I had my fears about the inconclusive and now stalled November 16, 2013 Anambra State Governorship election. This was considering the charged atmosphere of bitterness, unprincipled propaganda and petty mudslinging in which political parties conducted their electoral campaigns. Nonetheless, I looked forward to the election with so much hope and expectations.
The election was for me, the litmus test for 2015, the year for which apocalyptic and ominous predictions have been made about Nigeria. The election was, in the long run, the litmus test for the survival- or otherwise- of Nigeria’s rickety democracy
My hope was further raised after I watched and read the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega promise that the Anambra election would be the best INEC would have conducted since 1999 when democratic processes were eventually restored in Nigeria after 16 uninterrupted years of military autocracy.
Alas, the conspiracy between the bad eggs in INEC and crooked politicians to sabotage Jega’s effort, undermine INEC and subvert the electoral process put paid to this reassuring and heart-warming promise. Jega’s avowed determination to ensure that the Anambra election was free, fair and the most credible so far came to naught
I join those who have already commended Jega for showing the courage to admit that the Anambra governorship election of November 16, 2013 was thoroughly flawed and fell far short of his plans and intentions for it. Reports by various credible election observer groups highlight the pitfalls of the Anambra elections and lend credence to the fact that what happened in Anambra on Saturday cannot pass for or stand as a credible election.
INEC’S inability to declare full results and announce a winner one week after the election further drives home the fact of the enormity of the fraud that marred the election.
I have no doubt that Jega meant to keep his promise. But inevitably, the large number of criminals and liabilities within INEC’s bureaucracy whom Jega inherited from the eternally discredited Maurice Iwu has remained the greatest obstacle to every good intention by Jega and the aspirations of Nigerians for a credible electoral system that will help consolidate our hard-earned democracy.
Unless all the unscrupulous elements within INEC who routinely collude with desperate and unpatriotic politicians to subvert the electoral process are identified, isolated and politically neutralised, Jega and INEC will continue to work in futility and every Nigerian’s aspiration for credible elections ‘will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued and never attained’.
Mr. Okeke Chukwujekwu, the Electoral Officer (EO) in charge of Idemili North LG of Anambra State and the principal actor in the November 16 Anambra State governorship election debacle has reportedly confessed that he did not rig alone. This is as alarming as it is significant.
Currently in police custody and helping the police with information over his role in the electoral fraud in Idemili, Chukwujekwu is reported to have told his interrogators that he has been ‘used and dumped’ by some yet-to-be named ‘top INEC officials’ and ‘political party chieftains’.
Nigerians deserve and desire to know all those ‘top INEC officials’ and ‘political party chieftains’ whom Chukwujekwu is quoted to have accused of having ‘used’ and now ‘dumped’ him. Let heads roll for the sanity and sanctity of our electoral system.
Jega is also quoted as saying that the electoral officer ‘messed up’. And he promptly handed him over to the police for prosecution. This is good. But it must be made clear that Chukwujekwu is not the only electoral officer involved in what Jega has correctly described as ‘deliberate sabotage of the Anambra governorship election’. Some other electoral officers were equally deep-neck in the sabotage.
I was at the Civil Society Anambra State Governorship Election Situation Room in Awka. We were receiving reports from civil society observers deployed to the polling booths across the state. Each one of us in the situation room was assigned to each of the 21 Local Government Electoral Officers (EOs) appointed by INEC for the 21 Local Government Areas in Anambra State. We were also tasked to establish contact and follow up with the EOs on phone from the situation room. We had their phone numbers and if any of our observers in the field had any issue in any polling booth where he or she was observing, he or she would communicate to us in the situation room and we will immediately call the EO for the particular LG with a view to getting him or her to promptly intervene and resolve the issue.
Each one of us in the situation room started by calling the EO he or she was assigned to for the purpose of introduction. Many of the EOs responded positively and cooperated with us. Some senior police officers were also very cooperative and helped to quickly resolve issues brought to their attention. In one particular instance, a CLEEN Foundation staff with us at the situation room had to call a DPO to resolve a complaint from an Observer who reported that a police officer in a polling booth seized his phone while he was using it to record information. The call immediately resolved the issue and the phone was returned to the observer. But a few of the EOs fenced off and were uncooperative. In my own case, I was to follow up with the EO for Ekwusigo LG whose name I withhold for now. I first called her and introduced myself as calling from the CSO Situation room and told her I am to be in touch with her to bring issues to her attention and to also get updates on the election from her LG. She quickly cut in and said ‘Please, I will call you back…’ and immediately cut the phone. She never called me back and never picked my subsequent calls or even replied to any of my several SMSs. All the field observers in Ekwusigo whom I gave her phone number to contact and check things with her also complained that she was uncooperative and unhelpful. I have made this illustration to show that it was not only the arrested EO that was compromised or disposed to compromise. Refusal by an electoral officer to answer calls and attend to complaints within his or her jurisdiction of assignment is as criminal as refusing to deliver electoral materials.
It is worrisome that INEC continues to grapple with the same logistic blunders witnessed in previous elections and which have continued to denude our electoral system of much needed credibility.
The massive fraud that attended and marred the Anambra governorship election had several dimensions. It goes beyond the issues of late arrival of or deliberate withholding of electoral materials by EOs which led to delay in commencement of accreditation; missing names in voters register which led to massive disenfranchisement, in some cases, of a whole community. Our observers also witnessed and recorded cases of open sharing of money by political party agents.
Some politicians impudently flouted electoral rules, regulations and directives. For example, in defiance of warnings by Jega and the Inspector General of Police, a political party stalwart was seeing being escorted to a polling booth in Idemili by a police vehicle bearing PSF 2317 PF.
Failure to punish past electoral law violators creates this impunity.
INEC needs to put its house in order. It has to start by purging itself of all undesirable elements whose objectives are at variance with the institutional objectives.
I reiterate my commendation for Jega for being forthright enough to openly disown and hand over the erring Electoral officer to the police for investigation and prosecution. Jega has by this singular act, demonstrated that he does not condone fraud; that he was not part of the fraud and that INEC does not encourage any of its officials to commit fraud for it.
But the point remains that the institution called INEC is replete with criminals and undesirable elements of which it must purged itself. Otherwise, all efforts by INEC and all we who crave for genuine democracy will continue to be undermined. Jega is only one man surrounded by many crooks.
What the role of the now detained EO and many others like him yet to be apprehended highlights is the dexterity with which civil servants perpetrate and perpetuate corruption within the civil service. We often blame politician for stealing public funds. But few people appreciate the fact that it is civil servants that tutor politicians on the clever ways of stealing and covering up. When a politician is appointed as Minister, it is the civil servants within the Ministry who put him or her through orientation on how to steal and not get caught. Civil servants are indeed, more corrupt than politicians and own more properties in Abuja and elsewhere than politicians. INEC is a key bureaucratic set up fraught with corrupt elements. But it is so strategic to the survival of democracy that we must not allow corrupt people to dominate it.
One other major issue that deserves mentioning is denying security officials and INEC adhoc staff on election duty their welfare entitlements. This has remained a recurrent problem in successive elections. Police officers, soldiers and NYSC members recruited as INEC adhoc staff for the Anambra election complained that they were not paid their duty allowances. Some police officers were deployed to Anambra one week to the election, but were not provided with shelter, food and other essential welfare needs. This has the potential of predisposing them to compromise and corruption. On Sunday November 17, the day after the election, some aggrieved Police Mobile Officers on election duty vented their frustrations with their neglect and deprivation. In protest, they blocked the entrance to the Police Area Command, Nnewi, shooting in the air. The IGP and heads of other security agencies should explain why the officials they deployed on special duty were not paid, but abandoned to suffer, with its dire implications for security and integrity of elections. This should not be allowed to repeat again.
It is important that INEC sends a clear message that fraud will no more be tolerated. It must ensure that that all electoral law violators- INEC officials, politicians, security agents and even election observers- are arrested and promptly and effectively prosecuted. They must be made to face the maximum legal consequences of their offense, as deterrence.
With the INEC Chairman having handed the EO for Idemili North over to the police for investigation and prosecution, the ball is now in the court of the police. The police must ensure effective investigation and prosecution of the EO and all his sponsors and accomplices. No stories please!