On Saturday, February 10, 2017, the Kano State Independent Electoral Commission (KANSIEC) conducted what is arguably the most talked about Local Council Elections in the country today.
Hours after the exercise, social media was awash with several photographs of boys, mostly under the age of ten, thumb-printing ballot papers in the so-called local government election and no sooner, Prof. Garba Ibrahim Sheka, Chairman of the Commission in announcing the final results, stated that 25 political parties, including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which featured one chairmanship candidate, participated in the election and that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) swept all the 44 chairmanship and 484 councillorship seats.
He added that security reports received during and after the council poll showed that the election was peaceful as no violence was recorded or arrest made during voting.
The PDP, however, through its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan in its reaction rejected the results and alleged that the Kano poll was characterised by outright cheating, underage voting and ballot stuffing.
Quite a number of Nigerians have expressed their thoughts about the development and appear divided on the issue. While some have questioned the source of the images and the attendant allegations it has thrown up, a good number of them have towed the path of the PDP by condemning the acts of what many have described as desperate moves by politicians in this part of the world to either grab power or hold on to power regardless of its cost to nation-building.
Those who have argued that those images are not reliable proof of malpractices may have to rethink that stance because the nature of ballot boxes used for the exercise further disproves their opposition to the allegation in the sense that these ballot boxes hitherto appear largely alien to the Nigerian election space. Before Saturday and as a matter of tradition (unwritten though), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the constitutional body saddled with election management in the country has in its conduct of the 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 General Elections as well as the several staggered, re-run and bye-elections conducted within the same period, made use of ballot boxes in form of transparent bags rather than the ‘buckets’ we saw in the pictures, thus making it sufficient to safely conclude that the allegations hold water.
While the elections may have come and gone, it still leaves us with a sour taste of what we may expect in the 2019 General elections, if the pictures flying on the internet and associated developments in the political space are anything to go by. This view is expressed with hindsight of the 2015 Presidential Elections where accusations of illegal under-age voting plagued states like Kano and Jigawa and other states in the North-West.
For a proper understanding of the issue at hand, we must scrutinise the circumstances around the 2015 election which was a race between 14 Presidential Candidates with the major contenders, a Southern Christian and incumbent President and a Northern Muslim and retired Army General (the candidate of the newly- formed mega opposition party) with a cult-like following in his strongholds. Owing to the volatility of the political climate at the time, they were both made to sign a Peace Pact which among other things committed both of them to accept the outcome of the polls (whichever way it went).
After a rigorous campaign, the election eventually held on March 28, 2015, amidst tensions generated from hate speeches along ethnic and religious lines before the elections and it seemed like a make or mar situation for the country on the heels of an earlier prediction by the U.S. Government that Nigeria would cease to be a single entity in that year.
To the chagrin of many (especially in the South), images of under-age voting in the North surfaced and no sooner had the election results come in, it was a rude shock to hear huge figures come from these same flashpoints, tipping the elections in favour of the Northern candidate. This back-story had indeed set the stage for an imminent war and tensions were rife. Nigerians anxiously waited for the final results and the reaction of the President, his party and the ethnic militias who had issued several threats in his favour at several instances before the Election Day.
In a matter of days, the results were fully announced and the candidate of the opposition emerged victorious thus entering the history books as the first man to defeat an incumbent President in Nigeria. Furthermore, in the midst of this, in what may be described as a divine intervention, the incumbent President had called the winner to congratulate him to the amazement of many. That singular act came as an answer to the millions of prayers of Nigerians before and during the election and saved the country from the many prophetic warnings that had been released on the subject.
Here we are, an exact year to another general election and we are witnesses to the signs of the times again. It is thus worrisome that as a response to this development, the INEC Director of Publicity and Voter Education, Mr. Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi is quoted to have said that those registered as under-age were so registered because of the threat on the lives of the officials by residents of the communities.
Most worrisome is the fact that not only has the Kano Local Government Council Polls exposed the unchanging desperate nature of the active players in the game, the statements of the Governors of Kogi and Kano about the number of votes they would mobilise for the President in the event that he stands for elections, is indeed an alarm too loud to ignore.
While the Kogi Governor has promised to garner more than 3 million votes from a voting population of 1.3 million citizens and residents of the state he presides over, his Kano counterpart has promised more than 5 million votes from a voting population of 4.9 million.
This portends a lot of danger for the electoral process especially at a time where political awareness and education in Nigeria is at an all-time high, evident in the early commencement of high-level politicking by the active players and intense discussions even among the electorates before an election year, the birth of several movements seeking to influence a change in the polity along same direction and the many calls for increased participation in the electoral process by all eligible citizens.
The Kano State Local Government Elections and its outcome has just shown that we are really in troubled times and INEC must walk the talk to flush out all tendencies of malpractices that may seek to discredit the process, erode the improved public confidence in the country’s electoral body or perhaps, leave us ultimately at the mercy of a self-fulfilling prophecy about Nigeria’s disintegration.
Can they? Time will tell!