INEC and the Defenestration of Hope

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick…”

Proverbs 13:12a (NKJV)

There is something about broken dreams that impacts the totality of a person. Sometimes the impact is so strong that it transcends a mere emotional sink to lay hold on a person’s physical being as if the broken dream were a virus. The closest analogy that I can think of as being vile enough would be that of a couple who after waiting for two decades to have a baby, finally pool resources for an IVF trial that works, only to lose their baby in the labour room. The hopelessness that such a couple may feel is akin to how INEC has made many Nigerians feel.

For the non-Nigerians, INEC is the Independent National Electoral Commission, an organisation designed in the Nigerian Constitution to conduct federal and state-level elections. Prior to 1999, INEC had existed with other names, with the acronyms changing with each iteration, as if in search of the elixir for fair elections. Yet, having appended “Independent” to its crest, INEC struggled to prove that it was free to conduct free elections. It tried different wands until it announced that a silver bullet had been found, a spike to hit the heart of vote riggers and result redistributors.

The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) were touted as the most reliable system to ensure that only real, registered Nigerians persons could vote, and once the votes were counted in a given polling unit, the results would be instantly available for the world to see, thereby avoiding the well-known shenanigans that occur at collation centres. INEC officials and several other officials of the Nigerian Government repeatedly assured Nigerians that the new system was foolproof and would deliver the goods as expected. Then, as if the gods required a sacrifice of suffering for the elections to be free and fair, the government quickly implemented a currency exchange retrieval policy to ensure that long-suffering voters would vote without any advance monetary inducements and have the true results published.

But what happened on the 25th of February 2023 was a massive drop into the Mariana Trench without any protection. Firstly, across several locations, there were serious logistical issues that kept voting materials and personnel from arriving on time, or even arriving at all. Rather than call this wilful voter suppression, we can chalk this up to plain Nigerian anyhowness. Then, in some polling units like mine where materials arrived and we voted without any issues, uploading the results became a hassle. In my unit, about four of us provided internet hotspot for uploading of results. As the polling officer switched the BVAS module from one internet provider to another, we kept hoping that at least one of the networks would answer its father’s name.

Finally, our results were uploaded, but just down the street, there was a serious disagreement at another polling unit where the polling officer was arguing that they did not have authorisation to upload the results. “You mean after all the promises made by INEC, results would not be uploaded live from the polling units?” I could already see despair building on the faces of many voters who had stayed back or returned after voting to witness the vote count. In their minds, the past had returned cloaked in technology.

As it would turn out, similar scenarios were playing out across the country. Now that INEC has announced winners for that day’s elections, you can understand why many people would feel duped. Most importantly, rather than merely offer the excuse that technology had somehow screwed up expectations, the INEC Chairman and several senior public officers chose to give Nigerians their middle finger ensconced in watery poop by stating vehemently that real time uploading of results was not an electoral requirement even though it was printed in the INEC Guidelines and had been repeatedly reaffirmed by INEC.

The challenge now is how to convince Nigerians that INEC’s failure was merely incompetence rather than a multibillion naira strategic masterpiece to hoodwink Nigerians. As I said to someone while queuing to vote, elections do not merely need to be free and fair, but the population needs to also perceive them as being free and fair. The next president would need to take some tough decisions to rejig the Nigerian economy. How would he convince Nigerians to take required bitter pills like petrol subsidy removal if they think he rigged his way into office? It is quite easy to spray bullets at a small crowd around a tollgate compared to handling widespread riots over something like subsidy removal at a time that the nation’s security forces are overstretched.

Let’s return to INEC and the brazen attack on hope. I know people who have been mocking others over the election results and I wonder if they realise that having hope helps to keep societies functioning. If people think that all hope is lost, regardless of whether their reason for hope was logical or not, they are more likely to take irrational decisions. I am hoping that this weekend’s state-level elections would somehow redeem INEC’s image and give Nigerians something to hold unto; something that would align with the second part of the verse that preceded this article: “…but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life”. The hope they think they took from Nigerians should spur us to come out en masse to vote, that in hoping against hope, we may have a chance at changing Nigeria’s trajectory for good.

Image Credit: leadership.ng

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