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Election D-Day: Fear the self-fulfilling prophecy

All the sweat, and it is enough to fill several Con Oil tank farms. All the time, and it is enough to make a bicycle trip round the world. All the energy, and it is enough to move Zuma Rock. All the petrol, and it is worth Oloibiri oil well’s output. All the aviation fuel, and it was enough to supply Pan Am for a day. All the sleepless nights, enough to impress members of the Soviet State Defence Council during World War Two, who did not retire to bed for four years. All the money spent, enough to punch holes in the US Federal Reserve’s vaults. All the talking, enough to silence a colony of cicadas. All the blood spilled, enough to impress the manager of an abattoir. All the anxiety generated by the postponement, enough to make a roan antelope to shiver. Bring of all them together in one basket, and you have today’s presidential and National Assembly election in Nigeria.

At least since the construction of the Egyptian Pyramids, there has been no logistic operation in Africa quite like a Nigerian general election. DHL, the acclaimed world champion of logistics, will be staring in awe today. INEC must deliver non-sensitive and sensitive election materials to 36 states and FCT, 774 LGAs, 8,000 wards and 120,000 polling stations, some of them with several voting points. The Youth Corpers and other officers to man them must be delivered to the polling units before 7am today. This operation is at the mercy of the Road Transport Workers’ Union, which is as reliable as the weather. India is three times bigger than Nigeria, with six times as many people but its Central Election Commission distributes election materials through the Post Office. A parcel is addressed to every locality and it gets there seamlessly. In Nigeria however, INEC relies on the Air Force to deliver cartons to Central Bank branches in the states. Each REC must then go there with a truckload of Mobile Policemen in order to collect ballot papers and result sheets. This is more security than is accorded to Naira notes or gold bars.

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In Nigeria, a general election is what Jimmy Carter once called “the moral equivalent of war.”  Many people have run back to their hometowns. Ministry of Education has told all schools to orchestrate a premature mid-term break. Families are stocking up food and water. The Police Inspector General has clamped a 12-hour curfew on the whole country. The Army got orders to shoot ballot box snatchers. Clerics are urging people to pray. The Vice President has asked Nigerians to fast, which means he has doubts about the government’s security arrangements.

All of these fears are occasioned by the desperation of Nigerian politicians to win elections and the lengths they are ready to go to do so. Professor Jibrin Ibrahim said two weeks ago that in Nigeria, we are practicing democracy without democrats. For a candidate in a Nigerian election, the important thing is to get a Certificate of Return. That is often not the same thing as getting a majority of voters to vote for you. Get the COR “by hook or by crook, mostly the later,” as Richard Nixon once said.

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The advice that Nigerian leaders are giving every day to voters to be peaceful reminds me of the bride who said she became jittery on her wedding day when everyone was advising her to be patient. There must be something to it when the Police, DSS, Civil Defence and the Army all say they are “ready.” Customs, Prison Service, Immigration and Road Safety have all offered special teams to help. Policemen are stationed at every polling station. A Mobile Police squad is on standby in every local government. A military platoon is on stand-by in every barracks, ready to rush out wherever the police say they need help. We have not had this level of alertness since the Civil War.

The two major parties are accusing each other of planning to rig the election, of plotting to snatch ballot boxes, of hacking into INEC servers, of bribing election officials, of orchestrating last week’s postponement, of vote buying through early salary payment and of inviting foreign powers to invade Nigeria. The late Malam Adamu Ciroma once said, “Election rigging is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because you believe that your opponent will try to rig you out, you take steps to prevent him from rigging you out, and you end up rigging him out.” Let’s stop these wild allegations lest they become the self-fulfilling prophecy.

What causes the fear of violence in Nigerian elections?  I don’t think any major presidential or gubernatorial candidate will sit down and plan to unleash violence on Election Day. However, his supporters in various localities could unleash violence for their own reasons. The last thing a local party chieftain wants is for him to fail to “deliver” his ward to the winning candidate. That will make him to become seriously disadvantaged in the subsequent sharing of spoils. That is why in a Nigerian election, a supporter is ready to go to lengths that the candidate himself is not ready to go.

In the months leading up to today’s election, there was a lot of talk about vote buying. Some voters are so unscrupulous that they place leaves on their foreheads, meaning they are for sale. Most vote buying operations take place before we get to the polling station. Major candidates often have operators who enter houses and compounds the previous night, distribute sugar, soap, salt and money and make people to swear by a Holy Book that they will vote for a certain candidate. Efforts to extend this operation to the polling stations was stymied this year by INEC, which moved the ballot box beyond the view of party agents. Voters then promised to go into the polling booth with their phones and photograph their ballot paper, but INEC responded by banning cameras inside polling booths. Trust our politicians; they would come up with another trick.

The quality of Nigerian elections is kept low by the quality of its voters. Illiteracy is too high; poverty is too high; political education is too low; primordial sentiments are too deep. Voters ask no questions about party programs. Many people attended mega rallies of political parties but they left with no idea what was being promised. In Nigeria, many people get elected into high office without a program. They produce a program only when they get elected, if then.

There are 73 presidential candidates on the ballot today. One of them tried to withdraw but INEC said she must contest because it was too late to withdraw. In the last two days, many candidates said they withdrew in favour of the leading candidates, but their party logos will still appear on the ballot. Candidates’ names are not written on the ballot paper because half the voters are illiterate, so we use party logos instead. Logos too could confuse some voters because some of them are similar. Besides, the ballot paper is so long that when a voter folds it, he could accidentally thumb print another party’s box and invalidate the ballot.

Only two candidates have a realistic chance of winning today’s presidential election. I will not mention their names lest the 71 remaining candidates accuse me of rigging.

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