By Godwin Onyeacholem
There can be no better expression of apprehension over the 2015 elections than the spontaneous groundswell of agitation for violence-free balloting by many prominent as well as obscure Nigerians and some of the country’s deeply concerned foreign friends. Perhaps, given the palpable fear of explosive conflict that the unquestionably zero-sum election might generate, it is just as well that a strong, full-strength case be made for avoiding violence in order to avert a potentially disintegrating state of affairs in the polity.
But as carefully observed, two distinct submissions can be gleaned from the multi-stratal interventions in this instance: first, there is the disingenuous and seemingly conspiratorial contention that regardless of what happens, violence must be avoided; then there is the more upfront, decisive take urging the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to live up to its name as an independent, unbiased electoral body and for the federal government (read the ruling party) to refrain from using its might to manipulate the process to its advantage so that the inclination to violence can be completely eliminated.
Take note that the first submission, unlike the second, hugs the reluctance to take into account the way human beings are likely to respond in the face of obvious cheating. It is saying that even if INEC is seen to be undermining the party you support, and the federal government uses security agents to brutalize opposition party agents and supporters in a deliberate resolve to ensure the ruling party retains power, simply fold your arms and walk away from the polling booths.
It says wring your hands and turn the other cheek when slapped. And if an offended political party feels strongly about the way the whole process was openly skewed in favour of those who now control power at the centre, it should just shut up and quietly head for the courts! At face value, these admonitions sound so straightforward as to be the ultimate check for violent eruptions. But whether this how it is going to play out, Nigerians wait to see.
Yet, let no one be deceived. And Lai Mohammed, the national publicity secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the rest of the party leadership and their members must bear in mind this grim forecast: in spite of all the preachments, hope and prayer from all quarters, the 2015 election will not be free, fair, credible and transparent given the unparalleled high stakes surrounding it. In other words, the election everyone is feverishly looking forward to in the New Year will be rigged outright, and without any feeling of regret.
The party at the heart of the rigging will be no less than the so-called largest party in Africa. In view of what it stands to lose if the APC wins the presidential election – especially the automatic halt to the carefree romp on the gravy train, not to talk of an uncertain future under APC – PDP will do everything under the sun to ensure victory for itself. And if the PDP wins, it is fairly certain that it will not be long before the APC begins to crumble, thus signalling the end of any effective opposition in the system and aborting the long-held dream of advancing Nigeria’s political development through opposition victory at the centre for the first time since independence.
However, with its popularity currently going down in a manner it has never experienced, the PDP, as it had done in the past, will use all the security agencies under its control to its advantage. The army, police and state security service operatives will provide cover for PDP politicians and their supporters to perpetrate all kinds of electoral fraud. Where necessary, they will use violence. When this happens, you can guess how APC supporters will react.
Though President Goodluck Jonathan in his New Year message promised to organise free and fair elections, the rhetoric of some top officials of his party contradicts him. Theirs favour the infamous “do-or-die” stance of the Obasanjo era. In any case, it’s not the duty of Jonathan to promise and commit to credible elections. That is the responsibility of the INEC boss Professor Attahiru Jega. Jonathan is a player in the game, so like other players the least he can do is to promise to abide by the rules as spelt out by INEC. In reality, he cannot conduct an election in which he is contesting.
Moreover, you are bound to be excused if you pause to question the sincerity of a President and a party that insist on recognising as ‘winner’ a contestant who had 16 votes instead of the one who had 19 votes in an election. For such a President and the party to hold on to the lie that 16 is greater than 19 and confer legitimacy on the former, Nigerians and the rest of the world cannot ask for a better sneak preview on the size of desperation that will define the forthcoming election.
Unfortunately, INEC itself cannot be trusted to be totally neutral in the conduct of the election. The Commission’s one-sided role in the 2011 elections is still fresh. That INEC, in many ways, helped the PDP achieve victory in the last election is not in doubt. Still, Jega has continued to carry on like someone who has something to hide.
So far, he has done nothing significant to convince a huge chunk of the electorate that he will be impartial this time. The Commission’s distribution of the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) in some states has been sloppy at best. In spite of his promises, there are increasing signs that many voters will be disenfranchised, and they are likely going to be from opposition stronghold.
In the end, what for one is certain is that given what is up for grabs PDP will rig the election. What is yet unclear is how APC will respond to the scam. But no doubt, the fear of violence is real.