Colours Of The Leopard
The one who told us that the leopard can never change its colour or skin hit the nail on the head and must have arrived at his conclusion after a close study of the life of the leopard. But what of man and his skin, his colour? The skin, the colour under reference has to do, not with whether he is white or black or yellow or pink. It has to do with how he has lived his life in the environment in which he found himself. The truth with man is that his learning often comes through profound experiences that penetrate deep down into his very being and break him. The Nigerian man does not seem to me to have learnt anything; so to him, there is nothing to forget.
What happened last Saturday April 9 elections to the National Assembly in Nigeria seemed on the face to be open and transparent, but the final outcome was neither free nor fair. I attended a stakeholders meeting in Abuja on Tuesday April 12 and I was shocked by the stories told by those who were in the field.
Look at a summary of some of the reports. In Abia State, there was more intimidation by security agencies than voting. Where voting took place, it was a free for all. Some voted as many as five times! The results declared had little if anything to do with the number of people who showed up for accreditation. In Adamawa State, there was massive ballot buying. Party agents were not strong enough to stop it. In fact many of them were compromised. In Akwa Ibom State, no elections took place. The desperation to win overshadowed any sense of decency. Monitors would discover what really takes place in Nigeria's conduct of elections if only they can look outside the cities.
In Anambra State, as the world has been told by some who took part in the elections, there was massive inducement through vote buying. Results were mutilated and inflated. Even the returning office claimed he had been promised a house, a car and scholarship for his children if he accepted and announced mutilated results. In Bauchi State, there was open intimidation that led to disenfranchisement of women who form the bulk of the voting population. The under-aged were allowed to vote.
In Bayelsa State, there were more infractions of electoral rules than anywhere else in the country. Yet, the state has the least number of registered voters and is the home state of the president who told the world that he did not ask anyone to rig for him! The military were in evidence and support for the ruling party was not hidden. Militants were brought in to snatch boxes, and they did!
In Benue State, those who were declared winners did not win even a local government area in the senatorial district where they came from. In some places, voting took place in the dark.
In Borno State, ballot boxes were seized and taken to police stations but those involved in snatching them were released! Bombings and blasts were more the handiwork of security agencies than those who may not have wanted elections. The government in the state knew it had no chance and may have been the author of the distractions.
In Cross River State, people were paid to vote and so the polling centres were no more than trading posts. In Delta State, you got the message when as you wanted to vote, someone watching would point to the gun he is carrying and tell you the symbol to endorse is the umbrella. Money was being freely distributed at collating centres to encourage manipulation of results.
There, opposition party agents were beaten up. A call was made for the removal of the resident INEC commissioner. In Ebonyi State, security at polling centres was loose. Money was openly shared and results announced did not reflect votes cast.
Elections in Edo, Ogun, Lagos, Oyo, Ondo and Osun, states controlled by the ACN seemed to have been freer and fairer than in most other places in the country. But there was open competition to spend money between the ruling ACN and Labour governments and the opposing PDP. In most of the Northwest the PDP-controlled state governments of Kebbi, Sokoto and Jigawa turned the election into war fronts especially in the rural areas where traditional rulers were forced to coordinate the manipulation of votes. The same song was on in Bauchi, Gombe and Nasarawa.
In Kano where there was visible display of inducements between the PDP and the ruling ANPP government, people brought packets of rice and chicken and distributed them to voters in queues. In many of the places, especially in Kaduna civil servants replaced those appointed to man the polling centres. In Plateau State, there was a deliberate attempt to use polling officers from an ethnic group loyal to the governor. In Yobe and Taraba, apart from the deliberate delay of voting materials, traditional rulers were mobilised to rig the elections. In FCT, the election results were manipulated. Polling centre results and what later emerged do not simply add up!
Manipulation of the votes came mainly in the collation centres where opposition party agents were driven away.
The deduction from the foregoing is that nothing has changed in Nigeria. The Nigerian leopard retains its colour and its skin. But there are profound lessons to be learnt from the stubbornness of those who resist change. Change comes all the same!
We are not now interested in the change that comes by one party replacing another. No. We are interested in the change that is forcing certain irreducible minimum standards of behaviour on the world. In the arena of democracy, these standards are settled. There must be an opportunity for those who are qualified to exercise the franchise, to do so by picking the leaders of their choice. To this end, they must be registered to vote.
In the arrangement for the elections of last week April 9, the first hurdle of registration of voters had been scaled. All the people had to do was to go to the polling centres, get accredited to vote, and be there at midday and cast their votes. Having cast the vote, you were to be assured that your vote would be counted and that your vote counted.
There are two ways your votes can count. The first is that it is valid to be counted. It can only be valid to be counted if you placed the inked finger in the right box of the ballot paper. Many folded the paper and the ink smeared another symbol and so invalidated the vote! Also self-invalidating the vote is placing the finger on the symbol of the party instead of the box beside the symbol. By this act, you have also without knowing it disenfranchised yourself.
The second way the vote can count is to monitor its routing until the result of the election is announced. If you are not interested in following up the routing, you may discover, as happened last Saturday that your vote did not count.
Your vote not counting takes many forms. The result at the polling centre which led to your celebrating victory prematurely may have been doctored to make your vote not count. This may happen on the way to the collating centre when the ballot papers are exchanged or when the figures on the result sheet are tampered with. At the collating centre, the greatest harm may be done when the figure entered for one party at the polling centre is switched and entered for another party.
It is obvious therefore that elections are not over until all the phases of registration, accreditation, voting, announcement of results at the polling centre, transmission of the results to the collating centre, collation of results from the various voting centres, and final announcement of the results. For the presidential elections taking place all over the country tomorrow April 16, the final collation comes up at Abuja at the INEC office where the announcement of who wins will be given by the national chairman of the commission, Professor Attahiru Jega.
From the elections of last Saturday, there was in many places evidence of freeness and fairness. But this freeness, fairness and transparency must be there for everyone to see not only at the place where election takes place, that is the polling booth, but also during the routing from the polling centre to the collating centre in the states, and finally at the INEC office in Abuja.
In 2003, instead of results being sent to the state resident INEC commissioner, they were sent from local government headquarters. In 2007, they were being sent from state headquarters when after less than 12 of the 36 states had submitted their results, the National Chairman of INEC, Prof Maurice Iwu left where the results were being collated and announced that Alhaji Umaru Yar'Adua had won the presidential election to the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
So unsettling were these results that the incumbent president promised to set up an electoral reform committee. He did. That committee submitted a report which we have done very, very little indeed to implement in letter and spirit. We replaced the man who has gone down in history as the most disastrous thing that ever happened to Nigeria's electoral history.
What happens tomorrow will determine whether Prof Jega will make the difference. I know he will never announce doctored results, but he will announce results he believes are vetted and credible. But the latter situation will take place if and only if he has prepared the grounds for ensuring that we do not permit the monumental lapses of last week's elections that were seriously undermined through use of money and manipulations at collating centres unprecedented in our history of conducting elections.
One sin Almighty God will never forgive is injustice. Any attempt to accommodate this grave sin during any of the phases of conducting the presidential elections of tomorrow will bounce back to and on us in the reaping. Yes, Egypt is closer to us than we think.
Prince Tony Momoh, National Chairman, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Plot 1132, Festus Okotie Eboh Crescent, Utako District, Abuja, April 16, 2011; and can be reached @