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The justice of karma and history


Officials of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) attend to voters at a polling station in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on March 9, 2019, ahead of voting to elect governors and lawmakers in 29 of the nation’s 36 states two weeks after presidential and national assembly elections in which Buhari was elected for a second term. – Nigerians are going to the polls for the second time in a fortnight for governorship and state assembly elections, against a backdrop of tensions and fears of violence. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

When the smoke has cleared, and the tears have dried, and the dead have been buried and INEC is finally confident enough in the results it announced to post them on its website, the irresistible conclusion will be that these just-concluded general elections have been a step backwards for democracy in Nigeria.

And unlike the farce of 2011 of which there was relatively little evidence but the shame of it was a little too much for the late President Yar’Adua to ignore, the past two weeks have been replete with audio, video and photographic evidence of the very worst of our electioneering side.

Once again, there has been underage voting in some states, the army has laid siege to others and provided cover for the same ballot snatchers who were supposed to have paid for the privilege with their lives and prominent politicians have played on ethnic fault lines.


Naturally, Nigerians are both worried and disillusioned. The disillusionment is probably less symptomatic of apathy than it is a resignation to the reality of our helplessness. Because, like they were urged to, people have tried to defend their votes. They tried to keep vigil as votes were tallied. We have seen the images and videos. However, determination and passion are no match for the rounds from an automatic assault rifle. We have also seen those videos and they are frightening.

The Independent National Electoral Commission is in the throes of a credibility crisis. Like every Nigerian agency before it, it was prepared from both a logistics and resourcing standpoint, and scored itself a pass after the presidential elections, even though the same paragraph in its press release declaring the elections peaceful, acknowledged that there were “fatalities” and “ the subjugation of some of [INEC’s] officials to threats, harassment, intimidation, assaults, abductions and even rape”. It seems INEC is as helpless as the rest of us are.

And in that helplessness, the loudest cry is that history and karma will be unkind to all the perpetrators of this farce. From the hierarchy of command in the army, to the politicians who marshal thugs and the truckloads of cash. We say this a lot in Nigeria, leaving criminals to the judgement of posterity and the various deities we worship.

It seems fairly evident to me however, that this delegation to the metaphysical is the greatest illustration of the weakness of the institutions of our State. The current administration has particularly undermined the rule of law, so of course there is no expectation that perpetrators will be arrested and tried and sentenced. Who will arrest gun-wielding, civilian-killing soldiers, at any rate?

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission went through the charade of monitoring vote-buying around election days but we know that they are unapologetically partisan – their twice unconfirmed acting-chairman has been wearing the President’s campaign paraphernalia for months. There is no expectation from the citizenry that vote-buying regulations will be enforced equally and the decision to be unaware of significant cash movement just up the road from their Ikoyi office is hardly surprising.

The members of INEC staff who registered scores of underage voters will also go scot free. Because although most databases are set up so that the identity of the data enterer is not in doubt, there will be no attempt to track them down or purge the system of the corrupt data. We leave them also to history and karma to judge.

Fortunately for these criminals, history and karma are extremely selective. If you are rich and powerful enough you frequently get to write – or is that re-write – history. History and karma certainly do not mete out statutory punishments.

In fact, if the lives of many of the leaders in respect of whom we have petitioned karma and history in the past are anything to go by, there is a strong argument that history and karma do not judge anyone at all.

Above all, karma and history will not ensure that the voice of the people is heard and that it is indeed the choice of the people that is announced as the winner. What these elections have shown is that a society that is not subject to the rule of law is not really a democracy. Until the law applies equally to everyone, regardless of geography or social status, the country will always be divided along the lines of those loyal to the powerful and those against whom they illegally deploy the powers of the state.

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