GUEST COLUMNIST BY Sonnie Ekwowusi
The February 25, 2023 presidential election is a counterfeit of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Whereas June 12 is the freest and fairest election in Nigeria, the February 25 election is the most rigged and most robbed presidential election in Nigeria. On June 12, 1993, the freest presidential election took place in Nigerian politics, but on February 25, 2023, exactly 30 years after June 12, the most rigged presidential election in Nigerian political history took place. February 25 was a brazen and barbaric display of impunity and imbecility by INEC, which ought to be an unbiased umpire in an electoral contest.
How can INEC and its chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, descend so low as to shamelessly and flagrantly flout INEC rules, which they made to guide the February 25 election? The BVAS and IReV were successfully deployed by INEC to upload the National Assembly election results, but in the case of the presidential election result, the same INEC rendered the BVAS and IReV dysfunctional, and consequently, the presidential election result was manually collated, thus enabling the compromised INEC staffers to rig the election in favor of Emilokan Bola Tinubu.
Three days before last Saturday’s presidential election, Prof. Yakubu was still swearing to high heavens and reassuring all that INEC would deploy BVAS in electronically uploading the results of the election. For example, addressing the leaders of foreign election observers three days before the election, Prof. Yakubu told them that raw election result figures of February 25 election would not be transmitted electronically to avoid hacking. Why, then, did Yakubu connive with the APC and the devil to transmit the results manually? This is why Nigerians are particularly angry with INEC. Just take a studied look around you. What can you find? Despair, frustration, despondency, and disappointment seemingly written on the faces of many people. Nigerians are unhappy with INEC and Yakubu. I have been listening to TV and radio stations’ commentaries on the election, and I must tell you that I have not singled out any radio or TV station that is not denouncing the February 25 election as the biggest electoral fraud in Nigeria. The whole country is steeped in deep mourning over the electoral injustice foisted on Nigeria on February 25 by INEC.
The international community has made Nigeria a laughing stock. If Nigeria was a laughing stock in the past, she is now the biggest laughing stock in the world. The European Union says the election lacked transparency. The Financial Times (FT) March 2, 2023, edition said: “Nigeria’s badly flawed election fails to set an example.” The New York Times writes: “Many Nigerians had looked to the election to put the country back on track after eight years of rule by an ailing president, Muhammadu Buhari — a military dictator turned democrat. ‘Everybody was expecting a free and fair election,’ said Daniel Offor, a 21-year-old fashion stylist in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, who said he voted for an opposition candidate. ‘But it obviously has been rigged. What happened last time is happening again,’ he said, referring to previous elections that were tainted by allegations of vote rigging.” An Austrian newspaper allegedly writes: “Multimillionaire wins: ‘Bola Tinubu, a multimillionaire who in the past was connected to drug trafficking, has won the Presidential elections in Nigeria.’” In Poland, the alleged news headline says: “Nigeria chooses a known Drug Lord as leader.” In Canada, the alleged news headline is: “Depression, anxiety, uncertainty beclouds Nigeria’s political space as a Drug kingpin wins the election.” In their reaction to last Saturday’s election, leaders in the West African sub-region have called on INEC to comply with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 on the collation of results for the presidential and National Assembly elections held on February 25, 2023. Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, ex-Ghanaian President John Mahama, and other members of the West African Elders Forum (WAEF) Election Mission to Nigeria made this known in a statement on Tuesday in Abuja. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) regrets President Buhari and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami’s violation of Nigeria’s ballot secrecy principle. After voting last Saturday, the duo displayed their ballot papers in the full glare of the public so that the public and the whole world will know that they voted for the APC.
In his defense, Prof Yakubu argues that last Saturday’s election was flawless and that the aggrieved should go to court to seek a remedy. Prof Yakubu admits that the presidential election result could not be electronically transmitted because INEC turned off the BVAS. Asked by a professor and academic friend of his why INEC rendered the BVAS dysfunctional to prevent the presidential election result from being electronically transmitted, Prof. Yakubu told him that INEC switched off the BVAS because some Nigerian political parties had hired some Russian and Chinese hackers to hack the BVAS and manipulate the voting in favor of some presidential candidates. Laughable, isn’t it? Can you imagine Yakubu’s answer? China and Russia hacking the BVAS in a Nigerian election? I hope INEC will not switch off the BVAS again on Saturday under the same pretext that China and Russia hacked onto it. Asked by a party agent about the position of the law on this issue of uploading results, Yakubu answered, “The position of the law does not require that collation should be done on the basis of results transmitted but on the basis of the result carried manually to various collation centers.” The APC also argues that the use of BVAS is not a mandatory requirement.
The arguments put forth by the APC and Prof Yakubu are fundamentally flawed. By the way, why is Prof Yakubu holding brief for the APC? He is supposed to be an unbiased umpire in the election. Anyway, Section 60(5) of the Electoral Act, 2022 states: “On conclusion of voting, the presiding officer shall transfer the results, including the total number of accredited voters and the results of the ballot, in a manner prescribed by the Commission.” What is the prescribed manner by the Commission? The prescribed manner is the BVAS, which INEC introduced to ensure that the electoral process is credible. The BVAS was introduced by INEC in line with Section 148 of the Electoral Act, which gives INEC power to make guidelines and regulations to ensure the full effect of the law.
By virtue of Section 148 of the Electoral Act, INEC has been empowered to make Electoral Regulations and Guidelines for the 2023 Election. Paragraph 38 of the Regulation states: “On completion of all Polling unit voting and results procedures, the presiding officer shall: (i) Electronically transmit or transfer the result of the polling unit directly to the collation system as prescribed by the Commission (ii) Use the BVAS to upload a scanned copy of the EC8A to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IREv), as prescribed by the Commission (iii) Take the BVAS and the original copy of each of the forms in a tamper-evident envelope to the registration area/ward collation officer, in the company of security agents. The polling agents may accompany the presiding officer to the RA/Ward Collation Centre”.
The import of the word “shall” used in Paragraph 38 is that it is mandatory (not optional) to transmit results electronically. The Rules of Interpretation require that words in the provisions of statutes, laws, and regulations, unless otherwise stated, shall always be given their natural and ordinary meaning. Accordingly, by virtue of the combined reading of section 60(5) of the Electoral Act and Paragraph 38 of INEC Electoral Regulations and Guidelines for the 2023 Election, on completion of all Polling unit voting and results procedures, the presiding officer shall electronically transmit or transfer the result of the polling unit. Failure to do so by the presiding officer who willfully contravenes Section 60 (5) commits an offense and is liable on conviction to a fine not more than N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of at least six months. Section 134 (b) of the Electoral Act states that where there is non-compliance with the Electoral Act in case of non-uploading of results to the INEC Portal, the law has been violated.
Apart from the fact that last Saturday’s presidential election violated Section 60 (5), 60(6), and Section 148 of the Electoral Act and 38 of INEC Electoral Regulations and Guidelines for the 2023 Election, the election also violated sections 25; 47(2); 60 (1), (2), (4); 62; 64(4)(a) & (b), 70; and 148 of the Electoral Act, 2022, as well as paragraphs 2.8.4; 2.9.0; and 2.9.1 of the INEC Manual for Election Officials, 2023.
If everybody had complained to Prof Yakubu after the election that the election was marred by electoral violations and malpractices, Prof Yakubu should have waited to address the aforementioned electoral violations and malpractices which strike at the root of the election and have occasioned a miscarriage of justice. However, instead of doing that, Prof Yakubu swiftly proceeded to announce Emilokan Tinubu as the winner of the presidential election, even though Tinubu did not satisfy the important requirement enshrined in sections 133 and 134(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution. The requirement states that a candidate for an election to the office of President shall not be deemed President if he fails to secure 25% of the votes in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Under what I consider to be his magnum opus entitled: “The 25% of FCT, Abuja as A Legal Conundrum,” learned silk, Prof. Mike Ozekhome SAN, has profoundly and brilliantly submitted that the word “and” in contrast to “each” used by the lawmakers in the aforementioned section 134 is meant to apply in a conjunctive sense in interpreting the section. According to Prof Ozekhome SAN, the implication of that interpretation is that no presidential candidate can be declared the winner of the presidential election if he does not win the FCT or score 25% in the FCT. Prof Ozekhome’s opus is a must-read, and it can be accessed at https://thelawyerdaily.com/the-25-of-fct-abuja-as-a-legal-conundrum/.
If a candidate must win Abuja or score 25% in Abuja to be declared the winner, coupled with the fact that the BVAS was not used to upload the presidential election result, why was Prof Yakubu in a hurry to announce Tinubu the winner and deliver his Certificate of Return? It is important to note that Prof Yakubu announced Tinubu as the winner at 4 am in the morning when most Nigerians were still asleep. Why was Prof Yakubu in a hurry to announce Tinubu as the winner and deliver a Certificate of Return to him in an election that was grossly flawed by falsification of votes at polling units, falsification of the number of accredited voters, collation of false results, mutilation of results and computational errors, swapping of results sheets, forging of results sheets, snatching and destruction of results sheets as I experienced in my polling unit last Saturday, suppression of votes, tampering with the BVAS, and refusal of compromised INEC staffers to upload results through the BVAS?
It is obvious that Prof. Yakubu rushed to announce Tinubu as the winner and also rushed to hand over the Certificate of Return to him to foist a fait accompli and a state of helplessness on the matter.
Prof. Yakubu has shown that he lacks character. He is pathologically a liar, and a disgrace to academia. He should be fired as the INEC chairman. What a disastrous country! Buhari is a disaster, the CBN is a disaster, Emefiele is a disaster, Malami is a disaster, INEC is a disaster, and now Yakubu is a disaster. However, INEC and Prof Yakubu are promising to deploy the BVAS again on Saturday. Can they be trusted this time? Well, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume they will do the right thing on Saturday. Already, Labour has secured an order of Mandamus from the court compelling INEC and Prof Yakubu to use the BVAS on Saturday for the Governorship and House of Assembly elections. The court order subsists, and if Prof Yakubu dares to disobey the court order, he will be sent to jail and the entire election will be cancelled. Having woefully failed last Saturday in conducting a free and fair election, INEC must live up to its name as a real “independent” electoral body on Saturday.
It should be noted that no democratic election is 100% flawless anywhere in the world. Even in the United States, the Presidential election is also fraught with electoral malfeasances and malpractices. For instance, in his often-cited classic work, Democracy in America, French historian and diplomat Alexis De Tocqueville who travelled to America to study American democracy, writes that democracy that is bereft of equality of conditions is bound to gravitate towards despotism. When democracy is said to liberate all men, it is on the assumption that there are political leaders with high moral principles ready to navigate democracy to a safe harbor. Unfortunately, most democracies in the world are not run by Plato’s guardians and ethically principled men. Most democracies, unfortunately, are in the hands of men of unruly passions and creatures of appetites. We know all this. But what transpired in Nigeria last Saturday is not just mere electoral malpractices and irregularities. What transpired in Nigeria was that INEC, which is supposed to be an unbiased umpire in the election, brought its full weight to bear in rigging the presidential election in favor of Emilakon Bola Tinubu.
As I earlier said, having woefully failed to live up to its bidding last Saturday, INEC should redeem its image this Saturday. Prof Yakubu should repent and allow the votes to count on Saturday. The political parties should desist from sending their touts to tamper with the results of the election. Is INEC and the Buhari government aware that the APC Lagos has instructed its agents and touts assigned to each Pooling Unit that they must “deliver” the unit by all means on Saturday? So, I foresee another APC rigging on Saturday. Therefore the Buhari government is respectfully advised to dispatch 2 or 3 well-armed soldiers to each Pooling unit in Lagos to safeguard the unit from election stealing. You see, democracy becomes a sham when the electoral body conducting the periodic election is not impartial. Above all, in our representative democracy, power belongs to the people, not President Buhari, let alone INEC. Put differently, sovereignty in our presidential democracy resides with the people. The American founding fathers aptly put it when they stated that “Governments are instituted among men deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.” Therefore government simply means government with consent derived from the people. This consent flows from the radical notion of equal rights for all people.
If we are all equal and sovereignty resides with the people, then the will of the people should be allowed to prevail in the 2023 general election. The Buhari government should understand that it is legally and morally bound to do everything possible to enable INEC to discharge its constitutional obligations to Nigeria and its people, as provided for in the third schedule, Part 1, Section 15(a-i) of the Constitution.
A word for Nigerian voters: You must go out and vote on Saturday, as you did last Saturday. May voter apathy and melancholy not consume you and prevent you from voting on Saturday, March 11th, 2023. Amen! The #EndSARS young boys and girls should also turn out to vote on Saturday. Permit me to tell you one small thing that you may find interesting: If you refuse to vote on Saturday, you will be giving compromised INEC staffers another opportunity to connive with the APC and manipulate the results of the election once more. So, be optimistic. Do not be afraid. Weep no more. Nothing has been lost. Let me wipe away the tears from your eyes. Do not seek to flee Nigeria. This is our country. The revolution has begun. This is our chance. Lest you forget, our greatest asset is hope. So, do not lose hope. In no time, the songs of victory shall resound in the horizon. We would arrive at the end of our democratic journey, at our homeland, where suffering shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.