By NBF News
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Former Cross River State Governor, Donald Duke, has given a sensational account of how elections are rigged in Nigeria. Recently in Abuja, as part of renewed moves to contest for the presidency in 2011, he gave a frank and factual account of the collusion of governors, state Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) and the state Police Commissioners in the malaise.

He spoke to civil society groups and politicans.
'Let me start this way. Prof. Maurice Iwu is truly an enigma; he enjoyed the limelight. He enjoyed all the attacks, thrown and meted at him. He remained undaunted. I think, he belongs to the school of thought that believes that bad publicity is better than no publicity.

'So, even though he was being attacked and scolded and all sorts of things were said about him, he didn't shy away from even going to the United States and talking to Nigerians in the Diaspora about his work, he didn't shy away from it. I was told he organized a rally to ensure that he will come back to do the work he was appointed to.

'Why do I call him an enigma? The truth is, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has little or no bearing on the success of elections, that's the truth. To me, it's actually immaterial because he is head of the administration. He takes the brunt.

'The best he can do is perhaps, draw up a blueprint, but the implementation of that blueprint is outside his control. So, if elections are rigged in say – Taraba State- we don't do that stuff in Cross River State (laughter),

'Every one looks at Iwu and he proudly says, we did this or that. Hogwash!

Let me now take you through the process of an election. We have 120,000 booths in Nigeria . At the hierarchy, you have the Chairman of INEC, then you have the zonal commissioners, then you have the RECs and they are the heads in every state. The zone as the name implies; we have six zones in Nigeria , so you have six of them.

'Then you have the RECs and there are 36 of them, of course, and Abuja . Then for each local government, you have an electoral officer. Beyond that, you have 120,000 polling booths, headed by presiding officers. The people think that at the end of the elections, the PDP would just decide who wins, and who doesn't announce the results. I think the process is a bit more sophisticated than that.

'This is what happens; the Resident Electoral Commissioner is usually from another state. The electoral officers, they move around. They are usually from that state, but for the conduct of elections itself, you would probably move from Cross River to Akwa Ibom or to Abia, but these musical chairs don't mean nothing.

'When the REC comes before the elections are conducted- of course, when he comes to the state, usually, he has no accommodation; monies have not been released for the running or conduct of the elections and all that because we always start late. He pays a courtesy call on the governor. It's usually a televised event you know, and of course he says all the right things. 'Your Excellency, I am here to ensure that we have free and fair elections and I will require your support.'

'Now, at that courtesy call, most governors, at least I did, will invite the Commissioner of Police because he is part of the action and he sits there.

'After the courtesy call, the Resident Electoral Commissioner now moves in for a one-on-one with the governor and says, 'Your Excellency, since I came, I've been staying in this hotel, there is no accommodation for me and even my vehicle is broken down and the last commissioner didn't leave the vehicle, so if you could help me settle down quickly;' and the governor says, 'Chief of Staff, where is the Chief of Staff here?'

'And the Chief of Staff appears. Governor says: 'Please, ensure that the REC is accommodated-put him in the Presidential Lodge, allot two cars to him, I give you seven days to get this done. Then, the relationship has started; I am going to share some of these things with you so that we don't leave here with any illusions.

'A lot of us, folks who have gone through an election or have been elected for one thing or another, see groups like Save Nigeria Group (SNG), the CLP as woolly-eye dreamers, you have to come down to the backsides, since I am now a hybrid between both. I want to bring you both down to backsides. Let me take you down to what happens so that you can change it because if you don't change it, we here won't suffer but I think our children will.

'We the elite, I am one of them, we send our kids to the best schools around the world, when they come back they are misfits, they cannot fit in and so ultimately we are designing a system that would destroy us in the end'.

'Let me take our minds back to Somalia . Somalia is mono-religious, mono-ethnic; they only have clans (but) they have one tribe. What has happened there? It's a failed state because the elite in Somalia were so disconnected from the people that once they had some money, they buy houses in England, Washington and all those places; they were not investing, putting their best foot forward and I think that was what Pastor Tunde Bakare was talking about.

'If you want to be in a contest, you put your best foot forward; at the end of the day, there was such a disconnect that even till today, they cannot bridge it. Let me tell you, the last recognized President of Somalia is buried in Lagos- Siad Barre.

'We are multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-problematic. The reason why most people worry about us is if we explode, who will contain us? Let me also say this, I know what I am saying now is an aside, I will go back to the elections. When we conducted the census in 2006 or so, the raw figures said we were over 200 million; when they went and processed the figures, it came down to 140million.

'When you look at those figures and compare to those we had in 1991 at a growth rate of 2.1 or something like that, it is really just an extrapolation, because we were too embarrassed to admit our true numbers. If we get it wrong, we will fail like Somalia; in Somalia, half of them are in Kenya, Ethiopia, and a few are in Europe here and there; who will contain us in all of West Africa and Central Africa and for that it is imperative not just for ourselves but for the rest of the continent that we get it right.

'Now, back to the elections, once that relationship has been established between the governor and the REC, if you are a governor who is 'A Governor', maybe two nights after you just stopped by at the Governor's lodge and see the REC and say ah, 'ah, REC how are you doing? Are you?' He says, 'ah! Your Chief of Staff has been wonderful. He has been very nice to me; he supplied me the vehicles and everything is ok.'

'A few weeks to the elections, the REC sees the governor; you probably have on the average about three thousand five hundred, four thousand depending on the polling booths in every state. So, REC goes to the governor and says, 'Your Excellency, could you please, give us the names of about four, five thousand people so that we can hurriedly train them, we need them as Presiding Officers.' You need experience. A good coach is one who has played and has lost matches in the past?

'The REC now goes down and says, 'we need to conduct a training programme for the presiding officers and em, headquarters hasn't sent us any money yet, you know.'

'And the governor is like: 'How much would that cost?'

'REC replies: 'N25million for the first batch, we may have about three batches.' Governor: 'Ok, the Chief of Staff will see you.'

Now, the Chief of Staff, you call him: 'Make sure, that we arrange N25 million this week and in two weeks time another N25 million and N75 million in all.'

'Chief of Staff: 'Your Excellency, how do we do it?' Governor: 'Put it under security vote.'

'In other words, is it cash, ok, now, cash in huge Ghana Must Go bags - some of my colleagues will shoot me- (turns to the audience) is any former governor here? (Crowd replies no!)

'Good. Cash is lodged in huge Ghana Must Go bags for the REC and of course, to be fair to them, they call their electoral officers and say the governor has been very benevolent; he has given us this and that. I say three batches because they have them in senatorial districts.

'So, you have one in Calabar, you have one in Ikom and Ogoja, those are the headquarters of the senatorial districts. Each one costs N25 million. Of course, the sums are not properly retired. I don't know how much of this N25 million worked. But, there is a rapport this is going on.

'The governor now turns round and says: 'Call me the party chairman.' The party chairman appears and the governor says: 'INEC requires 50 thousand people for conducting the elections. See to it that we meet their needs.' The chairman goes and you hear in the evening on radio and television: There will be an urgent meeting of all chairmen and secretaries of XYZ party at the headquarters.

'They should report promptly at 10am (because) matters of urgent interest would be discussed. End of announcement. Now we have texts messages, so its easier, in no time everyone is here.

'It's a very short meeting, please, go back and within 48 hours submit from each local government 250 names of trusted party members. So in a week, the deed is done. The names, sometimes even passport photographs if required, are sent to INEC.

'And the training programme is carried out. Let me pause a bit. This is at party level. They are usually civil servants. They may be teachers, whatever, but they are party members. The remuneration, for each of them for the elections from Abuja is 10,000 Naira for the day's work. But the state in its benevolence gives 50 to 100,000 Naira to each of these folks right before this election.

'This is even where it gets even more interesting. So, you have each of the three or four thousand polling booths; they are manned by party stalwarts. They are usually party stalwarts. You don't send any peripheral member. The remuneration from Abuja has not arrived but that of the state was received 48 hours prior.

'On the day of elections, each polling booth has no more than 500 ballot papers, that is standard.

'There is no a polling booth that is more than 500. So only 200 people appear here, 300 there, 100 there, 50 there, 400 hundred there, at the end of election what happens. The Presiding Officer sits down and calls a few guys and says, 'hey, there are a few hundred papers here, let's thumbprint. This is the real election.

'Well, this is not a PDP thing. I am not here to castigate the PDP; it's a Nigerian thing. This process may sound comical and jovial, it happens throughout the country, whether it is Action Congress or APGA it's the same thing. We are all the same. They start thumb-printing, some are overzealous. So at the end of the day, you find some voting more than the number of people that were registered to vote.

'Otherwise they do it, you have 95 per cent turnout. You start wondering where were the voters, I didn't see so many people. And the election results are announced; XYZ party wins and it takes a week for this paltry N10,000 for each presiding officer to arrive.

'Listen to this before you ask your question: Who is the most important person in an election? - The Presiding Officer. And if there are 120,000 of them (booths) there are 120,000 Presiding Officers, they are the most important people in the elections, not the chairman.

'So, as long as we keep applying that same method, you will get the same results. It's crazy to think that because you substitute Iwu for Jega all will change. In other words, Iwu is a crook, Jega is a saint. Jega is great, he has an impeccable reputation. Iwu was great, now he seems not so great. Ok, they are both professors, they have reached the peak of whatever discipline that they profess.

The point is that it is the system and the personnel and the chairman has little or no control over that.

'Where are we now. We don't even know when the elections will be. The Constitution amendment seems to be stalling somewhere. So it's either in January or in April. Sometimes, we behave as if we invented democracy. We always want to draw new rules.

We should know the day of elections. It should be fixed. We should know that on so and so date I think, America is the 4th of November or so and if it falls on a Sunday it doesn't make a difference.

'The point I am making here is that date is fixed, you know; because in a democracy, election should be a norm, not an event. In our democracy, election is an event. It's like, we are going to spring on to you with fire works, hey, we are going to have an election, we are all running around- I know most politicians are broke right now, so we are all running around the field.

'Secondly, if you have your ears to the ground, there are whispers that maybe, we need to postpone this thing. The whispers are there. In a democracy, you postpone an election? You postpone things you didn't plan for, not things that are there in the Constitution, that says you must do this, that and that, you can't but -you know two ways of moving forward. This is where I like what SNG and CNP are doing.

'We need a critical mass of Nigerians to get out and vote. It is important because the more ballot papers that are legitimately used on election day, the fewer available to be used to rig the vote, that's the truth. Don't keep to yourself and think that they will announce results. They are more sophisticated than that. And that's why the aspirants who felt cheated and had the resources to employ forensic personnel, like those elections had the elections upturned in Edo and Ondo, because they could establish multiple voting by thumbprint.

'So, if it's an AC state, the procedure is the same. I remember a state, that state will remain nameless. I hear the story that the then President was so determined that he must change the leadership of this state and he called the IG and said, 'look, that Governor is a security breach. Let's have elections and flush the governor out, and the governor knows he is under siege. A week before the elections, a new police commissioner arrives.'