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Aboh Kingdom

Ndokwa East LGA, Delta State

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Is Election Rigging a Necessity in Nigerian Politics?

Is Election Rigging a Necessity in Nigerian Politics?

In November 2010, the Court of Appeal sitting in Benin City sacked the Governor of Delta State Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan of the PDP and ordered INEC to conduct a fresh election within 90 days.
There was jubilation across the state.
Great Ovedje Ogboru was the man and DPP became the Change that we desired in Delta state.
We finally had an opportunity to change Uduaghan. But there was a problem.

Great Ovedje Ogboru was popular. But that was not enough. In Nigeria, you do not win election with popularity, you win election with political structures. Ogboru did not have the political structure, he only had popularity. The court gave him 90 days to build his structure and get into government house Asaba, if he can.

I was a fan of Ogboru and by extension became a member of his party the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP).
The 2011 general election was just few months away, so was the rerun. We have got to get to work.
Already there was a division in the PDP. This became a boost for Ogboru, there became an exodus of decamping from the PDP into DPP.
That exodus of decamping became a plus for Ogboru. The political structures that he needed were coming in voluntarily.
There was a particular reason why I was against Uduaghan. Before that time, my hometown – Aboh Kingdom was inaccessible by road. As at 1999, there was no road to my village of Delta state. We needed about 35KM of road and 600m of bridges to connect us to the rest of the world. My village was like an island in a swamp. Uduaghan’s predecessor James OnanefeI Ibori built 19KM of that road and the whole 600m bridge. That was a major breakthrough for us. But surprisingly, four years had gone and Uduaghan could not complete the remaining 16 kilometers road which did not even have a bridge.
For me, that was incompetence and enough reason to support the opposition. If in 2010 Aboh kingdom did not have road, then when will they have electricity and water and other state government presence? We must vote out the PDP! Thanks to the Appeal Court for giving us the opportunity.
Coincidentally, most PDP leaders at the state and even federal level are from my hometown – Aboh Kingdom, the former and impeached Speaker of Delta State House of Assembly was from Aboh. We had two serving commissioners, and several other senior political appointees. In fact, a senior state BOT member of the party and whi is a professor was from Aboh.
We were not impressed with all these our people in government, it was right time to mess them up, if we could.
There was a little problem though. The most powerful of our sons, the former Speaker, Rt. Hon. Olisa Imegwu had decamped to Ogboru’s party the DPP, our LGA Chairman and most of the councillors had decamped to DPP. All the bad guys were joining the DPP. That was good for Ogboru, he was getting the structures. Olisa Imegwu was in fact one of the most powerful politicians in the whole of Ndokwa land as at that time. He was pushing his men into DPP. That was a plus for Ogboru, the needed political structures were decamping. We were going to win the election. The same thing was happening in other parts of Delta state.
Campaign went on smoothly.
On the day of the rerun election, I chose to work as party agent for the DPP.
Luckily for me, I was assigned to a unit in Aboh Kingdom, the unit of a serving commissioner in the PDP government. Very good.
Coincidentally, I had followed the DPP ward chairman to this same settlement the previous day or so to campaign for the party. The settlement is an Isoko speaking clan, all farmers, but at the outskirt of the kingdom.
This particular unit is the immediate polling unit of a serving commissioner and as was expected he would do anything to deliver the unit for his party. I was the only major obstacle he had to deal with.
Before the election, I had observed that the so called political structures were all people in government. During elections, the govt would give them money and security, they would come to the election ground with the monies and security forces. If the money did not work, they would use the security men. If the outcome of the election is in the favor of their party, they would take the election results to Asaba, prove that are powerful in their communities and get another appointment or contract. This, I observed, was the business of Nigerian politics. The politicians were using us (the youths) to secure their appointments and contracts. We took the risk, did the leg walk but they got the appointments. I was going to mess up this particular political structure.
As a party agent, I got my tag and tried to trace up the electoral materials for my unit. A PDP local leader and serving councillor had already picked up both the sensitive materials and the INEC officials and was leaving the INEC office. It was a usual practice, having a ruling party use thier private cars to move INEC staff and materials and shutting out opposition party agents from the logistics arrangement.
I quickly got a bike and followed the car. The car knew I was following and tried to speed up. They did not intend to get the materials to the polling unit. Somehow they outsmarted me and disappeared. But I was smarter. I knew the private residence they had entered so I returned to base and asked for reinforcement from my party members. We invaded the premise. After much argument and threats to beat up the INEC officials (NYSC members) and arrest them, they agreed to move the materials to the right location. The INEC staff did not even know where they were going to. They could have been taken anywhere. We had won that first round. The materials could no longer be hijacked. Everybody returned to based while I followed the vehicle with my Okada from behind.
The settlement is a die-hard Ogboru settlement. They were mostly Isoko farmers mixed with Aboh-Ukwani aboriginals. From my previous visit to the settlement the previous day or so, I was sure my party would win on a free and fair contest. They were predictable.
Even though my party chairman had been given money by the party to share to voters, I had suggested that he focused on hard areas and leave such areas like this particular settlement. We would use PDP money to deliver for DPP here. He still insisted, went into a brief meeting with some leaders, gave them money and then left.
We started accreditation. There was low turn out. Less than 20% of the registered voters showed up. While accreditation was going on, the PDP agents had called me (the opposition agent) to the corner for negotiations. They reminded me that this was the polling unit of a serving commissioner and that I must not embarrass ‘our leader’. I understood him clearly but insisted that the people must be allowed to decide the outcome. At this point and after the previous incident, they knew I was going to be tough on them. They could not threaten me with violence. This is our hometown and we all live here. If you succeed in harrasing or even arresting me with your security men during the election, my family will come after you after the election. We just have to respect ourselves. There was no stranger amongst us except the INEC officials and the police officers. At one point, they had to call the commissioner to come talk to me directly. At this point, they wanted me to be respectful and listen to the elder. I was the youngest person there after all. It was a blackmailing strategy that failed. I chose to be disrespectful. All they needed to rig the election was to buy me over first. If they succeed with that, every other thing would fall into place.
At this point, there was an open inducement of voters. The commissioner brought out money and began to share to everybody. This is despite the fact that his boys had shared money earlier.
I allowed them share money. These farmers will not vote for Uduaghan. I could stake for them.
By the time we were done with accreditation, it became clear that we had issues of low turn out and we (all political parties) had to deal with it.
We had two options. Inflate the number of accredited voters and by extension the number of votes. Or do nothing.
We needed the cooperation of INEC officials to make that happen. That was not a problem. If we (political parties) agree to rig, INEC officials would have no choice but to support us (except they wish to trek back to INEC office and with no security and no guarantee of their safe return). It was a usual unconscious but effective blackmailing tactics used against INEC staff as a result of their management and logistics inefficiencies.
I quickly supported the idea that we should inflate the figures but on the condition that whoever wins the election would get more votes proportional to his real votes. What this means is that, if PDP won the election with 70 votes and DPP lost with 30 votes, we could increase PDP vote to 270 and DPP vote to 130 in the overall interest of the polling unit which was in our community and which we were bound to protect irrespective of party affiliation. Something like that was the arrangement we agreed upon. It was illegal but imperative.
We agreed on that. We started the election. Thanks to secret ballot. The farmers collected Uduaghan’s money but voted Ogboru. DPP won the election with a wide margin. I was overjoyed. I had delivered my unit. A serving commissioner had lost his unit. This would make tomorrow headline. Thanks to small me.
The commissioner had left during accreditation to supervise elections in some other units under his ward.
The news must have got to him that he had lost one of his immediate units. What an embarrassment.
There was tension. All I wanted at that point was to get my copy of the original result and leave. Already, because PDP had lost, they had reneged on the previous agreement of inflating figures. They were working towards either upturning the result in their favor or cancelling the entire election through violence. It would be less embarrassing for the election to be cancelled than for a serving commissioner to lose the election.
I knew I was in serious trouble. The mobile network was terrible. I could not make calls. The commissioner was already on his way back. INEC officials were on standby waiting for us (party people) to agree so they could implement our agreement.
I was already pressuring them to write the real result. The other party was insisting they held on. Most of the voters had left the area, the few that remained were with me, insisting that we conclude the election so they could leave.
At this point, I was no longer interested in the inflation, I just wanted the real results declared.
Luckily for me, an army monitoring team was passing by, I quickly rushed and flaged them down. They stopped in a commando style, their leader stepped out and asked me what the issue was.
I reported to the leader that we had concluded election but the INEC officials were refusing to write the result. Even before I could conclude narrating to the army officer, the INEC officials were already writing the results. We all became cooperative. Election was concluded. Great Ovedje Ogboru of DPP had won the election in that unit. My job was done. The commissioner has been embarrassed. I was the hero of the day.
I signed my column on the result, the PDP agent hesitated but signed his part, other party agents did same, I collected my copy and disappeared.
If that commissioner was present when the army showed up, who knows, he could have used the army against me. Everything worked together for my good.
Up till today, every PDP agent in that unit still has this grudge against me. I was the reason why their boss was embarrassed. I was the reason why they failed on their job and probably the reason why their boss did not get juicy appointment in the new administration. It is not a serious grudge though. Something we just laugh over most times when we see. In 2015 we all worked together for Okowa of PDP at the state level while we went our separate ways at the federal level.
Ogboru lost the election to Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan of PDP. I was disappointed. Ogboru won my unit, lost my ward and LGA. But he did well in all and within the short time.
The main general election was in few months time. Ogboru would meet with Uduaghan again. He would be defeated again and even again in 2015. Uduaghan would later complete my community road afterwards and before the 2015 election.
Ogboru was popular but you cannot win election in Nigeria with just popularity. He did not have the political structure and the politics of ethnic zoning was against him.
On the day of election, candidates are restricted to their wards, it is their political structures that they would depend on to win. It is political structures that shares money on election day, they bribe INEC staff, they hire thugs and when ordinary voters come out to vote for their popular choices, it is political structures that chase them away if their principal is not the popular candidate the ordinary voters intend to vote for. The truth is that while an ordinary voter would come out, vote (just one vote) and leave. A political structure will ensure his candidate gets hundreds and if possible thousands of votes. This is why politicians do not depend on ordinary voters to win election. One gun shot and ordinary voters would disappear. But those political structures, they are in fact the guys firing the gun shots so that they can be in charge.
You hardly find an ordinary voter that would vote, wait for the vote to be counted and then follow the results to the collation center and even to the LGA. Only political structures can do that. If they are unable to succeed at the units level, they move their rigging to the collation centers, until they deliver for their party. Ordinary voters do not know what’s up!
Political structures are more determined than ordinary voters. This why they are highly valued and well compensated with appointments and contracts. You have to sustain them till the next election before you lose them to the opposition.
These are the political realities of electioneering in Nigeria.
After the rerun election, I left the DPP and went on to work with INEC in the 2011 general election.
What happened between GEJ and GMB in 2015 was more of a replay of what happened between Uduaghan and Ogboru in 2011 in Delta state. The difference is that while GMB was popular and was able to form alliance and build his own political structure, Ogboru could not muster enough structure.
The very fact that Buhari is failing us today is a proof that Ogboru could have failed the people of Delta if he had won.
The problem with Nigeria is not necessarily bad leadership. It is not a coincidence that all our leaders turn out to be bad and corrupt. It is a system induced problem. Our leaders are equally victims of a bad govt structure, just that they are not aware (especially when they are in office).
If we do not restructure Nigeria and entrench true federalism, then voting for these politicians and their parties would be a waste of time, resources, energy and fingerprints. They will all end up with the same result. No matter how good your driving skills are, if the car has flat tyres, the car would not move.
But we can continue to pretend anyway and continue to look for good and saintly leaders as if the leaders would not emerge from amongst us. We can also continue with our mutually deceptive political hypocritical lifestyle while hoping that someday we too will get into power and chop our own share of the prebendal cake.
Tony Osborg


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