STILL ON THE APRIL PRESIDENTIAL POLL
'You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time' - Abraham Lincoln
I was quite vocal in the build-up to the April 16, 2011 presidential poll, publishing articles promoting the candidature of General Muhammadu Buhari, the standard bearer of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). However, apart from an interview I gave, which appeared in August 2 issue of National Life, I have not written even a line of commentary on that election. I decided to keep mum not because I had nothing to write but because I felt we had a better and alternative route to tell the world about that election in the form of the Presidential Election Tribunal (PET). However, with the recent suspension of Justice Isa Ayo Salami, president of the Court of Appeal and chairman of PET, I again felt it is high time I gave a summary of what transpired during that election, as a member of both the Buhari Presidential Campaign Council and CPC's Election Monitoring Center.
The truth about the April 16 poll is that it had all the features of the 2003 and 2007 presidential elections, such as massive rigging, inducement of electoral officials, intimidation of opposition parties' functionaries and misuse of soldiers, policemen and other agents of state. The only novel thing about the election was that unlike in the past when the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) used to return landslide victory in excess of the number of registered voters by several millions as it happened, for example, in 2003 when former President Olusegun Obasanjo's votes in Ogun and Rivers states broke the records of the voters' registers, rigging was within the ambit of registers, at least in terms of announced figures, in 2011.
The night of Saturday, 16 April stretching into the dawn of Sunday, April 17, 2011, will go down in the annals of elections in this country as the bloodiest for those who would not succumb to efforts to dupe them of their votes. Everyone at the CPC Election Monitoring Centre, comprising volunteering intellectuals ranging from professors to pilots, engineers to medical doctors, journalists to oil merchants, some from the UK, Canada and USA, had a tough time responding to and taking notes of frantic calls, text messages and emails from party agents from virtually all the northern states and, to a lesser extent, the South, with Bayelsa being on par with the North, of unbelievable intimidation by security agents and, in some cases, thugs.
I received a call from a former attorney general of Kaduna State, briefing me on how some CPC agents accredited to a collation centre in Kaduna metropolis were beaten and bundled out of the centre by policemen because they were making it impossible for PDP bigwigs and conniving staff of the so-called Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to alter election results. He simply helped our agents to put a call across to us as some other good Samaritans were nursing their wounds, while those who fainted among them were being revived. The vice president hails from this state and he must not be disgraced. That replicates the story in most parts of the North. The goal really was not to secure a win for President Goodluck Jonathan over Buhari in the North. Goodluck is not Obasanjo. It was to ensure he meets the constitutional requirement of national spread. Hence, the target was minimum of 25 per cent of the votes for him in each northern state. It was when our agents kept following Buhari's earlier instruction to follow their votes till results were announced to the letter, thus making the PDP target impossible up to collation centres, that we began to understand the purpose of the massive deployment of soldiers and anti-riot squads to the northern states in particular, as if mobilising to warfront, days ahead of that election. Where thugs could not break the ice, soldiers and anti-riot squads did.
Most of these cases happened in the wee hours when the largely deceived foreign election monitors had retreated to the safety of their hotels. I added Bayelsa because in some parts of that state people were not even allowed to vote. Ekeremo, quote and unquote, is one of them. There was a case where youth corps members, who were supposed to conduct the voting exercise, were locked up in a house while PDP agents thumb-printed the ballot papers distributed to them. One of the unfortunate youth corps members is the daughter of one of our party chairmen in the South-West. The father assailed us with calls to see how we could rescue his daughter, who was smart enough to text him from the toilet of her prison.
I found the rigging in Bayelsa strange, as its election horror tales streamed in. Why rig? This is President Jonathan's state. It's his automatically.
Later, when more reports came in from across the entire South South and the South East, we understood that PDP's brief was to ensure the president won in those states 100 per cent. He virtually did, notwithstanding reports of widespread voter apathy, which, gratefully, did not escape the notice of the foreign observers. In Enugu, where not more than 30 per cent of registered voters came out, PDP posted over 800, 000 votes. In all these places, those who voted for the PDP alone were only a step away from being 100 per cent of those on the voters' registers. A member of the CPC Election Monitoring Centre who travelled home to Anambra State to vote and conduct an on-the-spot monitoring of the election got the shocker of his life when, at the point of collation, CPC scored zero at the polling booth where he had voted. Some of us poked fun at him, asking, 'Even you didn't vote for CPC?' The same experience went for the South West states except in one or two where the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) offered some resistance.
At the end of the day, with mountain loads of evidence of widespread rigging and electoral malpractice, the CPC, as a party, overruled its presidential candidate, General Buhari, who had said he was done with electoral litigation, having spent 54 months in court to no avail in previous cases. The party firmly resolved to go to court. The world should be told the truth about this election. And some believers in Nigeria's judiciary felt evidence would be so overwhelming this time that the most corrupt judge's heart would tremble to pervert justice.
The PDP strategists knew this too. Thus, they have successfully connived with INEC so far to deny us access to election materials for forensic examination, contrary to the express order of the election tribunal. INEC said, among other inanities, that ballot paper were secret materials whose exposure would violate the right to voting secrecy of the electorate, as if oblivious of precedents in this regard. This was the second stage of connivance by INEC. First was when Professor Attahiru Jega, for reasons tenable to only himself, did not use the Direct Data Capturing (DDC) machine he had sought and obtained several billions of naira to procure for the purpose of voter accreditation on election day. If that had happened, multiple voting would have been impossible. In fact, the integrity of many a voter register had been compromised before election proper, making the use of DDC machine an invitation to large-scale exposure. Recall the arrest of an INEC staff with a PDP official in a hotel room in Ibadan before the election. It adumbrated the sleaze to come.
Our request for access to election materials at the tribunal was intended to get all multiple thumb-printed ballot papers voided. If this happens, President Jonathan risks being unseated. So, as we pressed a case for a ruling on disregard of the tribunal order, PDP strategists were in mortal dread of what could happen. A wave of intrigues followed. Then those who believed President Jonathan, when he publicly advised his party men not to rig for him, were soon delivered a vital proof of his complicity in the rigging saga. Barely a week after I lost my dear father, Samson Olufunmilade Meyungbe, to renal failure on August 13, Nigeria lost an incorruptible judge in the person of Justice Ayo Salami to judicial cum presidential failure. In a brazen show of disregard for the hallowed temple of justice, eight out of 24 members of the National Judicial Council (NJC) of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Aloysius Katsina-Alu, forwarded a suspension cum retirement letter of Justice Salami for presidential assent. The president swiftly assented, in utter disregard for constitutional requirements amid deafening protests from the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and several other learned authorities. With his assault on Justice Salami, President Jonathan has succeeded in sending a clear message to all public officers, as he embarks on his transformation agenda, that integrity and defence of public interest are not essential ingredients of national transformation.