APPREHENSION OVER 2023 ELECTIONS

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… as Govs, top chieftains plot silent ‘coup’ against APC, PDP presidential candidates

Uba Group

Nigerians should resist attempts to truncate democracy – Analysts

BY TIMOTHY AGBOR, AND MAYOWA SAMUEL

The widely publicized alleged plans by yet-to-be-properly identified entities to subvert the integrity of next year’s general elections could be described as mere fiction, The Point’s investigations have shown.

A group of opposition political parties in the country under the aegis of the Coalition of United Political Parties, had, last week, again raised the alarm about alleged clandestine moves by individuals and groups to thwart efforts being made by both the Independent National Electoral Commission and other relevant bodies and agencies to make the votes of Nigerians count and meaningful in the February and March 2023 elections.

The claim has generated no little apprehension within the polity so much so that it had begun to fuel speculations of a possible more sinister plot to truncate the nation’s democratic process.

It would be the second time in as many months that the group would raise the alarm and has thus set off a wave of uneasiness in the polity about the possible outcome of the elections.

However, top chieftains of the two major political parties – the All Progressives Congress and the People’s Democratic Party – have also raised the alarm that if care is not taken, there will be irreconcilable crises that could derail the democratic process in both parties.

Our correspondent gathered exclusively that players within the parties were sponsoring various court cases that might eventually make the elected candidates lose their mandates.

“Nigeria should prepare for a very difficult situation with our democracy. Those who should be leaders in the two parties are creating crisis because they don’t want the candidates that are there, either for selfish or ethnic reasons.

“I can talk about my own party. I know that some governors are working frantically with very top people to fight a proxy war against the candidate. If they sail through at the courts, there would be serious trouble,” a top chieftain of one of the parties, who spoke to our correspondent in confidence, said.

Recall that the CUPP spokesperson, Ikenga Ugochinyere, had at a press conference in Abuja last week alleged that there were plans to compromise the Bi-modal Voter Accreditation System, more commonly referred to as the ‘BVAS machine’ during the elections.

He added that plans had been concluded to deactivate the BVAS from the INEC server. Ugochinyere also alleged that INEC would be pressured to abandon the much-praised and applauded electronic transmission of the results of the 2023 polls. The electoral umpire had tested the process in two recent off-season elections in the South West.

CUPP then warned that the opposition parties would resist any attempt to conduct the 2023 general elections without BVAS and electronic transmission of results. It threatened that it would soon be heading to court over the issue, and also petitioned the international community about the alleged conspiracy to compromise the election.

Ugochinyere said, “As parties, we say that arrest and public shaming of the perpetrators and their collaborators who perpetrated the voter registration fraud is non-negotiable.

“No matter the atmosphere, no matter who is involved, as leaders of the country’s political process and platforms, we have an equal stake and can’t be intimidated into silence. We will continue to act within the ambit of the law, but we are not going to run away or surrender to those who want to destroy what they did not build and what does not belong to them. We are ready for the election and will keep vigilance and not allow our electoral process to be derailed.”

“I know that some governors are working frantically with very top people to fight a proxy war against the candidate. If they sail through at the courts, there would be serious trouble”

NO NEED TO PANIC – EXPERTS
Political experts, who spoke with The Point on the bewildering allegation, however, advised Nigerians not to panic.

They insisted that there were no verifiable indices for Nigerians to fret or panic over the 2023 general elections. They vouched that it was near zero per cent to reasonably argue and believe that such steps as claimed by the CUPP were in the offing.

“CBN"

They claimed that at best, it would appear as only to guard against such from happening. The rumour was described as a kind of psychological warfare that explores proactive measures to nip any planned or possibly hatched nefarious activities in that direction in the bud.

In separate exclusive interviews with The Point, the political scholars contended that the electoral system had been improved upon and that transmission of results electronically could not be jettisoned by the INEC again because it was now a law contained in the Electoral Act, 2022.

Notwithstanding, they called on INEC, security agencies, and Civil Society Organisations, among other stakeholders, to be on their toes and ensure that the polls were not compromised next year.

They said with BVAS and electronic transmission of results, it would be very difficult for rigging to take place, stressing that the electoral umpire wouldn’t want to do away with such markedly improved electoral mechanisms during the 2023 polls.

A political scientist, Adekunle Animashaun, said that the factors that would determine those who would win the elections next year are the achievements of contenders and their war chest to buy voters.

Dismissing the claims of CUPP that there were under-plans to compromise the fairness and credibility of the elections, Animashaun said, “I think the very first thing we need to interrogate is the status of the organisation that made the claims or assertions. All of us know that the CUPP are those you can call ‘less established political parties’ within the Nigerian political system. I am not too sure if members of APC or PDP have ever belonged to this coalition because if you remember, before the 2019 election, CUPP made a very alarming allegation and at that time they were trying to woo PDP into the mainstream voice within that coalition.

“So, what I know of CUPP today is a coalition of political parties that have little prospects to get to power in Nigeria at any level, whether at the local, state, or Federal level. So, I think we should put that into proper perspective that CUPP is not a party label that we can take too seriously when it comes to electoral politics in Nigeria.”

On the allegation that there were plans to remove the INEC Chairman, Mahummud Yakubu by President Muhammadu Buhari and the ruling APC to pave way for electoral malpractice, he said, “All of us know that the process that produces INEC chairman is not an exclusive responsibility of the federal executive. Anybody who is nominated as the INEC chairman has to appear before the Senate and his appointment has to be ratified by the Senate before he can move into the office. So, I will not buy into the idea that one day the Federal Government will relieve the INEC chairman, Mahummud Yakubu of his responsibility.

“Two, talking about the manipulation of 2023 elections through the instrument of BVAS, I would just say this very clearly because I participated in the last governorship election in Osun State as the Supervising Presiding Officer and during the training that INEC gave us, I came to the conclusion that it would be very difficult to rig election in Nigeria. If INEC is to follow all those processes and procedures, including the use of BVAS, it will be very difficult to rig the election again.”

On what would likely trigger a candidate’s victory, the political scientist said, “From the greatest circumstances of the Nigerian elections now, there are only two things that can make you win the election. One is your performance. If people assess your performance in office and they see that you deserve to be reelected and decide to vote for you to win the election. Two is the issue of vote-buying. Whether we like it or not, in spite of the efforts being made by INEC and other stakeholders, vote-buying still remains a very fertile business in the Nigerian electoral market. So, if somebody has enough war chest to buy all the voters and the voters are still committed to him that they are going to vote for him, that person is going to win the election.”

He maintained, “Outside of those two options, I am not too sure anybody can win an election in this country. So, if CUPP is saying that they are going to compromise BVAS, I will not believe that and I don’t think it can last. The electronic transmission of results is a constitutional issue. According to the 2022 Electoral Act, elections have to be transmitted electronically and that is what I witnessed in Osun State.

“Results were electronically transferred. In fact, one voting unit that I supervised, at the point when the PO wanted to transmit the results, there was bad network and so, the lady couldn’t export the results and the party agents became too agitated. I then asked the corps member to tell them that if some of them had snapped the results and had seen what each political party had got, and they believed that it was the result that was stated that they all witnessed, they could go home and sleep.

“They took the corps member to another system at the RAC centre and she was able to send the results and the party agents became happy and they left, because as the PO exported the results, it went straight to INEC server, and nobody could interrupt it.

“I think that’s the level of confidence that INEC has brought into the electoral system and I feel they should be commended for that, irrespective of their limitations. INEC has improved the integrity of the electoral process in Nigeria. So, CUPP can’t come and tell us that somebody wants to compromise the election. But that doesn’t mean that civil society organisations shouldn’t improve in their own oversight functions.”

Speaking in the same vein, Professor Bolaji Omitola said the alleged appointment of card-carrying members of APC as INEC Commissioners recently might have given birth to the allegations by CUPP, saying that the opposition parties were only carrying out what he termed as “reverse psychology” to be able to prevent rigging.

Omitola stated, “Considering what has been happening since Yakubu was appointed and the way the presidency has been handling electoral issues, I don’t think such allegations are true. You know that politicians will always be politicians. If it’s the other way, APC will also do that.

Politicians will always find a way of raising issues even if it does not happen. It’s called reverse psychology because they don’t want it to happen, so, they start raising issues as if it’s going to happen so that at the end of the day, it would not happen.

“Opposition parties may also talk like that because, recently, the Federal Government appointed some INEC Commissioners who were alleged to be card-carrying members of the APC. So, these opposition parties will want to be a step ahead and put them on their toes in order to prevent rigging.”

He then pleaded with the INEC, security agencies and CSOs to be neutral and impartial. “They should continue to maintain their neutral and impartial position,” the political analyst urged.

A former Minister of Information and National Orientation, Jerry Gana, called on the Independent National Electoral Commission to ensure that the votes of Nigerians count in the 2023 general elections.

“Elections are extremely important in a democracy. In a democracy, it is the people that rule and all the people cannot rule at the same time, and that is why the need for an election. So let us ensure that the people’s vote counts,” he said.

According to the ex-minister, to have a good election, there must be an independent electoral umpire.

“Our electoral commission must be independent. They must not be ruled or governed by anybody. They must be able to give a free, fair and credible election,” he said.

He said that INEC should be given all that it requires, in terms of logistics and the necessary resources, to deliver a credible poll.

According to him, the use of technology during voting and transmission of election results as guaranteed in the Electoral Act, 2022 should be ensured.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome, also called on the electoral commission and the security agencies to ensure that people’s votes count.

“Abraham Lincoln said democracy is the government of the people by the people and for the people.

“That means it is the people that midwife democracy and midwife it for the people.

“The people therefore are the owners of the power not the elected or the selected few because the tail can’t wag the dog but it is the dog that wags tail,” he said.

Ozekhome, who called for increased voter education, advised that the country should have a system where eligible voters could vote anywhere irrespective of where they registered.

“Voters registration should be a continuous exercise. Although INEC has stopped it, I have gone to court to challenge that,” he said.

The senior lawyer also called for the establishment of a special court to try electoral cases.

Ene Obi, Chairperson, National Election Situation Room, urged all stakeholders to ensure that all hands are on deck for the success of the 2023 elections.

“I am a stakeholder and I have to say that we have to be very careful not to precipitate a crisis in the political system. This is a very heavy accusation that must be backed by facts, not just mere allegations”

WE MUST AVOID PRECIPITATING POLITICAL CRISIS

For Ilyasu Gadu, Taraba South Senatorial Candidate of the Peoples Redemption Party, Nigerians must be careful not to precipitate a political crisis.

He submitted that all the allegations were very weighty and could trigger monumental political crises in the country, which must not be allowed to happen.

“I am a stakeholder and I have to say that we have to be very careful not to precipitate a crisis in the political system. This is a very heavy accusation that must be backed by facts, not just mere allegations. The evidence they presented has to be verified. It is one thing to say this is the evidence you have, it is another thing to say whether the evidence so provided will stand up to scrutiny. We must be very careful about these things.

“INEC itself must come out and make a statement to the effect of debunking or otherwise or it knows about these weighty allegations. Security agencies must also wade into the matter. We don’t have to take this matter to these embassies because it’s not within their purview. It’s our own internal affair and we should be able to exhaust all avenues of verifying these allegations before actions can be taken. We have to be very careful not to exert unnecessary actions that will throw away the baby with the bath water. If you have such evidence, take it to the security agencies and also make it available to Nigerians, CSOs will take it up.”

Gadu lambasted Nigerian politicians for being unnecessarily eccentric.

“We know there is no limit to the shenanigans that Nigerian politicians or the ruling party can do but then, there are several ways by which you can get them to act without necessarily going out to expose ourselves before these countries. It makes us look like we are very helpless, we don’t even value our independence or value ourselves as a people. So, for me, it’s applying the wrong solution to something that you should be able to do within your own house.”