If the 2015 Elections have shown us anything, it is that although we are closer to free and fair elections, we are still a long way from a democracy where votes are guaranteed to count. Forget all the hype about the free-ness of the elections. In many places, it was essentially a contest between opposing rigging strategies.
On March 28, Nigerians trooped out from their cities, towns, villages, farmlands and creeks, to exercise their franchise in selecting a new president and national assembly members. It was an election billed as a make-or-mar point for the country. The chips were down, different opinion polls’ results were bandied about, the naira was nose-diving rapidly as investors cautiously moved their funds out of the country, and politicians bought dollars for campaigns. Hidden and publicized threats of violence provided a dangerous undercurrent in the build up to the elections. All eyes were on Nigeria. Could Nigeria do this?
Despite duly applying, and attending INEC’s ad-hoc staff training sessions, I could not find my name on the list of selected persons. Hence, I quietly came out on the Election Day, and like many Nigerians did, waited patiently for the electoral officials and materials to arrive at my unit. As many Nigerians were encouraged to do, I posted live updates throughout the Election Day via Twitter. I felt I was doing my own bit for a credible election. I helped to organize the crowd, voted last, and then waited for the counting of the ballots.
Apart from the late arrival and card readers’ hitches, everything went just as INEC had promised. The ballot papers at my polling unit were counted in the presence of party agents and other voters. I witnessed everything, and satisfied, I left around 6pm. Later, I heard that another “election” took place after I left. This one did not require any accreditation.
What I later realized was that the whole thing was a smokescreen. Some units were very peaceful and orderly. These ones were the units that were publicized. In some other areas, what held could not be called an election. The day was smeared with snatching of materials, multiple voting and other electoral offences. These scenes were played all around the country. Neither the APC nor the PDP can absolve themselves of complicity in rigging.
As the presidential election results were being collated, the results from different states gave an idea of whether real elections were held there or not. Results from the North East, North West, South East and South-South were a mockery of democracy. Both sides used these zones to inflate their total votes in a bid to cross the finish line first. Apparently, children, cows and fishes trooped out to support various candidates. That President Jonathan conceded defeat does not mean he believes he actually lost cleanly. However, the results likely indicate the general perception of a majority of Nigerians. Mr. Jonathan conceded because he recognized that he was “out-rigged”. Better riggers had thrown their hats in the ring.
The same pattern played out in Rivers State’s gubernatorial and state assembly elections. This time, I was an ad-hoc electoral official. Barr. Nyesom Wike of the PDP has been declared the winner, ahead of Dr. Dakuku Peterside of the APC, and other candidates. Although both sides had rigorous campaigns—rallies, posters, adverts, phone calls, door-to-door campaigns, etc., on the D-Day, it boiled down to who could rig better, who had more experience and better strategy in rigging.
If only one side had engaged in rigging, all the words in this article would have been used to bash that side. However, it is public knowledge that both sides rigged the elections in varying degrees. The PDP (in Rivers State) just had better strategy and execution. Both sides either attempted or succeeded in bribing electoral officials, snatching materials, multiple voting, intimidation, misuse of security agents, and above all, cooking of wonderful, well-spiced results.
I expect a slew of court cases when the tribunals start work. The cases notwithstanding, I doubt that the overall election would be cancelled. More likely, cancellations would affect a few places where the rigging was too apparent or not executed perfectly. Whatever happens, INEC and Nigerians have a long way to go from a contest of best riggers to a contest of best campaigners.