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NASS Co-opts NCC to Rig 2023

It wasn’t long before people discovered the final horrors of letting an urchin into Parliament
Bernadette Devlin

On July 16 and 17, 2021, Nigerians felt the horrible taste of electing not-so-honourable politicians into the National Assembly. In those two days, the initial impetus to electoral fraud in 2023 was provided by legislation.

In democracies worldwide, parliaments are seen as a gathering of idlers who rarely put mental effort into their duty. Why should Nigeria be an exception?

No wonder the former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, said, “When I was in office, I always kept members of parliament talking. If they stopped talking they might start thinking.”

At the heart of every democracy is a free, fair, and transparent election. No democracy is said to be standing if its electoral process is dubious, shaky, and unstable.

The reason democracy in Africa is epileptic is that elections fall below the international best practices. Respect for the voter’s power is yet to be effective here.

Nigeria’s democracy is a victim of a poor electoral process that has prevailed since 1999. When the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was elected amidst an outcry of electoral fraud, he made it a point to touch the electoral process and swiftly set up the Justice Mohammed Uwais Reform Committee.

Though he died before the reform could be completely effective, his successor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, ensured he completed the reform process. It was Jonathan’s reform that ensured a relatively credible election that even swept him out of office, paving the way for the opposition to walk in. Jonathan’s quick acceptance of the electoral decision and the organizing of a seamless transition to the opponent placed Nigeria up there among the democratic player nations.

It was expected that being beneficiaries of the electoral reform, President Muhammadu Buhari and his ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, will further deepen the reform.

How wrong we are! They did not come to improve on anything, let alone the electoral process that could help fast-track their exit from power. The glaring, poor performance of this regime in all areas of governance helped to inflict fear to do everything against empowering the voters who have been victims of bad governance since 2015.

To be able to win a second term in 2019, this administration had to put the stud in the way of all critical stakeholders. Atop that agenda to sabotage the process was the flagrant removal of the head of the third estate of the realm, Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, a bizarre action that shook the democratic community worldwide. The regime was adamant as it did not want to take chances with the judiciary standing in the way.

The President had declined assent to the amended Electoral Act on the eve of the general elections on the excuse that it came to him late. The lateness was deliberately designed by the constant harassment and trials of the then President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, and the frequent disruption of the Senate’s activities in and out of the chamber with attacks and stealing of the mace, the authority symbol of the House. The motive for tormenting the leadership of the judiciary and legislature, the other arms of government did not come clear until the election came and passed and the abracadabra was laid bare for all to see.

Having won the presidential ballot at all costs, they were expected to be patriotic enough to commit to further reforms. Hell, no! It took a combined outcry of the opposition, civil society groups, and the international community, including the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States for the rubber stamp 9th parliament leadership to resurrect the amendment act.

However, last week, the Senate voted to show it was amending the act grudgingly. To signpost the grudge, the ruling APC mobilized its MPs to vote against electronic transmission of election results to collation centres nationwide. Nigerians were outraged, no doubt.

By that action, it became clear that this government under the watch of President Buhari is not ready to help grow democracy in our polity. It showed their desire to retain power going through the same scam of 2019.

Political pundits believe that APC, by last week’s action on the Electoral Act, has already started rigging for 2023 via obscure and dingy legislation.

Election rigging (either in Nigeria or elsewhere) is not and cannot be a one-day affair; it’s usually strategic and procedural even though devious.

The 2019 rigging started early enough when the President of the 8th Senate, Senator Saraki was put in the dock all through his four-year tenure. The intention was obvious, to slow the progress of that Senate and ensure that the Electoral Act is not amended and passed in time.

By the time Parliament eventually passed the bill, the President had found grounds to deny assent. Also, when the regime identified an independent judiciary as a likely obstacle, knowing the mind of Chief Justice Onnoghen who had in previous elections given Muhammadu Buhari a favourable minority judgment, they had to hit him hard. They couldn’t factor in the then CJN and his known rigid principles. It did not matter to them if in removing him they were breaching any law but the goal was unambiguous–to win the election at all costs. By the way, how the government abducted IPOB’s Mazi Nnamdi Kanu from Kenya shows this regime has little regard for the rule of law.

Ahead of 2023 and very much aware of their deteriorating electoral potentials in the light of their little offering in governance and the gradual degradation of the Nigerian state, further steps needed to be taken to block free, fair, and credible elections.

The Edo State gubernatorial election of September 2020 opened their eyes to the reality of their predicament. The ruling APC finalised a dubious strategy to score a fraudulent victory and stop Godwin Obaseki’s second term. This was marred by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, using the electronic method to transfer results straight from the voting point to the collation centre. That action rendered thugs already mobilized to escort and distort results along the way useless.

Having seen what happened in Edo and being aware of the eagerness of Nigerian voters to show them the way out, the regime in power has to create legal obstacles to the electronic option.

As though that’s not enough, the amendment drags in the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, to technically partner with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in doing the latter’s job. NCC is to determine for the electoral umpire where and when electronic methods can be used.

What this means is that where it favours APC, NCC, where Isa Ali Pantami holds sway (hope you remember who he is and where he is going with his link-NIN-and-phone-number project), will clear for electronic transfer and do otherwise where it’s unfavourable. So what was witnessed at the Senate chamber on July 16, 2020, and in the House of Representatives the next day where APC openly rejected digital for analogue methods in the voting process in 2023 was a dress rehearsal for election rigging.

After that heartbreaking incident, anybody expecting transparency in the elections of 2023 must be daydreaming. Virtually everything from the job application, salary payment, checking and release of results as widespread as JAMB and school certificates all over the nooks and crannies of Nigeria, is done electronically. But election results have to be at the mercy of NCC who even had directed the whole country to go digital by the SIM-NIN instruction. What strange land!

When you add this development to the bizarre voting figure being bandied about by some vocal northern spokespersons of the North being 160 million in population with Fulani 40 million, the rest of the North 120 million and the South 70 million, you can begin to have insight into where 2023 is headed.

If it’s true as they say that a people get the parliament or government they deserve, then we are responsible for the kind of parliament we have. If this government has become the parliament of whores, who do something for ignoble motives as we witnessed last week, then we cannot exonerate ourselves for where we are today. According to the age-long axiom, as you make your bed so you will lie on it. In other words, whatever we sowed on the voting day is what we reap in governance today. Period!

God, help us.

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