals of democracy: free, fair and credible election.

The “Buharists” as the president’s supporters are now referred to, are always quick to make reference to how on assumption of office, the President immediately constituted a special panel to probe the involvement of security agencies, especially the military in the alleged manipulation of Ekiti State governorship election and the subsequent dismissal of the culprits, to strengthen their arguments.

Just last week, again, Buhari called on law enforcement agencies to “deal decisively” with any trouble-makers and those bent on violating the sanctity of the electoral process during the federal and state legislative rerun elections in Rivers State.

He asked them to be non-partisan while monitoring the conduct of the elections and at the same time suing for a peaceful and orderly election. He urged all political parties, their candidates, other stakeholders and the people of Rivers State to ensure that the election was conducted without rigging, violence and intimidation of opponents and electoral officials.

“The rerun elections should not be seen as a do-or-die affair to the extent that people will be killed, maimed and property destroyed in a mindless display of crude primitive instincts. Innocent blood should never be sacrificed on the altar of political contest for temporary power,” the president warned.

The president restated the commitment of his administration to deepening democracy in the country by enthroning a legacy of respect for the wishes of the people through free, fair and credible elections devoid of intimidation and violence throughout the federation.

However, beyond his superficially grandiloquence and pomposity about the sustenance of democracy in Nigeria, key political observers and other stakeholders in the nation’s democracy have recently started to question the sincerity of Buhari’s democratic credentials. Relying on the outcomes of the Rivers rerun election and the Edo and Ondo States governorship elections, many political thinkers believe electoral violence and corruption is now leisurely but steadily being institutionalised in the country under the strategic watch of Buhari.

To be sure, recent elections in Edo, Ondo and Rivers States strongly suggest that the procedure, by which the people’s votes were gathered and counted, is no longer crucial to the legitimacy of government, and the people are fast losing confidence in the recruitment process of elected public officials in a country of 180 million population.

And like the recent unpleasant experiences in the Edo and Ondo States governorship elections, INEC again fell flat by refusing to remove all obstacles that obstructed the democratic process, including scanty access to the voting process, incorrect counting, late results, and results that were not convincing to the electorate in the last week Rivers State rerun election.

Ahead of the rerun election, INEC and the security agencies preached peace, promising to ensure free and fair election. But those who monitored the election said the actions or inactions of INEC and security officials hugely suggested that they were in partnership with the ruling APC to undermine other parties that contested the election.

Journalists and political observers, who monitored the Rivers rerun election said over 200 innocent citizens were arrested, while scores were shot at and one killed by the Nigerian army, even though the army had expectedly denied the report.

For example, in Barako, Gokana LGA, members of the federal government’s controlled security agencies, especially the army, were said to have invaded the community and whisked away scores of persons including one Chief Awindi Dughor, a chieftain of the PDP to an unknown destination. PDP leaders described the situation as disturbing, lamenting the open collaboration of the police and army officers with politicians.

As the election monitors noted, the fairness of the election was massively rubbished by the political violence, intimidation and the manipulation of the election process by INEC and security agents. And political analysts said by violating the freedom and the fairness of the elections, INEC and security agencies had dealt a hefty blow on tenets of democracy.

There is every reason for political stakeholders to believe that INEC and security agencies were not open, transparent and neutral in the process that led to the Rivers rerun election: there was huge form of intimidation and unjustified interference from some quarters to manipulate the election and the results.

In spite of different explanations to dismiss what PDP described as “fraud”, the Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, described the rerun election as a sad reminder of the level of destruction already done to the country’s electoral process by the APC-led government, saying “free, fair and credible election is dead in the country”, and that whatever “victory that is recorded by any political party in the Rivers State election would be nothing but victory at gun-point.”

The governor said it was worrisome that the legacy of free, fair and credible election left by former President Goodluck Jonathan-led PDP has been destroyed less than two years that the APC assumed power.

“We thought that we had gone past this era of manipulated electoral process after the 2015 general election, which brought the APC and President Buhari to power, but the Buhari administration has taken us back to the Stone Age by merging his party, APC with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the police, military and other security agencies”, Fayose stated.

The governor added that with what was witnessed in Rivers State, Nigeria is under siege and only prompt intervention by the international community can save democracy in the country from the imminent collapse.

Fayose added: “It is sad that snatching of ballot boxes, hijacking of voting materials and electoral violence, which had become a thing of the past have now become part of our electoral process.

“It is even more worrisome that despite that votes are counted openly at the polling units, electorate are no longer sure of the results of elections until announcement by INEC, which has become an organ of the APC.”

Fayose described Buhari as a pretender, who had only paid lips service to the sustenance of democracy in the country, adding that “any President that looks the other way while the rights of his people to freely elect their leaders are being snatched at gunpoint by his own party men, is not worthy of being associated with democracy.”

On its part, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) also accused Buhari and his party of gradually institutionalising electoral corruption and violence in the country, saying their actions portend great danger for the nation.

Speaking with THISDAY in Abuja, the National Publicity Secretary of the opposition party, Alhaji Alfa Mohamed, challenged Buhari to equally fight electoral corruption at the polling units or forget the on-going fight against corruption.

“If Buhari does not fight and win the war against corruption at the polling booths, it will be the worst legacy that the President and the APC will bequeath to Nigerians. If they do not put an end to this corruption at the polling units now, with what we now have, it means that in future elections any person with questionable character, any criminal character or drug baron can use his money and wait for the electorate at the polling booth”, SDP stated.

The party said the way the APC allegedly bought votes in the recent governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States and the deployment of federal mighty to intimidate voters in Rivers State, were capable of creating a huge gap between the electorate and elected officials.

It added that the implication of rigged elections is that since elected officials now find it easy to buy their way into offices they would not be accountable to the people, saying this portends great danger for nation’s democracy and society.
Specifically, the SDP said with what happened in the recently concluded governorship elections in Ondo, where money was allegedly used to buy votes, the so-called anti-corruption war of APC-led administration is questionable.

The party described as shameful, a situation where a government that prides itself as an anti-corruption government is the one that is propagating electoral corruption and violence across the states, describing it the worst form of corruption.

“If elected officials buy their way into offices, how do you hold them accountable? By buying your vote, he also bought your conscience. This APC government that prides itself as an anti-corruption government is the one encouraging and leading this form of corruption (electoral corruption)”, the party added.

For many political observers, the recent Edo State governorship election was the beginning of the APC seemingly war against the fundamentals of democracy. The INEC had declared Godwin Obaseki, candidate of the APC, winner in an election the Alliance for Credible Election (ACE) – coalition of election monitors, said was scientifically rigged by INEC, at the point of collation of results.

ACE had likened the outcome of the Edo governorship election as replica of the elections conducted in 2003 and 2007, under the administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo.

As it stands today, many Nigerians and the international community are fast losing faith in democracy under the Buhari administration. Will the President retrace his unsafe political footsteps?

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Beyond his superficially grandiloquence and pomposity about the sustenance of democracy in Nigeria, key political observers and other stakeholders in the nation’s democracy have recently started to question the sincerity of Buhari’s democratic credentials