Winning within the system
I have used the title “Winning within the System” before in a column I wrote for the National Concord of September 29, 1983. But I have no hesitation in using the title again because it bears repetition.
The subject of today’s homily is the same selection abracadabra and how we have fared since then.
During the 1983 Governorship election two governorship candidates did the needful by reading the Riot Act to the officials of FEDECO as the election manager was then called.
Bola Ige of the UPN and Jim Nwobodo of the NPP were both battling against the massive rigging machine of the ruling party, NPN.
Both men told FEDECO officials that if they were not ready to conduct the elections as the Electoral rules prescribed they would be doing the job for the last time. It worked. Both men won.
This year, another Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, of Kaduna State announced to our hearing that if some foreign observers thought they could come here and interfere with our elections and go home scot-free they should perish the thought.
If they did, they would only go back home in body bags. I haven’t yet read or heard of any of the observers going home in body bags maybe because they did not interfere or Mr. El-Rufai changed his mind after the bashing that he got from the media and the public.
However, that shows us that what we did in 1983 we are still doing them today in terms of our election matters and manners.
But you need to know that the matter of protecting one’s votes to ensure that they are counted and when counted to, also, ensure that they count did not start today. We have not yet come to a stage where you can trust INEC and the hordes of policemen and soldiers to protect your votes from being stolen either at the polling station or the coolation centre.
In September 1983, The Guardian reported of an interesting incident during the collation of the Orlu Senatorial District elections results.
A rich, colourful man called Arthur Nzeribe was a contestant on the platform of the NPP. He threw everything into the campaign and expected he would win but knowing that the ruling party, the NPN, was a big, bad, brute whose manners were made from the underworld, he was not ready to take chances.
The Guardian faithfully reported the story as Nzeribe told the paper: “On election day I had 10,000 men in uniform. My men were waiting for them outside the town hall and I was outnumbering the police there four to one. I told the Returning Officer and the Assistant Commissioner of Police.
Just tamper with my result, look outside, none of us is going home alive. Just look outside. I outnumber you four to one. You can do what you like in this hall. None of us will get out here alive. Just look out of the window. I outnumber you four to one. You had all the chance to campaign. You had all the chance to rig. You didn’t do any of that.
Now you want to hijack. So what do you do if somebody wants to hijack your thing. Stop him, not so? So I stopped them!” The votes were correctly counted, correctly collated, and correctly announced. Nzeribe won. The fear of death was the beginning of fairness.
During the campaign Chief Nzeribe had told everyone who cared to listen that he would match rigging with rigging, naira with naira, fire with fire, stockfish with stockfish and thuggery with thuggery.
There was no indication whether or not Nzeribe’s 10,000 men in uniform were armed or he merely intended to intimidate the election officials and the police with the numerical strength of his 10,000 man Army. But whether armed or not 10,000 was a huge number to surround a collation centre.
Besides, Chief Nzeribe had a helicopter hovering in the vicinity of the collation exercise and no one could say for certain whether the flying animal was carrying danger in its stomach or not.
Nzeribe created a scene that was scary enough to force the FEDECO staff and the police to behave themselves. But you had to have plenty cash and the guts, the bravado, the spunk, the pluckiness and the intrepidness to go with it. Nzeribe had it all.
Oh my God, that man brought colour, tremendous colour to this dirty business. And when his friend and Governor Sam Mbakwe was announced as the winner for the second term Nzeribe allegedly fainted. And when he recovered from the insanity of receiving the good news he lapsed into another round of insanity, got into his helicopter and was throwing bundles of naira notes to the hoi-polloi below. And when Major General Muhammadu Buhari did his coup on December 31, 1983 Chief Nzeribe was already on his way out of the country. He got wind of it before the flag-pole-like general from Daura struck.
In our recent elections it is obvious that like the Boubons we have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. If anything we have marched backwards.
The Army and the Police have been utilized more daringly, more blatantly, in rigging the elections. INEC officials have been told at gunpoint to write new figures unrelated to the record in the card reader. They have been forced to announce results at gun point, results that have nothing to do with the actual numbers.
The rigging style is basically the same: money and violence. But we have noticed some slight improvements in the rigging methodology.
While Arthur Nzeribe was matching his opponents naira for naira today’s politicians are doing so dollar for dollar.
In those days the naira was strong, probably at par with the dollar. The dollar was currency you could only buy from the banks under very strict conditions.
Today, the naira is close to toilet paper in value while the dollar is the main event. If you have a few dollars in your pocket you can carry home in a truck your wads of naira notes. Dollars are sold on the streets, at boutiques, at restaurants, at bend-down-markets and anywhere else you find Nigerians of means. You don’t need to carry dollars in huge Ghana must Go bags. You can slip them neatly into your pocket.
So it is easy for politicians to carry dollars around because it is bulky-less. And it is easy for the beneficiary of the dollar largesse to slip them into his pocket, keep a straight face, put on a wry smile, and go to the next bus stop and ask the mallam with a calculator to change it for him.
His day has been brightened. He can eat whatever he wants to eat and wipe the trace of oil from his mouth neatly. No one can trace anything to him. That is the kind of job the dollar does for Nigerian politicians and voters.
The second instrument for election winning in Nigeria is violence. If you are in the right party that controls the police and the Army you certainly have a head start over your opponent on the other side of the divide. But don’t rejoice yet. Don’t go to bed yet. It is not exactly a done deal yet.
Whether the government owns the police or the Army the actual working tool is cash. If a Governor from an opposing party has cash and is ready to be generous with it, he can still find his way through the labrythine maze of Nigeria’s election landscape. If you are a candidate and you are certain that you will not have access to federal might, federal might being huge cash and the means of delivering violence, you must make your own plans.
The smart ones who are in this position did so in these past elections. They imported their own arms, recruited their own thugs described euphemistically as “supporters” and sewed or bought police and Army uniforms for them.
How would you know a fake police or Army uniforms? The Police Authorities have told us that all the names of genuine policemen and women are sewn into the uniforms. What is the big deal about faking that? It can only take a few minutes to fake a name and a number and sew them into the uniform. That is not rocket science. Those who were ready for the elections knew as far back as four years ago that they needed to do something unusual if they wanted to win within the system.
Now that Buhari has been declared the winner by INEC maybe he would like to try to be a statesman from now onwards.
If he wants to establish a legacy that will enable history to remember him kindly he has to reform the electoral system. He refused to sign the revised version of the Electoral Act that provided for electronic collation of results.
Now that he has no election to be afraid of, he should be ready to do a drastic review of not only the Electoral Act but also the Constitution.
Achieving this will need an abandonment of his present parochialism posture and embrace multi-lateral engagement with the major constituent parts of Nigeria.
The saying is that a politician always looks at the next election while the statesman always thinks of the next generation. He has no more election to work for, but he has the next generation to worry about. He has to begin now to mould the building blocks that will allow him to erect a new architecture, an architecture that can be considered a worthy legacy by the verdict of history. That is if he wants to be seen as a statesman.