OrderPaperToday – Elections as we know provide the platform for political succession in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world. However, the processes that lead to this social contracting are another ball game. Here in Nigeria, rigging of election has sadly become a determinant factor to assume political positions as contestants out-rig their opponents to the ultimate disadvantage of the populace. The introduction of some supposed fool-proof measures like the Permanent Voter’s Cards and the smart card readers has not helped much. In analysing some of the issues responsible for this abnormality, Mr. Henry Okon Archibong, representative of Itu/Ibiono Ibom federal constituency of Akwa Ibom State in the House of Representatives, spoke to Lizzy Chirkpi in a telephone interview. Excerpts:
Question: You were part of the 8th National Assembly that made efforts to pass a law that will make electronic voting mandatory but the efforts were rubbished by the refusal of the President to sign the bill four good times for various reasons. What do you think went wrong?
Answer: First of all, we are the ones that make things difficult for ourselves. If you can use your ATM (Automatic Teller Machine) card to go and collect money or pay for services why can’t we have electronic voting, why must it be difficult? I think that the problem is just the sincerity of purpose; we cannot even talk about electronic voting when even the card reader has not been signed into law. Again, these things are not done because there is no sincerity of purpose. For instance, if the President comes out today to say I want to do a clean and fair election and he starts by signing card reader into law then every other thing will follow but if the President has not done that then I don’t see how we can be talking about electronic voting because these are the basics before we will begin to talk about electronic voting. Electronic voting yes, it would make our electoral process very easy but we have a fundamental issue in this country which is power supply. Sometimes, even the batteries they bring to the voting centres to power the card readers do not last. Sometimes, even before you begin to get it right some hours has passed. In the last election that we did in 2019, in some cases in my constituency the programming alone took them up to two hours in some polling units. We need to tackle the power problem first. I have talked about political will, power and thirdly is the issue of corruption. For instance, even when the card readers are approved Nigerians would still prefer to buy the substandard ones so that the process will fail otherwise they will doctor it to fail.
Another thing is this, Nigerians don’t still believe in the system called Nigeria so somebody somewhere will be put aside in a selected building for him to be able to doctor the card readers. To do electronic voting is not full proof that it cannot be hacked because people hack into peoples bank accounts so any interested party can hire someone that can help hack into the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) website and give them the result they want. So let Mr. President come out and say let the change begin with me. Let the change also begin with me (lawmaker), the police, the electoral officers, the voters themselves and of course everybody. Let everyone decide that we need to move the country forward but without that I don’t see how we can be talking about electronic voting because it would all end up in a fiasco.
Question: As a major player in politics and one who has come a long way in that field what can we do to prevent rigging in our system? Many believe that bad governance is due to bad leadership and Nigerians in every election are shortchanged by replacing real elected leaders with the bad ones through manipulation or rigging. Do you subscribe to this?
Answer: First and famous, Nigerians are very very hungry. Again there are no social services in Nigeria. If you go to countries like America, no politician pays for school fees for anybody. No politician gives you money for child dedication, burials, weddings or even birthdays but here in Nigeria it is the function of the society. People are so hungry that to get anything from politicians, it is during the electioneering time. Another thing is, political offices have been made very juicy that people fight for it; people are ready to spend money to occupy those offices. Again, when people have to pay money to buy votes for you it becomes the highest bidder takes it all. It does not matter the quality your opponent has, if you don’t have money you can’t go anywhere in Nigerian politics. So the electorates must come to the realization that they need to fix things right. Imagine a situation where you have to pay somebody two hundred thousand for him to vote for you. A situation where you have to spend hundred million or five hundred million as the case may be for you to win an election or just for them to secure votes what do you think would happen when that person eventually wins? So some people feel when I get to office why should I be driving a car lower than what I used to drive before I got elected into the office? Election in Nigeria is like a business and nobody wants to invest in a business that he or she would loss. If you are putting in ten million naira to come and serve your people at the end of the day you should be able to get twelve million naira. And I agree there must be gain even if you are going to serve the people because you have put in money and sacrifice. Though, I plead with Nigerians: let’s go back to the basics where people living in rural areas would be able to pay for their children’s school fees, take care of their health, take of themselves and feed themselves. Let’s begin to vote for leaders based on what they can do not because I want them to take care of me. As it stands today, most Nigerians cannot take care of themselves due to bad governance and that is what is causing all these rigging.
Question: So what can be done to change the situation?
First, we have to decentralize power at the centre. Let the centre be very very diffused then power should go back to the States and Local Government Areas and once that is done, it is only people who are interested in service that would be coming here (Abuja) to serve. Then let the cost of electioneering be reduced. It would surprise you to know that even the lecturers who come for election supervision duties collect so much money just to return someone. The truth is that these lecturers see it as their own time to make money but if you pay them well and he is comfortable, his social security is taken care of, his transport and accommodation is well taken care of then he would not have the need to want to get extra money. If the police officer is well taken care of he would not have the need to connive against another candidate. Let our education and healthcare system be better that is all we need to know. The change must be from the top to the bottom. So long as this is not done we will keep fighting one another and spending money and rigging.
Question: So you do not see rigging stopping or being curtailed in our electoral system as it stands?
Answer: Well, like I said, the issue of rigging will not stop because election in Nigeria is the winner takes all. Once you win you take everything and once you loss you go empty-handed. So that is why when someone realize that if he spends five hundred million naira in an election and if he loses he would go empty handed, he would employ thugs and every avenue to make sure he wins. But if for instance, a politician knows that even if he wins or loses he can be called upon to work with the government in power then there would not be need for all these rigging. In this case there would be a level playing ground but in the situation of a winner takes all then we would continue to spend huge amount of money to rig our way into power.
Question: Then should there not be a law put in place whereby members of the opposition or opponents in an election would be given some seats by the party in power?
Nigeria is a very lawless country: for instance, laws have been passed to guide political parties in the level of what to spend during election: have they followed it? There is a whole lot of issues with the Nigeria system even if the law is passed some persons would still seat on it. Nigerians being who we are; it would not still make any impact because we are a lawless society.