By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
We are barely there, where the APC and the President will fight the last battle for their integrity. It is the only assignment left for them, the most difficult one in the democracy of developing countries – the conduct of free and fair elections.
This assignment was failed by the parties that preceded the APC in the Second Republic and in this until the 2015 elections when a ruling party, for the first time in the country, handed over power to the opposition. The challenge before the APC now is whether it will build on the nation’s 2015 electoral achievement or kick the nation back into the dark pit of election rigging.
Bigger than the stake of the party in the forthcoming elections is what remains of the integrity of its patriarch, the President. His performance in the questions of governance he chose to answer – the areas of security, fight against corruption and economy – remains controversial, to put it mildly. This last, compulsory question is the only chance he has to make up for the marks he lost so far. Should his party fall into the temptation of rigging the elections and he comes forward to justify and enjoy its result, the President can rest assured that his final score will be a woeful ‘F’. He would leave office with no better score of integrity than that of Obasanjo in 2007, obviously worse than that of Jonathan in 2015 and, at 76, he may not live the next 35 years as did Shagari for time to heal the damage he inflicted on the nation and be forgiven by its citizens.
The President, from all indications, has correctly sensed this danger. For that, perhaps, he early this week started to dissociate himself with the ugly cloud that has gathered in the sky. He told his campaign council that it is on its own if it attempts to rig the elections. He has passed blame to others on his failures in the past. This time, however, he will have no option but to own up and admit that in whatever it does, the election cartel he constituted was for ‘his’ own, acting on his, not its, behalf. And nothing will confirm this better than his inability to disclaim the result. Rather, he will gladly accept to be sworn in for a second term. How would one disclaim a theft whose proceeds he enjoys? If APC rigs the next presidential election, the President must be held responsible, bound to it without any chance of escape. Integrity is not in our claims but in our actions – in what we do, command or condone.
Moreso is the case when we consider that the President has repeatedly refused to sign into law the new electoral bill, preferring to defer it until after the elections! The bill, which is a result of extensive collaboration among stakeholders, including INEC, NGOs, the National Assembly and office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, has finetuned the process by embracing, among others, digital transmission of results and compelling electoral officers to abide by its guidelines without the option of resorting to the old method of manual transmission which previously allowed for manipulation of results. Acceding to the bill was the least one expected from a President that has suffered three times from such malpractices. To decline an opportunity of wiping them out completely from our democracy speaks volumes of his intention, regardless of the transparency sermon he delivered to his campaign council.
That is not to mention the personalities on the campaing team, people who have rigged elections before, time without number, when they were governors and Chairmen in the various parties that merged to form the APC. Su Tinibu. An ba gwauro ajiyar mata! Can they give more than what they have? And what they have is known, the tools they employed to win the by-elections held recently in Ekiti, Ondo, Bauchi, Katsina, etc. In those elections, the use of money was intensified, with the ruling APC being the highest bidder of votes, beating the notorious PDP, so much so that at the Ekiti elections INEC had to prevent the entry into the polling booth with handsets and thereafter publicly register its dismay on how money is increasingly becoming a determining constant in our elections.
At least in the recent Bauchi senatorial by-elections, the ground was tested for how the card reader will be compromised. No polling unit was able to send its accreditation data or polling results from the polling station. All returning officers handed over the locked card readers to collation officers at ward collation centres, who unlocked them and handled the data, including editing it where necessary, yes editing the card reader. I have testimonies of this. Then the officer inputs the figures into his laptop and escalates them to INEC database. This came after all assurances that the election data will be transmitted live, as in some earlier bye-elections.
More alarming are the reported cases of multiple voting which the card reader permitted. In a polling station in Wonu Ward, for example, the polling officer had to reassure the agitated crowd who complained of multiple voting that the card reader was good, as in 2015, and could accredit a person only once. After calming their nerves, someone proved him wrong by getting the card reader to pass him twice. He alerted the officer who dropped his jaw in shock, speechless. I have this testimony too, in case INEC or the opposition are interested. Have the card readers been compromised then? What is certain is that the APC has now studied and mastered the card reader, something that the PDP could not have time to do in 2015. That is why APC insisted that the President turn down the electoral bill that makes card reader a precondition for voting and failure to transmit the result instantly from the polling booth a crime punishable with five years imprisonment without option of fine for the defaulting officer.
Besides, how would the APC election syndicate be honest with other parties during the forthcoming elections when it could not do same to its members in the last primaries it held nationwide? Its power brokers announced prematurely that they recognized only one presidential aspirant – the President, and the party committed itself to direct primaries only in his case. Other aspirants had no option but to leave the party. First level of rigging. APC was not ready to take any chance on matters regarding the President. For other positions nationwide, the scandal that followed would easily pass every test of injustice – in spite of appeals by the President in some cases, which the party leadership simply ignored.
And ignore him it will repeat next month as it does regarding using Treasury money to fund his campaign. He is late on this too. The best he can do is to retire to the background and leave the notorious politicians to play the game the way every President that won a second term before him did. Then, after the announcement, he will avail himself the opportunity to condemn them for rigging the election and dissociate himself from the result, which is unlikely; or, most likely, commend them for their achievement and refer his opponents to the courts, the same courts that turned down his appeals on three occasions, including the apex court or “kotun Allah ya isa”.
Our opposition parties and the international community need to wake up to this clarion call. Take no chances. My advice to the opposition is straightforward: You must invest in agents at every polling booth and ensure that things are done rightly. Fortify them with your supporters until the result at every booth and ward is announced. Be meticulous in collecting evidence of any malpractice by massive use of digital technology, recording figures, pictures and videos. Get your situation rooms in every local government ready to receive results from every booth as it is announced and quickly ensure that what is later collated perfectly matches what you already have.
If it were not for the desperation that forbids politicians from giving honour a chance, I would have advised the APC to remain calm, take it easy, intensify its campaign and try to win the elections clean and squarely even after failing to take our electoral law to the next level. But from its antecedents and in spite of its claims to sanctity what it sets out to do is obvious.
It is as obvious as the fate of a nun who the world has watched consorting with sinners and has shown every sign of conception. Yet, she dresses immaculately and continues to claim virginity. As abortion is a bigger sin in her canon, soon will she deliver the child. At that dawn, she will no longer lay claim to any virginity or innocence. Even if she claims that the conception was immaculate, the world will judge her by her antecedents. Neither can she claim that it was the work of the devil since her consort with the sinners was knowingly, deliberately and willfully. That day, she will strip herself of the immaculate white dress and be made to stand in dirt amidst Jezebel and her daughters.