I thought we would just allow the sleeping dog to snore. It was the same candidate of yours who accosted the CO (Collation Officer) in Unit 11 with about six guns and drove him (CO) to the corner of the collation centre, forcing him to mutilate. I did not mutilate any paper; my papers are here. Number two: this same candidate went to the office of INEC to repeat the same thing on the electoral officer and later came to the collation centre, where I served, with 10 gun-toting men, threatening to kill all of us. I want to say that this same candidate several times told the man who handled that Ward 11 that he was a dead man. He repeated it three times and that was why we managed to put him (electoral officer) on the security vehicle to get him to Benin City here… For the case of the man who handled Ward 11, all the security men deserted him. For the EO, he was locked up in his room. In our own case, we were rescued by the men of the Quick Intervention Force who drove the Auchi vigilante people out of the place. They were actually coming for me when the men of the Quick Intervention Force came in. So the police are aware of it” -Prof. Adewole Atere, Collation Officer for Etsako West Local Government Area, in the just-concluded Edo State governorship election.
Above was how we introduced “The shenanigans of Edo governorship election” last week, with a promise to conduct an analysis of it this week. Today, we seek to draw useful lessons from that election using Professor Atere’s comments above as a peg. Now, a professor is not a small person; he is someone deemed to be of immense stature in academic training as well as in comportment and character. I should think that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) goes to the great length of contracting the services of such high-calibre staff, even on ad hoc basis, for the competence it believes they can bring to bear and also for the integrity it thinks they have. These are part of the elite that we call stakeholders, who know what is at stake to all those concerned –INEC, parties/candidates in an election, the state, the good health of our renascent democracy, as well as the reputation and integrity of the ad hoc INEC staff himself and the institution that he represents. By “institution” we mean not just the university where he teaches but the academia as a whole. Therefore, a high standard of performance as well as impeccable behaviour is expected from this calibre of people. He is expected to rise above the pettiness that has characterised the electoral system and shun the temptations that have wrecked the successful conduct of elections. Even by our present parlous condition, a professor is reasonably well paid, has tenure, and is supposed to have a name and reputation to protect.
INEC ad hoc staff is clothed with the authority and power of the commission to perform an assigned responsibility, which we all know is onerous. He is expected to exercise this power and authority on behalf, first of all INEC, and, by extension, all of us. To do this, he and others involved in this very serious business of supervising elections are given what is considered to be full and adequate security. Knowing elections for what they are in this country, we already know, a priori, that some people would want to compromise the integrity of the election by various means, one of which is pecuniary inducement; to discourage this, we went for a high-calibre staff that we believe is not likely to, or will not easily fall for such inducement. Violence is another means of compromising elections, which is called political thuggery. To prevent or arrest this, our elections are militarised. To underline the central place of security in elections since 2015, the possibility or otherwise of adequate security has suddenly become the deciding factor as to whether or not an election would hold. The 2015 presidential election and after it Edo, were postponed on the advice of security agencies to allow them adequately prepare for the election. Imagine, then, our pain if after all this precaution and deferring to the security agencies, the security breaches reported above by Prof. Atere still took place in broad daylight, with someone as high as a deputy governorship candidate being the one fingered!
Now, the implications of this for everyone are many and, I dare to say, dire. A hand lifted against those sent on an election assignment by INEC is a hand lifted against INEC itself. INEC, therefore, must be ready, indeed is obligated, to defend its turf or it will soon be unable to perform its sacred functions. INEC must take offences committed against its staff seriously; especially those meant to encumber them in the exercise of their onerous electoral responsibilities. Failure, INEC will soon become a toothless bulldog and laughing stock. It will find it difficult, if not impossible, to perform its constitutionally-assigned duty. This duty, we all know, is very sensitive. So much passion and resources are invested in elections by everyone concerned – the state, politicians as well as the electorate. Indeed, our collective future as a vibrant democracy rests on the conduct of free and fair elections. If INEC staff are viciously violated and the integrity of elections they have been mandated to superintend are compromised with impunity and INEC does nothing firm and decisive to ameliorate the situation, then, this is capable of many interpretations which, I dare to say again, are dire. One is that it could mean that INEC is compromised and a compromised umpire can never be an impartial and unbiased judge. Elections conducted under the auspices of such an umpire can never be free and fair. When elections are not free and fair, they ultimately wreck the democracy project. For a country like Nigeria that has suffered terrible maladministration, to put it mildly, under all manner of military goons, any attempt to consign us to that ignoble past again is a disservice of monumental proportions.
Two is that INEC will soon find it difficult to attract quality and honest ad hoc staff. Those who manage to work for it will now be afraid to stand on the truth and dutifully and dispassionately discharge their onerous responsibilities. If they could be roughened up, their life threatened, and are prevented from performing their sacred duty and nothing is done by the organisation that had sent them, then, they will be left to their devises and resolutions. If electoral offenders\aggressors can be as brazen as Professor Atere had graphically revealed above and are pugnacious and audacious enough to tamper with elections as well as threaten to kill INEC staff and nothing happens; then, it must be noted by all that such offenders/aggressors have the upper hand. Why, then, risk your life? Why maintain fidelity to an organisation – in this case INEC – that is not able or willing to defend its own staff as well as punish the violators of its own laws?
Three is that it calls to question the raison d’être for the avalanche of security men that are deployed to man elections. If electoral officers are still not given adequate protection by the security agencies even when “they full ground like sand,” what, then, is their use or purpose? It is either they are irrelevant or they have other purposes for manning elections. If elections are postponed at the instance of the security agencies so they could adequately prepare and give adequate security, how come they reportedly stood akimbo while the shenanigans detailed above by Professor Atere unfolded? No one was cautioned! No one was arrested! No one is being prosecuted! We must investigate to confirm or deny Professor Atere’s allegations and mete out appropriate punishment. Did he cry wolf?
The conclusions that can be drawn are ominous. The outcome of some elections could have been pre-determined. Some elections could have been deliberately compromised, with the agencies of state meant to secure them the self-same that are used to truncate them. Those who rig elections may never be brought to book but will continue to smile their way to power. Those on election duties will, over time, learn the hard way the body language of the powers-that-be; and if you cannot beat them, you join them. The gains of free and fair elections under the past administrations of the late Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan may recede badly if no urgent action is taken to stem the tide. Revelations from the umbrage reportedly taken by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) against the Department of State Services (DSS) invasion of the premises of some judges as well as his alleged remarks about spirited efforts made by some of those in the corridors of power to influence election cases and pervert the course of justice, if true, point in the same direction of perilous times ahead.
RE: Douglas Road refuse dump
Hurrah! The Douglas Road eyesore of a refuse dump in Owerri, the capital of Imo State, which was mentioned here last week, has been cleared! Ifeanyi Uzuegbu, an Owerri-based businessman, informed this columnist that Senator Samuel Anyanwu and House of Representatives’ Honourable Ezenwa Onyewuchi “and other PDP leaders cleared the dirt” on October 11th and 12th. Politics is in the air! Anyway, good riddance to that bad rubbish but why wait until Rev. Canon Uche Chinamerem dramatised the matter and this column specifically called their attention? And come to think of it, is Owerri not in Imo State where Rochas Okorocha holds sway? And what is this I heard about his reason for not clearing the refuse? However, a serious error crept into last week’s write-up when Onitsha (Anambra State) crept in unnoticed instead of Owerri (Imo State).Two friends and professional colleagues, Simon Iro Ibe and Chucks Iloegbunam, were among the first to draw my attention to the error. Thanks, folks. Many thanks also to Chuma Okere, Ph. D. and Chidiebere Amadi for their comments. The error is regretted.