IN Geneva, Switzerland, an acquaintance once apologized for being a few minutes late for our appointment because he went to vote that morning. Everywhere and everything seemed normal. There was no indication that the vote would take place. I reflected that at home, elections even at the state level are emergencies in which curfews are imposed, movement is restricted, and the military, police, intelligence, and other security services take to the streets.
In November 2021 I was an observer in the elections in Venezuela. It was Sunday because Venezuelans would not allow their normal activities to be interrupted, even on Saturdays when there is a lot of commerce. Sundays are their days off, so they can afford an hour or two.
A Catholic country, I watched people coming home from church with their children and making a detour to the polling station. In Nigeria, it would be unwise for people to take their children to the polling station. First, voting can be disrupted and violence breaks out. Second is the endless queue.
Nigerian voters were forced in the last elections to go to the polling station twice a day for the same election; first to register and then to cast your vote.
All the noise of the ‘modern’ electoral system, such as the issuance of the Temporary and Permanent Voter Card, PVC, the so-called revolutions in the use of card readers, and the newest contraption called the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, which it is supposed to read PVC. and authenticating a voter’s fingerprint, are eliminated in Venezuela’s close elections.
The very cheap, fast and uncontroversial voting system in Venezuela simply requires the voter to show up at the polling station with their national identity document, which we call NIN. This is checked against the electronic national register. The voter is then given a sheet which goes to a covered table to be marked and placed in a box, yes a cardboard box in the center of the room, and leaves. The number of people who show up with their identity card and the votes on the cardboard must be balanced. Within four hours, the results of the elections were published throughout the country.
I use the example of Venezuela because, like Nigeria, it is a Third World country and, due to the unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States, it is poorer than Nigeria.
So voting is not rocket science. Elections need not be commodified and generally turned into a vulture party where most of the politicians, their hangers-on, thugs, PR and media wizards, professional poll watchers, security personnel, some lawyers and judges. In fact, the cut for the police in the 2023 election is officially 64 billion naira.
Our democracy, which is without dividends for the electorate, is quite conflictive because holding a high political office is having a key to the public treasury, having immunity and acting with impunity. That is why some characterize Nigerian politics as a criminal enterprise.
It is a democracy in which the president and the governor are in divine positions, presiding over the affairs of ordinary mortals; legislators win insane subsidies, annually pad the national budget and award contracts to themselves, and judges often make controversial pronouncements. In fact, the Supreme Court has been caught choosing a governor for the people.
Elections are quite contentious in part because we run a unitary system in which to have political power is to be so strong as to ignore constitutional provisions. This, President Muhammadu Buhari has done several times, even without taking into account the federal provision that is at odds with his preference for prebendal politics.
There is also the problem that although the Constitution proclaims the country as a federation, its provisions are unitary.
A trending internet post last week asked Nigerians: “Which queue are you joining today? Queue for fuel? Glue for PVC? Queue for new Naira banknotes? This, sadly, summed up the state of the country. Nigerians stand in long lines to buy gasoline in a country so blessed with oil and gas reserves.
Our leaders in the last three decades have been so good that the country cannot refine petroleum products for local consumption. They are so efficient that they are unable to distribute even imported gasoline. They have also become so modernist that instead of motorists buying gasoline at gas stations, many buy from street children plying their trade on side streets and in residential houses.
Just as our political leaders succeeded in evicting foreign exchange transactions from air-conditioned bank halls to non-bankers under the trees on street corners, they are also evicting gasoline from fuel stations to jerry cans. street urchins, some of whom have now learned the technology of adulterating fuel.
Another point of the post is about the queues for the PVCs which, of course, will be useless in allocating votes from the ungoverned spaces of the country.
Then there is the challenge of a bill change where millions are guaranteed to lose their hard earned money simply because they don’t get the chance to change their old bills. A simple and straightforward exercise of exchanging new bills for old ones becomes so complex that on Saturday, even in Abuja, the country’s capital, almost every
ATMs ran out of cash or were closed by commercial banks. The problem isn’t who to blame, it’s that the new notes are not available on demand at least at many bank counters, ATMs and point of sale, POS, outlets. To put it mildly, the country is not at peace.
In recent weeks, I have lost count of how many times President Buhari has declared that all is well in the country and that he has fulfilled all the election promises he made to Nigerians. On such occasions, he would recount his achievements and paint pictures of the Eldorado into which he has transformed Nigeria.
He repeats them like a man with a guilty conscience. President Buhari is like a man who asks himself the exam questions, supervises the exam, answers the questions, corrects the script, gives himself high marks and wonders why he is not applauded for his excellent performance.
Despite the growing darkness, I see rays of light on the horizon. Part of my optimism is my belief in the ability of the Nigerian people to change their situation. Furthermore, in my analysis, none of the leading presidential candidates suffer from the neomilitary complex. This is a debilitating complex that views alternative viewpoints as a challenge, if not a betrayal. It is a condition, as a Gambian saying goes, that sees every problem as a nail and every solution as a hammer.
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