By NICK DAZANG
WHEREAS politicians in other climes and jurisdictions obsess themselves with how to add value to their societies and bequeath ennobling legacies, ours, especially those of the Fourth Republic, are simply geniuses of travesty.
They excel at 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 welfare of his people.
The Nigerian politician is so obtuse and narrow-minded that rather than improve on the electoral process that produced him and put it on a solid footing in accordance with international best practices, he has to be harassed and hectored by the media and civil society.
Recall the efforts of the aforementioned groups before the advent of the Electoral Act of 2022. In the perfidious and self-defeating manner of the examination cheat, who instead of swotting and reading his books, spends precious time devising how to game the system, the Nigerian politician would rather rig than court voters.
He would rather undermine the process than explain his agenda or deliver on projects that positively affect people’s lives. Rather than empathise with his abjectly poor constituents, he views political office as jumping onto a gravy train. He lives a flamboyant and larger than life style. He is supercilious. He assumes the role of emperor.
And he holds his constituents in contempt. Apart from carrying on haughtily, he makes sure he supervises the vicious pauperisation of his constituents. He has access to 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 a few goodies on his poor and hapless constituents, who then return him to office. When the Election Management Body, EMB, devises ways to improve the electoral process or plug existing loopholes, Nigerian politicians are adept at creating new loopholes or finding ways to thwart the EMB’s onerous efforts.
Imagine: after introducing various measures to improve the electoral process, our politicians found recourse in vote-buying. This menace threatens to undermine 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 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 influence and colour election outcomes.
Enter the Bimodal Voter Identification System, BVAS. This device has made Incident Form history. It has also increased identity fraud since the BVAS authenticates the facial features of the voter (in addition to verifying him) before he is accredited to vote. To circumvent this, the latest fad that the Nigerian politician has craftily contrived, particularly in the Northern part of the country which is noted for extreme poverty and is light years behind its other compatriots in terms of development, there is an alleged massive purchase of permanent voter cards 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, PVCs were being sold for as little as N2,000 in some cases. The Saturday Tribune of January 14, 2023 reported how a video, which is trending on social media, showed a politician in Borno State buying PVCs from internally displaced persons, IDP. He was allegedly buying the cards for 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 is being perpetrated in the putative or assumed strongholds of their (the buyers’) opponents so that voters in those enclaves are disenfranchised. This novel, but wicked scheme, is certainly rigged by other means. If allowed to stand, or continue, it will endanger, if not make nonsense of, our democracy.
Its perpetrators must thus be apprehended, named, shamed and prosecuted. Rather than merely raising the roof and shrilling alarms, the Northern Elders Forum, the media, and civil society organisations, CSOs, in the North must come out and deplore this ugly trend and massively educate their compatriots about the dangers inherent in selling their PVCs for pittances.
It is true that not less than 133 million Nigerians, representing 60 per cent of the country’s population, are living in extreme poverty. It is also true that some of the most impoverished Nigerians come 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 the fact 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.
In 2011, BBC Hausa interviewed a number of rural women in Jigawa State. The said women reportedly either took money or candy in order to vote for a candidate. It turned out, from the interview, that none of the women knew they were committing an electoral offense. Neither did they know they were shortchanging themselves by doing so.
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 clearly explained to him that the N500 given – which cannot even make a decent pot of soup in the village – cannot lift him out of poverty.
*Dazang, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja via: firstname.lastname@example.org
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