Musings on Nigeria’s electoral system

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Nigerian election

If anybody tells you votes count in Nigeria, believe it the same way you’ll believe being told fish fall from the sky. Every four years or thereabout, Nigerians go through the ritual of elections to pick leaders at various levels. And then begins the farce known as Nigeria’s electoral system.

The most loquacious about this time are social media people and the professional civil society crusaders. They go about as if there is actually any difference among most Nigerian politicians. As if the people have an opportunity of a real choice between lemon and apple, rather than a choice between six and half a dozen. They pontificate to the voters as if the politicians have any ideological base. In the end, because they understood the system so well, they themselves end up not buying what they marketed to the people. They end up not voting.

On election days, the people you see thronging out to vote are ordinary people – the artisans, road transporters and motor park organisers and enforcers, market men and women and other salt of the earth. For some of them, there is no disillusionment. They simply put their finger prints where the powers that be wanted, to do otherwise is to lose their source of livelihood. That little stall in the market or on the sidewalk is the difference between extreme poverty and survivorship.

For the freelance voter who shares a room in a tenement and is probably jobless, election days are harvest time. He is not interested in what the candidate or his party has to say or promises to do in power. He has lost faith in the system and believes the candidate is gunning for public office for the benefit of the candidate and the candidate’s family. Our freelance voter is thus not willing to listen to any ‘story’. If you want his vote, then you must pay for it. He gives you the analogy of a landlord and tenant. He is the landlord and the politician is the tenant. Once he pays, he does not need to pay again until the end of his tenure.

In the system there are those who are more important than the voters – those who count and record the votes – the presiding officers, supervisors, electoral officers, collation officers, returning officers and so on. They equally see money making opportunities in elections. They are available to the highest bidder. These people collate the votes. They are magicians who usually turn 12 to 120 or 112. 1,500 votes can quickly become 15,000. They equally sell ballot papers to be thumb-printed and stuff into ballot boxes. The name of the game is money. It is thus usually possible in Nigeria for a candidate to win an election and yet be declared the loser.

ballot counting
Nigerian Presidential Elections: The Devil Is in The Ballot Collating

Most often, because the winning politicians or their godfathers have the resources and they know perfectly well how to manipulate the system, they are supercilious toward the electorates. They believe they are not accountable them. You find governors that should have been impeached winning second term. You see legislators having no meaningful impacts in their constituency winning third and fourth terms.

The electoral process in Nigeria has equally become so much militarised. Unbelievable violence is unleashed in many areas during elections. It is now the practice for some political foot soldiers to carry different types of dangerous weapons – from broken bottles to AK-47 assault rifles. People become mere statistics, and human lives matter very little. For the politicians, the end justifies the means.

I can assure you there is no perfect electoral system anywhere in the world. Politicians are always searching for unfair advantages to overreach their opponents. There are dubious voters’ identification requirements in some states in the USA, aimed at disenfranchising Blacks and Hispanics. There is unfair gerrymandering in some other systems. But the Nigerian system is bare faced roguery, which keeps getting more brazen.

But no matter how bad the system is, it is still better than a military junta rule, that is, if do not allow our ‘civilian overlords’ to become autocratic.

© Ola Animashaun

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