Remembering march 28, 2015
Tomorrow, March 28 is the first anniversary of what could be termed an electoral revolution, which culminated in the sacking of the former ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), by former opposition All Progressives Congress, now the party in government. The revolution was not so much about the technical accuracy of the events that ended in the elections, but for the undeniable fact that for the first time in Nigeria’s 55 plus years as an independent country, an opposition party, a fledgling one at that, was able to push out a ruling party, without a whimper from the latter.
Despite the technical flaws, it could be said that the campaigns and the elections of 2015 sufficiently captured the desire of majority of the people to change government. That desire was anchored on so much hope, that a change would see to the betterment of citizens’ welfare. Therefore, within the week and until the authentic first anniversary of this government, which is May 29, perceptive citizens are wont to put on scale their fortunes and that of the country, to see which areas have experienced remarkable push for the better. Such exercise is not so much about awarding marks, but to sincerely see where the country is headed, and decide whether a basal change of tactics is not the urgent thing to do at this point.
The country has always been bedeviled by sundry challenges, which in the last regime, were believed to be the outcome of clueless leadership. But even with the changed leadership and best of intentions, there now seem to be an exacerbation, lending credence to what is widely known, but fraudulently denied, that what Nigeria faces is not just having leaders without clues, but the lack of political will to restructure an unworkable federation. It is now safe to advise that governance is after all, not an invitation to drink tea, but to have the courage to deal with issues. If the courage with which the anti-corruption war is waged is borrowed to deal with issues in other sectors, in no time there might be clear signs that a new dawn is nigh.
Take the management of elections, for instance, the build up to the 2015 elections was like a preparation for war. It was combustive and just a reckless mismanagement of it could have turned the country into one huge flame. But despite the sluggish preparations with voter registration and retrieval of permanent voter cards (PVC), despite the postponements and failure of the card reader at many voting precincts, believe it or not, it was the body language of former president Goodluck Jonathan that saved the day. And the language was that his election was not worth the life and blood of any Nigerian. It worked magic on a national scale, even though in Rivers State and a few other places, desperate politician had made up their minds to win by hook and crook. Winning by hook and crook means killing opponents and unarmed youth corps members.
But what did Buhari do to ensure that the relative success and peace attained in the 2015 elections are sustained preparatory to future elections? Before he was sworn in on May 29, he had promised that electoral offenders, with emphasis on Rivers, would not go unpunished. But it appears the President has been too busy with corruption offences to bother with electoral offences. I’m not sure even one case of electoral offence was instituted against anybody or group between May 29, 2015 and the March 19, 2016 re-run in Rivers. Following the mayhem that attended the re-run, Buhari has again promised that offenders will be punished. Maybe the President and his APC are of the opinion that going to the tribunal to reverse what was won by the PDP is same as prosecuting electoral offences.
The December 2015 governorship election in Bayelsa State was also prosecuted in the same warlike manner, like in the just concluded Rivers re-run. Going forward, we need a repeat of that Jonathan body language on electoral matters by president Muhammadu Buhari. It is not enough to promise to deal with electoral offenders after lives had been lost. That was how nine youth corps members were sent to untimely grave in 2011, in Bauchi, when some bad losers decided to seek self-help, through killing and destruction of property of innocent people. Till date, those who were responsible for post election violence in 2011, when Buhari was in the Congress for Progress Change (CPC), were never investigated or brought to justice. The Sheik Ahmed Lemu panel that was put in place to unravel the circumstances that brought about the mayhem made recommendations to the Jonathan government, which never summoned courage to implement the report. The panel said of note, that the provocative utterances of political leaders were misconstrued to mean a resort to violence. They were told ‘to guard their votes’ and in doing that, they resorted to self-help, and made life hellish for innocent citizens in Kaduna, Akwa Ibom and other parts of the country.
This is where we are coming from and that is where Buhari should begin from in dealing with matters of electoral violence, not Rivers. Rivers is the pathetic case of stakeholders who used to belong to the same political family now struggling to divide the state. Rivers’ is not Nigeria’s archetypal case of electoral headache, but that is not to say that it is not frightening enough. It is indeed very unfortunate that political leaders have to encourage violence and provide the enabling environment for it to thrive.
The introduction of the electronic voter register, card reader and permanent voter card (PVC) by the previous government had substantially reduced incidence of electoral robbery and violence. What this government must do is to ensure that it builds on that marginal success. Nigerians should be getting set to enter the league of countries where electronic voting is in vogue. It is time to reduce the amount of physical exertion that characterise elections in this country, by venturing into electronic voting. Let people begin to sit down in their homes and vote, and that will reduce physical contact and the propensity for violence. INEC’s total appropriation for the 2015 general elections is put at N108.861b. Carefully managed, that sum could go a long way to support electronic voting, which will substantially remove the cost of ballot papers, printing and physical logistics. The deployment of 6,000 policemen to Rivers for a mere re-rum will be avoided.
But I know politicians don’t like this. They prefer a physical exercise they can manipulate. My plea is for PMB to go fully into matters of electoral reform, with the same zeal he has shown in the war against corruption. It will require a lot of voter education, which is what INEC has not done enough of. It will also challenge both local and foreign election observers, who are only interested in the D-Day. They have to go back to the drawing board, to do more of voter education and training.
And talking of body language, Buhari should do less of issuing threats to punish electoral offenders. It is not his job to punish electoral offenders. It is the business of the judiciary to so do. What he should do is provide enabling environment for peaceful elections to take place. He should begin by withdrawing all the threat messages he allegedly issued in his previous presidential campaigns, particularly those of 2011. That process of self-purgation will send far and wide message to supporters who may still be living in the past. He should tell his party members that his future election, presumably 2019, should not be one of ‘do- or-die’. He should tell APC members to know the party’s areas of strength and weakness and not to seek to capture territories where it does not enjoy competitive electoral advantage.
The defeated PDP should also take a cue from the electoral legacy of Goodluck Jonathan. The era of electoral fraud should be consigned to its ugly past. They should encourage the party in government to upgrade the electoral system. For, if all Buhari will do between now and 2019 is to fight financial corruption without tackling electoral fraud, that will not amount to much because electoral fraud is a major enabler of financial crimes. If you fraudulently facilitated your way into government, you will commit more fraud to remain in power.
Let’s work to reenact March 28, 2015 in 2019. And the journey begins today.