Whereas politicians in other climes and jurisdictions obsess themselves with how to add value to their societies and to bequeath ennobling legacies, ours, especially of the Fourth Republic, are simply geniuses of travesty. They excel in undoing their people or visiting untold destitution on them.
Consider an abridged catalogue of their many failings and chicanery: The Nigerian politician is bereft of self-enlightened interest. He does not understand that to sustain the democracy project, and by extension, his exalted position, he needs to justify the appurtenances of his office by delivering good governance and improving the weal of his people.
The Nigerian politician is so obtuse and narrow-minded that rather than improve on the electoral process which birthed him and put it on a solid keel in consonance with international best practices, he has to be harassed and hectored by the media and civil society.
In the perfidious and self-defeating manner of the examination cheat, who instead of swotting and reading his books, spends precious time contriving how to game the system, the Nigerian politician would rather rig than to court voters. He would rather undermine the process than explaining his agenda or delivering on projects that positively affect peoples’ lives.
Apart from carrying on haughtily, he makes sure he superintends over the vicious pauperisation of his constituents. He corners employment slots due to his constituents. In some cases he sells these slots outright to further enrich himself. He is indifferent towards attracting projects that will either create jobs in his constituency or boost its economy. When elections are afoot, he sprinkles few goodies to his poor and hapless constituents who then return him to office.
Each time the Election Management Body (EMB) devices ways of improving the electoral process or plugging existing loopholes, the Nigerian politician is adept at creating ever more loopholes or finding ways of scuppering the EMB’s onerous efforts. Imagine: after introducing sundry measures to improve the electoral process, our politicians found recourse in vote buying. This menace threatens to rubbish and imperil our democracy.
Following the introduction of the Permanent Voter Card (PVC) and the Smart Card Reader (SCR), the Nigerian politician soon exploited the challenges of the SCR as it began to age and to betray glitches. Advantage was taken of the use of the Incident Form wherever the SCR failed to authenticate voters. The use of the Incident Form was exploited and identity fraud was perpetrated to colour and influence election outcomes.
Enter the Bimodal Voter Identification System (BVAS). This device has made the Incident Form history. It has also made toast identity fraud since the BVAS authenticates the facials of the voter(in addition to verifying him) before he is accredited to vote. To circumvent this, the latest fad which the Nigerian politician has craftily contrived, particularly in the northern part of the country, is an alleged massive purchase of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) going on.
No less a person than the Director of Publicity and Education of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, called attention to this sad and wicked phenomenon. According to Dr. Ahmed, the PVCs, in some cases, were being sold as little as N2,000. The Saturday Tribune of January 14, 2023, reported how a video, which is trending in the social media, shows a politician in Borno State buying PVCs from Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS). He was allegedly buying the cards at the paltry sum of N500 each!
At first blush, some of us assumed the PVCs were being purchased and warehoused merely to perpetrate identity fraud which the BVAS has since rendered impossible, especially with its twin capacities to verify and authenticate fingerprints and facials. Besides, the retirement of the SCR means the Incident Form will no longer be used. Alas, we are learning from those who raised the alarm that the massive purchase of these PVCs are being perpetrated in the putative or assumed strong holds of their(buyers) opponents so that voters in those enclaves are disenfranchised.
This novel, but wicked scheme, is certainly rigging by other means. If allowed to stand, or continue, it will endanger, if not make nonesense of our democracy. Its perpetrators must thus be apprehended, named, shamed and prosecuted. Rather than to merely raise roof top and shrill alarms, the Northern Elders Forum, the media and civil society organizations in the North must come out and deplore this ugly trend and massively educate voters about the dangers inherent in selling their PVCs for pittances.
It is true that not less than 133 million Nigerians, representing sixty per cent of the country’s population are living in extreme poverty. It is also true that some of the dirt and desperately poor Nigerians are from the North. But these unhappy statistics do not excuse the readiness of some people to vend PVCs. Even in poverty there is dignity.
But beyond this tragedy is that most of the people who readily sell their PVCs for a pittance do not know either the value of these PVCs or the import of their selling them.
It is, therefore, the duty of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other stakeholders such as the media, civil society, traditional rulers, leaders of faith-based organisations, Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and the National Orientation Agency to educate the people, especially our rural folks, to appreciate the danger in which they are unwittingly putting themselves.
First, they should be told that a person who sells his PVC loses his right to vote and determine who governs him. Second, he is no longer in a position to hold his representatives, governor and president to account since he has lost the equivalent of his birthright or citizenship. Third, he cannot insist on good governance since he has been paid a niggardly sum in lieu. Fourth, and most importantly, it must be explained lucidly to him that whereas the N500 given – which cannot make a decent pot of soup even in the village – cannot pull him out of the throes of destitution. Neither can it translate into such enduring facilities as: a hospital, a tarred road, a bridge, a hospital or a school which his precious vote could have procured.
Even though the 2023 general elections are upon us, this is a enlightenment campaign that must begin in earnest. It can then be sustained after the elections. After all, even after these crucially important elections, bye and off cycle elections await. This new mendacity of purchasing PVCs must be halted in its tracks. Otherwise, it will become another monster that will imperil our democracy.
Nick Dazang is a former Director at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) .