Andy Uba, Boko Haram, and Electoral Reform

Last week, Senate President David Mark achieved a new grade in cynicism when he announced Andy Uba as chairman of the Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Andy Uba overseeing INEC? It would be hilarious if it weren’t so ghastly!

Let’s be clear: If there’s one person who should not even be an ordinary member of the committee on the electoral body, that’s Mr. Uba for sure.

Uba epitomizes some of the maladies of Nigeria’s troubled electoral system. With this appointment, Mr. Mark has exhibited shockingly poor judgment – if not a disdain for the mood of Nigerians. Most Nigerians seek a movement towards electoral credibility and probity, not a return to the days when elections were an all-hijackers’ affair.

To be sure, sound elections do not guarantee a vibrant democratic system. Still, a culture of electoral impunity is a certain predictor of festering political corruption. A country that permits widespread rigging is a fertile ground for all manner of political brigandage and rascality. Politicians who smuggle themselves into elective political posts by crooked means are unlikely to embrace the tenets of accountability and transparency. Electoral hanky panky fertilizes an anything-goes culture. It also dooms a polity to an audacious anarchy.

Whatever his political reflexes, Mr. Mark should know – I dare say, must know – that Nigeria is in deep doodoo. The country is barely hanging on after the considerable malpractices that marked, and marred, general elections in April. It’s incontrovertible that we have for far too long been flirting with a terrible fate. Boko Haram, which has overwhelmed Borno and several other states, is only the latest manifestation of a deep, fetid wound at the heart of the organized scam called Nigeria. The group’s anti-modern, anti-Western rhetoric is a critique, in large part, of a political system founded on manifest fraud, including the electoral variety. Boko Haram has offered us a glimpse into the creeping hell that – unless we take drastic corrective measures – may well engulf Nigeria.

And one of the thrusts of the group’s message is that, sooner than later, there will be no hiding place in Nigeria, no corner of the country protected against attack, or inoculated from the devastating consequences of terror unleashed. Members of the dreaded Boko Haram have proved that, wielding the tool of violence, they can shock and awe Nigerians and the world by creating panic and wreaking havoc. Last week, the group introduced a new dimension to their arsenal of terror.

In felling one of their own, Babakura Alhaji Fugu, apparently for being a turncoat, the group served notice of its ability and determination to kill at will. Mr. Fugu, a brother-in-law to the group’s slain leader, Mohammed Yusuf, had met last week with former President Olusegun Obasanjo in what was widely projected as a search for peace. Perhaps, that meeting was his undoing. After the meeting, Mr. Fugu had signaled an interest in a rapprochement with the government. It would appear that a hard-line core within Boko Haram is neither impressed by the prospect of negotiating with the government, formally or informally, nor disavowing violence in exchange for cash or other inducement.

If that conjecture is right, then Nigeria’s political leadership – as well as the broader class of elite that has been complacent or even complicit – ought to realize that the crisis is real. And that we can hardly afford business as usual. To expect President Goodluck Jonathan to find the answer is to live in pathetic denial. As I pointed out two weeks ago, the sophistication of Boko Haram’s mode of operation suggests that the group has since teamed up with al Qaeda. Nigeria is now caught in a high-stake’s, international terrorism maze, but the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), which ought to lead the country’s response, appears clueless, in fact snoring while the enemy advances.

The carnage in Jos and other parts of Plateau State makes it ever urgent that Nigerians should decide whether their “nation” is salvageable. It makes no sense to sustain the pretense that Nigeria is a coherent entity. There’s the possibility of Nigerians choosing, once given the opportunity, that the benefits of staying as one body outweigh the inconveniences. But that idea ought to be tested, it seems clear, in a plebiscite.

In the long run, Nigerians must decide if their common umbrella – their country – is worth keeping. But in the short run, they ought to crusade for small but significant gains in the management of their affairs. One area where gains can make a marked difference is in elections.

Which brings me back to the affront of Andy Uba’s selection to mind the electoral commission. Nigeria, despite Attahiru Jega’s improvement on Maurice Iwu’s awful and stinky legacy, is still deeply beset by woeful elections. It behooves enlightened citizens to persist in the pursuit of an electoral system that minimizes fraud, improving the odds that declared winners of elections reflect the choices made by the electorate.

In short, the battle to reform the electoral system in order to close loopholes that make it exploitable by vote robbers ought to be in high gear. The next two or three years, before the next round of elections in 2015, will prove critical in this regard. All sectors of the country, including the National Assembly, ought to be invested in this enterprise. Mr. Uba’s antecedents should preclude him from serving – posing – as a leader in the effort.

What is the man’s record? Diplomatic cables that were recently leaked by Wikileaks suggest that he played a role in an effort to compromise the Supreme Court in the run-up to the 2007 elections.

It’s not easy to forget that Mr. Uba’s 2007 bid for the governorship of Anambra showcased some of the most execrable forms of political manipulation. It was no secret that former President Obasanjo wanted a coronation, not an election, for Mr. Uba, his erstwhile senior assistant on domestic issues. The electoral body banned all of Mr. Uba’s formidable opponents, leaving a field of relative unknowns. The presumptive “governor,” falsely portrayed by Mr. Obasanjo as wealthy before he assumed the presidential aide position, splashed cash whose source he could not account for. Mr. Uba, who has produced no proof that he earned a first degree, represented himself as the earner of a doctorate degree.

The electoral commission and Mr. Uba saved the worst for last. At the end of that sham exercise that was misnamed an election, the electoral commission initially credited Mr. Uba with a vote tally that exceeded the number of registered voters in the state. Anambra – and, for that matter, Nigeria – shook with heady celebration the day a panel of Supreme Court justices dismissed Mr. Uba from office.

That was in June, 2007. How tragic that, a mere four years later, David Mark would enthrone Mr. Uba on a committee that oversees the body that oversees elections. Mr. Mark’s temerity smacks of something pernicious, something worse – much worse – than mischief.

Perception is awfully important, and Mr. Mark’s decision virtually invites us to conclude that the Nigerian Senate is, a, hostile to the idea of credible elections; b, determined to frustrate the impartiality of the electoral body, and, c, committed to an agenda of subverting one of the first rites of liberal democracy.

David Mark cannot plead ignorance of the likely import of his decision. He did not descend yesterday from Jupiter. In asking Mr. Uba to look after INEC, the Senate president surely knew what dark dreams and bleak prospects he was projecting for Nigerians. His decision spells a brazen retreat from even the prete

nce of electoral reform. It suggests that the man who leads the Nigerian Senate absolutely misreads – or is contemptuously indifferent to – the temper of Nigerians. Such impunity serves as manure, ultimately, for the menace of groups like Boko Haram.

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