by Eghosa Imasuen
“In 2015, we must keep the searchlights on, we must shine our eyes. Elections do not end until after the tribunals are done. That is where the real rigging takes place.”
I voted for the first time in my life in January 2011. It isn’t such a long story. I was too young to register for the elections that would eventually take place on June 12, 1993, even though by the time they came around I had just turned 18. By 1999 the idea of elections was such a remote possibility that I don’t think I remember anyone who registered or eventually voted.
In 2002, I did register. In Akwukwu-Igbo, a quiet small town in Delta state, where I was serving in the National Youth Service Corps at the time, which had the most welcoming residents imaginable. I registered, finished my NYSC and left in January 2003, months before the 2003 Guobadia-of-INEC- run elections.
I was determined to vote in the 2007 elections. I was more settled now. No exams were around the corner (as in 1999), and I was not a temporary resident anymore (2003). I registered to vote at the polling unit opposite my grandfather’s house in Effurun-Warri, Delta State in 2006. On the day of the gubernatorial elections, I waited with many others until 4pm; no INEC (Independent national Election Commission) official showed up, no one voted in that polling unit, or in the many polling units nearby. It took three-and-a-half years to prove that they were no elections for the office of governor in large swathes of Delta State in April 2007.
In November 2010, the Court of Appeal (Yes, that Court of Appeal, presided over by Justice Ayo Salami) declared that Dr. Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan, cousin of his predecessor, James Ibori, had not been duly elected in 2007. The court ordered for a rerun, that word, one of the new additions to our lexicon since 1999, alongside its rapidly fading sibling, “nascent,” as in “our nascent democracy.” And I voted on January 6th 2011 in a gubernatorial election for the first time in my life at the age of 35.
I would go on to play an active part in the general elections of 2011. Registering, campaigning for candidates, and yes, voting. I would join advocacy groups, both on the ground and on the internet, in the so-new-in-our-political-landscape-that-the-politicians’-heads-are-still-spinning tools of social interaction, Facebook and Twitter.
I would hear of initiatives such as Enough-is-Enough-Nigeria’s Redova, an election monitoring app that I had on my phone. I would tweet results from my polling unit, from the Local Government’s Collation Centre. It put me back in my country. It made me feel a part of things, of the process of creating my future. I believe this happened for many of my generation, growing up as we did in the worst of the military regimes, isolated from much of our country’s politics.
But then the results were read out and everything became quiet. The social media advocates disappeared. Enough is Enough’s election hashtag on Twitter, #NigeriaDecides, stopped delivering any new search results. The elections were over, Nigeria had decided, our work was done? No it was not done. The Nigerian elections take, since the 2010 amendment to the constitution, nine months to get done. They were allegations of rigging in some states. Allegations that certain candidates announced as winners in the elections had been voted for by riverine creatures, crocodiles, West African Pygmy Hippos, crabs, and salamanders, all using walnut shell impressions as substitutes for thumbprints. Allegations that children had lined up and voted, registered as they were as thirty-year olds. Allegations of outright falsification of results.
The Residential Electoral Officers (RECs) for a short time at least became the most powerful men in the country. Whatever they pronounced, all other evidence no matter how contradictory, would take very lengthy court processes to overturn. The Judiciary are the protectors of our democracy and it was now time for them to play their part.
And do we now know how well they performed? How many of us paid any attention? Anecdotal evidence is rarely wrong. Impressions, once formed by the public, can become truth in very short time. Justice must not only be served, it must be seen to be served.
How many elections were overturned at the tribunals, even when word-of-mouth, viral video evidence, and personal experience had told us that they were vehemently rigged?
How many of us kept up with news from the post-election tribunals around the country?
How many social media advocates shouted foul at obscurantist strategies used by respondents (understandable if employed by an election winner, unforgiveable when deployed by INEC—the supposed neutral umpire) to delay court processes until the deadlines were reached and justice was denied?
How many tweeps and Facebook friends spoke about the painful Supreme Court Judgements that affirmed that justice would take a back seat to time tables? As one of them put it, the concept of time limits in the constitution as amended was as immutable as the “Rock of Gibralter.” Even perceived injustice wouldn’t move it?
#NigeriaDecides, and our self-given mandate to monitor its proceeding and outcomes, didn’t end on a sleepy morning in April 2011 as we listened to INEC adhoc staff reel off election results. It ended months later, with no one paying attention but a few, shouting themselves hoarse at tweeps and real friends who had been presented with other new hashtags, #OccupyNigeria and #FuelSubsidy.
In 2015, we must keep the searchlights on, we must shine our eyes. Elections do not end until after the tribunals are done. That is where the real rigging takes place.