Much ado about electronic transmission of election results

Amidst many serious national challenges, Nigerians have once again allowed themselves to be distracted by the National Assembly’s unprofitable controversy over the mode of transmission of result by INEC on election day. Many saw the defeat of the bill as a national tragedy while some others have said it was an assault on democracy. It is perhaps lost on many Nigerians that except the press, neither the current military baked new breed politicians nor their forbears that took power from the colonial masters at independence saw democracy more than the shortest route to power. That was why they wrecked the first republic barely five years after independence over sharing of perks of office, undermined the democcratisation process in the second republic by awarding themselves what Walter Ofonagoro described as ‘landslide and sea-slide victories in opposition strongholds, while Babagana Kingibe and Tom Ikimi, of SDP and NRC, traded democracy for ambassadorial positions during the still-born third republic.

Beyond stealing the country blind in the first 15 years of the fourth republic, the political elite did very little to enhance the course of democracy. Their children even forged documents to siphon about N1.7trillion in the name of fuel subsidy when in the words of Audu Ogbeh, they never imported a pint of fuel.

Little has changed under President Buhari government of change. Democracy can hardly thrive in the absence of public opinion. But President Buhari who thinks he knows what the people want without listening to them listen only to himself. He would rather deploy taxpayers’ money to build RUGA settlement for those described by World Terrorist Index as the fourth most deadly terrorist groups in the world rather than mete out the Ghana treatment to those terrorizing Nigerians as demanded by the people.

Our institutions of democracy – independent judiciary, independent legislature, strong political parties, independent press and virile civil society groups, without which democracy cannot thrive have always been weak. Unfortunately, they have come under more serious assault in the fourth republic with Obasanjo whimsically sacking party leaders, senate presidents and impeaching state governors without following due process. Under Buhari, houses of senior judicial officers were raided at night by DSS officials, lawmakers were once prevented entry into the hallowed chambers by hooded DSS men while his minister of information continues to make attempts at muscling the fourth estate of the realm that in the battle for democracy, forced out the colonial masters just as it disgraced ‘Nigerian army of anything is possible’ out of power and out of our lives.

Our politicians have always undermined the democratization process by exploiting our diversity. To remain part of Nigeria during the 1953 attempt at resolving our national question, the north insisted on controlling 50% of the membership of the legislature. Yet the Northern People’s Congress in spite of coercion and strong hand tactics of northern leaders came a distant third in the 1959 federal election with about 1.9m trailing, NCNC supported in the main by the Igbos and Yoruba with 2.1 million votes, closely followed by Action Group, the Yoruba dominant political party with 2million votes.

The battle cry ever since by the north has always been ‘democracy is a game of numbers’. This was used to justify the inconclusive 1964 elections leading to a constitutional confrontation between President Nnamdi Azikiwe and Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa which snowballed to the January and July 1966 coup and counter coup. It was similarly used to justify the 1979 inconclusive election eventually validated by the courts using Richard Akinjide’s twelve-two-third formula. In 1999, it was used to justify imposition of Obasanjo as president without a political base thereby literarily climbing the palm tree from the top. The story was not different during the 2003 and 2007 massively rigged elections. With Buhari’s landslide victories in 2015 and 2019, northern Fulani irredentist including Governor Nasir El-Rufai who downplayed the contribution of the Yoruba and later boasted about the north population was to remind us of the North’s invincibility during elections.

It was therefore not a surprise that following the Asaba southern governors’ call for a shift of power to the south in 2023, a shadowy group that describes itself as ‘Northern Nigerian Consensus Movement’ claiming to represent 75 economic organisations, including Arewa Traders Association, Amalgamated Cattle Association of Nigeria, claim to be ready to be mobilized for the battle.

If we see the claim as outlandish, we might also remind ourselves that everything about Nigerian population since 1953 as stated above has always been weird. Our population distribution which defies demographic logic that associate higher rate of procreation to the tropical swamp as against semi-desert Sahel region is in itself bizarre. This is why besides our political elite’s conspiracy, the major threat to our democracy since independence remains the northern political elites’ outright rejection of any form of interrogation of this weird claim.

Nigerians have always suspected the answer to our strange demographic population spread probably lies in movement of stateless Fulani across our open borders especially in the north during census head count and elections. Baraje, a former PDP chairman and an APC stalwart until recently, not too long ago seemed to have given credence to this clam when he told Nigerians that APC imported foreign herdsmen into Nigeria for the purpose of the 2015 election.

Northern political elite including Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna and Masari, his Katsina counterpart who admitted negotiating and paying ransom to immigrants Fulani herdsmen terrorising their people do not seem to have anything against the presence of such Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria. Their heartache seems to be over the Fulani immigrants’ failure to stop tormenting Nigerians after collecting ransom. When another northern leading political light, Governor Mohammed of Bauchi State was recently asked by a reporter on Channels Television’s Morning Ride programme whether he considered it right to channel Nigerian taxpayers’ money towards establishing RUGA settlements for immigrant herdsmen, he said without any restraint that Fulani from any part of Africa are Nigerians.

This type of mindset and northern leaders feeling of invincibility anchored on questionable numerical strength, if you ask me, poses a greater threat to our budding democracy than manual or electronically transfer of election results. After all, a critical analysis of our election outcomes especially at the local council levels since the beginning of the fourth republic will show that there is honour among thieves. Our political leaders hardly lose elections in their strongholds.

Intra-elite feud only set in when there are aberrations such as Ofonagoro’s ‘landslide and sea-slide victories’ in opposition strong holds as NPN did in Ondo in 1983 which contributed to the collapse of the second republic; Obasanjo’s deployment of military tactics to out-fox the Yoruba Afenifere leaders and their AD party during the 2003 gubernatorial battle in southwest and PDP’s theft of other candidates mandates in Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun in 2007.

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