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SUNDAY NARRATIVE: 2015 And Matters Arising

By Alabi Williams
19 April 2015   |   7:00 am
CONSIDERING the milestone effect of the 2015 general elections, it is important that we take on aspects of the electoral experience so that it does not just pass without leaving behind some important lessons. It is good that we remind ourselves why some things happened and why others did not. 2011, for instance, has become a reference point in terms of political violence and the bad character of the average politician when it comes to accepting defeat. When you talk of 2011, we are reminded of the innocent youth corpers who were brutally killed in Bauchi.

Alabi WilliamsCONSIDERING the milestone effect of the 2015 general elections, it is important that we take on aspects of the electoral experience so that it does not just pass without leaving behind some important lessons. It is good that we remind ourselves why some things happened and why others did not. 2011, for instance, has become a reference point in terms of political violence and the bad character of the average politician when it comes to accepting defeat. When you talk of 2011, we are reminded of the innocent youth corpers who were brutally killed in Bauchi.

We also remember the violence that rocked Kaduna and some other towns across the country. Death toll from that experience was put at not less than 800.

It will be recalled that the Federal Government set up a presidential committee to expose the nature of the 2011 post election violence, apparently to forestall similar occurrences. The committee did make recommendations and chastised some politicians for their provocative utterances, which were linked to the violent eruptions after the elections. But apart from some miserly compensations made to relations of the youth coppers, and others whose properties were damaged, criminal proceedings were never entered into by government to serve as deterrence.

Using that as background, for example, what do we take away from 2015? In terms of violence and electoral fraud, it might take some time to fully understand what transpired because the outcome of the elections is bound to have a lot to do with the unraveling of infractions. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, the president-elect, has promised that electoral offenders must not go unpunished. Good, as that may sound, there are those who think the man has to work extra hard to achieve that promise. Some do not think he stands on any moral high ground to advocate for punishment of electoral offenders in 2015 when those of 2011 have not been assuaged. His former party, the Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) was alleged to have instigated and perpetuated the violence of 2011. To do justice in 2015, many Nigerians would encourage him to revisit 2011.

In promising that electoral offenders and security personnel who aid and abet such crimes must not go unpunished, Buhari was reacting specifically to reports of infractions in Rivers, Imo and Edo, during the April 11 governorship and state assembly elections, which did not seem to favour his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Hear Buhari; “I think it has to be totally exposed so that Nigerians will know, which of the law enforcement agencies and at what levels is undermining the Constitution of Nigeria because the Electoral Act is derived from the Constitution of the country, so that in future, those who are in position will know that they are not beyond the law. I think that is what will bring more stability into the system. In view of that, I will try and work with the National Assembly to make sure that we do something about it.”

It is good that very soon, Buhari will be in government and will stop postulating from the position of an opposition. If his government must prosecute electoral offences and introduce stability in the system as he envisages, he cannot begin from this moment. He must go far behind to find explanations to why local council elections are won 100 per cent by the parties in power in states. He must look beyond present day Rivers State, where his party has suffered losses, because it met with stiff resistance. He must look into the widespread nature of underage voting, particularly in the North, where he harvested millions of votes.

But how can Buhari look into past electoral malfeasance when he says he would draw a line between past corrupt practices and those committed under his government? If he does that, we are going to see him as playing double standards over issues of fiscal corruption and electoral offences. The two are the same, but may be different sides of political corruption. And if Buhari takes this advice to probe into past offences, again, he might run the risk of being branded as a hypocrite. How would a man who did not attend the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (Oputa Panel), which investigated human rights abuses dating back to the military coup of January 15, 1966 till May 28, 1999 seek to probe into Nigeria’s past.

The point in all of these challenging scenarios is for the man and his party to be careful with Nigeria when power is handed over to them next month.

Talking of electoral offences still, the PDP is not likely to display the kind of expertise the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) exhibited in 2007, when it brought forensic experts to disgrace the PDP rigging machine in Ondo, Edo and Osun. That means the incidence of illegal thumbprints and underage voting massively done in 2015 might go uninvestigated. We are also not likely to see a good display of legal fireworks at the national level, since the PDP has largely acquiesced and demurred.

While the North posted generally calmer elections because there was a higher degree of consensus among the political elite, some South-south and Southeast states have unfortunately recorded intolerable violence. They showed traces of violence, pre and during the elections. Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Abia and Imo are the way they are because of disagreements in the camp of political leaders. Access to political power is still the major means to economic survival and politicians will do anything to win elections. Once upon a time, the PDP reigned here with little or no challenge, until the house became divided. Experts in election monitoring and observation, together with their sponsors should endeavor to return to such places when there are no elections. They should seek to understand the underlining factors that predispose these communities to violent elections and carry out voter education. Most times, it is not the politicians that are fighting, but their followers, who happen to be voters. It sounds cheap to condemn electoral violence, when little was done prior to that violence. If the battery of election observers, who stormed Rivers were to have been in the state two months ago, when the build up was intense, their narrative of today would be different. A few had been there and they actually warned.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), left many lapses that could have been exploited by smart politicians. One is, its insistence on using card readers. But when INEC ran into trouble, it resorted to manual accreditation side by side. Card readers are good if they function 100 per cent, but to change midstream from electronic to manual accreditation of voters without putting in place measures to avert the rigging INEC wanted to run away from in the first place is like working to a particular end. INEC is lucky that the vanquished PDP does not want to make legal trouble.
Whither the crowd!

WHEN the APC could not wait for elections to take place and was busy allocating imaginary victory to itself, this narrative kindly informed that starry-eyed predictions might not count on the day of elections. Truth is that we saw huge crowds at the APC campaign rallies, but was shocked that it could only defeat the PDP by a slim margin of below three million. Slim in the sense of margins we saw in 2003, 2007 and 2011. So, where are the crowds and the numbers that we saw in Kano, Maiduguri, Lagos and Port Harcourt?

It could only be that Nigerians do not vote. And that should worry the APC and all of us because if the PDP were to be more ambitious and Jonathan not clay-footed, that margin could have been narrowed or erased totally, simply by redoubling efforts in a few states in Southeast and South-south. Lesson is that more Nigerians should be encouraged to vote by making the process more voter-friendly.

Kudos and Knocks
AYO Fayose of Ekiti State has shown that when we talk of participatory democracy, he has an expertise that others may learn from, but they may elect to remain in perpetual denial. The man was disgraced out of office before he could complete his first term in 2006. He left with some moral and legal baggage that could have drowned a political neophyte.

He returned in 2014 and stunned the Southwest mainstream political powerhouse with a resounding victory. Later, they said he got assistance from Abuja and should be probed. He repeated the feat on March 28 and April 11. Political scientists should be interested in this man and his winning streak, at least for sake of political knowledge.

David Jang of Plateau failed to retain the state for the PDP, but won a seat for himself in the Senate. He literally traded his own victory for the loss of the party. Grassroots people warned him, but he did not listen. Babangida Aliu, Sule Lamido, Gabriel Suswam and others lost tactics and gravitas because they wanted to have their cake and eat it. They failed PDP woefully.