With our history of violence in Nigeria – communal, inter-ethnic, religious, domestic, state sponsored, senseless, unsparing and brutal – it is hard to admit this, but the calls for peaceful non-violent elections are hypocritical. And that is the most polite thing that might be said about this campaign.
Since independence all our elections have been marked with violence – both before and after and there is a very simple reason why: our votes do not count. Instead rigging determines who emerges and hand in hand with this desire to usurp the power of the people comes violence – the violence of desperation and the violence of frustration; those who want their way at any cost and those who have their will thwarted over and over again.
Unfortunately, innocents make up the numbers of those brutally murdered, while a handful of people – a multi-ethnic and multi-religious cabal who think they know best and must always determine who is at the helm of affairs in Nigeria does exist. They are not always visibly at the controls themselves, but when they are, even during civil rule, they allegedly have never honestly won any election.
Writing about the1964 Federal Elections, Bola Ige said in his book People, Politics and Politicians of Nigeria (1940-1979) “Shortly before the day of the elections, it became clear that the elections could not be free and fair in many parts of the country. In the North, the various local government councils were instructed not to allow their halls or open places to be used for campaigns. The Police were instructed to find one reason or the other to refuse permits for campaign meetings to parties other than the NPC (the ruling party then)…” Sound familiar?
The 1979 elections also had irregularities but they were glossed over to usher in Shagari as President after 13 years of military rule. But as we are beginning to realize is typical with incumbents running for a second time, the1983 elections were riddled with fraud – so badly, that there were mass protests and coupled with dwindling oil prices and corruption, the army felt obligated to come in.
Then came 1999 and again the irregularities around the election that brought in Obasanjo for his second run at the helm were ignored as a small price to pay after 16 years of the military. However from 2003 through 2011, our elections have all been characterized by varying degrees of rigging, election fraud, and manipulation of the election management body and of course, violence.
According to Prof Onwudiwe in an article in Newswatch (May 20, 2007) titled ‘Is Chinua Achebe Right?’ Obasanjo apparently once said “I have participated in elections since 1959 and all of those elections have been controverted (sic). There will be threat, there will be intimidation, there will be blackmail and those who want to lead should just shrug their shoulders and remain focused.”
Knowing this, should we not question the faddish rash of peaceful election messages as if not misplaced then somewhat out of touch with reality? After over 50 years of electoral injustice do we not realize that it is impossible to have peaceful non-violent elections in Nigeria until things change? The overriding message should be about ensuring election integrity. How do we reduce rigging to an absolute minimum to mend the severe trust deficit between the public, elected officials and INEC? How do we save billions of naira and precious man hours that could be put to more productive and innovative work by making voter registration something as routine as getting any identification card? We’ve spent almost a year on CVR and collection of PVCs and it is still a mess. Mixed in with stories about PVC hijacking, burning and buying we find that once upon a time, Iwu had his own PVCs – produced no doubt at high cost – and now allegedly redundant.
We should eschew violence in every aspect of our lives – not just during the elections and it does make sense to caution Nigerians to value and preserve precious life. However even the impunity with which we are killed is tied to how responsible, a government that cannot be voted out, feels for its citizens.
There is a direct link between our inability to hold elected officials accountable to us and how they rig themselves into power. As the quality of our lives as Nigerians continues to decline the more pressure there is on our collective psyche. And the more we are prevented from exercising our rights to vote in or out those at the helm, the more vicious and counter-productive we will continue to be. The grave and continuing injustice in how our elections are conducted is to blame for our violent elections – how about focusing on that?
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