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Revving up efforts to stem pervasive electoral impunity

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A corps member explaining some points to voters ahead of voting

India’s independence activist and the country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, it was who said: “Evilly unchecked grows, evil tolerated poisons the whole system.”

The abhorrent general elections, which have taken place in the country, especially since the return of democracy in 1999, validated Nehru’s submission made decades ago. In other words, the evil called flawed elections has continued to grow and flourish.

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Unlike most pre-independence leaders and nationalists, who had had traits similar to Nehru’s, a good number of contemporary politicians are way off the mark when it comes to accepting defeat in electoral contests. Consequently, they have employed several underhand tactics to “win” elections.

Besides the shameful resort to money politics, these politicians have also adopted all manner of “strategies,” ranging from vote-buying, multiple voting, voter intimidation, ballot box snatching/stuffing, threats and use of violence, as well as maiming and killing to book their passages to political offices.

History Of Flawed, Non-credible Polls
APART from the June 12, 1993 election, which was believed to have been won by the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, but annulled by the regime of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, virtually every other election held in the country have had some kind of question mark or the other.

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For the 16 years that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in power, there was a groundswell of allegations from critics that it serially manipulated election results in its favour, while others alleged that it simply wrote down figures and handed same to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to announce.

However, shortly after the election umpire declared Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of the PDP winner of the 2007 presidential elections, many including both domestic and foreign observers described the poll as a “deeply flawed poll.”

Yar’Adua, who won with 24.6 million votes, far ahead of his two main rivals, Atiku Abubakar, and Muhammadu Buhari, equally shared the view that the election was nowhere near perfect.

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As European Union observers and the United States expressed concerns over the poll’s failure to meet basic international standards and unqualified to be considered credible, then President Olusegun Obasanjo, also admitted that the elections could not be considered perfect, even as he accused some political leaders of fomenting violence and employing thugs to achieve victory.

In fact, during his national address ahead of the 2007 poll, Obasanjo admitted that no election could be regarded as perfect, but added that the country has made progress since elections in 1959.

“There have been allegations of malpractices, of multiple voting, ballot-box snatching, coalition manipulation, intimidation, threats, and use of violence. All these must be roundly condemned no matter who engaged in them,” he said.

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With his track record of accountability, financial prudence, and public service, Yar’Adua, who immediately made public his assets, also promised to tackle corruption, and address challenges bedeviling elections in the country. But several years after he died while in office, the issue of election fraud has continued to ring out loud every election season and beyond.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who took the reins after Yar’Adua’s demise was at the receiving end and had to cry out over the mounting embarrassment.

Jonathan while receiving the report of the National Stakeholders Forum on Electoral Reform presented by former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, in Abuja, in 2014 said that the results of the 2007 presidential election that produced the late Yar’Adua as president, and himself as vice president had caused him a lot of embarrassment.

The Supreme Court judgment that upheld the results of the elections notwithstanding, Jonathan said he was confronted with “embarrassing questions” over the elections whenever he travelled abroad.

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“Although we took the oath of office and the Supreme Court declared us winners, but each time one travelled abroad, people asked all kinds of questions that even got one angry. That was when I promised myself that if I have an opportunity to oversee elections in Nigeria, no other president or vice president should suffer that can kind of harassment and embarrassment by the international community,” Jonathan said.

He added: “That is why I said nobody should manipulate elections for me in the 2011 elections, even though I was a candidate. That my ambition and the fate of the country are two different things; the interest of the nation is much more superior to any other ambition and I kept faith in that. At the end of the election, it was accepted by local, and international observers. And I promise that the 2015 elections will be better,” he said.

Academics To The Rescue, Or Compounding Electoral Malaise?
ACADEMIA has been involved in the conduct of elections in the country for years, but its involvement got a notch higher under the tenure of former INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega. It became very conspicuous in the conduct of the 2015 general election.

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Jega, a former national chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), turned to his primary constituency to recruit his colleagues to perform the essential duty of announcing election results believing that they would execute such national function with refreshing candour, seriousness, integrity, and the high level of transparency required of such all-important exercise.

Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, a former university don, and former executive of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) who succeeded Jega elected to build on the latter’s legacy. He, therefore, appointed professors as returning officers to make the process as credible as possible. But a cocktail of activities that took place during, and after the election betrayed Nigerians’ confidence in the process, as several affected professors were allegedly found wanting, just as the number of inconclusive polls recorded across the country, and other suspicious blunders raised more posers than answers.

In Kogi State, for instance, a returning officer during the National Assembly election added zero to the figure thereby blowing out of proportion, the election result in favour of a particular candidate. But the pyrrhic victory was truncated due to the vigilance and prompt intervention of the observant electorate and party officials.

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In Plateau State, a vice-chancellor of a university of agriculture scurried into a waiting car with a government number plate and attempted to escape with results sheets. He was promptly restrained by some of those present, and he was brought back to his duty post.

Prof. Andrew Haruna, the Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University, Gashau, Gombe State, who served as the returning officer in Adamawa State, declared the governorship election inconclusive, so also did his colleague at the Moddibo Adama University of Technology, Adamawa State, Prof. Kyari Mohammed, who also declared the election inconclusive in Bauchi State.

The Vice-Chancellor of University of Jos, Prof. Sebastian Maimako, his colleague at the Federal University, Jigawa State, Prof. Fatima Muktar; the Vice-Chancellor of Federal University, Birnin-Kebbi, Prof. Bello Shehu, all declared the governorship elections in the states where they served inconclusively. Elections in Rivers and Kano states among others were also declared inconclusive.

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INEC’s Returning Officer in Imo State, Professor Innocent Ibeawuchi, in disturbing and controversial circumstances, declared the then governor of the state, Chief Rochas Okorocha victor in the senatorial district election.

In Abia State, where Professor Benjamin Ozurumba was the returning officer, he announced the former governor Orji Uzo Kalu, as the winner of the Abia North Senatorial District, in clear breach of INEC’s provisions. The margin between Kalu and Mao Ohuabunwa was 10, 400 votes, and cancelled votes amounted to 38, 000 votes, which would have warranted an inconclusive election, but Ozurumba went ahead to declare Kalu as the winner of the election.

Two cases stood out like sore thumbs in the 2019 general polls. They are the ones involving senators Okorocha and Godswill Obot Akpabio.

In the one involving Okorocha, the Returning Officer for the Imo West Senatorial election, Prof. Innocent Ibeawuchi, after a lengthy standoff, alleged that he was forced to declare Okorocha the winner of the poll by supporters of the All Progressives Congress candidate.

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According to the result, Okorocha polled 97, 762 votes to win the election ahead of the Peoples Democratic Party’s Jones Onyereri, whose record showed he polled 68, 117 votes, and the All Progressive Grand Alliance’s Osita Izunaso, who carded 30, 084.

Ibeawuchi told newsmen that after announcing the result in Owerri, he was held hostage from 7 pm on Sunday till 11 am on Monday. He stressed that because he feared for his life, he had to announce the inconclusive result, which he claimed was doctored in eight local councils.

He said: “I was compelled to announce the result, which was inconclusive. I am a man of integrity and it is not true that the governor slapped me, but I was held hostage by his agents. I was manhandled, and I thank God I came back alive.”

Okorocha promptly dismissed Ibeawuchi’s allegations, insisting that he deserved to win the election, and also described the returning officer as “a bloody liar who may be acting a script.”

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The Akwa Ibom North-West District election was also hallmarked by fraud, and intimidation of INEC officials in Essien Udim Local Council, who were allegedly held hostage inside Independent High School, a public secondary school in Ukana, by supporters of incumbent Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Akpabio.

At the poll, allegations of malpractice were levelled against Prof. Peter Ogban, a returning officer in the Akwa Ibom North-West District senatorial contest.

The pathetic performance of some academics perhaps prompted Jega to accuse politicians of working hand-in-glove with some discredited academics to compromise the integrity of the 2019 election.

“Look at what happened during the last elections and the stories of irregularities being spread even in the four walls of Bayero University, Kano (BUK). The politicians, through crooked means, got alliances with lecturers in the university to compromise the system, and they perpetrated all sorts of irregularities, which paved way for a faulty process for the continued entrenchment of bad people in governance.

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“Maybe I’m preaching to the converted, or I am talking nonsense. But frankly speaking, I am beginning to think that we are not taking the obligations of scholarship and intellectual engagement with the seriousness it deserves,” Jega said in Kano after the election.

He continued: “I think the major crisis in Nigeria’s democracy is that our electoral integrity has been under assault, compromised, and undermined by those who have control over the process.”

Jega’s remarks coincided with the call by some stakeholders for an end to the involvement of academics in the conduct of future elections.

The former senator representing Kaduna Central at the Senate, Shehu Sani, via his verified Twitter handle, @ShehuSani said the results of the 2019 elections were enough reasons why university lecturers should henceforth decline to be involved in the conduct of elections in the country.

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“In the light of the new revelations, university lecturers should pull out from participating in the conduct of national elections to save the reputation and protect the moral sanctity of the academia. The Ivory Tower shouldn’t be smeared with political feaces,” Sani added.

Professors Fall Short Of Expectations As Ogban Goes To Jail
ON Thursday, March 25, Ogban, a professor of soil science, at the University of Calabar, Cross River State, was sentenced to three years in prison, for election fraud by a High Court sitting in Akwa Ibom State.

The court found Ogban guilty of fraudulent manipulation of election results of Oruk Anam and Etim Ekpo local councils, as well as announcing false results.

Apart from Ogban, Ignatius Uduk, a professor of human kinetics at the Department of Physical and Health Education, University of Uyo, is also charged with election fraud in the state.

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Specifically, Uduk is accused of unlawfully generating election results in favour of PDP in the Essien Udim State Constituency election in 2019, and also lying while still under oath.

This is the first time that INEC is prosecuting professors for electoral fraud.

The court found Ogban guilty of fraudulent manipulation of election results of Oruk Anam and Etim Ekpo local councils, as well as announcing false results.

Like Senator Sani, a human rights lawyer, Mbasekei Martin Obono, is concerned that university teachers have failed to uphold the high standards expected of them.

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“The essence of using people in the academia for elections is supposed to raise the standard of the elections because it is believed that lecturers have higher moral standards and integrity, but we have seen that this hasn’t been the case as the majority of elections end up with petitions and elections being upturned at the tribunals. This shows that lecturers or people in academia have not upheld the standard that is expected of them. Therefore, it shows that they have not been able to acquit themselves from electoral fraud.”

On concerns raised by many that core politicians appear to be insulated from prosecution for electoral fraud, Obono said: “The sad reality is that we hardly see politicians being prosecuted for electoral frauds, and this is also one of the major reasons electoral fraud is rampant. We need to see politicians jailed for electoral misconducts just as the professor has been jailed.”

He described Ogban’s conviction as “a right step in fixing the electoral system and fraud. It will serve as a deterrent to others whose stock-in-trade is election rigging elections. It is believed that when justice is done, it is expected to serve as a deterrent to others. Other people will know that they shouldn’t take laws into their hands and rig elections.”

Asked to what extent electronic voting/technology can help in guaranteeing credible elections going forward, he retorted: “Electronic voting will help the credibility of our elections because it will take out the middlemen or human elements that usually interfere with the credibility of elections, and those who perpetrate electoral fraud in Nigeria.”

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The Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Abuja Chapter, Mr. Bulus Atsen, corroborated Obono’s views, saying: “Generally speaking, the deployment of academics in the discharge of electoral duties is a failed experiment. The academics have always littered MDAs of governments across the federation. The expectation was that they would be able to match proven developmental theories with actions, but that has not been our reality. It is my view that academics should be equipped to focus on academic research. It is about time INEC started thinking of other options. Probably some academics, who have proven to be diligent in the discharge of such responsibilities and a couple of people who are experienced in election management.”

On whether Ogban’s jail term sends a strong warning signal to other academics, who may be tempted by filthy lucre, he said: “The case of Prof. Peter Ogban is just an exception to the general rule. While one may be tempted to allow it to breed hope in the system, the fact that this is the first of its kind after two major election circles is enough for one to tread with caution. However, I commend INEC for seeing the process, which led to the conviction of Prof. Ogban. The usual practice was that such a case would suffer shabby investigation, calculated neglect, and it would die a natural death when it is thrown out by the court for want of diligent prosecution. We hope to see more of such convictions across the federation and not just in Akwa Ibom State.”

The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) equally agrees with Obono that the country stands to benefits immensely from the introduction of electronic voting/technology into the electoral process.

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The Executive Director, CISLAC, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said: “Taking a queue from what technology has achieved in other areas of our national life, CISLAC maintained that it was time technology was made to play a bigger role in our electoral process to reduce compromise and fraud.

“Like we have seen in the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA), Integrated Personnel & Payroll Information System (IPPIS), Bank Verification Number (BVN) and the likes, technology has proven overtime to help reduce fraud in various sectors. You will agree that the advent of card readers has helped strengthen our electoral process. Moving forward, the National Assembly should ensure that INEC has the legal backing to adopt technological measures that will help guide our electoral process. An important aspect where this will help greatly is the area of transfer and collation of votes. This area has proven to be where many of these manipulations and electoral fraud occur, and if we can work on this as a nation, it will be a positive move. Technology will help improve electoral integrity because it can be used to verify results and votes.”

Rafsanjani stressed that it was imperative for technology to be injected into “electioneering, but this must be phased and come alongside with measures to safeguard its use in elections,” regretted that “the whole essence of the Jega-led INEC introducing esteemed citizens into the electoral process was almost thwarted by some unscrupulous few. I am sure this is a lesson learned to them especially as the politicians are quick to disown those found wanting publicly.”

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Specifically lauding Ogban’s conviction Rafsanjani said: “The conviction of the professor of social science, Peter Ogban, who was a returning officer in the 2019 elections is very commendable and CISLAC will like to laud INEC on this. This will not only boost the confidence of INEC to secure more convictions of electoral offenders, but it will also serve as a warning to would-be offenders that it is no longer business as usual.

Laudable as the conviction may be, CISLAC, which noted that “every action has its effects, be it positive or negative”, added, “if you look at this conviction, it will have a positive effect. However, the sentencing of the professor to three years in prison and the N100, 000 fine shouldn’t be the end of INEC’s legal onslaught against perpetrators of electoral fraud. INEC should ensure that the net is broadened to get others involved including the core politicians.”

The group while commenting on steps that the government must take to usher in an era of credible elections said: “First and foremost, we will need to upgrade the legal frameworks guiding our electoral process in line with current realities. The Electoral Amendment Bill should be passed and assented to after due diligence has been carried out within the best interest of Nigerians and Nigeria.

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“Second, responsible authorities should ensure adequate security during elections. Security apparatus shouldn’t be politicised or compromised to favour certain individuals due to party inclinations.

“Third, those involved in vote-buying, which has become an issue recently should be apprehended by security operatives. They shouldn’t turn a blind eye to these. Finally, INEC should also maintain a high standard of independence. The commission should take appropriate measures in line with the rule of law without fear or favour. INEC should also make it clear that it will cancel any election where irregularities have been proven to occur in line with our electoral laws, and guidelines. This will send a strong message to political actors bent on sabotaging our electoral process.

Atsen, who shares CISLAC’s position regarding extending justice to core politicians, who habitually corrupt the election process and make the Augean stable dirtier said: “It is rather unfortunate that the entire structure of government in Nigeria is designed to insulate politicians, particularly those wielding state powers from being held accountable for their actions and inaction, which are detrimental to Nigeria and Nigerians. The political class does not only use state apparatus to protect themselves from liabilities, but they deploy the same in the protection of their foot soldiers. This level of despicability is one of the reasons for the voter-apathy we witness during elections. These issues require a deeper and broader restructuring than it is being proposed.”

Asked whether the jail sentence handed Ogban has the capacity to inject sanity into the election process, and also pave way for self-introspection in view of the brazen manner in which politicians go about electioneering, another human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, answered in the affirmative.

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He specifically described Ogban’s conviction “as a good precedent in the country given our long years of pervasive electoral impunity. It is also of interest that the person involved in this case is a university professor, who is supposed to impart knowledge and find solutions to Nigeria’s problems through academic research. It is shameful indeed. Before now, those who committed various forms of electoral offences were not prosecuted by the INEC. I hope this will serve as deterrence.

“I believe absolutely that Ogban’s conviction can bring about sanity in the election process, even though this will not substantially alter the electoral system, I hope it will lead to self-introspection by election officials. We cannot continue to condemn election riggers without apportioning punishment appropriately.”

The legal practitioner also agrees with Rafsanjani on the importance of deepening technological interface in the electoral process.

“Electronic accreditation, voting, and collation of results should be implemented through the National Assembly. I endorse the pending Electoral Reform Bill and demand its swift passage. It is a shame that the National Assembly and President Buhari are paying lip service to electoral reforms, contrary to their campaign promises. Although INEC had gone ahead of the National Assembly to introduce the Permanent Voters Card and the Smart Card Reader through their guidelines, the Supreme Court has made it clear that non-reliance on them cannot be the basis for challenging election results since the National Assembly has not incorporated them into the Electoral Act. Nigerians should continue to insist on the passage of the Electoral Reform Bill.”

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Effiong added that “the Justice Mohammed Uwais Report on Electoral Reform remains a good starting point” for sustainable steps that government must take to midwife an era of credible elections.”

He continued: “One of the ways of instilling sanity in the system, as recommended, is for the burden of proving that election was duly conducted in compliance with the law to be placed on INEC. At election tribunals, the courts have laid down precedents, which have made it practically impossible to prove that election was marred by irregularities and fraud. It should be the duty of the INEC to prove that the election was properly conducted.

“Also, this conviction reinforces the argument in support of the establishment of a distinct Electoral Offences Commission to deal with cases of electoral fraud like the one in this case. I also believe that we need to revisit the process of appointing the chairman and other leaders of INEC,” he concluded.

For the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Ogban’s conviction
represents a “watershed in the country electoral history,” just as it is also a “wake up call to electoral officials of the punishment that awaits riggers. In the last couple of years, INEC staff have been prosecuted and jailed, but an ad hoc staff at the level of a professor crowns previous effort in addressing electoral impunity. I commend the INEC for the diligent prosecution of the case and we are hopeful of more. Electoral officials will know the fate that awaits them if caught in skewing outcomes. The brazen way academics interfered in the 2019 general elections was shocking, from Kano, Imo, Cross River, several bad eggs brazenly rigged elections, ran away with the result sheets, and changed the rules.”

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The group, which position was made known by its executive director, Idayat Hassan said that it was important for “Nigeria to conclude her electoral reform timely, in fact, months ahead of the Anambra State governorship elections. And the Electoral Offences Commission is also a must. Citizens must also exercise and protect their mandate at all times. The business of governance is ours at least COVID-19 must have taught us all, the importance and consequences of elections.”

But Atsen, who believes that “there is a nexus between electoral integrity and good governance,” said more often than not, the political class is insincere when it talks about political reforms.

“The political class in Nigeria, regardless of political parties, is a parasite which champions electoral reforms only as a bait to get access to state powers. As someone once asked, ‘who changes a winning formula?’ Different administrations have dangled electoral reforms at Nigerians before elections and they have successfully reneged on their promises. The political class knows that the day our electoral process becomes credible, it will transfer power to the people, and it is apparent that they do not want that state of affairs. It is even more saddening that Nigerians are already plagued by poverty and insecurity. It is difficult for people in such a state to even exercise their rights to choose a credible leader because their sense of humanity has already been compromised. There is the need for all Nigerians to come together and pressure the government to pass the Electoral Amendment Bill into law. Nigerians need to be keener about electoral processes, it not the responsibility of politicians and INEC. The day we get our electoral process right, things will begin to change positively in Nigeria,” the Abuja NBA chair concluded.

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