By Zainab Suleiman Okino
In our unwritten political culture and political lexicon, rigging occupies a prominent place. Beginning from our pre-independence elections till today, cheating to win in form of rigging has been part of our ways to elect our representatives.
Since then, the behaviour and attitude of the political elite has not changed markedly. And despite the constant reforms introduced by the electoral body at one time or the other, the bad eggs have always tried to get ahead of our electoral system no matter how sophisticated.
However, 2015 marked a turning point in this regard as the card reader was introduced. Before then it was always a rigging heist of sort; as politicians damned the consequences of their action, believing that the end justifies the means. The PDP’s inglorious past testified to this, such that rigging was no longer seen as a crime against the electorate. Thus, some of their cocky members once declared that “a party can only rig where it is strong” suggesting that with or without rigging that party would still win anyway, to justify their near national dominance at one time. Unfortunately, the ruling APC is not different.
Over time, there have been tremendous improvements, but as the saying goes, old habits die hard; therefore, we still have pockets of those old habits, may be in a deadlier way. Before and during the just concluded presidential election, some of these violent tendencies reared their ugly heads. While the details are yet to come out, there are at least 19 recorded deaths in election-related violence in in the country including Delta state; In Kogi state, a student and a police officerwere killed; a soldier andan INEC staff, a former aide to Governor Wike and his brother were murdered in Rivers state; a photojournalist attached to Bayelsa state was shot dead and ballot box snatcher set ablaze in Lagos.In addition to outright murder, a lot more were injured and maimed. In total, 128 suspects were arrested for election violence nationwide according to the police.
The nocturnalelection manipulation is an old trick that has lingered till today. Powerful politicians armed with mind-boggling amount of money influence election and change election results after ‘normal’ people might have cast their votes and returned to the comfort of their homes. It looks like ballot box stuffing, ballot box snatching and vote buying as forms of rigging have come to stay. Despite President Buhari’s directive to security agents to deal ruthlessly with ballot box snatchers, many still dared it. Some succeeded especially where a particular party is in charge; others paid with their lives. A deputy commissioner of police (FSARS) was even apprehended in Bayelsa state for attempting to rig election; how low can it get for a man of his calibre.
As for vote buying, it has gone digital and morally reckless; governors even starve their workers of salaries in order to save to bribe voters and sway votes in a coded manner on election day. And there is even the issue of paying election officials or gifting them with cars and houses even at the level of INEC commissioners to alter results in favour of the highest bidders. While this and ballot box snatching appear to be receding, new and sophisticated ways of rigging are emerging. Besides, you don’t want to know what mobilisation of voters means during election. It runs into billions, otherwise what was a bullion van doing in Bola Tinubu’s house on the eve of election?
Abduction of strong supporters, critics and lately social media influencers form the bedrock of another category—people who see and speak out to draw attention to misdemeanours, if any. Such people can be silenced through abduction or kept away for sometime if they are lucky to survive. The latest and perhaps the hottest way to rig is through arson. Election riggersdeliberately target places their opponents are strong and after collation, destroy or set everything on fire thereby erasing evidence of electoral success that may accrue to the opponent.
That happened in Okota part of Lagos, Abonima and Akuku-Toru in Rivers state and many other places last Saturday. Recall that during the governorship primaries of the APC in Ekiti state last year, an agent of one of the aspirants openly destroyed/scattered ballot boxes already filled with ballot papers. Up till this moment, no one was tried for that impunity. Another evidence of the new low is a corps member caught in the bush thumb-printing ballot papers. What audacious criminal the lady corps memberis. How much will they pay her for this lifetime embarrassment, yet she is supposed to be a role model for the younger generation.
Meanwhile, the younger ones we are talking about already have their minds polluted with all sorts of criminalities. Voting is an adult affair, adults who know the difference between right and wrong. That is why the voting age is put at 18 years. But what we later got to know about the 2015 election, especially the story of underage voting especially in the North leaves a bitter memory for us. Even in last Saturday’s election, there is a trending video on the social media of children voting in Taraba state. No one apprehended them. Like such cases in the past, that too will come to pass without anyone being punished.
A society like ours where impunity and criminality are condoned, politicised, as acceptable norms, can hardly change. As a matter of fact, if children are already acculturated to do wrong things, and pass it for heroism, that society can hardly redeem itself. When bad ways are legitimised as normal, such a society is doomed and apparentlyhas lost its values. With regards to election rigging, we have really gone down low and this last election is evidential of our degeneration.