Voters’ Cards: A Costume In Fools’ Play?

by Nnaemeka Oruh

Perhaps this article would not have been written if three things had not happened namely: the Abia State Government’s declaration that any civil or public servant who fails to participate in the voters registration would have his salary withheld; the flagrant declaration of public holidays by State governments to create an opportunity for the registration; lastly, the news from the grapevine of threats by the government to use the voter’s card as a ticket of acceptance into living a normal life in the country-operation of bank accounts, etc. These issues gave rise to this work.

I am forced to take my mind back to what the tenets of Democracy are. Democracy I believe operates on the basis of freewill and choice, thus franchise as a right should be taken with free will. In other words, the people have the right to either enfranchise themselves, or refuse to be part of it. The people’s decision to stay away from political participation becomes a statement of their non-acceptance of franchise as it is practised in their society. Franchise and democracy can thus be likened to the Christian concept of heaven and righteousness where God gives man the free will to choose.

But not in this country. We must be forcefully enfranchised! The unwary may think it is for patriotic reasons, but not on your life! The reason is that our political fathers have become smarter. No need making it too obvious that the votes cast by the electorates do not inform who eventually wins the elections. So every citizen up to the age of eighteen is forced to obtain a voter’s card so as to cushion the massive rigging that will take place during the elections and further create the impression that what will hold in April are elections and not selections. For those of us who have witnessed several instances of the “elections” as they are conducted, we can no longer be deceived. It is not that we do not believe that Nigeria would get better, it is just that the conditions that would point at this change have not yet emerged. As is my style, I would point out a few concrete examples of how our leaders emerge during the so called election periods.

In 1998,during the transition to civil rule programme initiated by the late General Sanni Abacha, legislative elections were held for State houses of assemblies. It was a time when the National Center Party of Nigeria (NCPN) was ruling the Ikwuano Local Government Area of Abia State. The local government chairman of Ikwuano at that time was from Obuohia Ibere. On that election day, the REAL election for Ibere Ward 1 took place at the office of the headmaster of the Obuohia Ibere Community Primary School. How was this possible? Simply, the ballot papers meant for other communities such as Ngwugwo were diverted to Obuohia,and we the unwary youths were invited into the headmaster’s office by one of our elder brothers-a stooge to the local government chairman-who asked us to asked us to print our thumbs in the slot for NCPN, in almost all the ballot papers. At the polling centers, scarcity of ballot papers was feigned until the last moment when a few were provided, to create the make-belief effect that the real election had taken place.

Indeed one may say that the NCPN example was an act in the past. Something that happened at a period when democracy was nascent in this country. One may also argue that it has nothing to do with the present administration who in all its ramifications is poised to uphold the tenets of Democracy. Hardly so!

The 2003 re-election bid of General Obasanjo and most of the State governors also witnessed a whole lot of irregularities. In Abia State for instance, while Orji Uzor Kalu would have easily won the election owing to his popularity amongst the people at that time, the same can not be said about Obasanjo. But because PDP had to win at all costs, ballot papers’ scarcity was also occasioned and in-house elections conducted.

In Obuohia Ibere again where I participated as an observer for ANPP, I witnessed a re-enactment of the NCPN drama. The then Commissioner of Sports for the state who was the chairman of Ikwuano Local Government Area during the NCPN era, knowing my anti-cheating stance expressly told the returning officer not to allow me vote. It was an order that was obeyed to the letter. I watched fuming-so also did my colleague Chibuzor Uzuegbu-as scarcity of ballot papers were declared while PDP supporters were stationed at hidden places voting.My cousin Obinna Ezima who was there for PDP had a field day as he voted more than two hundred times! Who was I to revolt violently? ANPP top officials at the polling centre in quest of their personal gains had aligned with PDP officials, collected money from them, and from a distance watched the drama!

It did not end there. I was informed later by the Returning Officer for Oloko ward (in the same Ikwuano Local Government Area) that at the end of the electioneering process in that ward, that the APGA presidential candidate Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu won the presidency. On arrival at the INEC office at Isiala Oboro, they were ordered to discard the ballot papers and there and then,a fresh election was conducted in favour of the PDP candidate Olusegun Obasanjo.Notice how the electorates have been rendered redundant.

This trend is not peculiar to Abia State. During the same 2003 elections in Rivers State, a whole lot of irregularities took place too. Apart from the violence that was part of the elections, in-house elections also took place. I know for sure that ballot papers and boxes were smuggled into the Isiokpo residence of the former Nigerian Ambassador to Gabon Chief Ajulu. It was there thatmost of the votes that gave Odili and Obasanjo second tickets were cast.

Now, given all these examples, would we really believe that the voters’ card which we queue up under the sun for would be of any use except that of foolery? The politicians are yet to enfranchise us and to them we would still remain puppets. The manner in which most of the PDP aspirants were produced speaks volumes about the motive of our political leaders. They have already decided those who will rule. As for the registration of voters, that is just their way of handing us costumes with which we may act out our parts inFools’ play.

What if we say no?

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