‘Over 50 per cent of votes cast in Kogi guber election should be cancelled’
Oluwole Aguda is a gubernatorial aspirant on the platform of African Action Alliance (AAA) for the November 16 governorship election in Kogi State. He spoke to SEYE OLUMIDE on the outcome of the exercise and implications for Nigeria’s democracy.
Was there election in Kogi State on November 16, 2019, or was it what many Nigerians have described as a charade?
The Kogi State gubernatorial election and the Kogi West Senatorial poll as widely reported by several observer groups, voters and even representatives of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was a setback in the ongoing quest by our nation to consolidate her democracy. Our democracy must be a balanced expression and not one with these glaring imbalances and disproportionate alignments power. Power is not yet with the people and votes cast remain shadows of what could be without having any significant influence on the outcomes. The Kogi elections have not been positively appraised by the people for whom they were held and by a coalition of observers and so I will hesitate to file it as an exercise midwife by sound democratic philosophies or principles.
But there is a consensus that all the fears and skepticisms raised before the exercise came to pass and therefore many people believed the election was a complete sham. Do you agree?
The fears anticipated, raised severally, discussed in different fora, and which had a unanimous base of concern were security and the threats of violence. Without mincing words, the elections gravely exposed our security agencies and not exactly in the brightest form possible. There was not the only failure of intelligence; you could see great operational incompetence play out in almost the 31 local governments. I find no record of integrated management and deployment of security during the elections, there was a breach of service to the Nigerian people, which was extended to a sitting Governor Yahaya Bello, whose security was almost breached by masked men. There was an explanation by the local security agency that it was an error of sorts but it is curious to see such pre-election overzealousness. The effectiveness of arrests, (and trust me there were several of them) before the election was now missing during the election and after the election. You’d recall without much need for research that the nation needed the president to give an order for a certain woman, burnt in her home, for serious action to be seen. I think we require a roundtable of sorts with stakeholders who will actively review the Kogi elections, identify the human and systemic errors while presenting a template that guarantees the safety of voters and the sanctity of votes. All the errors and failures of security remain threats to the legitimacy of an electoral win and I think that it is high time we began to zero in on the sanctity of the election process.
Would you say the outcome of the poll as declared by INEC was actually the true wish of Kogi electorate?
I’d be circumspect in declaring a position for or against declared results, but we cannot suspend logic and common sense under the circumstances. If there are 266 polling units, for instance, in a local government, I will call to question, for instance, how over 100,000 votes went to one political party while under 150 votes went to the party with the second position. So, of course, the natural questions to ponder would revolve around what happened to poll unit agents of opposition parties in those units. Did they leave their units unmanned? Or do they not have supporters in those local governments at all? If they were unable to vote, then the reasons should be unearthed as I sense that there could be more to the situation in polling units where people did not vote or couldn’t vote. Beyond tribunals, INEC and civil society must be able to collate thoughts and opinions, based on empirical data, to enhance our elections. There are lots of undesired outcomes at a national scale that we still nurse and that must be nipped immediately.
As a stakeholder in Kogi, do you agree that the election should be cancelled and rerun ordered?
As someone who was on the ground in Kogi State during the elections, I’d have expected over 50 per cent of the elections to be cancelled. There were several threats to life and INEC is apparently a weaker institution than it was in just the last four years or so because they were under the firm control of political interests as opposed to national interest. The voters were never defended. The votes were never secure.
Cases of vote-buying were widespread in the Ekiti governorship elections of 2018 and there was a national outcry against it. What has changed today? What strategies have we seen or witnessed despite glaring evidence, pre-election or otherwise, to stem this ugly development in our democracy? Successive elections seem to entrench vote-buying in even stronger and more audacious ways. The current INEC remains a reactive system with seemingly incapable structures to effect improvements in the electoral system.
The elections of Kogi and Bayelsa must be expunged for our national psyche. Without prejudice to the outcomes, the processes leave a lot to be desired and, as I have always maintained, the processes are almost as good as the outcomes for a process that determines political leadership and one that involves widespread participation of the citizenry.
How can we get accurate election done in this country?
Nigeria will only achieve the desired fixes and corrections now by doing two things: an overhaul of the management of INEC to now only include persons of high moral standing at both national and state levels. Such persons must have demonstrated capacity and interest in building civil society and must have a humanitarian bent to their activities. These persons must be nationalists who are interested, more in Nigeria than themselves or political interests.
Second thing that we have to do is to automate the systems. Nigerian banks have successfully taken banking to rural areas and communities. I am a strong advocate of replicating bank models for elections. Banks are well spread across the country and I believe that a collaboration of the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), INEC, National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) can significantly drive our efforts at digitising the electoral process. A high percentage of breaches recorded in Kogi gubernatorial elections could be checked if there were digital systems instituted for the voting process. Why can we not vote via Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD)? The telcos have a database of all Nigerians aged over 18. We also have the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) with files and data of Nigerians who are over 18 and who can drive. We have immigrations and banks holding data for persons aged over 18 who can vote. I think that a large section of our voting population can be captured digitally while we retain the manual systems for other areas until we are able to go fully electronic.
The ultimate goal of any digital system designed for elections would be to provide privacy and security for votes cast. If we can commence the journey of electronic management of our money in banks regardless of location, we should, without any further hesitation, begin to adopt procedures as such for elections. Mobile devices are becoming increasingly popular and they, in my opinion, remain the fastest means of moving Nigerians out of the hold of the current manual yet dysfunctional systems.
Does this justify the agitation that Nigeria needs to be restructured to get its system right?
Restructuring Nigeria must exist within the context of goals and objectives that enjoy national appeal. We do not even have an agreement yet on basic issues as allocation to education budgets across the states and Federal Government. The bigger issues will be more confounding to deal with if we are unable to agree on basic issues. Do we even have agreement on marriageable ages of the girl-child? Do we have agreement on minimum enrolment for basic education? No, we do not. I find a divergence of interest in the issues that should normally present a basis for discussions on restructuring Nigeria and I worry that we still may not have advanced the talks in the next 20 years. I am for a country that is structured along with guaranteed economic growth for the regions. Is that what my brothers in Jigawa and Kebbi desire for a restructured Nigeria? There must be catalogs of sub-agreements before we get into the bigger issues and that to me explains why we are not making progress in that wise.
What is the assurance that the judiciary will address all the issues raised against the credibility of Kogi last governorship elections?
The judiciary has come under intense scrutiny and rightly or wrongly, there is great concern regarding the administration of justice in Nigeria generally. The courts are overwhelmed and there is a worry again that the courts are daily losing their capacity to deliver justice. The litigation comes at very high costs and as you might know today, the courts are not very open to the poor. We must own and be proud of a judiciary that is not only open to elites but one that actively offers justice to the poor. Cases are today capital intensive and not many have access to the orientation about their rights and the reprieves that are obtainable in the courts. Election tribunals are extensions of the judiciary.