Locating 2003 in Bermuda Triangle
Dr. Aliyu Tilde
The long awaited voters registration exercise is over. It has left the country united on the conclusion that it was an absolute failure, another in a series we have become inundated with since 1999. This is the testimony of everybody, including commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). One of them lamented over the BBC Africa Service how he could not register throughout the twelve days that the exercise lasted.
If an INEC commissioner was unable to register his name, how many other Nigerians were left out of the exercise? How many missing registration slips or cards are missing? Though there is no official figure, the following arithmetic will nevertheless be useful. INEC has used the projected estimates of the National Population Commission to provide for 60 million eligible voters. Nevertheless, INEC claims that it has disbursed about 70 million registration cards. To begin with, therefore, there are 10 million cards missing.
From the spread and volume of complaints, we can safely assume a conservative figure of a quarter of total eligible voters who have not registered, that is giving INEC 75% success. (I doubt if the commission can grant itself a greater percentage, knowing very well that it has never portrayed the gift of an exceptionally brilliant student!) A quarter of 60 million is N12 million. If we add this figure to the extra 10 million provided by INEC, we have 22 million registration cards missing. With the loss of this amount of cards, 2003, I believe, election has taken a Bermuda dimension.
Twenty-two million is a large figure in a population where we do not expect more than 55 million will turnout for voting i.e. 91.7%, a record figure in the history of liberal democracy. Twenty-two million is 40% of the number the figure. The implication of this is that whichever party has the biggest share of the 22 million missing votes will definitely emerge the winner in the next presidential election. The same analogy will apply at the state and local government level. Let us remember that the difference between the two most contending candidates in 2003 will hardly be up to 10 million votes, for many reasons. It is likely to be a contest between an incumbent and a popular candidate, with incumbency trying to match popularity, or vice-versa. It is even more frightening that Obasanjo, who in 1999 had the full support of the Abdulsalami administration, became the President with only 15 million votes.
Let us go further by attempting to share the missing votes between the parties. We will use two simple universal rules: to each according to his need and ability, and to whom much is given much is expected.
The PDP here must be ready to acknowledge the possession of at least half the missing votes for the following reasons. It has the greatest ability, the greatest need and has taken the lion share in our democracy. I will explain myself.
One, it claims to be the largest party in Africa; it has a greater spread both vertically and horizontally. So we agree that in Africa there are only two parties: PDP and others. It has the President and the highest number of governors, members of the National Assembly and state houses of assembly. So wherever in the country the UFOs of the missing cards go flying, at least half of them cannot miss landing in one PDP hand or the other.
With this statistics also, the PDP has more at stake than other parties. It forms the federal government, meaning an almost total control over the economy. Therefore, it has more to lose. Its need will be stronger because men are more stimulated by the instinct to protect a possession than by the desire of acquisition. That is the need.
Then the ability. Acquiring the missing cards require money. And who has money more than the PDP? Tell me, my dear reader, which party do you know, other than the PDP, which can afford the luxury of spending N120million over a three-day in-country resort? Which party has access to the largest contracts of government? Which party has a candidate that was reported early this year by the newspapers to have accumulated over N32billion for his presidential campaign?
Finally, members of INEC and all the resident electoral commissioners are members of the PDP. Period. The 50% is therefore a conservative estimate of PDP shares in the missing cards corporation. Goubadia, according to Thisday, has admitted that “officials must have colluded with unscrupulous persons to divert the materials for purposes other than which they are meant.” There you are.
It is here I will narrate a sweet story to prove that even the ordinary man on the street has a good judgement of the enviable capacity of the PDP to acquire the cards. A state cabinet commissioner was touring registration centres in his state. At one of the centres, he was approached by a youth carrying 14 registration slips which he brought out from his pocket. He offered them to the commissioner saying, “Oga, you may wish to buy them for the PDP.” Of course everybody laughed and Oga rejected the offer. But the people around believed that if Oga were alone with the chap, nothing would have prevented him from taking it!
But PDP is not alone. Other parties and individuals were equally hospitable to the missing cards. Together with the PDP they share the desire to rig but their lesser political fortune could accord them only a second position. So, limited by fate and capacity, the other parties – APP, AD, APGA and UNPP/NDP – have to scramble over the other half, i.e. maximum of 12.5% each. I am assuming that UNPP/NDP are the same. I have allotted them an equal share because though APP and AD have governors and other representatives, the three newly registered parties, but especially UNPP and NDP, are desperate for success at all levels. Their failure to perform well in any coming election means nailing the coffin of their financier and founder politically. One of them is so desperate that in Jigawa State it is promoting its party with the name of a popular presidential candidate belonging to another party.
This arithmetic will let PDP 11 million votes. Now, if the PDP is allowed to successfully get its share of the missing votes through the electoral process may not need any vote from the public to win the presidential contest. Let us not forget, I repeat, that Obasanjo became the President in 1999 with only 15 million votes. But that was when there were only two contestants. In 2003 there is most likely going to be three or four contestants and the number of winning votes will drastically be smaller than 15 million, perhaps less than the 11 million we estimated to be in the hands of the PDP. Therefore the issue now is that if the status quo is maintained, 2003 elections have already been rigged. Shi ke nan.
INEC is assuring people that everybody will be registered before the next elections. But the issue at hand is not registration really. How can we hold any election when we know that millions of registration cards were stolen? What difference does it make if tomorrow INEC registers more voters but with these millions of cards still missing? How are we sure that in the update exercise, more cards will not be missing? The bitter truth that Nigerians must accept is that we have reached the bottom of the abyss. I do not see this crisis ending. This is the bottom.
What options do we have then? All our options must first accommodate the capabilities and inadequacies of INEC. So far it has said nothing about the missing cards besides waiting for the computer to do its magic of throwing out any duplicate entry and warning people that “the law stipulating the commission had stipulated “a fine of N100,000 or one year imprisonment or both for anyone who illegally possesses or diverts any registration material.” What is N100,000 to criminals that possess billions? The President – the commander in chief not only of the armed forces but also of the fight against corruption – is silent on the matter. “And her silence is her acceptance.”
Whether the computers will really be allowed to play the validation game honestly in Nigeria is also in doubt. This is a country where technology, like humans, could be persuaded to prefer doing the wrong or decline doing the right. In addition, over 70% of the staff operating the computers come from the same ethnic group as the commander in chief. So relying on the computers may not be the best. It might be worse in fact. If America could abandon the computer in its last presidential election and resort to manual counting, how could Nigerians trust the South African-trained INEC ‘gurus’ to use the computer fraud free? Ulterior motives aside, many of the cards will be smeared since Nigerians are not used to using fingerprints for purposes like registration.
What do you think will happen if the voters register is tendered for public verification tomorrow and the majority of names in a ward, local government, state or region is missing, perhaps due to the same ‘printer’s devil’ that once attempted to forge the Electoral Act? In this case, does not the computer give more room for further disenfranchisement on basis of party, region, religion or ethnicity? Already we have cases in some cities where some people are complaining that they were denied registration because of such differences. If I may ask, why did INEC in the first place print over 10 million extra cards? In ba rami, me ya kawo maganan rami, inji makaho.
At any rate, INEC must realize that any person, party or government that has stolen the registration slips intends to use them during the next election. They did not steal millions of cards for fun. They must have calculated how to beat the system and use them to acquire votes with which they will stuff the ballot boxes or the result spreadsheet on election day. When it comes to malpractice the world has conceded to us the fame of first position. It has rated us the second most corrupt corner on the planet. We may sit down and wonder how this will take place. But if we do not fight it now, we will be surprised to know, at a high price then, that it is after all possible.
What do we do then? First, I believe that rather than follow the shadow of Ghali this is an area where Obasanjo can prove the seriousness of his anti-corruption campaign. Let him give the police and the state security agents a free hand to pursue the perpetrators of this crime. It is easy. Start with Goubadia, the INEC chief. Let him account for all the votes his commission delivered from its press. From there they should move to the next in the chain of command until they reach each registration centre. Let each officer be held accountable for whatever he is given or whatever forgery is discovered in his domain of authority. So far we have not heard about the interrogation of Goubadia or any of his federal and state resident commissioners.
Once the criminals are discovered, and they are in thousands, they should be punished according to the law. Anything short of this measure will only guarantee the recurrence of the same fraud every time the commission sets out to register voters or conduct election.
Secondly, INEC should start thinking of cancelling the last registration exercise. But if it does so, what can it do instead? Someone is suggesting that it simply updates the 1999 register, adjusting it to accommodate migrating families and maturing teenagers. This may not be fraud-proof, but it is worth considering.
The greatest constraint here is time. And this is the doing of the federal government. The registration is supposed to take place over a year ago such that the commission would have enough time to check and cross check its register. It would have even had the opportunity, if necessary, to repeat the exercise, as a situation like the present would demand. Unfortunately, we are blessed with a regime that has no regard to priority and which is keenly interested in succeeding itself through whatever means possible. To interfere with the duties of INEC and to delay the disbursement of its funds appear to be part of its strategy towards self-succession.
Many people will come up with different suggestions. The House of Representative is asking for the sacking of Goubadia. I agree that the guy has failed, repeatedly. But do we expect better? No. It will be Obasanjo again who will nominate the successor to Goubadia. And from the history of his nominations, the President will definitely choose from among his in laws or among his camp of party loyalist. So nothing will change, after Goubadia.
No matter the variety of our proposals, none of them will be effective if two conditions that we earlier mentioned are not met, i.e. probing INEC and applying deterrent.
In addition, people still need to be educated that hoarding cards will only subvert the process. I will quickly add here that the first person to be educated on that are those who presently hold political offices, including the President who is keen in manipulating INEC. They must know that if they are not capable of holding free and fair elections next year, the alternative pill will hardly be sweeter than that which their predecessors swallowed twenty years ago.
We need to briefly mention why Nigerians or their leaders went this far for the first time in the history of their politics. We cannot help pointing an accusing finger at the Obasanjo administration. It created the atmosphere of apprehension by its actions and inactions. In everything to do with INEC and its operations the government has manipulated the commission to its advantage. The basis for this is the fear that it has lost the support it had in 1999 through its partiality and incompetence. Yet, it is bent on succeeding itself.
Actually the then military administration was responsible for perfect all the arrangements for the PDP to emerge as winner in 1999. Many of the PDP governors, local government chairmen and members of legislature did not win their elections. It was rigged to favour. As for Obasanjo, all sorts of tricks and threats were used to ensure his success.
That is now history. There is no Abdulsalami in government to tailor the election in favour of Obasanjo. So Obasanjo has to do the rigging himself. That is why from the appointment of INEC officials to the timing of its operations, he does everything that will favour his party and himself in particular.
People have lost confidence in a government that cannot be fair or which is incapable of restraining itself from serving as bad example. If other parties or individuals have participated in diversion of registration cards they are doing so only because they have lost the confidence that there will be any justice in the system.
That has been the history of our elections. Sadly, Obasanjo, instead of mitigating it by behaving like the statesman we thought he was, has carried the fraud further by aggravating our fears. We have never had a history of missing registration slips. Today, out of desperation, the present administration has made not only our registration cards but also our hopes on 2003 to disappear somewhere in the Bermuda triangle of incumbency politics.