Celebrating democracy day with election rigmarole – Femi Aribisala
By Femi Aribisala
The Nigeria of today is stranger than fiction. The government has just legally declared June 12 “Democracy Day” and proclaimed that, henceforth, it will be a public holiday when we will celebrate Nigeria’s hard-won democracy.
Except that this celebration of democracy is at the instance of an undemocratic government that has done a lot in the past few months to destroy democracy in Nigeria.
June 12 is in remembrance of that day in 1993, when one of Nigeria’s freest elections was maliciously annulled because the powers-that-be did not like the result. President Buhari is now trying to make political capital out of the matter by proclaiming government remorse over that act of brazen illegality. But the problem is that he himself is the architect of the annulment of an earlier election in 1983.
In effect, President Buhari is making a song and dance out of apologizing for an election he did not annul; but he refuses to apologize for the election he annulled. And we are all supposed to pretend that there is nothing strange and suspicious about this.
Moreover, the president, who is now celebrating the “birthday” of democracy in Nigeria, is at the same time orchestrating the “death day” of democracy in Nigeria by being at the center of the worst election in the history of Nigeria; the recently concluded presidential election of February 2019.
We are all witnesses of this government’s contradictory style of democracy. The chaos, acrimony and shenanigans of the last few months happened in broad daylight. So, it is only appropriate to ask what precisely we are supposed to be celebrating in this new-fangled Democracy Day?
Are we celebrating the fact that campaigning for nomination at APC primaries resulted in fisticuffs and killings? Are we celebrating the suppression of candidates by fixing the price of APC nomination papers at extortionate levels affordable primarily to those with questionable wealth?
Are we celebrating the declaring of winners as losers and losers as winners at APC primaries, and the brouhaha and court-cases that have resulted? Are we celebrating the booing and stoning of even the president and his entourage by his party-members at APC rallies populated with rented crowds, some of them imported from neighbouring countries?
Are we celebrating Mr. President’s conversion of polling-stations into battlefields with his directive that the military should shoot and kill ballot-snatchers without recourse to the rule of law? Are we celebrating the disorienting of voters, especially those who travelled back home to vote, by the tactical cancelling of the presidential election at the last minute and its mischievous re-scheduling?
Are we celebrating the disingenuous buying of votes with “trader-monies,” or the enticement of voters with rice, garri and hard cash ferried around in trailer trucks and bullion vans? Are we celebrating the suppression of votes by threats and mayhem on election day, including the looting and sacking of polling-stations in opposition strongholds?
Should we celebrate the president’s refusal to sign the electoral act, even after several entreaties; INEC’s declaration of fictitious results; and the fact that the election is now a major bone of contention in the courts?
It is right to celebrate what Mike Ozekhome characterises as “acts of gangsterism, hooliganism and shameless ‘agberoism’ quite unbecoming of a ruling party.”
The answer to all this is a capital “NO!” We cannot, we should not and we will not. No June 12 declaration as Democracy Day can obfuscate the rape of democracy we have just witnessed. What we have in Nigeria is not government of the people by the people and for the people; but government of the government by the government and for the government.
Insult to intelligence
The government’s June 12 proclamation as now Democracy Day is an insult to the intelligence of Nigerians. The enemies of our democracy cannot pretend at the same time to be the defenders of democracy.
To celebrate this “new and improved” Democracy Day, the government gathered together a large retinue of African heads-of-state who came because they felt somewhat beholden to Nigeria. However, it could not get a single one of the former heads-of-state of Nigeria to attend. They refused, in one accord, to participate in this sham of an event and would not validate a clearly stolen mandate.
In a most dramatic fashion that could not have been lost on the assembled foreign dignitaries, Nigeria’s former heads-of-state rained on the president’s elaborate parade.
Verdict of failure
We now have the verdict on the European Union Election Observation Mission (EOM) for the February 2019 election and it is certainly nothing to celebrate. As a matter of fact, it is quite damning. EU observers were of the view that INEC conducted an election that was definitely far below international best standards.
Among other things, the EU noted that the results forms and smart card readers were not packed in tamper-proof envelopes as required. We may well ask: “why not?” If mago mago is not intended, does anybody have to teach us about this requirement?
The same goes for other INEC anomalies that are basic and not rocket-science. The EU noted that there were numerical discrepancies and anomalies on polling unit results forms. There was no clear system of record-keeping. There were inconsistent numbers during the collation exercise.
There was lack of clear checks and explanations, and insufficient public information and this undermined the integrity of the elections. This means, in effect, the declared results were questionable.
“Citizens did not have sufficient means to scrutinise results.” This is deliberate lack of transparency. “INEC did not provide centralised information on the declared results for the different locations and has not posted complete results data on its website.” We may well ask again: “Why not?”
In addition: “there was lack of disaggregated results by local government, ward or polling unit, which would allow for thorough checking of results.” “The discrepancies and insufficient public information were not in line with international standards for access to information and public accountability.” “In cases, INEC even recorded more valid votes than the number of accredited voters.”
The EU also decried widespread government pressure on the independence of the judiciary. It observed that Chief Justice Onoghen’s suspension on the eve of the elections did not follow due process, and maintained that his suspension shaped the poll’s outcome. It decried the violence that attended the elections, alleging that over 150 people were killed in the melee. It also noted that the polls were marred by acts of voter intimidation, including cases of security officials harassing voters.
Only the blind, deaf and dumb will refuse to recognize that this is a major indictment of INEC and the APC government. The outcome of all this is that the 2019 elections turned out, as the government had planned it, as one big sham.
Therefore, I ask again, what democracy exactly can the government now be celebrating with so much fanfare in Abuja? We must not allow ourselves to be deceived. The June 12 celebration, the Democracy Day proclamation, the assemblage of African dignitaries in Abuja, are all part and parcel of a big cover-up by the government of its stolen mandate. It is an attempt to validate an invalid election with subterfuge.
Make no mistake about it, the cover-up is on. A major bone of contention about the election has to do with whether INEC used or did not use a central electronic server to post results. The PDP claims it secured access to the INEC server, only to discover that the election result posted there is completely different from the one INEC announced to the public.
INEC declared Buhari as the winner of the presidential election with a plurality of nearly 4 million votes, but according to the PDP, the result posted on the INEC central server indicates that Atiku actually won the election with nearly 2 million votes.
However, INEC insists it did not use a central server where results were uploaded during the election. But this position is not credible because INEC told Nigerians in no uncertain terms beforehand that the 2019 election results would be stored in a central server. In the presence of the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmud Yakubu; Chidi Nwafor, INEC’s Director of Information and Communication Technology, said:
“Observations have shown that most election malpractices that take place do not take place at polling units. The challenge has been after the poll- between the polling units and the collation centres and at the collation centre. INEC has therefore decided to transmit results from all polling units to central database such that viewing access is allowed at wards and local government levels- which ultimately eliminates manual collation processes.”
According to Chidi Nwafor, the new e-collation system has four procedures: “(1) Results from polling units will be entered into the e-collation application on the smart card reader; (2) Results are transmitted to a central server; (3) Results are auto-collated and can be viewed at the RAs (wards) and ECA8s can be scanned at that level; and (4) Result audit and confirmation takes place at collation centres at LGAs, state and national level.”
Mr. Nwafor said the new system would be used for all elections, from local council polls which INEC conducts in the Federal Capital Territory to the presidential election. INEC chairman, Mahmud Yakubu himself is on video, telling Nigerians that INEC would be “deploying in the 2019 general elections a new platform for electronic collation and transmission of results.”
He said manual results, copied into FORM EC8 A and E, will be used by e-collection officers at the wards to determine if there are any discrepancies.
Out of the billions approved for the elections, no less than 237 million naira was allocated specifically for server-related expenses. Therefore, it is deceitful for INEC to now maintain they did not use a central electronic server in the election.
Atiku is praying the court to grant access for him to inspect the INEC servers. Should the court approve, forensic audit would still reveal what was in them, even if they have since been deleted. If INEC does not have anything to hide, it would readily consent to this request. However, it is insisting Atiku’s request must be denied.
The judiciary remains the only redeeming grace of this sordid drama. From the way cases pertaining to state governments and legislative elections have been adjudicated, it is clear that the courts have no favourites and have shown a high degree of integrity and impartiality.
Therefore, whatever they decide on this delicate matter should be accepted by all and sundry. In all this election palaver, the judiciary remains the only institution in Nigeria that has deserved high commendation.