I have had several sad conversations in the past two weeks with friends who, like me, are from Anambra State. The conversations have focused on the local government election held in the state on January 11.
One friend, who lives in Onitsha, rang me last week. He pointed to an aspect of my recent column on the possible electoral implications of political realignments in Nigeria. I had speculated that the 2015 elections “are bound to be another Nigerian-made mess, a fraud fest, a classic of rigging.”
“You’re living in the past,” this friend said in a mordant tone.
“How so?” I asked. I wondered whether he wanted to chide me for offering a dim prognosis of the 2015 elections. I have had encounters with Nigerians who imagine that elections in their country are of acceptable quality if not irreproachable.
“The fact that you’re still writing about rigging,” the friend explained, “tells me you don’t know where things stand. Nigeria has now moved past the stage of rigging. Rigging can only happen when there’s a pretense of an election. But we have found another formula that spares the ruling party the headache of having to rig. The recent local government election in Anambra introduced a new formula. Results were written everywhere before the election, and just announced. That’s the new formula.”
Another friend, from Nnewi, expressed a similar outlook. The state electoral commission had invalidated the polls in Nnewi North, the commission’s chairman, Sylvester Okonkwo, citing “a security report” made to him. But my friend insisted that a grim political purpose was at play. She accused the state electoral commission of cancelling the election because the voters of Nnewi would not abide the kind of impunity that marked, and marred, the local government election elsewhere in the state.
“The [Nnewi North] community decided not to allow any person or party to hijack their votes. That’s why the election was cancelled,” she asserted.
The results of the election as announced by the Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission were nothing short of astonishing. Of the 20 local government chairmanships where the results were announced, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) swept all. The only spot not claimed by APGA was that of Nnewi North, which was cancelled.
I’m willing to bet that the results represented a grave manipulation. The people of Anambra State are far from the monolithic APGA-ists that the so-called results suggest. There isn’t anything near the level of political homogeneity mirrored by the results in Anambra. In a credible election, there would have been a far more heterogeneous outcome, with the candidates of a variety of political parties winning in different places. So how did APGA manage its sweep?
By—I hazard—crooked means, period.
The state electoral commission, like its national counterpart, appeared to have become willing or innocent tools for electoral manipulators. The headline and content of one Nigerian newspaper told a sordid part of the story. “Anambra LG poll: Electoral officers, voters fight over result sheets,” was a headline in January 11, 2014 edition of the Punch newspaper. According to the report, “Violence broke out in some parts of Anambra State on Saturday during the election held to elect local government chairmen and councilors. At Nkwelle, Awka South Local Government Area, ballot materials were burnt when a fight broke out because polling officers failed to produce result sheets. It was a similar story at Igwebeze Primary School, Ifite-Awka where some party agents insisted that voting would not commence unless the result sheets were made available. The Presiding Officer for the Igwebeze polling unit 2, Mr. Jude Onwubiko, however pleaded with the agents and voters to let the voting process continue, explaining that the results sheets were being brought by the supervisory presiding officer. There was also violence at Igboukwu Town Hall, Fegge, Onitsha, where some youths protested against alleged thumb-printing by members of a particular political party. All the polling units visited by our correspondent did not have results sheets.”
Therein—in the last line of the quoted report—was the crux. What was the electoral commission thinking? How could you presume to conduct an election when the sheets for recording the results were missing? Where were those sheets?
It all lends credence to what several of my contacts as well as most of the political parties have alleged: that the results were written ahead of the election, and announced after hapless voters had spent hours in a hollow, meaningless ritual.
Mr. Okonkwo, the state’s electoral commissioner who presided over this apparent sham, was quick to issue a standard, cynical response. He asked disaffected parties and candidates to take their case to court. He knows, this electoral officer, that Nigerian courts have on the whole given a poor account of themselves in adjudicating electoral cases. The odds are stacked in favor of the rigger, who all too often gets away with his/her stolen electoral goods. That explains part of the reason ruling parties act with particular impunity in elections. They figure that, given a judiciary packed with unethical judges willing to peddle influence, their electoral heists would be hard to reverse.
The deplorable “electoral” experiment in Anambra should disturb all enlightened Nigerians, not just those from Anambra. Each election cycle, Nigerian politicians, with the help of electoral officials, seem to come up with novel ways of thwarting voters’ will. Each new anti-people idea becomes contagious in Nigeria, widely copied. We ought to worry that what happened in Anambra State, an election in which the result sheet was missing in action, could become the norm for future elections elsewhere—and nationally.
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