Crime: Jailed professor and electoral fraud

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A landmark conviction of a professor of soil science, who acted as a returning officer in the 2019 general election, is a symptom of the deep-rooted chicanery scarring elections in Nigeria. To the delight of legal purists, the Akwa Ibom State High Court II sitting in Ikot-Ekpene, sentenced Peter Ogban of the University of Calabar to a 36-month jail term for tampering with the results of the state’s northwest senatorial district in favour of the All Progressives Congress. In Nigeria’s muddy electoral jungle, this is a milestone. To deter crooked politicians, entrench electoral rectitude and integrity in line with global standards, more of such convictions are welcome.

Ogban’s conviction is a brutal reminder that Nigerian politicians perennially engage in electoral fraud to attain public office. So far, election riggers are scarcely brought to book, a perverse incentive for unscrupulous politicians and their cohorts in the Independent National Electoral Commission to persist in bad behaviour. In the 2015 elections, INEC received 149 case files. Most of these cases are dismissed for lack of diligent prosecution. At times, the attorneys-general of the states file nolle prosequi motions to get the offenders off the hook. At the end of the day, 61 cases were prosecuted, but no conviction was secured. This is appalling. In this way, the offenders compromise the elections with impunity.

Despite the introduction of technology – like the smart card reader and the permanent voter card – the police recorded 796 arrests in the second phase of the 2019 general election and 323 arrests in the first phase. This total of 1,119 arrests is huge, but only Ogban appears to have been convicted. It seems this is the crux of the matter.

In its final report, the European Union Observer Mission to the 2019 polls stated that the prevalent forms of electoral fraud included forgery of permanent voter cards, interference with a ballot box or ballot papers, dereliction of duty by election officials, impersonation, voting when not qualified, bribery, violation of the secrecy of the vote, and disorderly conduct of elections. In that election, INEC refused to give a certificate of return to a senatorial contestant who allegedly forced the returning officer to declare him winner at gunpoint, but the court overturned the commission’s decision.

Incidentally, vote-buying on Election Day occurs prominently, as witnessed in the recent off-season governorship polls in some states. Political hirelings chase away voters and security agents have been fingered in mass thumb printing of ballots for their masters. Indeed, in Nigeria, elections are war. Politicians deploy weapons and skulduggery to win at all costs. Hanging on to technicalities, the courts often close their eyes to all this.

The implication is that over time, the electorate has become disillusioned with democracy. Voter apathy is escalating. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy, a British NGO, stated that the voter turnout in the 2019 presidential election fell to 35 per cent from 44 per cent in the 2015 polls. That 44 per cent turnout was also a decline from 54 per cent attained in the 2011 polls. “Statistics show that the voter turnout for Nigerian presidential elections has been dropping since 2003,” the WFD lamented.

In turn, charlatans brazenly parade the corridors of power. They bend the will of the people to their ego. Politically and economically, things have been getting worse. In 2018, Nigeria overtook India as the global capital of poverty, having recorded 86 million extremely poor citizens. Insecurity is widespread. There have been two economic recessions in the space of five years. At 33.3 per cent, the country has one of the worst unemployment rates in the world.

SOURCE: PUNCH NIGERIA

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