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Not the bullets, Mr President

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The president’s men have been at pains, first, to deny that President Buhari ordered the security services to shoot dead ballot box snatchers during the presidential and national assembly elections tomorrow; and two, when that did not appear to re-assure the people, they resorted to offering us an interpretation of what the president actually meant.

I thought he spoke in English and his audience was made up of people who speak this foreign language, our lingua franca, no less.

Since the president has not personally denied it, I think it is safe to assume that he indeed gave the order – and he had good reasons for doing so.

The president has come under severe attacks, and justifiably so, by those who think that the militarisation of our elections is bad enough and we could do without an officially-sanctioned use of the gun at our polling stations.

Sure, brazen rigging has characterised the conduct of all our elections. It is worrisome.

No one can pretend that this is not a serious national problem and one that has consistently put a huge question mark on the freeness and the fairness of our elections.

It is the basis for the lack of trust among our politicians. Each party is suspicious of the other in deploying the rigging machines to undermine the choice of the electorate. But ballot box snatching is not an offence that merits instant jungle justice meted out by the Nigerian state.

Let me refresh the president’s memory. In his maiden address to the nation after he took over as military head of state on January 1, 1984, Buhari put his finger on the problem of rigging when he said that the 1983 “general elections were anything but free and fair.

The only political parties that could complain of election rigging are those parties that lacked the resources to rig. There is ample evidence that rigging and thuggery were relative to the resources available to the parties.”

There is ample evidence that this has not changed. Politic is a game of means.

Once you have the means, you could use them to your desired ends, as in win by hook or crook. I can see that for Buhari, jailing looters is a lot easier than corralling election riggers. I suppose they are more elusive.

The use of the gun as his option to frighten away ballot box snatchers is both drastic and unhelpful. It would make our elections even more violent. And it won’t end election rigging.

Former governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel said that when he decided to run for the governorship of his state, he commissioned a study on election rigging.

The egg heads found that there were 200 ways for rigging elections in our country. That number is huge. I suppose the study told Daniel what to do.

I know that Buhari is frustrated with the system because democracy is a frustrating system, particularly for those who lack the patience to follow the snail when they could zoom at will – but for the inherent restraining factors in democracy.

He would wish the system were so perfect that the electorate would not even need to be wooed by those who seek their votes.

At a glance, they would know who should be a better president than the others. Unfortunately, elections are not decided that way.

It is the ballot box that decides it. And it may not always give a nation the best man for the job.

Anyone who doubts that should look across the seas at America, God’s own country, and see who the system rejected in favour of a man who makes no distinction between leadership and naked thuggery.

My guess is that Buhari too is dealing with election fatigue, the anxiety that casts a pall as the candidates and the electorate approach the very critical day of decision.

This must have been worsened for the president with the postponement of the presidential and the national assembly elections last Saturday.

He has been on the hustings for about four months now. A taxing effort to win the support of the people. He expected all that wahala to end with the people’s verdict on February 16. It didn’t.

With the postponement, his anxiety was lengthened by another week, further shortening a short fuse.

Election rigging casts a dark shadow on our elections. But ballot box snatching should be the least of our worries in this regard.

Election rigging has moved from something so primitive to something so sophisticated that we know so little about it and the reach of its tentacles.

In the Second Republic, ballot box snatching was the most visible face of election rigging. Not any more. Other more sophisticated methods have taken over.

Vote-buying, under-age voting and hundreds of other sophisticated methods have been devised over the years to rig elections without leaving tell-tale signs.

One must sympathise with the candidates. To think that months of preparation accompanied by Ghana-Must-Go bags, containing, not dried fish, could come to nothing by thugs who snatch ballot boxes must be truly worrisome.

Election rigging thrives because we have never addressed electoral offences either to eliminate rigging or make it less brazen with impunity.

The security forces may shoot any number of ballot box snatchers but their blood would not water the tree of free and fair elections.

The gun as a solution to crimes has never quite proved itself as an effective deterrent.

In the seventies when the Nigerian state, recovering from the 30-month civil war, confronted its major fall out – armed robberies – the instant military solution was to arrest, try and shoot the guilty publicly.

It was supposed to be a deterrent. But the capacity of the bullet to end the scourge is best judged by the fact that more than 40 years later the Ishola Oyenusi pickins are even more daring today.

The gun has its uses but I do not see it succeeding in stopping election riggers – whether they snatch ballot boxes, intimidate voters, buy off voters’ cards, pad up election scores, arm under-age children with voters’ cars or commit arson against the electoral umpire. Let us keep the guns away.

I am sure that Buhari must have heard of the Justice Uwais committee report on election reforms set up by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.

It made this recommendation as a means by which the Nigerian state could tackle election rigging: “Amend the Electoral Act 2006 to establish an Electoral Offences Commission” and to among other things, adopt “measures to identify, trace and prosecute political thuggery, election fraud, political terrorism and other electoral offences.”

That report is gathering dust on shelves in the executive and the legislative branches of government.

None of the men who came after the late president wanted to touch it. Yet Yar’Adua set it up in response to the many problems in our electoral system.

Perhaps, if Buhari had looked into the report and its sensible recommendations, I am sure he would have taken measures in his nearly four years in office to curb electoral offences; and he would not now worry about the capacity of ballot box snatchers and other election riggers to undermine the integrity of our elections.


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