Nigeria’s 2019 Elections, Election Observation Missions and Deepening of Corruption at The Next Level

Muhammadu Buhari

The mania of organisation of Nigeria’s 2019 general elections does not only show why Nigeria’s future is, or cannot but be, bleak in terms of both national unity and deepening of democracy, but also clearly why there will always be contradictions in the conduct of the elections, on the one hand, and the conduct of the official anti-corruption battle, on the other. There is no disputing the fact that the pillars of the 2019 were built on violent manifestations of corruption. This is part of what the international election observers have couched as ‘challenges’ or ‘serious tension’ in their reports. Yet, their concluding report is that the 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections of February 23rd, 2019 were free, fair and credible. This is arguable.

For instance, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs congratulates ‘President Muhammadu Buhari on his re-election on February 23. It will continue to stand by Nigeria and to provide its full support for the implementation of the country’s priorities, especially economic diversification, job creation, counter terrorism and the fight against corruption.’ This congratulatory message does not care much about whether an election was rigged or fraught with any violence. The bottom line remains how best to advance France’s national interest.

More interestingly from the perspective of the British Minister of State for Africa, Harriet Baldwin, she said that ‘along with our international partners, the United Kingdom believes that the Nigerian people can have confidence in the result.’ She therefore, offered her ‘congratulations to President Muhammadu Buhari on securing a second term as the Nigerian President. The UK is a longstanding friend and partner of Nigeria and the Nigerian people and a stable and prosperous Nigeria benefits Africa and the world.

More importantly, Harriet Baldwin admitted that there were challenges and, therefore, has urged aggrieved people to seek redress in the court. As she put it, ‘we encourage Nigerian authorities to examine all allegations of wrongdoings carefully, and take the necessary action against individuals found responsible… No one should die in the exercise of their democratic rights’ (vide the Most unfortunately, many people died as a result of the election violence.

Many issues are raised with this British observation and encouragement. First, Harriet Baldwin said the Nigerian people ‘can have confidence in the result,’ she did not say the Nigerian people ‘should have confidence.’ In other words, like any typical British person in whose blood capillaries there are always jots of attitudinal caution, not to say dualism, Harriet Baldwin avoided saying that the election results were fraught with unacceptable challenges. If the Nigerian people want to accept them, yes they can. Even though in other statements, impression is given that the British and other election observers have their solidarity with the people, the truth is that all the international election observers have adopted the policy of many Nigerian politicians who are neither cold nor hot and who also seek self-survival and relevance under the policy of collaboration with AGIP (Any Government in Power).

The international election observation missions are only interested in any government in power in Nigeria for reasons of national interests. Let anyone be fraudulent with the organisation of any election, let anyone die, let there be impunity or otherwise, it is not really a big deal for the British and others. What is more important for all of them is, let the processes of democratic elections continue to grow and whoever emerges as president-elect, regardless of the illegality of mania of election be allowed to govern. The adjudication of the grievances can remain pending in the court.

The APC-led government appears to understand this type of policy mentality well: rig elections and win and let complainants go to court. And true enough, the courts in Nigeria are currently suffering from President Muhammadu Buhari’s subjugation of the rule of law to the national security interest. Put differently, the rule of law does not any longer take precedence over the protection of what PMB considers as national interest. The proponents of good democratic governance believe that the determination and protection of any national interest should first be subjected to the application of rule of law but the attitudinal disposition is against.

Most unfortunately, too, this is what the EOM are coming to give active support to, working directly against what they are preaching. They are preaching in favour of development of democratic culture in Nigeria, with unending emphasis on the importance of democracy as the best form of government in contemporary international relations. On the other hand, however, they condone elections that are meant to be democratic, free and fair, but which are not, and are still presented as credible to the world. This cannot be helpful to the good and honest people who are sincerely committed to a more united, more vibrant Nigeria and more knowledge-driven society that will be permanently free from political chicanery and deliberate machinations of official corruption.

Second, the British Minister of State said the UK is ‘a longstanding friend and partner of Nigeria,’ why has this long standing ties not impacted on deliberate election rigging? If the belief that a stable and prosperous Nigeria will benefit Africa and the world, will this ever be possible if the foundations of the prosperity will also be corruption, because election rigging is another method of sustaining corruption? Encouraging election rigging or promoting election violence with the objective of making it difficult for someone to vote or to out-rightly deny a person from voting is not only an act of dishonesty, but also a manifestation of engagement in an act of corruption per excellence. We are saying in essence that the results of the presidential elections of February 23rd, 2019 were fraught with visible intimidation in many ramifications. An exegesis of the manifestations of the election is necessary at this juncture.

Elections and Challenges
The first part of Nigeria’s 2019 general elections, that is, presidential and legislative elections, was initially scheduled to take place on Saturday, February 16th, 2019. For alleged reasons of force majeure, largely informed by logistical and operational reasons, the election was postponed at 2.44 am on February 16 until Saturday, February 23rd, 2019. Indeed, the presidential and National Assembly elections took place as scheduled this time.
However, the organisation of the elections, and particularly the visible challenges at the polling units and collation centres, are perceived differently. Some believe that the elections were free, fair and credible. The international election observers belong to this school of thought. Another school of thought has it that, true, there were some challenges and that it is difficult to have a perfect election, and therefore, the election results should simply be accepted as they are presented. More important, there is the school of thought that has condemned the whole election as a sham because of the sharp practices that were openly manifested, and, therefore, have decided to challenge the presidential election results in the court. This is basically the Atiku Abubakar school or the PDP School.

In all the three cases, each school of thought has elements of truth in its argument. The epicentral truth is that Nigeria’s 2019 General Election was deductively designed to be fraudulent in all ramifications. The election observers were also very economic with the truths in their assessments of whether the election was peaceful, violent, free, fair, and credible. The Nigerians that have been acquiescent to the election manoeuvrings are not less guilty. I am therefore submitting here that, on the basis of published information on the elections, the future of democracy in Nigeria, the unity of Nigeria and national patriotism is not only very bleak, ‘the next level’ of the APC-led government can only be for the conscious deepening of corruption in Nigeria.

Put differently, it is argued that the 2019 general elections of February 23rd, 2019 have too many visible contradictions and unbelievable sharp practices which are consciously ignored by the INEC, which is required to be independent and non-partisan. If the INEC was not trust worthy, not reliable, if the elections were in many places rigged or tainted with violence and people acquiesce to it, then what is it that should be expected of the future? The rest of this article provides an empirical exegesis of well known cases as published to show that Nigeria has critical problems, that the international observers make them complicated by writing their reports on the bass of half-truths, while Nigerians are left to be fighting themselves with little or no good thinking of the implications.

First is the role of the Election Observation Missions (EOM). There were eight EOM. ECOWAS Election Observation Mission, African Union Election Observation Mission, Commonwealth Observer Group, European Union Election Mission, National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute Election Observation Mission, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa Election Observation Mission, and the United Nations Special Representative to the Secretary General for West Africa and the Sahel.

The cardinal objective of all the EOM is the same: observe the manifestations of the voting and report. The meaning of observation, in terms of status, that is, observer status, in international meetings is clear cut: observation with or without actual engagement. An act observation requires physical presence to see what the stakeholders are all doing, interpretation of what is seen, and reporting what had been seen and interpreted on the basis of objectivity of purpose
On Saturday,16th February, in reaction to the postponement of the election by the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, all the leaders of the eight EOM issued a joint statement in which they advised Nigerians on the best way forward. They called on Nigerians ‘to continue to remain calm and supportive of the electoral process as INEC works to implement its new timeline.’ More important, the EOM leaders not only ‘urged the INEC to use this time to finalise all preparations and ensure that the new election dates are strictly adhered to, and that INEC should ‘provide regular updates and information to the public on its preparations in the coming days and weeks to enhance confidence and trust in the process,’ but also made it clear that the Heads of the EOM, together ‘stand in solidarity with the people of Nigeria in their desire for credible and peaceful elections,’ as the EOM ‘continue to closely observe preparations across the country.’
These statements were good for the purposes of the need for a fair, free and credible election. Perhaps more importantly, the assurances that the EOM leaders were on the side of the people of Nigeria in the quest for a fair, free and credible election cannot but be noteworthy and commendable. The problem, however, is that, even though impression is always given that the purpose of an EOM is to give assistance in the facilitation of election processes, the truth is that, consciously or otherwise, the observation and the report on it are always cautiously silent on the real problems of the elections. Rather than assist Nigerians, they have created biases, distorted the truths about the elections, and by so doing, have misinformed the international community. Let us explicate at this juncture the report of the ECOWAS-EOM for illustration.

The ECOWAS has a team of 200 accredited observers, 170 of whom have the status of Short Term Observers and the other 30, a Long Term Observers’ status, all deployed to 31 States across the Six Geo-political Zones of Nigeria, inclusive of the Federal Capital Territory. As a Member of the ECOWAS, Nigeria is entitled to be assisted by the regional organisation on the basis of the provisions of the Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, as well as the Programme of Assistance to Member States which are organising general elections.
It is within the context of these Supplementary Protocol and Programme of Assistance that the legitimacy of ECOWAS election monitoring in Nigeria should first be appreciated. Apart from the training workshops also organised between September and December 2018, the ECOWAS engaged in several peace-making visits to different stakeholders.

Without doubt, the role of the ECOWAS-EOM is considerable and commendable, especially in its quest for a peaceful and credible electoral process. It first organised a Joint High Level Solidarity Mission with the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) on 8 October, 2018 in order to show support for a peaceful and credible election. A pre-election fact-finding Mission was also organised in the first two weeks of November 2018 to ascertain the extent of preparedness of the INEC.
Apart from the various workshops on how to prevent or mitigate election-related violence, there is the 30-member team of Long-Term Election Observers (LTOs), which has been in Nigeria since January 13, 2019 ‘to assess some of the most critical aspects of the electoral process in the lead up to, and immediately after, election day. With all these preliminary efforts, can it be rightly argued that there have been peaceful elections or that the elections were truly fair, free and credible?

In her report, following the release of the election results, the Head of the ECOWAS-EOM, Her Excellency, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has it that ‘social media platforms were …used to market their (political parties) candidates and programs to young voters. However, some of these platforms were used to misinform the public and propagate hate speech. Although electoral campaigns were largely peaceful, some incidents led to violence and deaths.’’ Which incidents? Which deaths? How did they occur? Who were responsible? These are specific questions that election observers have opted to couch in very vague language, and these issues are precisely the dynamics of Nigeria’s problems in the foreseeable future.

Second, the report also has it that there were ‘security challenges that occurred on the day of elections. Particularly in Maiduguri where, prior to the commencement of polls, heavy shelling was heard. This situation undoubtedly affected the voter turnout in numbers to vote under such circumstances.’ Most unfortunately, however, this observation was proved wrong with the election results: poor turnout but more election ballots cast.

Additionally, the report noted that ‘the smooth flow of the process was disrupted by malfunctioning of the Smartcard Readers (SCRs) in a number of polling units. In some cases, this situation caused agitation among the voters who had been waiting in queues for long hours, forcing some polling officials to resort to manual accreditation.’ The belief of many Nigerians is that the manual accreditation was deliberately designed to be so. If not, why is the manual accreditation in Maiduguri and not elsewhere?, people have been asking? People were shown in a video people were just thumb printing.

Third, a Presiding Officer at Kofar Gayam in Nasarawa State attempted arbitrarily to put an end to the voting process when several people were still on the queue waiting to vote. Expectedly, voting was disrupted. In the Akuku Toru and Bonny Local Government Areas, elections did not even take place at all.
Besides, in Borno, there was discrepancy between the number of accredited voters and the total number of votes cast. This prompted Mr. Zanna Gaddama, the PDP Chair in Borno to refuse to accept the election results. As he explained the refusal to accept the results, he said ‘Card Readers were not used and our agents were not allowed to exercise their duties in representing the party in the election. There is serious alteration of the election results, we reject it in its entirety and we will seek redress in court.’

Fourth, Natacha Akpoti of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), who contested for the Kogi central senatorial district seat, has rejected the election results on the basis of very serious allegations: election rigging, ballot snatching and denial of entry into her State, Kogi, through Banda area, by 100 fake police officers ‘allegedly hired by Governor Yahaya Bello. Natacha Akpoti said she had to take a detour from Abaji via Nasarawa, Keffi and Benue into the state. As she explained it, ‘on arriving Okene at 9 am, I met the same men who disarmed my security, send away my security personnel and blocked my vehicle from movements using tires and bricks. It took the efforts of the Force Headquarters instructing the Okene Area Commander to free me and my personnel.’

Perhaps more disturbingly, she added that ‘on Wednesday, February 27, 2019, ‘the mother of Enesi Ojo – an SDP youth leader who was murdered by Kogi APC thugs – was mercilessly beaten up under the instructions of Yahaya Bello for reporting the matter to the police.’ This type of election violence is different, but most unfortunate. This is consciously illegally preventing the opposition candidates from contesting. A critical espying of where there are election violence, cannot but clearly show that the APC elements were always using force to undermine the electoral chances of other parties, and for that matter, under governmental protection. And yet, international observers are praising both the INEC and the Buhari administration for an election well organised. What will be good for Nigeria is when every stakeholder speaks to the truth, and collectively, solutions to the challenges are found.

Fifth, and perhaps most shocking, is the election result in Imo State. The presiding officer told the whole world that he was giving the election result ‘under duress.’ In other words, the APC candidate in the State did not actually win but was pronounced the winner. It was the PDP candidate who actually won, but the presiding collation officer was put under pressure by the APC to announce results that did not reflect the true will of the people of Imo State. Consequently, if any leader, regardless of where he she comes from, could be congratulating President Buhari for winning a very controversial election, Nigeria’s future cannot be bright. All patriotic Nigerians should be more watchful as such leaders are unnecessarily enemies of Nigeria. They are only killing Nigeria softly.

Above all, if democracy is really to grow and develop as a culture in Nigeria, there will be need to return to Option A4 which requires queuing up behind one’s choice of candidates. Nigeria does not need secret balloting for now. Politics in Nigeria is largely fraught with dishonesty and violence. Voters are given money and are required to swear oath, that they would not be unfaithful. Voting for a candidate should be on the basis of strong beliefs and not on the basis of compulsion. If there are only 100 registered voters who are ready to be identified with a candidate of his or her choice, let them be. When the culture of integrity and belief in party ideology, and particularly, when competence, intelligence and good behaviour of candidates is also underscored in voting processes, secret balloting can then be considered.

The truth as at today is that the 2019 elections have only succeeded in deepening the national divide. PMB should therefore tread more cautiously, especially in the areas of nepotism and promotion of dictatorship in a democratic setting. All these problems can only further deepen the current foundation of political governance, which is officially corruption-ridden. Peace seekers can continue to seek peace, but let the foundation of peace be predicated on the removal of the obvious challenges that appear to have been deliberately orchestrated. This is how electoral peace can have an enduring character in Nigeria.