Nigeria News

Election rigging by another name

As the Electoral Reform Committee members are at it, trying to fine-tune our Electoral Laws, I would like them to examine this issue of candidates rigging in an election, being sworn in, their elections challenged in court and nullified; their using state resources to re-run for same office and then winning ‘convincingly’ this time. The re-scheduled election whether fairly conducted or not, if these candidates win it, I refer to the election as another rigged election. It is unfair and very unfortunate for our electoral law to allow an election rigger to re-contest an election. If a court or tribunal has already determined that a particular election is rigged and then went ahead to order a new election, the candidate whose election was nullified because or rigging or other electoral malpractices should not be allowed by law to re-contest for that post or any other post for that matter. Letting him re-contest would give the candidate an undue advantage and set a dangerous precedent in our electoral system. In fact, it is already becoming an accepted electoral norm in Nigeria. However, this tells other riggers in waiting that it or okay for them to rig an election get sworn in and use the power of incumbency and the state resources to campaign for a re-scheduled election. In most cases, this involves state executives. Having been clothed with the power of incumbency after rigging an election and committing other electoral frauds, the governor would now use all the trappings of office to his full advantage to shut out his competitors.
 
The method that the ruling parties, and in most cases, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), use is to work very hard, not to convince people to vote for their candidates, but to work hard to see that they use the police, the army, thugs and even the election officials to steal elections. They know that when the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) declare the candidates as having won the election and given them the certificates of return, they have a 50-50 chance of winning at the tribunal when the elections results are contested by aggrieved candidates. Their strategy is to have their candidates sworn in and use the state resources for the so-called massive development of their states. When they are sworn in, they now use the state’s resources to build roads, hospitals, schools and other amenities in their quest to provide the people with “dividends of democracy”. They try to project themselves as champions of the poor masses with their eyes on the re-scheduled elections, since they know that in most cases, their election would be overturned in the tribunals. To buy time, they would come with all kinds of delay tactics in the tribunals, calling multitudes of witnesses, producing a plethora of documentary evidence and asking for all kinds of adjournments all in a ploy to buy time. As they are now the incumbents, they would use all within their powers to see that they win at the tribunals. With the state funds at their disposals, they would hire a priced lawyer to argue their cases in the tribunals; attempt to bribe the members of the tribunal and even try to bring the press people to their side. If in the end they lose at the tribunals, they quickly appeal their cases to the Courts of Appeal. By that time, it would have been over two years of their administrations and they have something on the ground to show that they deserve to be retained in office. At this time, they will use the state media houses to drum support for their re-election; the people would start responding to them. The public opinion would swing to their favor. Experience has shown that the poor masses always care about what they see on the ground. What you will start hearing people say is: “the governor should be allowed to serve out his term, since he is doing well in office”, you do not change a winning team.” When I traveled home to Nigeria in December, 2005, at that time, Governor Chris Ngige had already ruled Anambra State for over two years and having lost in the tribunal, his appeal was pending in the Court of Appeal. I could see the immense development in the state on the side of road construction. Moreover, after fighting off his erstwhile political god-father, the masses were in staunch support of his programs.
 
When I reminded my friends and relatives praising him to the high heavens that he did not win the election, they were unanimous in saying: “Of course, we know that he did not win the election, but Ngige is the best thing to happen to Anambra state”. I agreed with them but maintained that evil is evil no matter the good that comes out of it. Even when they lose at the tribunals, now they have the people’s confidence and the necessary “Ghana Must Go” to entice the Appeal Court Justices as was witnessed in Enugu State , where Governor Sullivan Chime’s appeal was upheld by the appeal court. Stories were flying around that the justices were ‘settled’ by Gov. Chime’s people. Even on the day of their judgment, Chime’s supporters were already giving each other high fives as they already knew the outcome of their appeal even before the judgment was delivered. Even when they lose at the tribunals and the court of appeal, and another election is ordered by the courts, the incumbents would now have enough political goodwill and capital to win by a landslide. Some even rig the election a second time. In Adamawa State, Governor Murtala Nyako had his election nullified; he appealed the decision of the tribunal and the court of appeal confirmed the nullification and ordered a new election. After the re-scheduled election, INEC declared Nyako the winner by a landslide. His opponent from Action Congress (AC), Alhaji Ibrahim Bapetel did not even win his own or any local government for that matter! Also in Bayelsa, after both the tribunal and the appeal court has nullified the election of Governor Timipre Sylva of PDP and ordered a new election, INEC ensured that the governor ‘won’ convincingly against his opponent, Ebitimi Amgbare. Same thing happened in Kogi State. Of all the 36 states of the federation, so far 13 state gubernatorial elections had been nullified and many more to follow. With what is going on in Oyo, Osun, Ogun and in fact in most of the old LOOBO states (Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Bendel and Ondo States) and other states, the whole thing is crazy. Even same thing could be said of other electoral offices. Most of them would still win since they now have the name recognition and some of the senators or members of the House of Representative and Hose of Assemblies hold certain key committee posts that come with immense press coverage. This brings them a lot of political benefits.
 
I have seen a candidate for House of Assembly that won through rigging. His election was challenged at the tribunal by his opponent. Luckily for him, after he was sworn in, he was made a Speaker of the House of Assembly. Incidentally, he and his opponent are from the same town. Their people did the ground work for him as they prevailed on his opponent to abandon the challenge to the tribunal. “He is your brother, and this may be our only chance to that position of Speaker”, they told him. So as you can see, even if the ‘brother’ had gone ahead with the petition and won, he has no chance against the incumbent. Some elections are at the courts of appeal, some will succeed and most will fail, no thanks to the incumbency factor and intimidation of judges by the powers that be. We are not forgetting the election for President where the Court of Appeal had already upheld the election of President Umaru Yar’Adua. The test is now for the Supreme Court to show its independence and nullify his election. But I am not deluded that they would do the right thing. There have already been rumors that “political stability” would sway their decision in favor of the incumbent. But even if the Supreme Court allows the petition of Alhaji Atiku of AC and that of Alhaji Muhammed Buhari of ANPP and other aggrieved candidates and orders a fresh election, Yar’Ardua will still use his incumbency powers and all the trapping of office to win it again. The masses are ready to let go and move on. Even if the elections are conducted ten times over, they would still win since they control everything. When you look at the elections, in most cases, it is the competitor(s) that actually won the nullified election. This issue is becoming the order of the day that we cannot be talking of election reforms without paying attention to this form of rigging. As in the case of Ngige of Anambra State, though everyone knew that Peter Obi of APGA won by a landslide in Anambra State in April 2003, had the Court of Appeal ordered a re-election instead of declaring Peter Obi the winner, he would never smell the government house. He would not even win his Anaocha Local Government again. Like I said, the masses are more concerned about development they can see and not the one they anticipate from the candidate they voted for en masse whose election was truncated by the professional riggers. If the court of appeal had dismissed Gov. Chime’s appeal and ordered a fresh election, all the contestants would have no chance of winning Enugu State since all the people have already seen Chime as a decent person who would provide them with the kind leadership that Enugu State had longed for. They can also see massive road construction in the state capital which to some extent is a milestone.
 
The original true winner of any election easily gets forgotten. Once your presence is not felt, the masses easily switch side. You remember what happened when Moses went to Mount Sinai and failed to come back to the Israelites in a timely manner. They made themselves a molten calf and worshipped it as their ‘god’ since they did not know “what has become of Moses” and his God. So in my opinion, any person whose election is challenged on the grounds of election malpractices, should not be sworn in until the court has decided who actually won the election. An interim government’s provision should be made in the constitution to fill the vacuum that would be created as a result of that. Also if a candidate is determined to have rigged an election or aided or abetted rigging or any other electoral fraud, or would benefit from the above, the candidate should be disqualified from the re-scheduled election. Allowing them to be in office as we can see, gives them an undue advantage over their opponents. The mere fact that they are on the ground and people have a positive impression about them, they will continue to win.
 
 
They don’t even need to campaign for election, the mere fact that the people see them on television and hear them on radios everyday and even see their names mentioned everyday in the newspapers, that’s enough for them. The incumbents with their clouts, control the security apparatus, as the chief security officer of the state; they control the finances of the state and use the state fund to divide the opponents’ political base. Many do this by providing social amenities to the local government or even home towns of their opponents. In my opinion, that is the best form of campaign a candidate can undertake; and that is the worst kind of rigging in any election, even before one vote is cast. All the candidates should have the same level playing fields. That is what democracy is all about. A disputed election should not have as beneficiary, the perpetrator of the malpractice. All the candidates should start on a clean slate. Anyone that is proved to have been a party to electoral misconduct should not only be disqualified from re-contesting, but should be banned entirely from contesting for any elections in the future. If this is done, it would stem the tide of rigging and other forms of electoral malpractices.
CSN: 59508-2008-23-19 

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