FEATURE ARTICLE


Patrick IroegbuMonday, May 12, 2003
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piroegbu@hotmail.com
Alberta, Canada


ELECTORAL FRAUD AND NIGERIA'S 2003 DEMOCRATIC QUEST (PART 1)


Severe Electoral Fraud: The SNEFAS

Beyond any reasonable shade of doubt, there is a political illness that sweeps across Nigeria at any given election time. This political illness is very contagious, disruptive, and result to wrong choice of credible leaders to make development and healthy living occur. It has a name. We call it "Severe Nigerian Electoral Fraud Anger Syndrome" (SNEFAS). The concept of this political illness is typically one characterized by devastating impact on people's thinking and emotional control each time it plays out. Has it mattered to know how many people died in the just concluded elections in Nigeria? Since statistical records are perennial problems, we will leave such death tolls to some imagination. But we tell you here, the figure can be frightening!

The electoral time bomb of a sort sweeps people across to death once it is detonated. But how come choosing leadership in Nigeria can be so devastating? Is it because of poverty of information? Is it because of the evil antics of grab or die syndrome? What is it actually that triggers innocent and unsuspecting Nigerians to become victims of elections each time the exercise is carried out? The episode of June 12, 1993 of Abiola is still fresh when many died for the cause of liberating Nigeria from the military hold to political power. Even at that, it could be more understandable when viewed from the prism of civilian struggle versus the military juntas. But when it turns out to be between civilians, the situation then becomes confusing even the more.

The Umunumo Community Scenario

To illustrate the point above, there is a local community in Imo State called Umunumo (in Ehime-Mbano Local Government Area) that became the motif of Imo State political violence in the 2003 elections. In this community, over 140 innocent people were shot death or burnt. In addition to that, over 200 people are now also in prison custody. And moreover, the highest level of arson and raiding was executed by the state police against the community in question. The story goes that one Mr. Jerry Egemba, a native and an adviser to the deputy Governor of the state shared out money to some agents to rig elections for the Governor, Chief Achike Udenwa, including his deputy.

A large part of the town did not vote for him. In consequence, the said adviser J. Egemba, a barrister at law by trade returned afterwards to collect the booty back. While some out of fear coughed out their own quota and paid back, a few others were unable and thus refused to comply. They argued that election money is bad money no one should hope to recuperate. They mean it is a deal the giver never goes back to the receivers to collect due to the unfair conniving electoral stigma and shame attached to it.

But this gentleman turned after-election-tax collector facing an upset in getting the money back drove back to Owerri, the state capital of Imo State, and brought some red-eyed police killers to arrest the named persons in the deal and have them duly tortured for the pleasure of his political masters. The drama that ensured was just a replay of the military era experience in a civilian culturally situated political atmosphere. Guess what happened? A policeman was killed in the incident leading to reinforcement with some lorry loads of policemen armed with deadly arsenals. Even the fuel that was scarce became surplus in the hands of the combatant police to achieve for themselves and their Oga's maximum revenge. Upon arrival to the town of Umunumo, the political combatants went straight to work. Starting from one end of the town, they opened gun fire, shooting people to death, men, women, children and whatever that moved as a human being. Petrol was poured on houses and set on fire. The attack, shooting, killing and the burning of houses lasted for two full days and ready to empty into the third day. By the time order eventually came from Owerri to stop the carnage, over 140 people lay dead and numerous houses and property of a whole town had been destroyed.

Due to the political savagery and loot re-collection staged for rigging elections by the PDP candidates in Imo state, life and property of the defenceless people are matters that constitute part of the electoral fraud in Nigerian cultural environment. A gaze into the devastated life and culture in the context of political violence in the town of Umunumo following the presidential and governorship elections are some of the issues of concern at the moment. Yet in the face of such police brutality and lack of regard for human life and dignity in risk, leaders such as the Imo State Governor never presented a fair view of the electoral malpractices. Deliberate killings and arson against innocent non-violent communities who were going about their normal life routines were before they knew it set up into the merciless political arena and devastated, in particular the Umunumo of Ehime-Mbano Local Government political cultural environment. This form of culturally situated unsafe environment is, perhaps, what the Nigerian President underlined as free and fair and of the Nigerian cultural environmental attribute? As we explore this further, we shall be raising questions on the concept of culture in the context of political violence and electoral fraud as a feature of the Nigerian make-believe cultural antecedent. The case of electoral devastation of Umunumo community was reported in the local media much like in many other places where similar state and federal forces humiliating the electorate took place.

Focus on Discourse

This discourse is not about, and far from, the history of electoral fraud in Nigeria. Rather it is a focus on the concept of culture in the valorization of electoral fraud. We attempt to discern a few political scenarios such as the one presented above that orchestrated how culture has been tilted to shade electoral fraud as a common tradition for Nigeria. In the interim, however, we want to state that the elections are now almost over. In consequence, President Obasanjo is by and large fully infested with this bi-politica disorder, one in which his mouth in the illness has been enshrined. And you know what? He has even recently added his voice to the terrorizing activism of SNEFAS (Severe Nigerian Electoral Fraud Anger Syndrome) as we said before. For his opinion on this matter of electoral fraud, here we tell the difference. He described it first as a non-European like democracy and therefore a typical Nigerian cultural matter. In this essay then, we are arguing to let the president and all there is to stop triggering their personal emotions into unrelated national issues such as mixing the domestic gut feeling with important national electoral turbulent situation in many of the states. An important issue in developing an effective crisis response mannerism is in the safety of community numbers and following the leader in charge. In the present dispensation of the Umunumo community as above, which can be any other community in Nigeria, claims of inappropriate electoral rights are raising too much community dignity disappointment.

The Nigerian political scenarios of the 2003 are depictions of imagined combinations of ideas and plots. The outcomes have been kept alive with dangerous cultural injections and pills of local and foreign undoing forces. Be that as it may, the campaign trails of the multiplicity of political parties for the various offices ranging from the state houses of assembly to the office of the president in Nigeria have left the general observers with three considerable realities and fantasies. These things are firstly, the embodied Nigerian culture and political towering illuminantis or mafiacrats playing out multiple scenarios at the Easter time. The second is the human folly of the empowered electoral fraud. Finally, there is the caricature and laughter now attending the Nigerian sustained magicalities of the electoral results. The point here is that in Nigeria, politics is the act of the incumbency power and ways of letting go the one's political desires at the expense of hue and cry against incompetence and the inescapable implications attached.

The Troubling Facts

As social critical commentators have noted over the years, Nigeria is run with political "black bags." Going by that term, of which we mean bags that contain codes and procedures of a typical chosen me-first governance style, such as high profile travelling around the world, calculating who gets what and at what time, as well as adopting monetary strategy as a means of politicking and scaling envisioned political hurdles. The bags are essentially to make funds available to potential political heavy weights to stay their interests and refrain from opposition. In this view, credible candidates are made to face insurmountable difficulties through constant secret re-writing of policies and party rules. The use of divide and made-to-beg or quit the party surrounded the incumbency philosophy of achieving whatever ends it sets for itself. It is where constructive criticism for standardized mannerism and improvement apparently becomes misconstrued and labelled as anti party activity. The troubling fact today and now would be how much more to be added and coded or deformed to match up the political worked out interests in the future elections in Nigeria?

In order to face the challenges of the electoral fraud right down to the root, understanding the culture of political interest and organization is extremely vital. It is important to first diagnose the cultural bearings and then place a continuous effective educational program on the system to thwart the unproductive and polluted notions of political activity. By that we mean a tailored enlightenment program to reform the ethics of political activities and the grooming of candidates and networking abilities for various offices. A suitable national orientation monitoring and standardization of political attitude and well preparedness will help tame down idiosyncrasies and instil use of resource discipline in a political plan of interest and forms related activity.

A Suggestion

In line with the above, we would like to suggest, for example, that the Igbo quest for the presidency made out such a joke of the capacity building given the scandalous number of presidential candidates from one ethnic community for the one position of the president. No Igbo need now be told that these candidates stood to the last to exercise the political freedom at the compelling secret support by the incumbency to let things roll that way for his upper hands. This view is like saying, get them divided, watch out for any moves of coalition and lure them out of the possibility from that happening. Given the scenario, things are getting clearer for all that got involved and contested the elective posts. Should that happen again in future? If any presidential interest by the Igbo is worth pursuing, candidates should begin now to work towards it. Last minute ganging up and overnight decisions cannot in any serious democratic setting yield meaningful understanding and support. If that is true, then this is the time to set the scenario where the next president should come from. If, on the one hand, it is going to happen in the North, the focusing on the North will begin right now to work things out to beam up the Northern forces and coalitions required for it. As Prof. Omo Omoruyi had in many instances argued, for example, in his "We Need Credible Candidates to have Credible Elections" (Nigeriaworld, April 28). It becomes clearer that a political activity should function as a genuine investment with clear purpose and structures of dealing with the set out objectives and service in order to yield dividends. According to Omoruyi, political election business has three significant phases that serious political actors should not fail to appreciate any of the phases outlined as follows:

  1. the pre-election phase
  2. the election phase
  3. and the after election phase

All these phases are intertwined and play crucial roles in producing the outcome of one another. Essentially, each of the phases is a challenge to planning and strategizing to achieve results. To face the next elections in Nigeria, it is on call that the action begins now as the pre-election phase and followed up accordingly.

And if, on the one hand, the presidential personality figure is going to be shopped in the Southeast, for example, among the Igbo, the same profiling should consist in the path way to working things out and building up the enabling coalitions necessary to achieve it. Let the mistakes of overnight hassles and wake-ups, as well as the late carpet crossing of parties not repeat themselves in the next election - 2007 and so on. This is the right time to know who the best bet for the political market is. As such, in the rank and file of presidential interests and capacity framing for credibility in order to realize that goal, the business and strategizing must set in motion all that it takes from now onwards. We want such a person, as it would be hoped, to define the visions of what he will mean for the polity. In all cultures, we must emphasize, leaders stand out and serve as a source of understanding. They use the skills of leading individuals and groups to teach emotional development and apparently supportive coping skills. As they model resilience, they show and enable the people being led how to keep their heads up. Most importantly, rather than devastating people and their spaces of everyday reality, they are led to stay aware of what is going on, to become confident in who they are and what they can become for themselves and the society as a whole.

On the other hand, if, the vision for election to change government will signify youth empowerment, that is a dynamic process by which any group or individual can achieve control over a decision which affects his or their lives. Or simply energy and zeal, idealism and a new hope for the Nigerian world, let that ability to make choices and decide preferences begin to play out. Allow from now any opportunity to create the awareness and customize the strategic approaches of how to achieve the selected dreams. A leader for the job description and capacity of the president should enormously stand out. Let such be one who will never be bored, never be frustrated, and never be alone. In all probability, neither the finances can be found overnight nor do the strategies formulated to wire the hopes become achievable within a short time. Within four years, the pipeline has to be laid and strengthened. People should learn to stick to their party and work into prominence. Prostituting from one party to another now and then ridicules the sense of goodfaith and capacity building. In other forms of business activity, managers and support workers do not switch fields of interest as such. For it takes vision and experience to work with people and institutions successfully.

In Light of Late President JFK Kennedy

Doing political interest work outs are something that must be known and well tailored in order to gain coolness and public interest and patronage. Secrecy about the intention and capacity to make things happen should not be a feature of modality of operation. Let the leader in building the capacity to succeed and not by the way wait like Jackie Kennedy (JFK) of America never waited in working himself into the Whitehouse of the USA for the most powerful job in the 1960s. The most important qualification for the most powerful job for the Igbo man or anyone else on the coming elections is simply JUST to WANT the job and not JUST to GAZE IT. Obviously, this is the underlying sense of our perception of the presidential election scenarios of the 2003 in Nigeria. Every candidate was a comer as if the political activity will only be a past time damn thing and therefore not considered a key business of interest to plan for in phases and in advance. Now the scenario of 2003 is done, the next should be the focus on a new culturally informed and enhanced environment.

As late President JFK Kennedy advised, if you want the job, plan for it, work for it and then stand out and do the extra ordinary things it demands. For the lifetime-sickly Senator JFK Kennedy who survived each day on relentless medication (see Reader's Digest April 2003, pp164-183) when asked early in his campaign why he thought he was qualified and suitable for the position of the president, he replied, "I looked around me at the others in the race, and I said to myself, well, if they think they can do it, why not me? He was distinct because he started on time, set goals for himself, met the right peoples over and over again, and built up mutual power trusts. By itself, before others could make up their minds to contest, he had already won over to himself a sizeable majority for his nomination along with a strategy for funding and vigorous campaign outline for victory. All through the course, he was systematically positive that gained him more credibility for the powerful job. Being a scrambler is much the same as an opportunist waiting for ready made parties and positions one can buy over with money and employing socially situated raw political intimidation.

In America, in large part, that spirit of why not me as demonstrated by JFK Kennedy is crucial to change things. The Late JFK Kennedy we hear about today was just that person of "why not me?" The "why not me" in-thing propelled him to think of what to do for his country and not what to gain. For JFK Kennedy, fraud was out of the line of legacy. As such, for all aspirants, start today, empower your will to political power and build the enabling democratic coalitions. Reach out to the legislative members, community leaders, organizations, and the international community and so on. As you do that, let the public be aware of what you are doing and how your efforts will benefit them in the coming elections. React to national issues and contribute in many ways it is possible. Do not hide only to emerge overnight to be president. In democratic settings, those with interest to seek elective posts should start on time to play active role in political environments. Build yourself and the team to work together with one another.

Nicely also, one who is aspiring should move on and create an atmosphere of public transparency of collective action for collective success. Sustain the spirit and muster forces in good faith. In doing so over a time one's credibility will be already publicly established. One will realize that money cannot do everything. One will realize that networking widely and taking care of co-operative specifics will pay great dividends than bribing villages and agents with bags of rice, salt, beer and crates of minerals. May be for now, particularly in this 2003 what has badly been experienced is the intensive monetary patterned electoral conundrum. In many years to come, it is likely change must occur such that policy and standards will be taking upper hand. That foresight should form the basis of political education and enlightenment in Nigeria against all forms of electoral fraud and rip-offs.

Imagined Campaign Life Scenario

The Nigerian electorate is still so impoverished and unenlightened. The words "policy" and "action plan" are subtly ambiguous. His article "National Service: A Short Story", posted in the Nigeriaworld (April 28, 2003), Okezie Chukwumerije captured the reality on the ground. It also exposes the level of Nigerian taste of dollars at the expense of sensibility for policy and plan toward a realizable development for the greater majority. Where understanding of this basic starting point is lacking, money matters for sharing and rigging rather than for campaigns and promotion of candidates and programs will inevitably conquer and abuse all there is. According to the article (see p.4) , people in Nigeria are not interested into being excited to weigh the options available. Thus, with only one's skills, experiences, policies, and or ideas or plans for any political post, the localities appear to perceive such qualities and features as things that make no point. They will refuse to listen.

Ready in their mind is rather the scale to engage in the common refrain of "Na policies we go chop?" How can the word "policy" be rightly translated to make sense for the poor people? Some even refer policy to mean the same thing as the corrupt police in Nigeria. Should one apportion blame on them? Policy and police convey one and the same sensibility for neither is perceived as something good for the common people. Let us present Chukwumeriji's own writing at some length for emphasis on this issue, particularly for the lessons it captures for those in Diaspora meaning well for Nigeria and its culture. He describes insight into a politically managed life campaign scenario:

Try as much as I could to get them to see that I had great plans for the senatorial zone and for our country, they didn't want to listen. "We don hear plenty promises, jare. If you wan make we vote for you, you go settle us first." I had come home to use my skills and experience to improve their lot, not to "settle" them. Couldn't they see that if I borrowed money and "settled" them, I would have to recoup the money after the elections? I would then become like the other politicians who saw public office as a public welfare program for politicians." We no wan your lecture. I couldn't blame them. My competitors were doling out wads of cash and gifts (bags of rice and salt) to elders, to leaders of thought, and to anyone of consequence. People who attended my competitors' rallies were given cups of rice and salt and bundles of Naira. They went home cheerful and beaming, whistling about the dividends of democracy. I had strategized on how to use my experience and skills in the senate. But I had not realized that the voters had become so distrustful and disdainful of politicians that the only things they believed about politics were the tangible things they could see: the money and the gifts politicians bore. To these voters, words and promises were meaningless. "You can promise and say all you want, but we take seriously only the material things we see before our eyes," they seemed to say."

What This Depicts

This is a classic productive statement of experience along the line of Nigeria's man made culturally situated environment (though fictive). It indeed speaks volumes for the pathways political schooling and enlightenment should be directed. We call on future politicians to spend sincere efforts and defuse electoral abuses, as well as to explain the meaning of policy and police, including the implications of trading with the concept of settling people first. A strong and viable cultural environment for a strong political sense will begin with the understanding of process and practice and the role models the politicians are capable of transmitting. Whatever the locale is able to capture as a pattern of politicalization, then that will remain invariably in their psyche as model behaviour of doing political business activity. Again we ask; would anyone blame them? Not likely in a culture of electoral fraud they smartly know about.

In this view, when we talk about culture, we mean there are always reasons, seemingly good ones at one time or another why people behave the way they do and thereby attempt to explain themselves within the socially, economically, and politically constructed support network. It should be well-known that support in most cases is never about power, control, and legitimate authority alone. More to it, political support is just about "people" with informed sensibilities, choices, preferences, and aspirations that must be granted to them. Outside this strength, following the underlying sense of value and heritage in their own everyday challenged and inimically valorized world, there is bound to be faced the risk of corrupt short cuts against the importance of a functional democratic political pattern and meaning.

(To be continued in part 11).