Vote rigging seemed to have evolved from the Do or Die brigandage which used to be the order of the day. Yes, violence and intimidation were still recorded in the last elections, but as the electoral law evolved and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) changed its guidelines and methods, political jobbers adapted to the system and moved to thwart it even further.
For much of the citizenry, this last election was like those we witnessed in 2003 and 2007 when Professor Maurice Iwu as the then chairman of INEC looked on while the incumbent People’s Democratic Party (PDP) confidently engineered their sitting tight in office. Through one way or another, democracy won again and most of these do-or-die politicians were booted out of mandate they stole from the people, by the rulings of election tribunals. This was why it felt post-traumatic for Nigerians when the horrible tales of killings, ballot box snatching, and poll result alterations filled the media in the past few weeks. Many of us felt like the country was not moving forward from its horrible past and that the more it seemed like we moved the more stagnant we remain.
As much as this is the national mood as evidenced in the dismal voter turnout recorded in the last week’s election, all these unfortunate circumstances must never be the determinant of what citizen attitude to voting should be.
I witnessed first-hand what the elections was like in Oyo state where an opposition party PDP unseated the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, this past election. Engr. Seyi Makinde won the elections by over 150,000 votes despite all the vote buying, intimidation, cancellations and other inconsistencies which the money bags perpetrated in the state. The Oyo state governorship elections was a testimony that the will of the people and the count of every single one of their votes do matter. The elections in Oyo state was an attestation to the fact that the vote of the masses can massively dampen the effect of whatever type of rigging any political thug may want to deploy. The voter turnout was quite larger than what most states in the federation experienced too.
We have seen vivid examples of voters protecting their votes from ballot snatchers in Rivers state when the women overpowered and dealt with a lout who tried to make away with the result of the polling unit. There were also a few cases where voters in a polling unit stopped thugs from gaining access to a voting area and overpowered them before they caused havoc. Of course, no one feels encouraged to queue for hours and then cast their votes only to later learn that those ballot boxes have been snatched and burnt with the votes inside – right there at the polling units and in full public glare. All of these antics of trying to systemically disenfranchise a particular group of voters who are known to vote against the wish of an incumbent was largely deployed by the incumbent party in Lagos this past election.
But in the larger scheme of things, all the little pockets of violence wont matter much if people really turn out to vote. As Oyo, Imo and a few other states have shown in their resilience by turning to vote en-masse, they have ensured that their majority vote of the franchisable citizens counted; they have ensured that henceforth, their destiny remains in their hands and they will never allow a godfather dictate their local politics to them any longer.