Up to now, I have not quite succeeded in fathoming the reason why many Nigerians appear genuinely surprised that Senator Ibrahim Mantu last week voluntarily confessed that he had rigged election or had participated in rigging election for his preferred candidate over the years.
Mr. Mantu, in case you need to be reminded, was in the Senate for eight years (1999 to 2007) representing Plateau State. By Nigerian standard, he had a successful, some would say, controversial tenure which was crowned by his election as deputy senate president. He will be remembered as one of the arrow heads of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s alleged third term bid. Senator Mantu lost his own third term bid and he disappeared into political wilderness until last week when he made his surprise confession that he was, if you wish, a veteran of election rigging.
Senator Mantu, in a Channels Television interview programme, said that as a born-gain politician, he had decided to make a clean break with the past by confessing his political iniquities. In an expression of candour not usually associated with politicians – old or new breed – Mantu admitted, without mincing words, that he had rigged elections.
In his own words: “Yes, I did. I am now confessing the truth. But what I mean is that I don’t have to go and change election results. But when you provide money to INEC boys to help you if they see any chance to favour you…. You also provide money to the security. All elections in the past I have been a part of it. I have been in this game for 40 years. It is not necessarily when I am contesting an election but when my party sponsors a candidate; I would want that person to win the election.” And Mantu went on and on to give the details and the mechanism for doling out money and to whom. He even made provision for unfaithful party agents of the opposition candidates to look the other way. By doing all these, by providing the financial resources to induce the INEC officials, he pronounced himself guilty of election rigging.
Unlike his party, the PDP which apologised to the nation last week for not living up to the citizens’ expectations, Mantu did not offer any apology but he volunteered the reasons for his contriteness: “Why I am doing this,” he told his television audience, “is because I am tired of being seen as a criminal in the street of the world because I am a Nigerian”
Whether confession of crime exculpates the man from the crime is left to crime experts to worry about. Mantu’s confession, though not necessarily the first by any Nigerian politician, is, in my view, a wake -up call. It is, like other admissions before this, a confirmation of what everybody knows to be wrong with our elections over the years. In fact, election rigging is as old as election itself. But that it is not native to Nigeria is of little comfort.
If any confirmation is required, this is one – that tales of financial inducements to INEC officials has never been a phantom idle conjecture. Nor has anybody looked at it as a mere partisan accusation by one party, APC, against another, PDP, which was at the helm of affairs for 16 years and which had everything to gain by compromising INEC officials in the 2015 presidential elections. That the electoral body under the leadership of Professor Mahmoud Yakubu has punished many INEC officials found wanting in this respect is already proof positive of the gross malfeasance of the staff of the electoral umpire. Mantu’s confession is, I think, a mere admission of to what extent his party, the PDP, went in its desire to cling to power. It does not say, however, as the PDP spokesman is labouring to believe that PDP directed any of its members to rig election on its behalf. Kola Ologbondiyan, the publicity scribe of the party, needs not make a mountain out of this mole hill for all Nigerian parties, given the chance, have equal tendencies to have one up against the other.
Long before Mantu’s confession, a former governor of Cross Rivers State, Mr. Donald Duke, at the end of his eight years of successful tenure, volunteered to contribute his thoughts and experience to the making of a credible electoral process in the country – something that was, at least on face value, dear to all patriotic Nigerians. In July 2010 at a function in Abuja, the former governor gave a speech which, for all practical purposes, was a comprehensive expose of election fraud and how it was executed at the highest level of government. His blow by blow account of how elections were rigged read like a thriller – indeed it was a thriller rendered in the format of tabloid sensationalism.
The electoral umpire, he said, would send a new resident electoral commissioner to the state, any state. The man would pay a courtesy call on the governor of the state. The governor would then ask how he was settling down. Reacting to this friendly gesture of his Excellency the governor, the commissioner would proceed to give account of shortcomings. The headquarters had not sent money for his accommodation; he was in fact squatting. Possibly he had no means of movement. The kind-hearted governor, not to be seen to be a bad host, would give directive to his chief of staff to make the man feel welcome by extending to him the well- publicised hospitality of the state. And behold a good accommodation and two brand new cars to boot. The state would be asked to nominate staff to be trained as electoral officers and the money for this training had also not come from Abuja. The state would provide the local staff and the money. And these staff were all party men and women, loyal only to their party. From that day, the deal was struck. It would take an electoral commissioner with the heart of a newly minted saint to make his Excellency lose an election in which he was an interested party.
And all this would happen because there was no fear of consequences. As Mantu said, even the security agents, the police and the secret agents were most willing to be compromised. There was generous financial reward for looking the other way or for gratuitously offering their services where ballot box stuffing and snatching were required. They would lend their official hands to those of the party thugs.
The last time there was a systematic reaction to electoral fraud in the country, as opposed to the mindless post – election violence in the North after the 2011 presidential election, by my recollection, was in 1983 during the Second Republic. In Ondo State, Governor Adekunle Ajasin’s deputy, Chief Akin Omoboriowo, had sought to contest the primary of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN to pick the party’s candidate for governorship election. Chief Ajasin, the incumbent governor, won the primary but Omoboriowo felt he had been rigged out in favour of his boss. In a huff, he decamped to the ruling National Party of Nigeria, NPN and he became the candidate of his new party. Governorship election was held later in a predictably tense atmosphere.
Now, time for the result and the returning officer, sensing that something was amiss, saw himself like the man who was confronted with the devil’s alternative. Whichever step he took was certain to lead to a certain Armageddon. Sweating profusely and with hands shaking vigorously, the poor man was forced to declare Chief Omoboriowo the winner. And then bedlam, as sure as hell, broke out.
Omoboriowo, the alleged winner, went into hiding but there was no hiding place. Three days later, after the rage of fire had burnt out with numerous supporters of his burnt to death in their homes, Omoboriowo himself was spirited out of Akure to safety in Lagos. The electoral court later pronounced his victory, a pyrrhic victory – a still-born child of electoral fraud and NPN’s power of impunity.
Without any doubt, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has a lot to go by in form of a surfeit of the literature available on the shenanigans of power mongers who hanker after electoral victory by all means – fair or foul.