Dateline: 14th April 2007; Time : 3.45pm; Location: INEC State Collation Centre Asaba, Delta state. There was apprehension in the Hall. Field reports that were trickling in showed that the DPP candidate, Great Ogboru was giving the PDP’s candidate, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan a run for his money. I shot a glance at the PDP’s Chief Returning Officer, Patrick Okowa, and saw anguish written all over his mien. Then the NTA’s live broadcast of the INEC National Situation Room came up. The Chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu was about to announce some results. For us at the Centre in Asaba, we were non-committal about the appearance for we knew that elections were still taking place in a few areas in Delta and that just a few results that were yet to be sorted had been brought to the collation centre. However, we watched.

“The results of the Delta Gubernatorial elections are as follows...The PDP candidate Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan is returned as the winner of the elections”. At first, silence pervaded all over the hall, then Okowa erupted into wild jubilation, screaming “POWER, POWER, POWER, POWER”. There was no further need to wait behind for the results to come in, INEC under Iwu had manufactured results and announced a winner. That atrocious rape of democracy lasted for three years before the Supreme Court upturned it and ordered another election. Resources that could have been used for other purposes were then poured into an unnecessary exercise. This article seeks to answer pertinent questions such as, Can what happened in Delta State happen again? Put succinctly, Can INEC rig the 2019 elections? To answer, let me attempt to deconstruct election rigging patterns over time in Nigeria through a historical detour.

Under the military era in 1999, the crude manipulation of election results that later became the norm is mainly absent. The General Abdulsalami Abubakar regime used its powers to influence the primaries of the PDP which was the party that had the backing of the junta. The general elections were primarily left to the electorates and politicians to determine.

Let me not twist history, that election was not anywhere close to what we can call an ideal election, given the many infractions of ballot box stuffing and collusion of officials with politicians to allow the stuffing go unimpeded. However, the Justice Akpata INEC had the support of the military and was able to maintain some peace thereby allowing us to see flashes of people-power taking place at the polls in some States. For instance, what one could call an electoral revolution took place in Sokoto state.

The PDP had swept virtually all the Local Governments and most of the National Assembly seats in the first elections. Anybody that was somebody in Sokoto was behind the PDP. The election was expected to be a coronation for Yabo, the PDP’s candidate, when against all expectations APP’s Bafarawa won. This victory was a reward for hard work for Bafarawa’s door to door campaign & the ingenuity of his man Friday, Alh. Umaru Kwabo, one of the only known supporters that aligned with him.

Kebbi State was another example. The PDP had also swept all the Local Governments & most of the NASS seats. However, the military’s unwise decision to replace late Alh. Abubakar Koko, the winner of the PDP primaries with late Bello Khaliel, was disastrous. Two days before the elections, Koko aligned with one of his godsons who was the flag bearer of the APP and ordered his supporters to “eat corn”. Adamu Aliero emerged governor. In the South West, the AD won in-spite of the efforts of the military. These instances show that although the elections were structured to achieve the desired outcome for the military, the people still had some say in what happened at the polls in some States.

Following the return to the barracks of the military, any discipline and restraint that the jackboot approach of the military could have imposed on the polity were lost. By 2003, some of the most brazen and utterly disgusting rigging patterns were unleashed on the polity. This reign was supervised by that Edo born intellectual, Dr Abel Guobadia. Ballot box snatching and stuffing, allocation of votes, intimidation of voters, violence, you name the electoral infraction, and it was committed in the 2003 elections. The PDP ‘swept’ the South West bar Lagos.

The audacity with which that electoral impunity was supervised gave rise to the calls for the reforms of the electoral system. President Obasanjo was unimpressed. He had conquered the country. The accusations against him of lacking “home support” had been reversed. By 2005, Baba replaced Guobadia with the infamous Prof Morris Iwu who not only continued with the tradition of crude manipulation of elections but took it a notch higher. Such was the decadence and lack of credibility of elections conducted by the INEC under Iwu that Yar’Adua, the winner of the 2007 presidential election conducted by him, openly questioned the integrity of his election in his inauguration speech and vowed to do something about it.

He set up the Justice Uwais Committee which made far-reaching recommendations on electoral reforms. Yar’Adua could not implement these recommendations before death took this patriotic Nigerian away from us. I was seated in the middle of the NUC Auditorium in June 2010, listening to Prof Mahmood Yakubu, then Executive Secretary of TETFUND make his remarks at the opening ceremony of a stakeholders forum on TETFUND when I got an SMS that Prof Jega had been tapped by President Goodluck Jonathan to lead the INEC.

I leaned forward and gave Prof. Jega, who was seated in front of me a gentle tap. He turned, and I congratulated him. His appointment was the culmination of a long process of seeking that one credible Nigerian who could undo the years of electoral systems and process mismanagement. Everyone agreed that his choice was spot-on. He conducted the 2011 elections which Jonathan won but which was challenged by Buhari. Although that election was not perfect, it was agreed that the results reflected the will of voters at the polls. Sources had told me that one of the reasons Mike Ahamba(SAN) fell out with Buhari was the former’s insistence that the latter should not continue with seeking legal redress since results available to them showed that they lost that election. The elections had its problems.

There was evidence of over-voting and ballot box snatching and all, but the Supreme Court still held that the elections complied substantially with the Electoral Act. While everyone was still contemplating what else could be done to improve the quality of elections in Nigeria, Jega came up with technology as a solution to many of the identified problems in election management. Enter the Smart Card Reading Machines, Permanent Voters Card and Electronic Data Capture of voters. These innovations got the full backing of President Jonathan and paved the way for the electoral revolution that would soon follow.

First, with the electronic capture or accreditation, the era of temporary registration of voters was eradicated. Before now, for every election cycle, INEC would carry out voters registrations and issue paper voters cards. This process made room for manipulation of the system. For instance, what one could call a 'miracle' happened in Rivers State in 2003. The Registered Voters for that election was 2,272,238. In a yet to be beaten National Record, 95.5% of registered voters, i.e. 2,171,215 came out to vote, and 92.7% ( 2,003,521) voted for PDP’s Obasanjo; 42,346 or 2% voted for APP’s Buhari. Against the backdrop that the national average for election turn-out has never exceeded 55%, what we had in Rivers was ‘miraculous’. That was possible because it was easy to collude with officials and allocate numbers to parties.

The innovation introduced by Jega would take care of that. With the call for voters registration, politicians, sticking true to type started their manipulations. They populated the register with fake names, underage voters, aliens(to mention but a few), and padded the Voters Register to prove to themselves that they had the numbers to win elections. Unbeknownst to them was the fact that, the new technology, which was compiling biometric information was going to make sure that it was not business as usual.

 

First, the personal collections of PVCs ensured that many who had falsely registered could not come along to pick up their cards. This strategy perhaps accounts for the seven million uncollected PVCs. In Bayelsa for example, cases of pictures sourced from Almanacs were found. The number was close to about 40,000. The computers found them and automatically deleted them from the system. In Anambra, over 600,000 names had to be de-listed. However, the most crucial aspect of the PVC and Smart card reader introduction was the ability to precisely determine the actual number of voters that appear on the day of elections.

So, after accreditation, there was no way any official would share unaccredited votes to parties which were usually the norm. In many places before now, once the voters that had turned up to vote were determined, politicians, through their agents pay the Electoral Officers to allocate the registered voters as documented in the register to them. Any party with more money and influence in a polling unit grabs it, that is why you hear statements like “I delivered my ward”. This feature was a decisive blow for election riggers.

Let us now go to the meat of the matter. Before I answer the central question of this piece, let me first delve into how the 2015 elections were won using figures from a few States. This analysis is essential to answer the rigging question.

By the end of voting in the presidential elections on March 28, 2015, it was apparent to experts on elections that something unprecedented was about to happen. Observers were reporting numbers that were unbelievable.

The numbers:

Total Registered voters: 67,422,005

Total accreditation: 31,746,490

Total votes cast: 29,432,083

Total Valid votes: 28,587,564

Total rejected votes: 844,519

Total polling units 98,489

Full Biometric Authentication: 10,266,139

Card Only Authentication: 13,377,340

%Success Full Biometric: 43

The %failed Card only Biometric: 57

Folks, look closely at these numbers. I attempt to analyse them with more numbers. You shall see how Jonathan lost, why Buhari won, and how the South East made Buhari President by default. The numbers will also help unravel what went wrong with the elections under Jega and what Prof Mahmood has done about it. The essence of this full disclosure is to foreground my insistence that elections are getting better under Mahmood and that 2019 will be very credible from the side of the Elections Management Body, I cannot vouch for security agencies or politicians given the current scourge of vote buying. I will return to this.

By the end of the elections, the APC’s candidate won with the following votes:

     Buhari APC ……………..……15,424,921

     Jonathan PDP…………………12,853,162

     The margin of lead was……….2,571,759

If you take closer scrutiny at the numbers, the first thing to jump at you is the fact that there is a massive difference in the total number of votes cast and the total number of full and partial accreditation.

For emphasis:

    Total votes cast……………29,432,083

    Total full and partial………23,643,479

    The difference is: 5,788,604

If you remove invalid votes from the number, you get 4,944,085.

The significance of this number is that almost 5 million persons participated in the elections without going through full or partial Biometric Accreditation. They were captured using incidence forms. Why is this important? The reality of the 2015 election was that it pitched sections of the country against each other. So, while the South East and South South Voted overwhelmingly for the PDP, the North East & North West stuck with the APC. The N/Central & S/West was not as defining as these places. Let us take a look at four States of Kano, Katsina, Rivers, & Akwa Ibom, States that usually churn out huge numbers before the arrival of technology.

In Kano, although there were 4,993,471 accredited voters in the State, a total number of 4,426,661 PVCs were distributed. On Election Day, 2,364,434 voters were accredited. However, out of this number, only 288,644 had Full Biometric Accreditation(FBA).

FBA means that, they were present, the card reader identified their PVCs as genuine, then a “handshake” between the card reader and voter and PVC is consummated with the voter's fingerprint, meaning that there is not a shred of doubt that the individual is the owner of the card and is eligible to vote. On the same day, in Kano, 1,358,537 voters were accredited partially (PBA). Meaning that only their PVCs was authenticated, their fingerprints could not be read. This brings the sum of FBA and PBA to 1,647,181. Therefore, a whopping 717,253 voters were allowed to vote without FBA or PBA. These persons were captured with incidence forms. These are part of that 5 million.

Let’s go to Katsina:

     Total registered…………..2,842,678

     PVC collected……………2,656,466

     Total accredited…………..1,578,646

     FBA ………………………..398,843

     PBA………………………1,045,994

     FBA + PBA = 1,44,837

133,809 voters were captured with incidence forms.

 

Rivers

     Registered voters…….…….2,538,535

     PVC distribution…….……..1,468,020

     Total accredited………….…1,643,409

     FBA...……………………..….152,975

     PBA……………………….….158,844

     FBA+PBA = 311,819

1,331,590 persons voted in Rivers state without accreditation but with incidence forms. These were part of the 5 million.

Akwa Ibom

      Registered voters…………1,717,766

      PVCs distribution…………1,596,471

      Total accredited…………...1,074,070

      FBA………………………….234,141

      PBA………………………….288,755

      PBA + FBA = 522,896

A total of 1,194,870 persons voted in Akwa Ibom with incidence forms. Part of the 5 million.

This anomaly was the case in every state. Mostly from the South. So, the notion in many places, mainly from the South that votes were pumped up in the North may not be the total picture. The manifestations were more in the South than it was in the North.

Consider this: if Kano had unleashed its registered voters' population on Election Day, there would have been over 4 million voters ready to thumbprint with no one to stop them. So, why did Buhari still win even with such a high number of non-Biometric accreditation in the South?

The answer is simple: The South East refused to turn up for Jonathan. They handed victory to Buhari. Let’s carry out a summary analysis of the five States in the South East, but we shall highlight Abia as a metaphor of the widespread apathy in the South East on Election Day.

 

Abia

     Reg voters…………1,396,166

 

     PVCs collected…….1,192,268

 

    Total accredited………442,538

 

    FBA…………………..218,599

 

    PBA ………………….102,401

 

    FBA+PBA = 320,000

 

Incident forms =122,538

The total voting capacity of the South East, using only those that collected PVCs as a reference as at 2015 was 6,692,752. How many came out to vote? 3,060,093.Only 46% of voters in the S/East turned out to vote. The number from Jonathan’s home state of Bayelsa was even more ridiculous.

 

Out of the 605, 637 Registered voters, only 384,789 came out to support their son. I have deliberately refrained from using registered voters in most of this analysis because I am aware of the shenanigans of politicians during registration. I have already highlighted how they pumped up the register but how do you explain the refusal of those who collected their PVCs to vote?

 

The unusually high number of incidence forms was the subject of litigation in the various tribunals. To ensure that votes counted, the Mahmood INEC decided to do two things: first, it included the use of card readers and technology as a whole in the legal framework and then the very bold move of outlawing incidence forms in the elections.

 

What is the implication of these moves? Only voters who accomplish the hybrid of the card reader and PVC verification will be allowed to vote. The election is to be suspended until the next day anywhere card readers do not work, to enable the INEC to rectify or bring back up machines. This was the major failing of the Jega INEC which made the courts to cancel an unprecedented number of the 2015 elections thereby casting a massive dent on the credibility of that effort.

The bold move has started yielding dividends. It has become not only unattractive to snatch and stuff ballot boxes since that is irrelevant, but now, politicians can no longer share votes to themselves. This is the reason why votes buying has become the latest resort of politicians.

To directly answer the question, can INEC rig 2019 elections? An emphatic NO. With these innovations, the role of the Election Management Body is diminishing. There is virtually nothing an INEC official can do for anyone anymore. Politicians have realised this and have shifted the gear to the public who, unfortunately, are colluding with them and of course security agencies to compromise the years of reforms in the INEC that has started to pay a dividend.

The Mahmood reform was put to the test in Ekiti where only one incident form was used, and that was to accommodate the PDP candidate whose Biometric could not be read on Election Day. For this to happen, an express approval was sort and received from the Headquarters. It will not happen again. The best bet for politicians is to campaign hard and sell themselves to voters.

Prof Mahmood ‘s personal integrity itself is another reason not to have any doubts. I have shared on previous articles how this paved the way for credible elections in Bayelsa, Anambra and many other places. At one time, the then APC chairman, Oyegun, accused him of being a mole of the PDP and the PDP accused him of working for the APC.

This is a good sign. It merely means that Mahmood is for nobody ( apologies to Baba). So, let sceptics grab their PVCs, listen to political actors and feel free to vote for anyone, knowing very well that no manipulation from the EMB is possible. Except they had decided to sell their votes which is a different matter. It is refreshing to read that Prof Mahmood has vowed to do something about vote buying starting from Osun elections, let us watch how that turns out.

Dr Chima Amadi,a 2016 Chevening Scholar at the London School of Economics, Department of Government, is the Executive Director of the Centre for Transparency Advocacy and can be followed on Twitter @AMADICHIMA 

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