By virtue of being Nigerians, we have lost the biological ability for shock. Our shock absorbers are so strong and unbreakable. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had about two and half years to prepare for the 2019 General Elections but just eight hours to the election, they acted, sadly, like Nigeria. They made up excuses for their incompetence and logistics was blamed for postponement.
INEC is an independent body but in a country like Nigeria, a place still battling with grasping the rudiments of democracy, it is an illusion to accept the electoral body is actually independent. While the country witnessed the burning of INEC offices in three states: Abia, Anambra and Plateau and Permanent Voters Cards, PVCs, along with the destruction of other election materials, the hoodlums who did it were not caught. The security men in charge of these three offices did not investigate and the materials and PVCs have not all been replaced.
The government is also as guilty as INEC in the show of incompetence. Because our democracy is in a coma, it is the government that determines how the electoral materials are secured. It is the government that determines the security apparatus that will participate in the elections. The Government? Here, the government is just a term that often means the President. The President wields too much power. He appoints the security chiefs and dictates to them the type of force to apply, the number of men needed and when to engage. So, the incompetence of INEC and the incompetence of the Government (consider our new realisation) is the reason the Presidential elections didn’t hold as scheduled.
Blame games have kicked off with conspiracy and ridiculous stories circulating to spice them out. The election results have been written somewhere and enough time was needed to tighten the loose ends. Another one claims that the President gauged his performance and on realising he did not stand a chance, the best he could do was to postpone judgement day. One claims that this was necessitated by the problem his party is experiencing in Rivers and Zamfara States. The goal, according to our theorists, is to buy time, pressure and influence the judges to sneak his party’s candidates into the gubernatorial elections.
We can’t pretend that there are people within and outside the circle whose benefits come from incompetence but the majority of us suffer when this happens. The guys who do printing of Ballot Papers and other election materials have another contract in the Abia, Anambra and Plateau mischief. The guys who transported the materials initially will have to do that again. The masons who will build the new offices are also lucky. Some persons had to travel to vote in their polling units and states of registration (it is also underdevelopment that we can’t vote from wherever we are except we did a transfer request months before the time) and some planned to return to work on Monday but with the new development, they now have three wicked options.
One. They come back, do their jobs and spend a similar amount to travel again. Two. They stay back, get query from the office (and probably lose their jobs) or loose cash in their business but later vote. Three. They return, go back to work, wail about the wasted transport, cuss Nigeria and forget about voting. This has also changed and formed new opinions where none existed and solidified another where one exists. A foreigner who decided to follow Nigeria’s election for the first time is left with the conviction that Donald Trump was right. If they can’t conduct something as simple as an election then they can’t be anything other than a shithole.
The guy whose opinion was already formed is given stronger belief. He was sure we would mess it up and we did. INEC ordered the return of the materials to the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN vault, where they will be kept safe but what happens if the same thing happens again. If the hoodlums burn the INEC offices again after carting away with sensitive materials, will the elections be postponed again? They said Kaduna’s State Governor, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, lied when he claimed Sixty-six (66) people were butchered on the eve of the election and you wonder why they would say that. Could it be because the same man admitted to paying killers for peace to reign? Just hours to the elections in Maiduguri, Borno State, hoodlums opened fire on worshippers and lives were lost. Can an election be peaceful and fair in these conditions? Should there even be an election in these conditions? Was the statement by El-Rufai or his antagonists, the violence in Borno and the burning down of INEC offices a ploy to achieve something sinister? Logistics and not security was given as reason but aren’t there, evidently, pressing issues bigger than the logistics problem?
We also saw the conditions of the Adhoc Staff (mostly Corp Members) INEC employed to work for the success of the election. The members of the National Youth Service Corp, NYSC, Nigerian graduates, doing the mandatory one year national service had to sleep on rocks, disfigured chairs, rickety buses, trees, wrappers spread on the ground, shoes and bags as pillows in an unsecured environment. The show of shame would have been fine if they were contained in a large empty hall without chairs or mattresses. They slept outside like wild animals in the forest, the cold beating their backs, angry mosquitoes singing and giving unpalatable bites, rolling on the paved floor (if you are lucky. A sand floor is the default settings), and hoping the rugged night would be over soon.
The bathrooms look like the typical Nigerian Government hostels and you are better off outside. The stench of the toilets may damage your liver and other vital organs in your body and you could lose homeostasis. I still recall that night and morning in the 2015 General Elections and from the narrations and photos we’ve seen so far. Everything is still the same. We worked all through, listening to our names called out and by 4.00 am, I was lucky to sleep on a wooden chair. Some anticipated what would happen and brought mats which they spread on the grass and sand and we envied them. Some came with wrappers enough to spread and cover their bodies. Most of us never anticipated that. I think that night, for some of us, must have been the official introduction to how messed up this country really is. How naive! Our experience was similar to finding out that NEPA (National Electric Power Authority) run their offices on generators.
Food for the night and morning was supposed to be captured in the training but none was given and the next morning we were given feeding allowance but there was nowhere to buy the food. I was in the state’s capital, Makurdi, and from what colleagues in faraway villages reported, my condition was heavenly. The annoying is, this is going to happen again. Next Saturday, these Corp Members will pass through the same back pain, the same hunger will beat their stomach, the soles of their feet will ache again, most will wish (like I did) they never enrolled, they may be shot at the polling unit (like in 2011 when eight Corp Members were killed because the current President lost an election) but they are lucky because last Saturday has given them foreknowledge.
By Rey Alaetuo,
The author is a conscious Poet and health care professional living in Lagos, Nigeria.
Courtesy: Mortal Poet.