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From voters’ apathy to voters’ boycott

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Election materials. PHOTO: Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP

A sharply divided country can never run less acrimonious democracy. Hence disaggregate the election process. Dr. Dele Ashiru on 93.7/STV, What a 2019 nightmarish March 9 elections.

Beyond the acrimonious results produced by the March 9, 2019 elections in Nigeria, the worst, not yet evaluated, were the cooked results as received or reconfigured announced by the returning officers even when it was glaring that the card reader or supposedly smartcard reader greatly malfunctioned or were even disregarded in some polling booths. It created more sharply divided people as some were moved like flocks to shield anyone from knowing that they were not using card readers especially from the north and disturbingly from Kaduna that had witnessed a lot of killings out of sharply divided north and south Kaduna.

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Sharply divided in both literate and illiterate voters notwithstanding the worst intolerable was creating a martial law for civilians in some states as if in an emergency situation while even states that ought to be regarded as emergency states hence martial law-enabled are left as normal and civil – North- East deserves more martial law than South-South. And when martial law is invoked elections are not required there. Rivers State or any South-South States do not deserve the inquisition treatment they are receiving even when one resented the ignominious voice of Rivers governor trying to belittle himself on a phone.

Nigerians were indeed made to sound helpless like the governor as card readers disenfranchised many while those smarter than the others or shielded by their protected politicians never cared the outcome of not using card readers.

Presiding officers who were helpless also gave up while those paid to do the hatchet job braced up to the task otherwise people had wondered why some adhoc workers including some presiding officers remained aloof in some areas especially those who were not supposed to be recruited for the job in the first place.

I watched a presiding officer write on sheets he was to paste misspelling well known titles of items handed to him and could not speak English in a university environment. It also translated to professors announcing results handed by such people without knowing the issues associated with problems encountered at the polling booths. Collation becomes questionable when the process that led to the coordinating collator or returning officer is faulty.

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There are quite exceptions to all these shenanigans of election results fabrication. In Ikorodu where Abike Dabiri performed her own civic duty she outlined the issues bedeviling the election processes and proffered interesting advice as reported and watched on TVC.

The vice president in his polling unit dodged in venting his observations especially the late appearance of the INEC staff which was seen as their not being cared for out of over N240billion disbursed to INEC for the elections. He could have assuaged their demotivated state by getting back to INEC on their behalf.

Printing 400million ballot papers for an event that is meant for 80million people with great attrition rate as noted could be seen as waste. More money could have been made available to get motivated corps memebers man the base which is critical.

Motivated ones could be those recruited by estoppels (by force agents) as counter to INEC for hatchet man’s job like reported in Imo State which made a professor, the returning officer, to declare a winner under duress. What a shame. Such people at the base would not be worried about the card reader’s functions. And as I observed the diligence required to operate the card reader could not be liked by them.

The card readers of some people are no more readable due to abuse or over-protection with layers of laminations and even faked ones just to waste the time of the presiding officer as noticed in Mushin as a discouragement gimmick so as to disregard its usage.

As an STV reporter put it only two people could be identified by a card reader that has up to 500 to identify.

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However it tallies with thumb printing process as some people whose fingers had had their pattern marks dulled or waned out of excessive use of them either in garri frying in the fire or fish drying or other hardwork could not be easily identified like those of bigmen or elites or smooth talk moneybags.

Like seen as a reporter on Ikwere axis beat standing in the midst of ballot boxes – 10 in number as he claimed and ought to pull 5000 voters – there seems not to be anyone except about five people and it seems the box is being filled by no checks of card reader or not.

The same card reader fake approach could be observed as the governor of Benue came out to claim that he was voting in his village in an agglomeration of 13polling units, all in one place, for the sake of security, and he expects people to see no evil in a governor clustering multiple voting booths in a displacement style as he said they were relocated for security reasons; multiply that with other powerful people doing the same thing and think of how card readers could be made a note issue in producing cooked results.

Collating officers needed to know the terrain their foot soldiers as presiding officers are operating so as to crosscheck the end result they bring like someone saying he just cancelled results from a ward because there was as a sign of collusion to manipulate results; it could be arbitrary or mere deceit process triggered by the main electoral officer who seemed to have compromised in advance because the electoral officer knows all the chairmen as he had been interacting with them. It is also the good reason why INEC in its wisdom does not use them as returning officers, knowing that they could be sympathetic or over- familiar or acrimonious with the locals.

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For example, Eti-Osa, Ikorodu, and Oshodi recorded high number of cancelled votes and the explanation does not go beyond overvoting even when someone says the registered voters for four polling units are 4152 people and rejected votes are 1336 for registered voters of 348052 and a turnout of 44556 below 15% turn out, in a sharply divided area, there should be more to it not well captured. It is also a place where visually impaired or physically challenged could not find means of exercising their franchise like it was reported in Oyo State. I only wonder if it is the case in the north where most of the visually impaired and physically challenged in Nigeria are found as relatively high voters’ turnout and high figures are announced.

Lagos seems to have always observed the restraint of over exaggeration and it fits it as the supposed centre of excellence. Turnout was low and it was seen at the end counts, though the pattern seems an aforeplanned apportioned votes. It is also a reverse corroboration of Dele’s assumption of sharply divided country and how representatively sharply Lagos is divided.

Lagos is the economic capital of Nigeria, the biggest country harbouring the greatest number of the most abused race of the world and, so, must learn not to inflict more internal abuses, pains and rapings to the humanistically degraded race within and in the diaspora.

If 84million people registered to vote and over N240 billion was spent on it as a feast and no fewer than 20million turned up, it is a boycott of the feast for those who needed to make their mea culpa and turn a new leaf.

When a crowd cooks for one person and invite him to feast, it is a curse in Africa. That happened in France on the 14th of July 1789 as the peasants called out the king to feast on their agony. It is no more expected to be repeated in 21st century hence the need to learn fast.

An agonizing election boycott was what happened in March 9. INEC and politicians were feasting on the pains and agony of Nigerians with collateral damage to Africans in the diaspora.

• Ariole is a professor of French and Francophone Studies, University of Lagos


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