Remarks at the Atlantic Council, 1101 15th St NW, Washington D.C. 20005, on April 19th, 2011
Current Situation: The 2011 presidential elections have taken place and INEC has announced the result that incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan has won. The main opposition party General Muhammadu Buhari has rejected the results and called for the cancellation of elections in the South-East and South-South regions of the country, claiming massive irregularities.
Violent attacks of a mix of targets have been reported in Sokoto, Adamawa, Bauchi, Kaduna, Gombe and Kano States. Some tension still reportedly exists in Katsina, FCT, Nassarawa and Taraba States. General Buhari had to make statements on national television, Aljazeera, BBC and VOA Hausa service yesterday to appeal for end to the violence. It has been generally calm since then.
Why is this happening? Is it some spontaneous reaction of unhappy voters or some sponsored, coordinated action to destabilize the Jonathan administration? Are the protests, against flawed elections, if peaceful, justified? And were the April elections indeed flawed? If so, how was the cheating achieved in the face of orderly elections at the polling unit level? What is the evidence of this cheating? I will attempt to answer some of these questions and pose more to challenge you all to reflect on what is happening in my country right now, as well what is likely to happen in the ensuing months and years.
Electoral Processes, Covert and Overt Fraud
Chairman Jega and his colleagues in INEC have done a good job of preparing for the elections and ought to be commended. The voters' register is the most accurate in Nigeria's history, and may yet turn out to be the saviour of our democracy. The initial logistic challenges notwithstanding, the elections generally went well - at the most visible level - the Polling Unit (PU). From that point on, everything else appeared to have gone badly wrong! - and that is not evident to the naked eye of the often excluded Party Agents, the gullible Election Observers and Monitors, Media and Civil Society.
For the Presidential Election, I will outline the steps in the electoral process starting with a clean voters' register on Election Day. Each voter went to his PU for accreditation between 8am and 12.20pm. Voting is supposed to start after accreditation and announcement of the number of accredited voters. This was generally the case nationwide except in some locations that are not in my view, significant in number to affect the outcome of the election.
There are about 120,000 PUs in Nigeria. Many are suspected to be non-existent addresses for the purposes of overnight thumb-printing and ballot stuffing by the ruling party - for transportation to Ward Collation Centers (WCCs). There are about 8,000 WCCs all over the country. From WCCs, ballot papers and result sheets are then physically moved to Local Government Collation Centres (LGCCs). There are 780 of these in Nigeria.
The ballot papers and result sheets then move on the State Collation Office. Jega appointed University Vice Chancellors as State Collation Officers. They simply announced what was given to them from the LGCCs. Most of the alterations of the voting figures are done at WCCs and LGCCs.
What ultimately gets announced may or may not reflect what was accredited, voted and counted at the real PUs. Alterations of the figures at each of the lower levels is done by INEC staff, and quite common, An example is circulated with these remarks - of what happened in one of the wards in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, that was seized by the Police when an INEC official was arrested on 19th April. What is interesting was that ALL the alterations were carried out in the PDP column of figures! That is how human agency distorts the results of the election and disconnects the actual votes from the "announced votes". The elections of April 19 were the victims of this multi-step system of manipulation. If and when the ballots are subjected to biometric forensic tests, we may well find the true number of votes cast by real registered voters!
In some parts of the country, media reports of low turnout were contradicted by results showing more than 70% turnout! In the 1960s and our subsequent republics, the electoral fraud was overt - ballot box snatching, ballot stuffing and chasing away voters for officials to vote on their behalf. Today in Nigeria, except for the South-East and parts of South-South, this rigging technology is no longer used. What is more common is the covert rigging which entails first, change the numbers on the result sheets, and then get the ballot papers thumb-printed to back up "the declared result". Our accurate voters' register will help resolve this.
The reason why I think the voters register may well save our democracy is this - should the opposition parties choose to go court, and require the ballot papers to be technologically scrutinized, the real result of the April 19 election will be known and everyone will have no choice but to accept the outcome. For now, this is not happening because General Buhari has promised not to waste his time going to court. The question is, what next?
Nigeria and Jonathan - Opportunity Lost?
About a month ago, I was invited to Chatham House, London to speak about the 2011 Elections. Some of the statements I made then are relevant today and I will refer to a couple of them. I thought that the 2011 elections would present a unique opportunity for Nigeria to change its democratic and governance trajectory:
And we are once again at a crossroads. This makes it important that the 2011 elections must be transparently fair, such that the legitimacy of the results will be accepted as reflective of the preferences expressed by voters. In my humble view, and in light of the division in the country today due to the acrimonious debate on zoning, the election is an opportunity for reconciliation, but it could be a fillip to the insecurity, divisions and bitterness fostered in the campaigns.
Clearly, we now live in a nation more divided than ever in its history. The map above on the Facebook page of my friend Kayode Ogundamisi says it all. The opportunity lost question was raised in this statement in the Chatham House speech:
If the 2011 elections turn out to be as flawed as the those of 2003 or 2007, I do not think the opposition candidates have sufficient confidence in the Judiciary to take their complaints to the Courts. In fact one of them has publicly declared that he would not. In that case, the discontent will spread to the streets of the major urban centres. I predict massive protests in various parts of the country, as we have witnessed recently in Cote D'Ivoire and some countries in North Africa and the Middle East, until those that steal the elections vacate office.
Are we at the threshold of something this fundamental or are these senseless, violent protests are passing phase? At stake is whether Nigeria becomes a "Clique Democracy" or a real, people-driven democracy. Are we likely to seize this moment to challenge those that think voting is a ritual which those in power are not obliged to respect? Is the way to resolve such disputes extra-judicially? These are troubling questions, crying for answers.
How these are resolved depend on the choices made by General Muhammadu Buhari and President Goodluck Jonathan. I know that Buhari will neither challenge the results in the election tribunal nor condone violent street protests. Neither Buhari nor the CPC will accept the results declaring Jonathan the winner, nor will they boycott next week's elections.
Jonathan on his part is unlikely to disappoint the hardliners around him to reverse his ill-advised positions on zoning and perceived exclusion of all but his Northern choristers. His Niger-Delta brethren are already threatening to "defend his mandate" . The stage is set for a major crisis similar to that we experienced after the June 12 annulment in which a part of the country - the South-West - felt aggrieved enough to engage in continuous combination of violent and peaceful protests. How this will end depends on so many imponderables.
It is unlikely that the CPC will accept to be part of any Jonathan administration, so a large swathe of the North will be in opposition for the first time in Nigeria's political history. It will be a worthy learning experience for all. It is also evident that the ACN and ANPP were in some kind of covert alliance with the PDP so it is likely that their presidential candidates and key officers will be offered cabinet positions in the Jonathan administration, thus leaving CPC as the last opposition party standing. This is an opportunity for the party to build its organization nationally and govern the handful of states it is likely to win, competently.
Implications for Governance in Nigeria and our Sub-Region
The scenario I see is one in which at best, the Jonathan administration will muddle through the next four years. Many of the PDP governors in the Northern States will either lose next week's election or cheat their way to four years of contempt of their people and unstable governance. Jonathan's political and governance skills even without any hostile opposition have not been great. In the last 4 years, the Yar'Adua-Jonathan administration spent over $200 billion of oil and non-oil revenues, including over $20 billion the Obasanjo administration left behind in the Excess Crude Account, with little to show for it. Not a single major infrastructure investment or policy initiative has been concluded in four years!
For example, Nigeria's budget for 2011 is the most interesting I have seen in my adult years. The entire oil revenue projections for the year could not cover the salaries and running cost of the Federal Government!
Government has become the biggest business in town and growing so rapidly from 2007 that we are resembling a perfect rentier state for the minority political elite. There is little or no investment in physical and human capital, even with very high oil prices the administration has enjoyed.
Many of his supporters think Jonathan's legendary good luck will somehow turn things around, but governance requires more than hope. We have to wait patiently and see how things unfold. And as we always do in Nigeria, pray.
And needless to add, how Nigeria performs politically and economically have implications for the growth and stability of the ECOWAS sub-region and Africa.
Thank you for listening.