“All those involved in snatching ballot boxes and committing all sorts of voter suppression crimes should be arrested and prosecuted”, declared Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s former president in reaction to reported incidents of ballot disruption in Bayelsa State.
He spoke the minds of many of his compatriots in different parts of the country who had been monitoring the governorship elections of March 18, 2023.
Predictably, election malpractices reared their ugly heads in Lagos, Kano, Rivers, Enugu, Oyo, Delta and several other states. It was all totally foreseeable, but, as usual, the attitude of the security agencies was one of reaction, not prevention.
Notable non-governmental organisations such as the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) had predicted that Rivers, Lagos, Kano, Kaduna and Sokoto were likely to witness disruptions. The organisation’s director, Idayat Hassan, predicted that there would be closely contested races in Cross River, Delta, Enugu and Zamfara.
Other analysts had warned the authorities that special attention should be given to Lagos where the supporters of the ruling party in the state, the All Progressives Congress, APC, had advertised their readiness to unleash terror on non-Yorubas perceived to be sympathetic to opposition parties. The campaign of hate mounted against the Igbo ethnic group was so open and freely shared on social media that the security agencies cannot claim that they were not aware of the impending threat.
One of the video clips even advertised the strategy — all APC members should queue up early at their polling booths and cast their ballot. If the trend of voting seemed to be going against the ruling party, thugs would show up to disrupt polling. If any result would be uploaded at all, it would be favourable to the ruling party because their members had voted early before the disruption.
The other side of the disruption plan was to identify wards where APC performed abysmally in the presidential election and ensure that voting did not take place at all. It was this strategy that played out in some areas of Okota where we saw the selective devastation caused by thugs who invaded a polling station and destroyed all the election materials before making a quick getaway. As always, the police later showed up to play the role of undertakers while distraught voters wailed in helplessness.
As I started writing this piece, I received a situation report from a Labour Party agent in the Eti-Osa axis of Lagos in respect of what transpired at the Badore Primary School, PU 008: The citizen reporter wrote as follows:
“First, APC agents got to the PU before 7 am and started issuing numbers. Apparently they started issuing numbers from 100! So if you walked in the PU unit at 8 am as the first person your number will be 101!
“Once INEC showed up they started calling numbers. So the first set of voters — clearly not up to 100 were APC stalwarts.
Believing that everyone on the queue by 2 pm would vote — number or no number — we waited patiently on the queue for our turn.
“Then the INEC PO started playing games. He would stop the process and say they were rebooting the BIVAS.. Then he would stop signing ballot papers once the ones he pre-signed were finished ( he is the only one that can sign the back of the ballot papers ). Then he went to the restroom for 30 minutes. All these while voters on the queue were patiently waiting.
At about 2:15 pm, less than 300 people had voted. The APC thugs invaded the PU, chased out the INEC staff from their seats and dismantled their tables/desks/ voting cubicle.
“Some young folks challenged them and a fight broke out. Folks who were trying to video all these had their phones smashed to pieces. A young girl had her head broken. Interestingly, we had policemen standing aside while all this was going on. I went to the one that looked like their Oga and said, “You are law enforcement. Why are you not stopping this illegality? He said he had phoned his boss and he was waiting for instructions.
“At this point I decided that I had given Nigeria my time and resources in the past 6 months to get things done right. It is time to focus on me and my family.”
But not everyone was easily intimidated. Some voters in that axis rushed back to their houses and brought out their guard dogs to engage the hoodlums. The video of their epic battle is the stuff action movies are made of. All that was happening in good old Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria!
It is not true that thunder cannot strike the same spot twice. In Nigeria, thunder will strike the same spot again and again until there is nothing left to strike. Just as voters were openly commending INEC on national TV for the early commencement of the exercise in many places, anti-democratic forces struck and made nonsense of all the grandiose plans of the electoral body.
Give it to the crooked politicians, they did their homework with the knowledge that the police and other law enforcement agencies would only be reactive. There is no history of political thugs brought to justice in Nigeria. They come, they disrupt, they vanish. Although many of their crimes were captured on video, everyone knew that they would never be brought to justice.
If the level of violence unleashed by political thugs was beyond the capability of the police, why didn’t they invite the army to help?
The most regrettable part is the involvement of traditional rulers in the Lagos mess. After realising that the intended scare-mongering of conducting the Oro festival on the eve of the governorship election was futile, some of them still resorted to the redoubtable ploy of naked intimidation. Any civilised onlooker monitoring the elections on live television would be shocked at the physical attack on the crew of Arise Television consisting of Oba Adeoye and Opeyemi Adenihun in front of the Palace of Oba Saheed Elegushi, a man who is on record, via video clips, as campaigning for the ruling APC. The cameras of Arise TV were seized and the crew prevented from leaving until the intervention of the police commissioner.
If plebeians like us have access to the rich harvest of horror clips showing the beastly conduct of political actors, security agencies of the government cannot feign ignorance.
Each time the tribal warriors in Lagos baying for the blood of Igbo residents start their sabre rattling, I wonder what such people would say if their own tribesmen living in other parts of the country are targeted for belonging to the Yoruba tribe. How would they react if the Gwari natives of Abuja issue a quit notice to all Yorubas to leave the FCT?
If a party is truly popular, it shouldn’t have problems submitting itself to universal adult suffrage. When a party resorts to violence, it is because that party knows that it cannot win in a free and fair contest. The truth is that Yoruba people as a group have nothing against any other ethnic group in Nigeria. Certainly, Yorubas have nothing against the Igbos. Those trying to pitch the Yoruba against the Igbo are self-serving.
Now that we have washed our dirty linen in the full glare of the world, let’s see how the electoral umpire or those who stand to benefit from this heist rationalise the descent to barefaced gangsterism which glamorises electoral robbery in plain sight.
Let it be said that when they demonised another tribe, I was counted among those that spoke out; perhaps, someday, somebody else will speak up for me when they come for my tribe.
To the acclaimed strong-arm fixers in Lagos, Bayelsa, Enugu, Kano, Oyo, Rivers, Delta, Sokoto, Abia and wherever else they may be, I commend the story of the life and times of Chief Nwiboko Obodo, high priest of the Odozi Obodo secret cult between 1954 and 1958 in the Abakaliki area of Ebonyi State, who had got away with many infractions against the law until he killed one person too many — his own wife, whose family summoned the courage to report to the authorities.
Following diligent detective work, the police finally arraigned the dreaded cult leader. Chief Obodo hired a British counsel, Mr. Dingle Foot, to defend him but the evidence was overwhelming. The case went right up to the supreme court where the verdict of guilty passed on him by the lower courts was confirmed. The ‘untouchable’ high priest, Chief Obodo, terror of both mighty and the lowly alike, was hanged like the common criminal that he was in 1959.
Those who live by the sword…