REINFORCING the concerns raised by local and international observers on the 2019 general election in the country, the United States government, last week, released a report indicating that officers and men of the Nigerian military and the State Security Services (SSS, also called DSS) were used for electoral malpractice and voter intimidation during the 2019 general election. The report titled 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Nigeria said that there was ample evidence that the security agencies intimidated voters, election observers and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials, particularly in the southern part of the country.
As it noted, “During the year, INEC conducted the presidential election, National Assembly elections, state House of Assembly elections, and local elections in all 36 states plus the FCT, as well as gubernatorial elections in 30 states. There was evidence military and security services intimidated voters, electoral officials, and election observers. In addition, violence in several states contributed to lower voter participation and added to the sentiment that the army is a tool of the ruling party in many parts of the country, particularly in the South. For example, widespread violence and military involvement in electoral processes, including during the vote collation process, significantly scarred the governorship election in Rivers State. Additionally, several of INEC’s resident electoral commissioners (RECs) reported DSS operatives intimidated them when they attempted to protect voting materials. Some RECs reported security service personnel visited them multiple times prior to the elections. Certain RECs claimed the DSS was surveilling them and that they had been brought to DSS offices for questioning.”
According to the report, there was widespread perception that the judiciary was corrupt, and was intimidated by the executive and legislative branches, making it difficult for it to function independently. The constitution, it noted, provided for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but the executive and legislative branches, as well as business interests, exerted influence and pressure in civil cases. The report further indicated that official corruption and lack of will to implement court decisions also interfered with due process. It noted that the 2019 elections recorded a historically high level of vote-buying, adding that the menace had been apparent in the re-run Osun State elections in September 2018, and the Kano State governorship election on March 8, 2019.
It will be recalled that in June last year, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) had condemned President Muhammadu Buhari’s suspension of the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, few days to the election, saying that the action was in violation of due process and that it undermined judicial independence, and events since then have confirmed Nigerians’ lack of trust in the judiciary as an impartial arbiter, particularly in election-related matters. In any case, if the US report confirms anything, it is the fact that the gains made by the country in electoral reform matters, as reflected in the 2015 general election, have all been eroded. It is certainly true that the United States’ latest report merely confirmed what Nigerians already know. Still, it is a tragedy that the Buhari administration which came into office promising Nigerians to change the old ways of doing things has made a complete mess of the electoral process.
Pray, what kind of democracy sanctions voter suppression and the use of security agencies to determine electoral results? As far as we know, the security agents who aided the perpetration of electoral fraud last year have not been brought to book, conveying the impression that they operated under state sanction. That, we say without any equivocation, cannot augur well for the country, not least because nothing stops any government in future from copying from the 2019 playbook and making utter mockery of the country’s democracy. To a large extent, the electoral frauds perpetrated by the DSS operatives and soldiers under reference was enabled by the undue influence traditionally exerted by the presidency on security agencies. As we noted in previous editorials, security operatives in the country often believe that their primary allegiance is to the government of the day, rather than the country’s constitution. Therefore, unless and until this practice is reversed, including through legislation, electoral outcomes in the country would continue to be at the whims and caprices of security agencies working to retain the government of the day in power.
We call on the Buhari administration and the National Assembly to study the United States’ latest report and address the concerns raised therein decisively. Public funds cannot continue to be used to conduct fraudulent elections. Using security agencies to suppress voters and intimidate the electoral umpire and the opposition amounts to a coup against democracy.