“It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”
“An election is a bet on the future, not a popularity test of the past.”
James Barrett Reston
The 2000 Bush versus Gore election imbroglio is still fresh in my memory. It is so vivid I sometimes feel as though it was only yesterday when my friends and I engaged in endless hours of debates, rooting for our favorite candidate and political party, while hauling invectives and aspersions at the opposing candidate and his political party. And to think that it is almost three years since the Floridarization of the elections is unbelievable. It was dramatic, heart-racing, and full of suspense. But when it was all said and done, Americans went about their daily lives in a peaceful and orderly fashion — for it was just an election; and not a race for survival. We, my friends and I, went about our lives caring for our families, our respective communities, and global issues that prick my conscience.
The Floridarization of the 2000 presidential election was not the first in the United States. In recent years, there was the Kennedy versus Nixon case. It didn’t amount to anything because, for the most part, President Richard M. Nixon refused to pursue the matter. Long before the Nixon versus Kennedy brouhaha, there was the disputed election of 1876 between Samuel Tilden (D) and Rutherford Hayes (R). For students of US history and political science, that was a classic. However, for anyone who wants to study election frauds, Louisiana would be an appropriate destination. It has a long and enduring history of vote fraud. And even though the state of Louisiana has been at it longer than Nigeria, Nigeria is now the master, the central command for election frauds. That brings me to a simple question: Why is any one surprised at the outcome of the recently concluded elections in Nigeria? Why? Nigeria is a country where chickens, dogs, monkeys, and the dead can and do vote.
Nigeria bests the state of Louisiana in the art of election manipulation. Nigeria has even surpassed the Russians on how to tinker with votes. Nigeria is the only place where people trade in their parents and their siblings for votes; Nigeria is the only place where people sell whatever remains of their souls, their humanity and their conscience for electoral gains. If possible Nigerians will sell their churches and mosques for short-term gains.
That Obasanjo and his party won is nothing out of the ordinary. What would have been out of the ordinary is if he had lost – in which case, even his political opponents would have taken him for a fool, and he would have invited the wrath and sword of his friends and family; and his legion of leeches, stooges and overseas cronies would have excommunicated him. By the way: when was the last time a sitting African president lost an election? When? During the Zambian election, Kenneth Kaunda was “foolish” enough to be transparent; but where did he find himself after the general election? He ended up in a penal complex and suffered from the hands of his predecessor. By contemporary African norms and mores, what happened in Nigeria is normal and acceptable. To think or expect otherwise is foolish. Damn foolish!
President Obasanjo won…and so what? He may have manipulated the process. He may have. From all that I have read, and from all that I have been told by some friends and a few relatives in Nigeria – he and his party “stick it” to his opponents. Buhari, Ojukwu, and all others would have done the same thing. They too would have outspent, outmaneuvered, and outsmart their opponents. Just that this time around, Obasanjo was the perpetrator. He did to them what they would have done to him. Come to think of it: what in heavens name were they thinking about? That President Olusegun Obasanjo was just going to fade away…walk gracefully into the sunset? Heck no! He is not a Mandela. We know it and so did his opponents. They came to fight, but were not well prepared!
And even if they came to the battle field well-prepared, they had no chance of winning. Incumbency has a built-in advantage. Elections are not entirely free of manipulations. There is never a level-playing field. This is so because, as I once posited:
“In party politics, an incumbent usually wins. Incumbents win because of a variety of factors: name recognition; utilization of state resources at their disposal; the promise of patronage; extensive party network; the ability to draw upon favors owed, personal loyalty to the incumbent, and a host of other reasons…What we must not lose sight of is the fact that primaries and general elections are never a hundred percent free and fair. They are not meant to be. They cannot be. What matters is the degree of fairness, and to what extent the rules of the process is followed and obeyed. Even in the best of democracies or electoral systems – Netherlands, Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden, the USA, and Australia — there usually are some form of legal wrangling and manipulations; backroom deals; consensus, compromises, promises of future favors; and a host of other techniques. This is part of the culture of party politics.” (Click here)
Not too long ago, Party Machines were part of America’s party politics landscape. According to Hershey & Beck (2003), “It relied on material incentives – jobs and favors – to build support among voters.” Some of the most memorable party bosses were Richard J. Daley (Chicago), Tammany Hall (New York), and James Curley (Chicago). These men and a few others in the then immigrant-centered American cities engaged in legal-illegalities.
According to Donsanto, Craig C (2003) prosecution followed only if, “First, there are schemes to purposely and corruptly register voters who either do not exist, or who are known by the putative defendant to be ineligible to vote under applicable state law; Second, there are schemes to cast, record or fraudulently tabulate votes for voters who do not participate in the voting act at all. This includes such activities as schemes by poll managers to stuff ballot boxes, schemes to impersonate nonvoting individuals either at the polls or via absent voter ballot, and schemes by vote canvassers to alter vote tallies.”
Prosecution is also possible “if there are schemes to corrupt the voting act of voters who do participate in the voting act to a limited extent. These include such things as schemes to assist voters in such a manner that the voter does not knowingly consent to electoral preferences that are placed on the ballot, schemes to pay voters for voting, schemes to intimidate voters through physical or economic means, schemes to cast multiple ballots, and schemes to induce voters to validate ballot documents (usually absentee ballots) by misrepresenting what the document is.” And finally, “if there are schemes to knowingly prevent qualified voters from voting. These include such activities as destroying voter registrations or ballots, preventing people known to be qualified to vote from doing so, and physically disrupting order within open polling locations.”
Not so in our land. In Nigeria we manipulate voting results; we manipulate the electorate and the electoral system; conduct phony election campaigns by hiring the starving masses to fill stadiums and campaign venues; we appeals to people’s ethnic loyalty and religious sensibilities. We take people for granted. We betray people’s trust. Aside from Chief Gani Fawehinmi, none of the contestants has the temperament, skills, transparency, vision, strength of character and political will to safely and suavely preside over the affairs of Nigeria.
Obasanjo, in so many ways, reminds me of Ibrahim Babangida: a brilliant fellow who came to power and was bathed with love, goodwill, prayers and high expectations; and like Babangida, Obasanjo is making mockery of the people’s trust, goodwill and prayers and affections. I wouldn’t have voted for Obasanjo. I will never vote for Obasanjo and his ilk, but now that he has been declared the President of the Republic – we owe it to ourselves, to our Constitution, to posterity, and to our country to work hand-in-hand for the betterment of the country. Inspite of the Floridarization of the 2000 US Elections, America did not burn. No one made America ungovernable. No one declared war. America simply returned to normalcy after it was all said and done. We should support the president in his national endeavors.
Granted Nigeria is not America, Nigeria can and should learn from the American experience. There should be no fire and brimstone; no political assassinations; no internal upheavals; no promises of doom, no untold calamities and no roaring thunders. Four years hence, there would be another election. Four years hence the current and future rogues, and a few saints would have the opportunity to ask for the electorate’s mandate. If we burn, destroy or engage in a festival of bloodletting and mayhem – there would be no Nigeria, no election to contest, and no offices to aspire to and no treasury to loot.
The elections are over…so, let it be. Congratulations Mr. President!