By Leonard Karshima Shilgba
The Nigerian constitution makes provision for national and state “independent” electoral commissions to organize, undertake, and supervise all elections under their specified jurisdictions, and to compile and maintain a register of voters. The Nigerian situation is so peculiar. The electoral commissions are the main culprits in the crime of election irregularities and fraud. For too long the Nigerian electorate has either overlooked their grotesque culpability or lightly regarded it.
In my state, Benue, a shameless display of impunity was staged by a professor of criminology, Professor Phillip Ahire, who had served as secretary of the Uwais electoral reform committee that was set up by President Yar’Adua to address the fraudulent electoral exercises in Nigeria. On November 24, 2012, Professor Ahire presided over the conduct of elections to local councils in the state in which the ruling party, the PDP, scored a perfect hundred per cent result, winning council chairman seats in all the twenty-three local councils of the state. The opposition party, with not less than 10 members in the twenty-nine-member state house of assembly, simply gave up in the face of this day light coup against the people’s will. The professor thereafter went to his church in Makurdi to “give thanks” for the “successful” conduct of elections. He thanked the people for their “prayers” that made the elections “successful.” The people could not hold their peace in church any longer. They shouted back, “Liar!” It took a while to calm down the people. What audacity! What provocation!
If the Nigerian people have had their electoral choices ignored repeatedly with impunity, it is because the electoral commissions and their staffers have always supplied the weapons for this coup. For a professor of criminology to be so brazenly involved in such a crime as robbing the people of their supposed right to choose the people they would like to lead them, it makes me wonder what sort of things he researched on about criminology. I have learned that Professor Ahire is a church elder. Shame on religion in Nigeria! I would not blame the politicians; rather, I blame the referees of elections in Nigeria. The Benue example I have given is typical of conduct of elections in Nigeria, with only a few exceptions.
Do we need electoral commissions in the form that they exist today? Is it wrong to stage a counter coup when you have been overthrown by a group of mutineers? If the Nigerian people should decide to go wild one day against perceived electoral fraud against their choices, would that be wrong? Oh, they say two wrongs don’t make a right. I understand that dictum. But I ask, is it wrong to take steps to defend yourself when there is no other way? Electoral commissions in Nigeria declare whom they will as the “winner” in an election contest. The ruling party, through its dominance in the legislature, fixes a 180 day- limitation on electoral dispute litigations; the judiciary, as a complicit player, encourages and permits delays until that time lapses, and justice is denied. The people are left seething in anger. What other options do the people have other than a violent reaction? When people have come to lose confidence in a constitutional process, this should be seen as a harbinger of violence. When justice is perceived to have been denied repeatedly, and the people, because they have no hope in the courts, decide not to go to court anymore, one of two must happen. Violence shall soon erupt or open rebellion against “authority” will happen. Withdrawal of support from an illegal authority is certain. And there are ways of doing this.
1. The people may constitute “Enforcing Defenders” (EDs) and refuse to pay taxes.
2. The people may refuse call to “cooperation”.
3. The people may withhold any information, ideas, vision, and help that those forcefully and illegally occupying positions of authority may need.
4. Gang groups may emerge comprising those who feel cheated, to terrorise.
Is Nigeria genuinely ready for any of the above? Do the TIPs (Thieves In Power) truly underestimate the possibilities in the Nigerian?
It is my strong view that Nigeria can do without her “independent” electoral commissions. Each town, precinct, and village should have its election committees during any election. Members of such committees shall be representatives of candidates or political parties involved in such elections, local youth group representatives, local women group representatives, local labour representatives, student representatives, the disabled representatives, civil groups and intellectual representatives, all resident in such town, precinct, or village. The committee shall be formalized and put on oath in the respective local government areas by the local government chief judge or magistrate. Funding of elections shall be done through budgetary processes of the respective legislatures.
At the local council level, the local councils shall approve funds directly to the election committees in the towns and villages in the local government area. For state elections, the state houses of assembly shall approve state funds for the elections, which shall be sent to the local councils for distribution. For national elections, the national assembly shall approve federal funds for the elections, which shall be sent to the local election committees through the state houses of assembly. In addition, political parties, through their local chapters, shall be free to make donations for logistics and allowances for the committee members. Election results shall be announced by those committees on the same day of elections without necessity for transmission to any collation centres, and that would be final. Disputes of election results should be made with respect to specified towns, precincts, or villages, and the respective election committees should have the responsibility of defending the results in a formal court of law. Where fraud is proved, members of the committee should each get custodian sentencing of between 10 and 15 years with no option of fine or parole or state pardon; in addition, a bye election shall be conducted in such precinct, town, or village by another election committee. Where an election committee is denied of funds from sources I have specified, all legislators (from local to national levels) within such precincts, towns, or villages shall lose their seats in the respective legislative houses.
1. It shall be the responsibility of each election committee to design an election process that best suits its precinct, town, or village.
2. It shall be the sole responsibility of an election committee to decide on which form of identification to use to determine residents.
3. Lower age limit for voting shall remain 18 years for the whole country.
4. There shall be a maximum of three electoral materials—Electoral result sheet, which must be signed by at least two-thirds of all members of the respective election committee to make the result valid; electronic register of all voters who have registered to vote at the precinct, town, or village; and ballot papers (where applicable).
5. The printing of ballot papers (if such would be used rather than some electronic device) must be done locally by the respective election committee, if feasible, or within the respective state.
6. The voter register shall be compiled by each election committee during each election, and must be completed at most one month before election. The voter register must include exactly one of the following for each voter—Driver’s license number, international passport number, national identification number, and state identification number. If a voter has none of these, he or she is not qualified to vote in Nigeria. There shall be no voter’s card. On Election Day, the voter must present the identification card they used to register before casting a vote.
At the end of each election process, the election committee shall render account to the Finance committee of the respective house of assembly. If cleared, it shall then stand dissolved after conclusion of all related litigations on electoral disputes. A formal ceremony of dissolution and absolution shall be conducted by the respective chief judge of the state. All unspent funds shall be paid into the account of the state for public use.
If we don’t get to the point where the choices of voters are not excluded from governance, a forceful overthrow of the Tips must take place in order to rescue Nigeria. This is a grave possibility we must not ignore.
Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria and chairman of the Middle Belt Alliance.