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2023: Has Vote Rigging Begun in Lagos?

“Every election is determined by the people who show up.” – Larry J. Sabato

There are many ways of killing a cat other than choking it with cream. This old proverb means that there is always an option to achieve anything. As this saying applies to positive situations, so does it suit negatives as well. 

Since 1999, after every election, loopholes are identified in our electoral laws, while attempts are made to plug them. The most widespread and significant electoral reforms in this dispensation came from the late President Umaru Yar’Adua who, after his 2007 winning, publicly acknowledged that the election that brought him to the office was flawed. He followed it up by setting up Justice Muhammad Uwais Electoral Reform Committee.

When Yar’Adua died in office and Vice President Goodluck Jonathan took over, he had to continue and implement the reform. Even at that, subsequent elections in 2011 and  2015 still uncovered some loopholes that forced the National Assembly to consider revisiting the reforms.

However, it was not used because President Muhammadu Buhari who was going for a second term in 2019 did not find the reforms comfortable for his desired victory and declined assent to the amendment. Curiously, ahead of 2023 when he is no longer on the ballot, the President signed the new law covering a lot of loopholes against possible ballot manipulations.

Drawing from the experience of recent gubernatorial elections in three states, Anambra, Ekiti, and Osun, rigging opportunities appear to have been blocked. The new system has significantly reduced election manipulation and violence at collation centres. It’s now needless to hire thugs to disrupt results at the collation stage, or for a dubious electoral or returning officer to want to tinker with vote tallies.

While lovers of democracy and civil society groups are pleased with the development, the same is not to be said of political parties and some politicians who find election manipulation a necessary part of politicking. As a result, such people have figured out other ways to continue their nefarious acts.

The discomfort about these amendments aimed at ensuring free and fair polls will gradually unfold from several quarters, as we have started to see from emerging feelers in Lagos State. The All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, feels Lagos State belongs to him in every sense of the word. He also detests it when he feels threatened.

During the 2019 electioneering, he had felt threatened by the possible political gush of Ndigbo in the state. He possibly cried out to his friend, the Oba of Lagos, who threatened to dump anybody who refused to toe their political line into the Lagos lagoon.

On Election Day proper in 2019, thugs were mobilised to selected localities with heavy Igbo populations to do just one thing, frustrate Igbo voting and or destroy Igbo votes. The desperation arose from the perception that Ndigbo might vote out Tinubu’s wife from the Senate.

Today, all forms of deviousness are being deployed ahead of 2023 with the master himself as the presidential ticket holder. The reason is obvious. Lagos State with over seven million registered voters remains the highest in the country. The cosmopolitan nature of the state makes it more difficult to harness all the votes in a place. Unlike in the past, when the contest was of two principal characters (PDP or APC), 2023 is going to reshape the nation’s electoral behaviour. Call it a game changer.

The entry of Peter Obi, a former governor of Anambra State, into the 2023 electoral contest has completely changed the narrative. The fear of Obi has become the wise thing to do, as taking him for granted could turn out to be suicidal.

Political analysts are unanimous that Obi and Tinubu are going to share Lagos votes, whether the latter likes it or not. But this is one political reality Tinubu and his supporters do not want to face, hence their resolve to begin the vote rigging before the election.

The first indication of what to expect from the Asiwaju camp was noticed in July this year, during the high mobilisation for PVC in Lagos. They were so uncomfortable that they resorted to disrupting some registration centres, including the ones inside the Bishop’s Court on Lagos Island.

All kinds of threats have been reported against Ndigbo and others believed to likely be supporting anybody other than Tinubu. After Tinubu’s daughter had highlighted how her father built Lagos for the so-called enjoyment of Ndigbo, Tinubu’s wife, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, joined the bandwagon with her mischievous threat video. The Senator’s frustration was so deep that she had to break bounds with her unpatriotic video.

As Tinubu’s immediate family continued to show distrust and anger against Ndigbo, it provided enough impetus for their numerous hirelings to go all out against perceived political enemies. Every day, there are threats to close markets, along with excessive and punitive taxes targeted at Igbo businesses.

Still not sure if all the intrigues deployed will be impactful electorally, the mission now is to inject ethnic sentiment to bring the two main ethnic groups in the South to war.

The crux of the ethnic manipulation that has reportedly been deployed is to annoy the progressives in the region, including the Yoruba who are well disposed to the Obi candidacy. The pragmatic message of Obi and the unverifiable past of Tinubu had made even some of the Yoruba feel comfortable outside the latter. However, Tinubu and his spin doctors are making spirited efforts to inject bad blood into Lagos politics. 

They are also spiritedly pushing a baseless allegation that an Obi presidency will end a united Nigeria. They claim that President Peter Obi will divide Nigeria and open the way for the Igbo to take over Lagos. The first allegation is intended to incite the North to reject Obi while the second is to antagonise the Yoruba in Lagos to reject him.

Still not sure that all the ethnic cross wars will work to hoodwink the national electorate, the detractors have turned their pressure on the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System popularly called BVAS. This is an electronic device designed and introduced by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to read the Permanent Voters Card, PVC, and authenticate a voter using their fingerprint.

INEC has built so much confidence in BVAS, based on the statement by its Chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to manipulate votes in Nigeria anymore. Possibly aware that the coming elections will be fraudproof, mischief makers are piling up pressure to weary the electorate and dissuade the uninformed.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent warning that Nigerians’ votes must be allowed to count, and that nobody would be allowed to use wealth or other advantages to intimidate voters, should go beyond the rhetoric! What is happening in Lagos is rigging before the election and should not be allowed to stand. Depriving people of their legitimate business premises through contrived reasons just to frustrate them from acting out their conscience should be stemmed immediately.

If there is any sincerity from leaders of this country to engender unity and harmonious living, ensuring that the people’s franchise is not doctored in any way is one sure route to achieving it.

We all have come to accept one huge fact: the 2023 election is going to be a watershed; what will matter is the victory of the people, not of any candidate. All lovers of Nigeria’s survival must unite to see it succeed.

Voting in an election is the most powerful, non-violent, tool that we can deploy to change our society and our story. Anybody blocking it is an enemy of the land. God, help us.

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