First, let me congratulate the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Mahmud Yakubu, all his staff and the Members of the National Assembly Committees on INEC for re-enkindling our hope in the building of our Democracy. The passage of the Bill to enable INEC transmit election results electronically both the House and the Senate is worthy of celebration. It seems a simple and straight forward activity. However, this is Nigeria where nothing is ever simple or straight forward. I am hopeful that President Muhammad Buhari will go ahead and sign the Bill into Law immediately. In doing so, he will give credence to his commitment to giving the country the gift of a better INEC than the one he met.
This is a turning point for our nation. When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon on July 17th, 1969, he said to a stunned world, this is a small step, but a giant leap for mankind. I feel the same about this development. The reader might accuse me of exaggeration or wondering what there is to celebrate. However, if you live in a country which thrives in self-flagellation, openly embraces fraud, thrives in duplicity, skullduggery, subterfuge and barefaced underhandedness even at the highest level, then, this stab at the elephant of corruption should not be taken lightly. It is the first in a million stabs that will follow before we slay the dragon of corruption in Nigeria.
The journey has begun but there is hope ahead. We will all be right to assume that in human terms, fraud is built into any process of human transaction because each always seeks to take advantage of the rules of engagement by subversion one way or the other. Each process of transaction poses a moral dilemma. We are often offered tips on how to cope by such saying as; when faced with two evils, choose a lesser one. However, if we see evil as intrinsic, then it should not be judged by size, especially given that with time, it will grow. Faced with moral probity in our struggle for power in Nigeria, we have always said it is better to choose a lesser evil.
However, with time, these lesser evils grew with practice and refinement until they became embedded in the fabric of our collective lives. With time, we saw yesterday’s thugs, ballot box stuffers and snatchers, vote pilferers, all mutate into respectability. With time, in return for their perfidy they got rewarded with promotions and appointments once their sponsors got to power. With time, their fingers became firm in holding and climbing the greasy poles of politics. With time, the little plants developed sturdy roots, with corruption as its nutrients. With time, Nigeria soon became a massive forest adorned with rotten fruits of its political sins.
With time, some of these thugs of yesterday actually went all the way to the top and gradually, the proceeds of corruption filtered into the blood of sacrifice for political power in Nigeria. With time and before our eyes, Nigerian politics descended into sorcery, voodooism, necromancy and divination. The falcon could no longer hear the falconer as the country slid down and down. Appropriation from the State and institutional capture became the next goal for political activity. Whereas lawyers, engineers, doctors, or even mechanics, masons, tailors often made legitimate claims of their qualifications by adorning their offices with the relevant certificates, politics is the only profession that you do not need any qualification to join.
Thus, as the years have rolled by, the rules of the game became subordinated to the whims and caprices of the key political elite. In turn, the political class in our country has continued to operate below the radar of legitimacy. The most dangerous time for any country is when its criminal class seek to become what the mafia calls, legitimate. They start by identifying and literally taking over key institutions. They place their cronies in key public offices or, when they cannot, they resort to blackmailing those who stand up to them. They set their eyes on key institutions such as the Judiciary, the Legislative bodies, the Security agencies or holders of key public offices. They fund their cronies in politics.
Then, they wear a toga of invincibility, walking with the swagger and defiance of catch-me-ifyou-can. In this way, through some form of dialysis, their blood continue to circulate within the system until they poison the entire national blood system. Recall that had Abba Kyari not saved us from Chief Evans, the kidnapper king, he would probably have been on the ballot in Anambra as he himself confessed. It is against this backdrop that I am excited about the prospects of the signing of this Bill into law. This development does not mean that the bad days are over. If anything, it means that the forces of darkness will fight back and seek to subvert this new law.
The criminals and their cronies will get to work and, as we have seen with the Internet, the fraudsters are often ahead of the game. INEC has to scale up its technological innovation and create a firewall to protect these gains. Those who are used to living under the radar will try to side step the law no matter how tight it seems. As we all know in Nigeria, over time, electoral corruption has been the stuff of hundreds of anecdotes. Political actors with dubious characters have been the subject of political characterization by writers. Chinua Achebe took on this theme quite early. In his novel, A Man of the People, Chief Nanga represents the typical moneymiss-road, smash and grab politician. He spends money like san san before his hapless constituents.
He represents political malfeasance in Nigeria. In another little collection of short stories titled, Girls at War, Chinua Achebe tells the story of a voter who faced a moral dilemma on voting day. I remember the story faintly. I think the man was an official of his party. All key party members were under oath not to take a bribe or act against the party. However, before the date of elections, the opposition offered him a bribe he could not resist. On voting day, he went to the tent, held out his ballot paper, thought ruefully about his moral dilemma. However, to honour both and satisfy a crooked conscience, he folded his ballot paper into two equal parts, tore it and then dropped one half for both the party and the opposition that had bribed him. Let me end by offering a few reasons why I believe that this is really a turning point moment for our Democracy.
First, this has potential for changing the face of Nigerian politics for good. It will restore Trust, that much missing link between Nigerians and the political elite. The lack of trust in the political process accounts for voter apathy in Nigeria. Nigerians have become despondent and convinced that their votes would never account. This has opened up politics to those men and women of violence who have taken our nation hostage by violence. Second, is the demystification of the electoral processes. The scales will fall from our eyes, the walls separating lies and subterfuge which have allowed too many camels to pass through the eyes of the needle of truth will fall. The clarity of the process will naturally empower citizens that their vote has power and encourage them to go out and vote. Those who have taunted the system have their days numbered.
Third, citizens will now take full responsibility for their votes and how they cast them. The stock market of fake electoral currencies is now closed. We cannot blame anyone now for our misfortunes if we vote wrongly. The days of whetheryou-voted-for-us-we-must-win will end. Yesterday was for the thief, today is the day for the owner of the vote. Four, fake and midnight pastors and Imams may have to look elsewhere for cheap money from politicians desperate for endorsement. Very soon, our anointing oils or royal blessings will no longer be required for the manufacturing of votes. There are no prayers for winning elections just as there are no prayers for stopping the traffic lights. Corrupt judges waiting for Tribunals to ambush the process along with their high profile lawyer counterparts now have to look elsewhere.
Five, this is the dawn of technology which will shame those who have invested in preying on the ignorance and vulnerability of their people and continue to exploit them. Magic and sorcery have no future. We hope the National Assembly will continue to appropriate the required funding to enable INEC embrace the required technology. If we do this, perhaps, Nigeria’s days of shame might come to an end sooner than later. A few other things have to happen before we start our celebrations and INEC has requested that on the whole, human interference, manipulation, should be replaced with technology. Six, Rather sadly, the writers of the Electoral Act did not anticipate something like the Card Reader.
Those sections of the Act that did not foresee technological advancement should be immediately eliminated and the doors fully thrown open for INEC to use its researchers to explore the limitless frontiers of technological possibilities. Thus, the electronic transmission of results is contingent on other technologies such as; a biometric register, electronic accreditation of voters, electronic balloting and collation of results. It is a successful sequencing of these phases that will mark the turning point for us. It is still a long road ahead but it is one of promise for us. Finally, praise must go to the civil society family, who have remained committed to the principles of Democracy. Our friend and brother, Emma Ezeazu who founded the Alliance for Credible Elections and our sister, Barrister Esther Uzoma both of blessed memory must be smiling in their graves. They were relentless in their passion for credible elections in Nigeria. Whether the National Assembly has seen the light or they are responding to the heat of civil society, the struggle must go on.
• Most Rev. (Dr.) Matthew Hassan Kukah is the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto.