An election odyssey
I RAN into a group of youth corps members who were engaged in the last election exercise. What follows is their story unedited, raw. I have written on this theme several times. It is not meant to undermine the legitimacy of Muhammadu Buhari’s Presidency. I believe that if the election had been free and fair, he would have won. President Goodluck Jonathan was a tired man in 2014, nothing new, repeating the old clichés, no vibrancy, nothing. In my estimation, Mr. Jonathan abdicated. After an abdication, the most worthy heir or the person with the best claim, usually succeeded. So, Buhari obviously had a better claim and succeeded.
Secondly, Prof. Jega has been gallivanting around receiving praise for an election that was fatally flawed; it’s like Ben Johnson winning the Olympic 100 metres race pumped up on drugs. The only thing left to be done to Ben Johnson was to strip him of the gold medal and to ban him for many years from even competing. Prof. Jega cannot go on a victory lap after imbibing illegal stimulants in the 2014 election.
Here is the story of the student youth corps members who conducted the election. The point about their story is that it was repeated throughout Nigeria and if you meet honest youth corps members, they would corroborate this story. There may be parts of Nigeria where this was not the case. “We are youth corps members posted to a state in Nigeria. We were billeted near an army barracks and the soldiers had general supervision over us. INEC officials came to our station and employed over 200 of us to go out for permanent voters card exercise. Where we were there was some tension and on the third day; some young men accused us of having moved the polling booth; they seized all the materials and the computers. An opposition group rallied and after the intervention of the soldiers face returned. We neither saw the computers or supporting documents. On the following day, both sides met, resolved their disputes, returned some captured PVCs but again, no computer. We had explained to them that without the computers, the documents they presented to us could not be accepted. Later in the afternoon, the computers arrived and we were able to “finish” what had been channeled to us. The political parties were responsible for our feeding and travelling.
“On voting day, we were deployed to different parts of the state from the INEC office. My colleagues and I were taken by car to the waterside because our polling booth was on the other side of the river. All electoral materials were present. I was given five booklets of voting papers (like cheque books). We were asked to do accreditation first but this was rowdy. Most of us did not speak the local language but one of us did. He became the leader. He tried to explain the accreditation processes in pidgin but he was being continually interrupted by the voters who claimed they did not understand what the youth corps member was saying. INEC however, had attached another fellow to the two of us. He spoke the local dialect. And explained the accreditation processes. Less than 50 people were accredited as late as 4p.m. The village had no electricity. The INEC official approached me to give him the four and half booklets left. I refused. He spoke to my colleague in their language. We had an impasse. We would not leave the village without some accommodation to their request. My colleague bargained to hand over two booklets for a price. Money soon appeared. I am not sure from where but the INEC official was at the centre of the whole transaction. I do not know how much he made: he gave some money to this third man who was attached to us. He gave N71, 000 to my colleague (he spoke the local lingua) and N56, 000 to myself. I knew I should not take the money but so much was being given to nearly everybody- INEC officials, policemen, security agents, the voters,- that I thought; ok this was my due. We left the village at about 10pm by boat. In the middle of the river the boat stopped. I was scared, the place was dark. After 15 minutes or so the driver started the engine and we took off to town.
When we got to the collation centre, we found INEC officials and party agents thumb printing ballot papers with both thumbs.
On return to my abode, among 200 or so billeted, there was money everywhere and we shared our experiences. No one took less than N50, 000; some got as high as N90, 000. This was no small money for the youth corps member.
INEC had promised to pay us N24, 000 or so but we got only about half of that. When we asked for the balance we were reported to the commandant for insubordination and asked to frog jump.”
Is this a unique story or is it what happened in the rest of Nigeria? I do not know. What I do know, because it has been reported widely, is that on the Election Day, food, rice, bread, money, beans, etc were freely distributed. Did that affect the result, I cannot say. As for money, before the election, tonnes of money changed hands; at the primaries there was nothing like a fair election. All you have to do is to speak to bankers to tell you just how much were floating around. The centres of electoral corruption remain what they have always been – INEC official, the Police, the state security agents – and Prof. Jega has failed to do anything about these groups: in fact he added to them – two more layers of corrupt officials –the Permanent Voters Cards and the unreformed collation centres.
These NYSC members on arrival at the collation centres witnessed ballot papers being thumb printed by both hands in front of everybody. People may deny this as much as they like but this is a fact.
I have written about the election again because all the avenues of corruption remain untouched; the cost of governance continues to escalate. The House of Representatives cannot possibly need that number of committees except for the fact that each Chairman or Deputy is redefined as a public servant and therefore entitled to certain perquisites including the use of cars and supply of police protection. The Senate of 109 members cannot need 60 committees except for the same fiction- the purchase of cars for every senator and members of the House of Representatives. These are the men and women who are supposed to slow down the cost of governance. How can they, given their penchant for peccadillos? Nothing has been said about reforming the Houses, about reforming the political parties or the electoral system. In Nigeria since nothing is said, the mistake will continue. Mr. President has to take this fight to the leaders of the National Assembly: Nigeria cannot afford the cost of governance as presently constituted.
• Dr. (Ambassador) Cole (OFR) is a Consultant to The Guardian Editorial Board.