When I went to cast my vote on February 25, 2023, it was to perform a civic duty for the first time since Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999. I am not a politician or a card-carrying member of any party. I have been hesitant to get involved in party politics or voting in any Nigerian election. From what I knew about voting in Nigeria, the votes did not count. Yes, they did not. Rigging decided the outcome of elections. Many Nigerians are aware of this situation but continue to vote anyway. Voting is a formality that politicians use to legitimize their claim to power; their positions as presidents, governors, or parliamentarians. So I have never bothered to vote. I did not want to waste my time and energy over a futile exercise.
Yes, I did not want to waste my vote. I voted to abstain. I voted not to vote. But recently I have been following politics, campaigns and voting processes in the US. The heated debates over domestic and foreign policies. Theirs is not perfect in any way. I have always wished that politics in Nigeria could mature and even become more about issues, economy, policies, and state building, not about ethnicity or religion. I have always wished that Nigerians would politically grow up and begin to focus on critical issues. I wished that Nigerians understood the difference between citizens and ethnizens, state and ethnic nationalities, democracy and theocracy or ethnocracy. Even the many so called educated Nigerians speak as ethnizens not citizens of the Nigerian state. I share WhatsApp and other social media platforms with many of them. And I shudder at how they think and reason especially when it comes to politics. They literally suspend their education and intellection. In Nigeria, citizenship is on the surface, and falls off any time there is an election or political discussions. Politicians who win elections are those who could out rig others. An election is not about the character or competence of the candidates. Politics is about ethnoreligious affiliation, mobilization, domination, and manipulation. What happens at the polling unit does not count, It does not matter at all. Voting is a facade for the crude and primordial acquisition of power. What matters is what happens after the votes had been cast; what happens at the collation centers. So it is the collation, not the casting of votes, the rigging structure, not the people, that largely determines the winner of elections in Nigeria.
Many years ago I had a roommate who was a PDP official. He told me how party thugs used to carry ballot boxes and stuff them with votes for their candidates while some police officers looked on. Politicians have perfected structures which they use to subvert the will of the people, to win elections at all costs, by hook or crook. It is not the people who determine who wins an election. Then after this charade, statements are released praising the conduct of the elections. Observers issue press releases describing the elections as free and fair. Free and fair? I have wondered what free and fair elections mean in Nigeria. So I was not expecting anything different from past elections. I refused to register with any party and resolved to vote for candidates based on my conscience if I must vote. In the past months, I have conversed with many people who expressed optimism that rigging would be minimal due to the introduction of the BVAS machines. I had my doubts, serious doubts about the efficacy of the so called BVAS. I kept asking and wondering what could stop the powers that be from tampering with the BVAS machine the way that they tamper and manipulate the electoral process. Many of my friends kept assuring and reassuring me that this time, it would be better. Has it been different? I am over 50 years and I believe that when it comes to Nigerian politics and elections, a leopard never changes its spots. Some people explained that the BVAS would be used to accredit voters and upload the results at the various polling units. That sounded fantastic. I am skeptic. I needed some evidence to accept this as the case. Many people exuded confidence that with the use of BVAS in accrediting voters and uploading the votes, the votes would count this time around. I went to vote in order to see how this would play out. And I saw it.
I arrived at my polling unit by 9.00 am, after a slow trek of about 20 minutes. It was an open space. I was the first to arrive. And I met two female police officers. I inquired and they confirmed that I was at the right place. We waited, and after 20 minutes other voters started to arrive. My polling unit was a small station. The unit has 41 registered voters. The INEC officials arrived at about 10 30 am. They were two, a male and a female. We were worried for some time, when the male INEC guy could not unlock the BVAS, the almighty BVAS. But after 20mins, he figured it out, and the accreditation process started. Sixteen persons were accredited. In less than an hour, we finished voting. Then we waited until 2.30 pm when the voting process officially ended. I did not leave my polling station because I wanted to witness the counting process for the first time. The counting started. Agents for the ruling party, APC, PDP, and Accord parties were present. There was no agent for the Labour Party. I am not a Labour Party member. I only came to vote and leave. I asked why there was no agent for LP and I was later told that some days before the election, the chairperson for the party in the southwest asked the party office in Abuja for some money for election monitoring. The Labour Party office asked him to send the account numbers of the polling agents. But he declined and asked that the money be paid directly into his account. The party office declined and he refused to mobilize the polling agents.
The counting took place anyway and Labour Party won. LP also got the highest number of votes for the senate and house of Representatives. I was delighted that the party that won did not have any agent during the voting and counting processes. And nobody robbed them of the win, at least while I was there, because no party agent was present. The party that won was that party that had been cajoled as having no structure. That is how it should be. I mean, why place so much emphasis on party agents being present at the polling stations if the INEC officers do not have some skeleton in their cupboard? But as I later found out, structure is not about the people, it is not about winning elections, free and fair. The structure is about rigging through and through. I was told that the results would be uploaded to the INEC server right from the polling unit. But the upload never happened.
Things seemed to be working as expected until it was time to upload the results. Events began to take a strange turn. The two INEC officers said they did not know how to upload the results. Oh wow. What did they train them to do? After making some calls, the INEC officers said we should wait for the technical person to come and upload the results. We waited for an hour, but nobody came. Then I suspected that something was amiss; that the INEC officers were up to some foul play. They appeared to be playing a game or acting a script. Their conduct became very suspicious. It was clear that some mischief was being hatched. It was getting to 5 pm. I was very hungry and needed to leave. I had not eaten since morning. In the absence of a polling agent for LP, I volunteered and signed the INEC result sheets. I was waiting for any LP agent to hand over the sheets and the waiting assignment. One later arrived, and I handed the sheets over to him and left. But I was unsettled. I was disturbed. I kept wondering why the results of 16 accredited voters could not be uploaded at the polling unit. Incidentally, other party agents were not visibly disturbed. They looked unworried. When I got home and started hearing what happened in other polling units, I kept calling the LP agent to know if they had uploaded the results. But he said they did not. On the second day, they did not. I got someone to check the INEC portal, and nothing had been uploaded. Even after the results of the elections had been announced, the results from my unit have yet to be uploaded. Interesting!
I called some colleagues in other states. Some said that their results were uploaded. Others said that they had a similar experience. The results were not uploaded at the polling units, that INEC officials altered the numbers or uploaded fake results. Fake results? So nothing has changed after all. The introduction of the BVAS machine did not change anything. It is still politics as usual. It is still elections as usual in Nigeria. So sad!
Leo Igwe, firstname.lastname@example.org