Shortly after the September 22nd, 2018 Osun governorship elections were declared inconclusive by the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC), this writer had resolutely defended that decision and anchored that defence upon the legal framework that undergirded the operations of the Commission. While antecedents for the action was naturally readily available, the near-perfect execution of its election day operations, leading to commendations by the mixed crowd of local and international Election Day Observers that witnessed the election had reinforced the growing belief that the INEC was up to the task of conducting free, fair, transparent and credible polls.
Contrastingly, the Osun Re-run elections which took place just five days after the main polls has been described rightly as a sham and a horrific mimicry of the dark days of our inglorious electoral history. How can an election conducted by the same Umpire, with the same actors, shift between two extremes as is currently described? The media (Social and Conventional) is awash with commentaries by different opinion shapers trying to situate the blame of what happened on the doorsteps of the Election Management Body, while others have castigated the opposition party for being “ill-prepared” for the events of 27th of September. I categorically reject both narratives and will set out to prove in this discourse that the INEC discharged its job creditably and that the PDP acted reasonably given the provocations that confronted it.
Consequently, this discourse will appropriately situate the debacle of the 27th re-run elections within the machinations of the security agencies enabled by political actors, and the architecture they put in place to safeguard the sanctity of the polls, a mandate they treacherously breached;a partnership that orchestrated the mindless sodomization of democracy that was the Osun re-run elections.
Departing from its usually conservative approach to partisan criticisms of its operations, INEC engaged with the information space quite robustly shortly after it announced that the 22nd September elections were inconclusive. It is easy to fathom the reason for this departure from the norm following the unnecessary but mostly contrived controversy that was generated by the action of that declaration. There will not be any need to proceed into a debate about the correctness of INEC’s actions since not only is the matter in court now, and therefore subjudice, but renowned Servants in the Temple of Justice have provided legal and judicial justifications for INEC’s declaration. However, amidst the seeming imbroglio, what was amusing was the attempt to play the victim by the opposition PDP, several times a beneficiary of arithmetical balloting conundrums as the Osun situation presented. Alluding to a grand design to rob it of its intending victory, the PDP insisted that only a transparent, credible, free and fair re-run elections would be acceptable to it.
This demand may have prompted the Umpire to go the extra mile to ensure that not only will the re-run elections surpass the standard that achieved in the first ballot, but that all and sundry would see that it had made efforts to put in place measures that would engender confidence in the lead-up to the elections. To this end, INEC at great logistical risks but aware that a lingering rerun will throw up more issues, fixed the 27th of September for the election, a mere five days after the first ballot. This bold decision was a dangerous calculated risk that the EMB took just to ensure that no time was wasted to deliver the elections and to avoid accusations of elongating the process to demobilise an enthusiastic opposition base buoyed by their performance at the first ballot. INEC had to work for 24 hours non-stop for four days to re-print and deploy sensitive materials for the election without a single printers’ devil that could have rendered them useless 24 hours before the polls. These materials were received at the CBN in Oshogbo in the full glare of all the actors including local and international observers.
NEC gave the register of voters in the affected areas to the parties as required by law and then followed that action with the unprecedented move of releasing the data of those who had collected their PVCs and those who were yet to do so. This information was utilised by the opposition PDP who issued a Press Statement warning the INEC not to attempt inflating figures during the rerun. The Commission then deployed two of its National Commissioners, four Resident Electoral Commissioners from other States, about five directors and other staff members from the Headquarters to act as support to the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Osun. All these steps were satisfactory to the political parties.
On the day of elections, and as reported by virtually every single Observer Group and media agencies that covered the rerun elections, INEC ‘s staff were at their duty posts by as early as 7.30am and had set up the polling units, polling booths and ballot boxes by 7.45am ready to receive and accredit voters who wanted to exercise their franchise. The readiness of the Smart Card Readers to be used was not taken for granted as backup technical teams ( RATA) were deployed to each of the seven polling units to quickly resolve any card reader issues within five minutes if they arose. Voters came and were promptly accredited and voted without any significant problems. Simply stated: INEC was more than ready for the task and discharged their mandate creditably as the foreign observer mission of the UK, US AND EU attested. The international observer mission eulogised INEC’s performance and stated that “We commend the work of INEC leadership during both elections”. So, how did it all go wrong? Three words.
Security!Security!!Security!!! Democratic culture envisages a periodic renewal of mandates for elected officials by their constituents through elections, an act that confers legitimacy on the officials. Allover the world, elections are a purely civil exercise that ordinarily should not stoke tensions within the civic space. However, the overarching presence and dominating control of politics in the economic, social , cultural and religious firmaments in sub-Saharan African States, and elsewhere in many developing countries outside the continent, has ensured that a simple exercise of electing those who run governments has become a potential national security risk requiring complicated and costly security preparations.
Consequently, organising elections in these post-colonial States becomes problematic for any Election Management Body who has to contend with the unleashing of bestial tendencies among political actors. These tendencies include voter intimidation, violence, snatching of election materials and in some instances, killing of election officials. It is against this backdrop that EMBs have to depend on security agencies to provide adequate security for the electoral process. In Nigeria, the primary responsibility of protecting the electoral process constitutionally hinges on the Nigerian Police Force. The Force already stretched by its involvement in the containment of violence in other parts of the country may invite sister agencies to collaborate with it in the provision of Election Day security.
However, like everything else in Nigeria, especially policy, which usually has good intentions but ends up being abused, this noble and patriotic call of duty of security agencies has become the main albatross to conducting transparent and credible polls in Nigeria. The security agencies that ought to be neutral arbiters have become partisan, and indulging in the same acts that they were meant to prevent. The use of security agencies to compromise the integrity of elections is not new in Nigeria, but with the incremental progress that was being achieved by the INEC, the voting public had an anticipation that the security agencies would make the same paradigmatic shift.
To be fair, the authorities themselves were aware that the corrupt roles played by security agencies during elections were anathema to democratic culture. The use of the security apparatus to intimidate voters before the polls in Ekiti a couple on months back had raised concerns among citizens prompting the NSA to declare a zero tolerance for that disgraceful display in future elections. He had stated that the “NSA is going to descend very heavily on security agencies which, as a consequence of their inability to carry out their functions, allow lives to be lost unnecessarily…I want to notify all security agencies that I will also not tolerate collusion or aiding and abetting of criminal elements by security agencies in the process.” Any evidence that this threat made during the Interagency Consultative Committee on Election Security, the prime bureaucracy that manages the Election Day Security Architecture in Nigeria, was going to drive the agencies involved to act professionally as the 2019 elections approached evaporated on Thursday in Osun State.
Perhaps, the security agencies were caught napping by the results of the first ballot. The prediction among analysts was that the Osun elections were going to be routine for the APC given the political sagacity of the outgoing governor, but the electorates had other plans. The INEC’s clinical execution of its mandate ensured that the votes counted; what occurred was a keenly contested race that resulted in the closest elections ever witnessed in the history of this country. Given the cancellations in seven polling units and the subsequent declaration of the first ballot as inconclusive, the security agencies must have been upbraided for their professional performance by their collaborators in the political sphere, saw that an opportunity to ‘redeem’ themselves had beckoned. These agencies unleashed the most brazen, sophisticated and heinous violations of the electoral process ever seen on Election Day that was akin to the sodomization of democracy. How did they do it?
Readers would recall that the police had deployed over 18,000 of its men to Osun State for the first election. If we include the number of security officials drafted by other sister agencies like the DSS, Army, NSCDC, NDLEA, Customs, FRSC etc., the number of Election Day security personnel for the Osun election exceeded 40,000. This personnel were to provide security for the 3,010 polling units in the state scattered across all 30 local government areas. Observation Reports in the first ballot in the State showed that a minimum of 6 security personnel was assigned to each polling unit without many incidences and with resounding success. This writer was effuse with glowing tributes for the performance of the security agencies at the first ballot.
Curiously, following the scheduling of the Rerun for the next five days, the Nigerian Police and indeed all other security personnel that were involved in the first ballot refused to demobilise or to scale down the size of their operations. The reason for this became obvious two days to the elections. Reports of arrests of opposition figures, show-of-force displays and cordoning off of areas that were going to be involved in the polls started filtering out.
On Election Day proper, an eerie sense of catastrophe enveloped the State. Detachments of mobile police units had started shooting indiscriminately into the air and cordoning off every route leading to the polling units. In a carefully scripted plot, Observers, journalists and voters felt to be sympathetic to opposition parties were denied access to the polling units. As this was going on, thugs working for a particular party ran riot, assaulting observers, journalists and voters. All these were taking place away from the voting areas, thereby creating an impression that all was well and not giving INEC officials on the ground any reason to cancel the polls. At the polling units proper, this writer’s Observer Team witnessed an over-policing of the areas that created a siege environment rather than a voting or elections atmosphere. For instance, in Idi Iya, Olufon Orolu H Ward 08, Unit 004,by exactly 8.35am on the 27th, there were 200 policemen deployed to this unit, 10 Civil Defence Officers, 10 soldiers who were just a few meters away from the polling unit, 5 FRSC officials, 5 NDLEA Officers and and other paramilitary personnel in only one polling unit that had less than 6 security personnel just five days earlier.
Acting in cahoots with these operatives, thugs loyal to a political party laid in ambush for known opposition figures, and voters who were not tying the white handkerchief that had been pre-planned as the identification mark for party members. Also, as early as 6 a.m, supporters of the leading opposition candidate had been roundly picked up and their PVCs seized from them. Others were kept on lockdown in their homes and prevented from going out to vote while those that dared to risk going to the polling units were assaulted and prevented from getting to their targets. All these happened away from the control zones of the EMB. The polling units exuded an atmosphere of calm, but still, observers and journalists were prevented from accessing them until an intervention by the INEC prompted a change in strategy.
Meanwhile, akin to what happens in party primaries, a political party had quarantined voters who had agreed to sell their votes and taken them to secure locations only to move them to the polling units on the morning of the elections. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the only polling unit that the main opposition won was where an INEC National Commissioner, Festus Okoye, stood his ground and insisted that no one should be prevented to vote. Perhaps, the ruling party merely conceded this polling unit aware that it had made grounds elsewhere. This systematic election rigging strategy which had the full stamp of security agencies compromised any plan that the EMB could have put in place to guarantee that the polls were credible. By the time the election was coming to an end, it was evident that democracy had been dealt a dirty hand by the same agencies that were meant to protect it.
I have read opinion articles by Commentators arguing that the main opposition failed its candidate by not envisaging the threat levels that the rerun encumbered and a failure to prepare to neutralise same by going toe to toe with the ruling party. Much as I agree that the PDP could have done more to support its candidate, especially in the negotiations with Omisore, anyone that called upon the party to match the ruling party’s machinations was being disingenuous. Let us not forget that what happened in Osun was pulled out of the PDP 2014 Ekiti playbook. Opposition figures then were prevented from gaining access to the State. A team of APC governors that had embarked on a trip to Ado Ekiti to show support for then sitting Governor Fayemi were stopped just outside the State and told to leave. The PDP could only match the APC by deploying violence sourced from non-state actors. If that had happened, the outcome would have been anybody’s guess. I, therefore, commend the PDP for showing restraint in the face of apparent provocations and for opting to challenge the outcome in the tribunals and the courts. If they have done their jobs well, the brazen display by security agencies will provide ample evidence to make a strong case in the Courts.
Going forward, if anyone expects INEC to pull off a miracle in 2019 with this type of display by security agencies and politicians that person must be high on stimulants. There is a need for a national dialogue on election security in Nigeria if we do not want recourse to self-help that would put democracy in jeopardy. INEC has shown that it is competent, capable and ready to deliver credible, free, fair and transparent elections, except this capacity is reciprocated by security agencies and political actors, the goal of birthing a trustworthy electoral process will not only be defeated but remain a mirage.
Dr Chima Amadi is the Executive Director of the Centre for Transparency Advocacy and can be followed on Twitter @AMADICHIMA
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