(Vanguard of Sunday, April 6, 2008)
The conclusion I can draw from the INEC re-run of the Kogi gubernatorial elections is that we are hundreds of miles and many many years away from free and fair elections. Their being free and fair is one thing. Their being seen to be free and fair is quite another. I locate both conclusions in the mindset of those looking. And those looking are people born by women and located in a particular little acre on mother earth.
To us in Nigeria, we will continue to claim that elections were free and fair depending on whether we won or lost. But the freeness or fairness of an election has some objective part to it, in spite of what we think or say or do. Those watching us from on High know whether what we are doing is consistent with what freeness and fairness harbour, for words are containers for their meanings and nothing else.
The ability to speak is a divine gift to the human spirit, and every word spoken by man has a relationship with the source of the Word that brought everything into being. Words are, therefore, not the creatures of men. They are gifts to men who because of the way they have lived their lives may have distorted the meanings anchored in the words.
The distorted words remain the pure gold they are meant to be; only that they have been muddied by the misbehaviour of those who distorted them. So a word is not distorted by God, but by man; and when spoken affects the speaker and distorts him. Look at that again. It is the spoken word that distorts the man who speaks the distortion.
This may sound unfamiliar to those we have come to regard as experts in languages, but let us say, simply, that it is true that the words you utter form your inner and outer lives. Watch the pastor speak, and the armed robber and the 419ner; even the politician. Haven’t you seen a confessed killer who has been born anew reflect purity that cannot be associated with the crudeness he poured forth from his being before he changed his life? Some confess that they had been drug addicts or barons before Jesus Christ captured them.
Since we have a preoccupation with politics, you can say that the politician is a product of his misuse of language. The language is a cloth he sews with his thought volition and which he must wear until it is time to reap the fruits of his sowing. Many words he uses have, for him, the meaning he ascribes to them, but whether he likes it or not, those words have meanings independent of his usage of them.
The closer he is to the objective meaning of the word, for every word has formative power, the ‘cleaner’ and ‘purer’ he is. You can now know why a politician will rig an election and celebrate the evil deed in a church or mosque. Being in church or mosque does not, however, cleanse him, for he carries along like a shell the distortion of language which clings to him and reflects that stench many people associate the average politician with.
We have, therefore, been formed by our distortion of what fairness means, of what freeness means. But in other jurisdictions, fairness is not only the opposite of unfairness, it is known to be so and taken to be so. Here in Nigeria, we say elections are free and fair because there is nowhere in the world where there is perfect freedom and perfect fairness even when we know that they were not free and fair.
The logic is stood on its head. We say everybody rigs elections if they have an opportunity so to do. So if we out-rig you, why cry? In the objective sense of the potency of words, rigging is rigging and cannot cease to be rigging simply because two groups were in a race to cheat and one was faster in doing so.
But what happened in Kogi State? We are zeroing in on Kogi State because it was the big event. Seven or so other states had local government elections which wore the colours of the Kogi State outing – promises that the elections would be free and fair; conduct of the elections with outcomes being disputed by those parties that were declared to have lost? And what is it that cuts across them all?
Disruption of voting where one party is weak; stuffing of ballot boxes with thumb-printed ballot papers which were supposed to be in the secure possession of INEC; snatching of ballot boxes during or after voting and replacing them with others already stuffed; allegations of collusion for results to be switched on the way to collation centres; claims that agents of some political parties did not sign the result sheets even where there are clear signatures which may have been appended by those who had been part of the scheme to rig the elections etc. So, when shall we have elections that would merit the objective use of these two simple words: “free” and “fair”?
We expected free and fair elections in the objective sense in Kogi State. That is that there would be a level-playing field for all those who wanted the mandate of the people. INEC would not have to recruit those hands that would compromise their sworn role to be fair to all concerned. INEC would conduct the elections with their own staff drawn from all over the country.
INEC would ensure that the voters register for Kogi State was ready, having been updated; and that each polling centre would have its own register for those listed there to vote. There would be party representatives who would watch the proceedings for their parties and when counting is done, they would endorse the outcome. For in an election, one person is bound to win.
The security agencies would be there to ensure that there was no violence, and if there was, that it would be contained. The ballot papers would be serialized, in the custody of INEC and brought out for all stakeholders to see before use. The election would start at the same time all over Kogi State… The elections have come and gone and while Idris who left has returned as governor, Audu who wanted to come cannot come.
He says he is heading for the tribunal because of abuses of the electoral process – violence, box snatching, manipulation of results etc. The ruling party is celebrating and has even asked the opposition party to apologise for wasting time and resources to conduct an election in which PDP was sure to win any day
I am neither crying for Audu nor celebrating with Idris. I am weeping for Nigeria because we are still not conducting elections to meet standards that local requirements, not to speak of international rules, expect. In Niger State for example, I saw the ANPP chairman of the state saying on television that there were no elections.
Yet the PDP is supposed to have swept all chairmanship elections. In Rivers State, AC’s kingpin Tonye Princewill claims that his party won 13 local government councils and named them. He says they have information that the results would be manipulated to deny them victory. What AC is claiming in Rivers State is not the issue, but that there can be such a claim.
Even in Zimbabwe, there is some credit given to the elections conducted there in which observers are not even welcome. But here we are misbehaving in the presence of those we invited to watch what we are doing. In the Kogi State election, we have official reference to the opposition organising groups to “cause violence”.
The police fingered OPC and arrested some people and gave the name of an AC leader in Kogi State as the brain behind their presence. Then in Benue State, the police mentioned the name of the ANPP candidate as the one who was organizing thugs to cause trouble in the Kogi State re-run.
The bad news is that there was not any mention of the PDP as sending any thugs to Kogi State. Perhaps they needn’t have to, as they have always had access to those they can depend on to do the dirty work using uniforms of security agencies. So when someone in police uniform was caught and was being beaten up to the embarrassing view on television of the public, the police denied that the person in their uniform was one of them.
But the tragedy is that many thugs, even armed robbers, wear these uniforms. So, I believe the story of the police because in the 2003 elections, there were lots of people in police and army uniforms who were not policemen or soldiers. Politicians could not retrieve the guns they gave them. This feat was repeated with more confidence in the 2007 elections.
You can guess why there has been increase in armed robberies. And as if what has been happening and which are being shamelessly revealed at election tribunal hearings is not disgraceful news enough, the Edo State Information and Orientation Commissioner Calus Enoma was drawn from his residence in Benin City. He answered the call on Friday March 28, and on Monday March 31, he was found dead in a room in a hotel in Benin. This is another dimension to the business we call politics in our land. Yet up there, someone is looking, but we refuse to accept this fact.
My point is that thugs are thugs and abuses of the ballot remain so in spite of what we say or do, because, yes, someone out there is watching. The undistorted meaning of “free” and “fair” can be sensed when we look at this very illuminating verse 7 of chapter 58 of the Holy Quran: “If three men talk together in secret, God is their fourth; if four, He is their fifth; if five, He is their sixth; whether fewer or more, wherever they may be, He is with them.”. And what of this from chapter 75, 13 – 15: “On the Day of Resurrection, man will be told of all his deeds, from first to last. Indeed, man shall bear witness against himself; plead as he may with his excuses”. And this: “Angels are recording your intrigues”. (10:21). And finally, this: “Feast, make merry, and let your hope beguile you. You shall know”. (15:3)
Yes, ride on riggers and killers. All of us shall know. One day.
(Pages 45-50 of Vol. 3 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh – OUT SOON).