Nigeria has an electoral body that is inherently partisan, watches political contestants subvert the electoral process without raising a finger and then commands complainants to come up with ‘evidence’ of irregularities. A man in suit cheerfully displaying his certificate of return for ‘winning’ a seat in Nigeria’s Federal House of Representatives all over the social media was the same man apprehended, March 28, 2015, for being in possession of about 4000 permanent voter cards stolen or hijacked from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as also shown on social media. His name is Chukwuemeka Ujam and he’s from Enugu state. Two weeks after he should have been in court answering to the electoral offence, INEC rewarded him with a document emblazoned with the commission’s official seal. To the shock of all lovers of decency, an election rigger escaped any form of sanction from the institution statutorily mandated to insist on same. In the next four years, if the person he rigged out is unable to afford the humongous cost of litigation at the election tribunal, Chukwuemeka will represent Nkanu East/West Federal constituency at the House of Representatives. And while at it, he’ll be going on with the title ‘Honourable’. In Nigeria’s electoral laws, Chukwuemeka should be facing prosecution.
In all of this, the man running the Independent National Electoral Commission is not bothered. He is only satisfied with the general perception of him being incorruptible. Professor Attahiru Jega doesn’t care if his INEC is populated by the Lawrence Anenis of Nigeria. All that is important to him is his personal name, not his institution’s. Forget the posturing from Jega, INEC has emerged as one of Nigeria’s most ethically weak institutions. The jury is still out there deciding which is worse between the Nigerian Police and INEC. To be fair to Jega himself, he has been a man of strong character. But that’s where it ends. And that’s the problem. We had excused INEC as a work in progress, naively believing Jega’s personality would somewhat permeate every segment of the organisation. But it doesn’t look like the man has even bothered to overhaul the thinking of the commission’s personnel for institutional integrity. This is why we will no longer defend INEC solely on one man’s personal integrity.
INEC is populated with men and women whose conducts stink to high heavens. From professors to school certificate holders, INEC is the least institution seeking for credible elections in Nigeria. Jega must take responsibility for the criminality of INEC officials nationwide and start meting out to them sanctions commensurate with the scale of offences they commit. Since we have seen that Jega’s personality did not rub off on the rest of the INEC personnel, nor did it institute a culture of impartiality within the organisation, we will need to force certain answers out of Jega’s mouth.
What happened in Enugu is suggestive of what INEC is about nationwide. Its staff in various states collude with the ruling party in those states to steal votes. The average INEC staff sees elections as the breakthrough period. It is the period to make enough money for the purchase of new houses, new cars, new personal businesses or just enough money for holidaying abroad.
The April 11 gubernatorial and state assembly elections in Abia state have emerged a national testimony to the reproach that INEC is at the state level. For the benefit of those who didn’t know what happened, Abia elections were a total mess. At the point of results collation, the INEC Returning Officer in the state, Professor Benjamin Ozumba, who interestingly is the Vice Chancellor of University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), upon conviction from incontrovertible pieces of evidence, cancelled results in three of four Local Governments where elections really never held. Shortly after, the state governor, Theodore Orji, in company of PDP National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh (who boldly went to Channels TV to deny ever being there. But pictorial evidence has so far rubbished his claims, strengthening the beliefs of some of us that nobility can never be found amongst the PDP in Abia state), Onyema Ugochukwu and other PDP big men stormed the state INEC collation centre, took the Resident Electoral Commissioner (another Professor) and Returning Officer upstairs away from the eyes of the media and agents of other political parties, and forced them to reverse the right decision they earlier took.
Immediately afterwards, the REC sauntered out and informed an audience in shock that ‘they’ had ‘resolved’. The ‘resolution’ which she held with only the governor and his PDP stalwarts was to reverse themselves and accept ‘results’ from places where elections never held. It’s on record that the agent of the opposition party, Chief Ahamdi Nweke, was not with them at the point of that ‘resolution’.
Since then, it has since emerged that the fraud and irregularities in Abia state during the elections was planned and executed by the state governor, his party and their allies in INEC.
On the Election Day, the Local Government Transition Chairman of Obingwa was caught in Aba, in the company of thugs loaded in a bus. They were seen with thousands of already thumb-printed ballot papers. They left a hotel called City Global, enroute Obingwa to snatch ballot boxes and stuff them with their already thumb-printed ballot papers. The soldiers made a public show of the men before handing them over to the police. The moment they were handed over to the police, the TC chairman got released on “orders from above” and he headed straight to Obingwa to continue with what he started.
How were they able to lay their hands on INEC ballot papers before the Election Day? Has Professor Jega ever posed this question to the Abia State REC? Why is no one conducting any investigation into how INEC materials got into the hands of individuals who would use them to subvert the will of Abians? I must remind Jega that he set out to deceive Nigerians when he earlier assured us that cloning of PVCs or stealing of others’ was a mere waste of time as such actions would be checked by the introduction of card readers. Jega had mocked those hiding voters cards, assuring their opponents that with card readers, nobody could use other people’s voter cards for the election. The acceptance of results from the four local governments in Abia state have shown that Jega was all lies with those assurances, because in the LGAs, he is now reluctant to reject their results, stolen PVCs counted since the results cooked up from stolen PVCs were accepted by INEC.
Jega assured us card readers were the antidote to rigging. I remember him boasting that there would be no accreditation or voting without the card readers. The results accepted from those four local governments have proven that Jega lied to us, or, if he said the truth, he never had any intention of implementing the rule. When the history of how democracy was undermined in parts of Nigeria is written, Attahiru Jega will not be spared. His is criminal negligence, otherwise what explains his silence on these grave issues? Like I said earlier, personal integrity is not enough.
In Osisioma, a church elder called Elder Adaelu was seen leading the men who went about snatching ballot boxes at polling units. In his house, thousands of ballot papers were thumb-printed by a couple of people. Fake result sheets were sent out to polling units while the original result sheets were seized by PDP stalwarts. It was with those original results sheets that results were written for places where elections never held.
How were non-INEC staff able to lay their hands on results sheets? Jega hasn’t asked that question, because he is satisfied that he has integrity. The sanctity of the entire electoral process means nothing to him, so long as he has personal integrity.
In the face of mounting evidence that elections never held in a place like Obingwa, for instance, INEC pretends to be stuck in the part of the electoral law which forbids cancellation of results once collation has been concluded. Yet the umpire has failed to do the first job here; which is to first ascertain that elections really held – and in compliance with their laid down rules – before the arrival of results. We were told, by Jega himself, that there was not going to be any election without the use of card readers, INEC’s supposed wonder machine. INEC also told us that the card readers would transmit to the INEC server, data of the total number of people accredited once accreditation was over. While this whole argument of whether or not elections held in the four LGAs of Obingwa, Osisioma, Ugwunagbo and Isiala Ngwa North lingered, what would it take INEC to call up data from their so-called server to ascertain the number of accredited voters transmitted from these local governments? This simple exercise, and that’s assuming INEC was ever truthful with its insistence that the card readers had the capacity to transmit data from Polling Units to the central server, would have saved Abians this lingering uncertainty. But it may not matter, since Jega is assured that history will declare him a man with personal integrity.
A serious organisation will fall back on its server in the event of conflicts and through that ascertain whose case among competing political parties and candidates has merit. But not Jega’s INEC. The corruption-soaked organisation simply messes up everything and then challenges people to accept the falsehood they announce in many instances or go to court.
INEC is quick to insist on people getting evidence, including in Obingwa where PDP imported remnants of the kidnapping era, armed them with guns and provided them official security – the police. In Obingwa, attempts to record what happened at the polling unit were met with violence from either the police or PDP thugs. They broke people’s phones, beat up people who made attempts to capture their nefarious activities on camera. But you don’t have a case with INEC except you manufacture evidence by force. Even dying while struggling to get the evidence is not enough evidence.
What has emboldened INEC is that the courts which upturned some of the fraudulent elections held in some states in Nigeria did not insist on jailing the INEC personnel who conspired with the politicians to rob people of their votes.
I was one of those who thought Attahiru Jega should be allowed to remain the INEC boss. I’m not sure I still share that view in the light of the mess his Commission made of the state elections. While I know that Jega has insisted on not accepting a renewed term, I think he still has this week to correct the mess his INEC made in Abia, Imo, Taraba, Enugu and other of such states with results that turned out unsatisfactory. Rather than struggle to run away with the false assumption that he is the saint who never compromised, Jega has a duty to leave INEC an institution that is truly an electoral umpire, not some bogus organisation that reeks of filth and sleaze.
Follow Chinedu Ekeke on Twitter @Nedunaija for direct engagement. He wrote this piece from Lagos.