INEC’s Troubling Missteps Amid Aso Rock’s Desperation. By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

There is a noticeable whirl of feverish desperation in the Presidential Villa. No perceptive person can miss that. From indiscriminately arresting and detaining political opponents and critics, to squelching dissent in the traditional news media through blackmail and threats, to undisguisedly deploying security forces in the service of overt partisan agendas, it’s now starkly transparent that the Buhari regime is not interested in or prepared for a fair electoral contest.

The starker the reality of impending electoral defeat stares the regime in the face, the more extreme the intensity of its desperation becomes. All the institutions that are crucial to a free and transparent election are now compromised. For instance, service chiefs, who are required by law to be apolitical, attended the president’s reelection campaign event in mid-November 2018, and by late November 2018, Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai said the army would “replicate”the “success” (read: massive rigging) that took place in Ekiti and Osun elections) in this year’s presidential election.

EFCC chairman Ibrahim Magu also attended an “IStandWithBuhari”rally in February 2016 and proudly wore Buhari’s reelection campaign lapel pin in May 2018 during a TV appearance. He was also caught on camera seated close to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on December 5, 2018 in Lagos “at a gathering to strategise on the re-election campaign of President Muhammadu Buhari.” After widespread backlash, he got Channels TV (which was once called out by BBC Journalist Anna Cunningham on November 27, 2018 for editing out embarrassing quotes from presidential spokesman Femi Adesina’s interview with it after a live broadcast) to say that he was superimposed into the video in error, even though he admitted to being at the hotel where the event took place to see his “sick relative”!

The Inspector General of Police (whom I have renamed the Inspector General of the President) makes no pretenses to being anything other than a barefaced, unblushing partisan hack working for the president’s reelection.

That is why there is heightened anxiety about the neutrality of the Independent National Electoral Commission in the forthcoming election. The appointment of INEC commissioner Mrs. Amina Zakari as head of the committee that will be in charge of the “secretariat for collation of results and venue for briefing of international observers and the media” has pushed this anxiety to the forefront of national consciousness.

Mrs. Zakari’s father was once married to Buhari’s biological sister. Her own mother is also from Daura. Although no one has been able to definitively establish any blood kinship between Mrs. Zakari’s biological mother and Buhari, it isn’t far-fetched that they could be distant cousins since Daura is a small town, and in small towns almost everyone is related.

But that’s not really the issue. To be fair to Mrs. Zakari, she was first appointed as an INEC national commissioner by Goodluck Jonathan in 2011, and her relationship with the president in and of itself isn’t enough reason to question her neutrality. Nevertheless, given the frenetic, devil-may-care recklessness and desperation of the honchos of the Buhari presidency, it is entirely reasonable to suspect that her appointment to the headship of that committee was designed to rig the vote in favor of Buhari.

This suspicion isn’t wild, groundless, or impulsive. On October 26, 2018, for instance, Chief of Staff to the president Abba Kyari invited the INEC chairman to his office at the Presidential Villa for a closed-door meeting. That’s unprecedented in the political history of Nigeria. The Chief of Staff to the President is not a constitutionally recognized position. He has no legal powers to summon the INEC boss for a meeting. The meeting was particularly suspicious because it came on the heels of Mrs. Zakari’s redeployment from being head of INEC’s electoral operations and logistics to being head of its health and welfare department, which is consistent with her disciplinary training as a pharmacist.

INEC chairman redeployed her apparently in response to concerns by opposition parties that she couldn’t be trusted to be fair to all parties in her role as director of logistics in view of her well-known relationship to the president. The INEC chairman seemingly bowed to pressure from the presidency and put Mrs. Zakari back at the core of the electoral process.

So opposition parties are justified in being outraged by what seems like the willful arm-twisting of INEC by the presidency in the service of the president’s reelection bid. Josef Stalin once said in 1923, “I consider it completely unimportant who… will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this — who will count the votes, and how.” Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza was coarser and blunter in his taunts at a political opponent he “defeated”: “Indeed, you won the elections, but I won the count.” And this was how the New York Times of May 26, 1880 summed up the thoughts of French general Napoleon Bonaparte (who became emperor of France) about elections: “I care not who casts the votes of a nation, provided I can count them.”

As the reader can see, historically, dictators like Buhari have always cared more about the count than they’ve done about the vote. That’s why Buhari hasn’t been campaigning for the forthcoming election. His energies are being expended on how to successfully manipulate the count to his advantage. That’s why the appointment of his relative (by marriage and possibly by distant blood ties) as head of the count, particularly in the aftermath of the INEC chairman’s meeting with Abba Kyari, one of the three-man cabal for whom Buhari is a lifeless surrogate, is justifiably perturbing.

I must point out, though, that in spite of the indefensibly disgraceful elections he conducted in Ekiti and Osun states, the INEC chairman has demonstrated praiseworthy independence in the last few months. For example, he stuck to his guns and bucked pressures to allow Zamfara APC to field candidates for the forthcoming election after failing to meet the deadline to submit the names of their candidates.

He has also insisted, at least up to the time of writing this column, that only card readers will be used in the 2019 election. Where card readers don’t work, he said, incidence reports won’t be accepted as stand-ins. That’s commendably bold and reassuring, considering that INEC data from the 2015 election showed that Buhari was a disproportionate beneficiary of possibly fraudulent votes that were masked with and legitimized by “incidence forms.” “Of the 31,746,490 accredited voters in the election, 13,536,311 — representing 42.6 percent of voters — voted without biometric accreditation. Out of this number, 10,184,720 votes are from states won by Buhari,” according to DeepDive Intelligence, which got the data from INEC’s website.

Nevertheless, INEC would reassure voters even more if it rescinds its decision to make Mrs. Zakari the head of collation. Ultimately, who counts the vote matters more than the vote itself, especially when a desperate, drowning dictator is a contestant.

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