Saturday, July 31, 2021 7:24 am
By Owei Lakemfa
NIGERIA has a long history of Western education. Its first medical doctor, William Broughton Davis graduated in 1858. It had its first television station on October 31, 1959 before some Western countries like Albania and New Zealand. Yet, in July, 2021, its National Assembly voted overwhelmingly that the country must not transmit election results electronically.
Don’t be deceived that this is the state of Nigerian development. You can be sure that a country that began public television transmission 62 years ago, can at least, transmit election results from polling booths to collation centres. The truth is that like in most African countries, democracy is reduced to the motion of voting, and he who is announced the highest vote scorer, regardless of whether actual votes were casted or counted, win the elections and the public treasury.
So, governance in many African countries including Nigeria is very difficult because the art of rigging elections and theft, is not an easy one. However, I must admit that compared to many African countries, the Nigerian political elite are still learners. Yes, many of them industrially manufacture or conjure votes using bribery and violence, but they have not graduated to the point of simply awarding almost all the votes. Djibouti, in comparison to Nigeria, is tiny. Its geographical size of 23,200 square kilometres is like a tiny spec in Nigeria’s 923,768 square kilometres landmass. Its population of 973,560 is miniscule compared to the over 200 million Nigerians populating the earth. Yet, Djibouti has mastered the craft of the ruling party getting a near perfect score in elections.
By the April 9, 2021 elections, incumbent President Ismail Omar Guelleh had been President for twenty two years and ordinarily, his service record including the fact that 79 per-cent of the populace is below the poverty line, should have counted. Also, the fact that the tiny territory has been virtually suffocated by the presence of military bases belonging to seven countries; Saudi Arabia, France, United States, China, Spain, Italy and Japan, should have counted against Guelleh. But the elections did not reflect these realities as he scored or was awarded 97.30 per-cent of the votes.
I imagine a conversation between President Gulleh and the electoral chief: “Your Excellency, How many votes do you want?” “What do you propose?” “My Lord, 100 per-cent would reflect the love of the people because no patriot will vote against you.” “No, that will be too much, we have to allocate some votes to the opposition so we do not appear to be greedy. Don’t forget this is a democracy. Besides, 100 per-cent gives the impression that I am perfect, but I am not, only the Almighty is perfect.” “Your Excellency Sir, you are very humane and God-fearing. We will give you 97.30 per-cent and the balance to Farah.” “That is alright. Approved.”
Cote d’Ivoire is another example. Its President and French puppet, Alassane Quattara, had burnt out his constitutional two terms in office. But at 78, he upturned the constitution to run for an illegal third term on October 31, 2020. He ensured meaningful opposition was barred and that his chief rival, former President Laurent Gbagbo was not allowed to return to the country. He was awarded 94.27 per-cent of the votes. In his envisaged fourth term, I have no doubt that his score will be nearer 100 per-cent.
As a peace-loving democrat propped up by bayonets of the French military, Quattara assured Ivoirians: “I would like to reaffirm my availability, today like yesterday, for a sincere and constructive dialogue with the opposition, while respecting the constitutional order.”
Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has been President of Uganda since 1986. He dislikes opposition. Then, last year, a 38-year old musician, Robert Kyagulanyi, better known as Bobi Wine, rose to challenge him for the January 14, 2021 elections, and all hell was let loose. Scores were killed. Museveni who won almost 59 per-cent of the vote to Bobi Wine’s 35 per-cent explained his low vote percentage when he said this was the : “most cheating-free” election in Ugandan history. I doubt if Rwandan President Paul Kagame, a protégé of Museveni will be as sloppy as his former boss. In leadership since 1994, he officially became President in 2000. He brooks no opposition. In the Presidential elections of August 4, 2017 which was his third seven-year term, he was given 98.79 per-cent of the vote.
Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno was not as greedy for votes as Kagame. After three decades of being in the saddle, he accepted only 79.32 of the votes at the April 11, 2021 Presidential elections. That was to be his sixth term in office. But he did not manage to be sworn in as he was killed. Don’t ask me who did it, but his son Mahamat, who was not on the ballot, took over power, and was welcome by all democracy-loving countries from Nigeria to France.
Faure Gnassingbe of Togo has been President since 2005 after taking over from his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema who ruled for 38 years. Like Deby, he is modest about the percentage of votes that is awarded him. For instance, in the February 2020 elections which was preceded by violent mass protests against his rule, he got only 72 per-cent of the votes.
Egypt has led Africa in democratic vote allocations. For instance, then President Hosni Mubarak won 94 per-cent of the votes in 1999. Not to be outdone, the government of incumbent President President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2014 announced that it had been elected with 97 per-cent of votes, and in 2018, that it had been ‘re-elected’ by the same margin. The electoral commission announced that the elections were held in accordance with the: “highest international standards of integrity and transparency.” Then United States President Donald Trump expressed the “sincere congratulations” of the American people to Sisi for his democratic victory at the polls.
That is how it should be; our elections, as typified by the ones in Nigeria, are certified as “free, fair, transparent and credible.” It is never really explained in whose estimation or by what stand the elections are ‘free’ in whose estimation they are ‘fair’ to whom they are transparent and which authority certifies them as credible?
As the Western democracy African states claim to be practicing are synonymous with elections, I can proudly proclaim Africa as the most democratic continent in the universe. No wonder, we also hold the world record for the most astonishing election result since God created the world. In the 1927 general elections, former Liberian President, Charles King scored 243,000 votes to defeat his opponent, Thomas Faulkner who scored 9,000 votes. The total number of registered voters in the country? Wait for it; less than 15,000!
*Owei Lakemfa, journalist, human, labour rights activist and a public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos