IDEAS Radio 15 February 2019

Aghogho Oboh: Welcome to Nigeria Info where we’re discussing all the big and significant issues on the road to … tomorrow’s election.  Next month’s election. Finally, we’re here. And the last hour, we’ve been listening to a briefing by INEC, Chairman of INEC Professor Mahmud Yakubu, and as well as Inspector General of Police.  Right now questions are being asked by journalists and we’ll monitor that.

But first the IDEAS segment with Ayo Obe who has a big grin!  Remember you can follow the programme on Twitter @countdown2019NG, @RotimiSankore, @AghoghoOboh, @SEzekwesili, @NigeriaInfoFM, @ideasradiong.

Today on IDEAS section, Ayo Obe will be talking about the integrity of the electoral process and what constitutes a breach of the process.  Remember you can Tweet at all the handles I’ve mentioned earlier on. If you’ve got questions, also on WhatsApp, the number is 08095975805.

Rotimi Sankore our host is also here.  I don’t think he’s wearing a big grin yet.  We have a long weekend ahead of us. But Ayo Obe, good evening and welcome.

Ayo Obe: Thank you Aghogho, and it’s great to be here.  If I’m grinning I really don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because I was looking at the press conference that INEC and the IG of police, the Nigeria police are giving, and you know, when you’ve been all dressed up and you find that you have no place to go at five minutes to midnight, you know I’m kind of … I’m wearing  the smile of anticipation rather than the smile of fulfilment. And also I think that we may be missing parts of the conference because as I was saying to you just now, that it’s … there’s a saying that it seems as though everything may have, that needs to be said has been said, but not everybody has said it yet, so there’s bound to be a bit of overlap.  But I don’t think that we can really do too much in terms of reassuring the public and the Nigerian voting public particularly about what is in line for tomorrow.

AgO: Alright, Rotimi, the air of optimism?

Rotimi Sankore: Well …

AO: No, it is an air of optimism …

RS: Well the INEC Chair says only an Act of God can prevent the elections from going ahead, so let’s hope that there is no such Act of God …

AgO: From not going ahead, rather.

RS: Yes yes, yes, yes.  So let’s hope that there’s no such Act of God.  But honestly I think that since the disappointment of last week, while people are hoping that it will happen, I think a lot of people will not be stunned if something goes wrong.

AO: No, I think we always have to distinguish between something going wrong, and not having any election at all.  As we’ve discussed, I mean, I should say that if I’m looking a bit cross-eyed it’s because I’ve been typing up the transcripts of our programmes, and it’s just been interesting to look at some of the things that we’ve discussed in this segment of the programme, and how we’ve talked about so many of the issues that have arisen.  And one of the things that we did mention was that in a situation where some parties are saying the election is going to be perfect and others are saying the election is already compromised, and all the rest of it, that civil society which comes in between that, is bound to report what it sees, and there’s inevitably going to be some hitches, there are going to be some faults, there are going to be some places where the polls don’t open on time, where the materials will be short,  where the wrong materials will be there, where the card, the smart card readers will not work, there are all sort of things that can go wrong. But that’s a separate matter from not even leaving the starting blocks at all, which is what happened last week.

RS: So, last week we started discussing the integrity of the process, and we were asking what constitutes a breach of integrity, or what can undermine the integrity of the process or the accountability of the process.  Should I say little did we know that our discussions would in fact or had started to reflect on the answer to that question. And we were discussing earlier, and you were saying well, that the biggest breach to the integrity of the process is the, is lack of efficiency of the process.

AO: Yes, and I think that from what we heard from INEC is that it was the Logistics operation that they failed at, but they also did blame an Act of God, because in fact I do remember last week when I went to Abuja for the Murtala Muhammed Memorial Lecture, I was doubtful about going because the weather forecast had been that there would be some dust haze in the northern part of the country, and you know, for somebody like me in Lagos, well Abuja is as good as the northern part of the country.  So I was saying: Ah, I’m not sure I’m going to go. But I was assured that no, no, no that’s the far north and so on. But in the event, that was one of the reasons given by INEC for not being able to get its materials to the spots in time. And also, but then, you had others saying, Nope, no! No dust haze, nothing! No problem. And by the way, if dust haze is forecast, then you get on the road earlier. So these are the sorts of things that come across, when we’re talking about logistics, because if you can’t, at the end of the day, an election comes to: accurate return on the number of votes cast.  It’s really as simple and as complicated as that.

RS: Well, the other thing is, in terms of the integrity of the process, you just hinted at it, in terms of Plan B, but it’s also clear, although with benefit of hindsight, that enough time was not factored in for the Plan B, there was – er, what’s the word now – there was no redundancy,  there was no: So, if it goes wrong at this minute or at this hour, what do we turn to? And when they said: Oh, they didn’t sleep for several days, they were at the airport standing there, trying how to figure out to make it work, so …

AO: I mean, the thing of course is, it’s like almost  every election we hear about the creeks, and the rivers and the terrain, and so on, and so forth, and we sort of say yeah, these rivers didn’t spring up overnight.  You know, these are not things that you just suddenly find a new geographical feature which prevents you from getting to where you need to go. And that therefore, it all has to be factored in.  But I will say one thing, and it’s not really in defence of INEC, but it’s about us. We the Nigerian people and our approach to elections. I mean, you’ve heard the stories of, you go to a country like Kenya and the polling officer is already sleeping in the  polling station with their materials, waiting for the voters to come. In other, in India, I think they say that they send the voting materials through the postal service to the different parts. And we …

RS: And they have over 400 political parties.

AO: And we in Nigeria, we can’t do that because we ourselves are not trustworthy when it comes to elections.  Now, this is not …

RS: Send it through NIPOST kẹ?

AO: The point is that we have to go to these extraordinary lengths, everything that we do, is because we don’t do elections in an honest manner.  At the same time, I have to say, that there are some countries that we’ve seen that don’t go to these extraordinary lengths, and when there is a lack of good faith in managing their elections, you will see that they fall apart.  They actually really have, they have no back up. I mean you only have to look at the way that voting has happened in the United States … huge long queues, you know, gerrymandering of districts, certain areas where you only have a few … and all sorts of things.  So we at least, we know ourselves and we prepare for ourselves. The problem is that in this regard INEC did not prepare quite as well as it needed to.

RS: There is also something that we discussed earlier in the week on our morning programme, Morning Crossfire, and I think it’s important to highlight it on Countdown 2019.  That sometimes the failure of the state puts too much burden on the electoral body. And in this regard, we’re looking at things like civil registration, where there’s a register of Births and Deaths and causes of death and there is clear, very clear …

AO: We don’t have that demographic information.

RS: Yes, we don’t have it here, because in countries where there is that clear register, and the voters’ register … if you go to the voters’ register, you know where everybody stays, and where they can vote and it is truly continuous, based on processes that have little or nothing to do with the electoral body, but that it’s the state itself.

AO: The thing is that it’s not just the State.  I think the point that we need to recognise in Nigeria, is that at any one of us at any given time will have about four or five documents that have our biometric data.  We may have a National Identity Card. We may have a Driving Licence. We may have a Bank Verification number. We may have an International Passport, and of course, we may have a Voter’s card.  So that’s just five that I can think of off the top of my head, and that’s quite apart from whatever our places of employment may issue to us. So you have all these things, but they’re all separate, and the … you know, we talk about Joined Up Government and we don’t’ have it.  So I remember the report, the story that came out about Afghanistan when they were in the first flush of trying to build a new state, and the proposal was that they would use the iris of the eye because it’s even more dependable than a fingerprint or a thumbprint, particularly in an agrarian community where the finger print may not be quite so … so they were going to use this and from that you would be able to have  your passport, your driving licence, your … everything that you needed to have; that would be your one stop registration. And then it turned out that one of the donors had already provided the cards for a bunch of identity cards, for voters’ cards, voters’ identity cards. And so that was the end of that, which would have been a centralised sort of thing. Now of course, we always have to look at these things from a civil rights perspective, because if you are on the wrong side of the authorities, then if they don’t give you your documents, you could be really up the creek without a paddle, and speaking as somebody who lived in Britain where they hate the idea …

RS: You could become a non-person.

AO: … Yeah, they hate the idea of identity cards and so on.  But speaking as somebody who, thanks to the National Identity Card’s reliance on an outdated BVN number, I am in the National Identity Card register with the date of birth of my law partner!  And when I say, this is not my date of birth, every other document I have … they say: Well, you have to first get the … so, you know, there are problems with that kind of thing.

But to return to the issue of the election and its integrity, I mean I think that Rotimi we can’t also get away from the way that after the … in fact, immediately the election was cancelled, we had so many conspiracy theories, every day, every hour, a new conspiracy theory would surface.  But I think that at the end of the day, we can either spend our energy trying to decipher who was behind this and what happened, because people apparently could not even remember the history of the last ten years. So people were, they could not remember what happened in the election of 2007, they could not remember how we were already voting in 2011 when the vote, voting was stopped; how the election was postponed six weeks ahead, at the instance of the government then, in 2015.  And so really, I think in the end, you have to just look at what the Independent National Electoral Commission has given as its reasons. Whether you believe them or not, it doesn’t really matter. Those are the reasons, those are the reasons that they are addressing, that INEC is addressing and therefore, that we expect, we should not come up with those problems when we go out to vote tomorrow.  And I still think that people will go out to vote. I feel very sorry for those whose wedding … I mean, in my church they were saying that one couple who was supposed to marry tomorrow, they’re now going to have their wedding on Sunday, and can we please try and turn up on Sunday at midday, just to give them some moral support in the wedding because probably people who would have liked to be there for the wedding couldn’t be there and so on and so forth.  So, and that’s just one instance. You know, we know that the inconvenience, the cost, the everything, but you know, that’s why I think one of our former dictators said that Nigerians are a very resilient people. Whether they will show that their resilience is going to be affected, they will demonstrate whether or not they are, at the ballot box, who can say? I don’t know.

RS: Before we end the IDEAS segment, there is … I think it’s important that we look at the seven points that the INEC Chair said they will be briefing us on from Monday to Friday, which … and they are doing the last one now as we speak, he’s still speaking, or he’s responding to questions.  And people, a lot of people felt that actually, if they had had this check list before, and these daily assurances, they wouldn’t have taken both ourselves and themselves by surprise. So, he said last Sunday that they would be briefing us daily on the following:

  • Completion and confirmation of deployment of materials
  • Configuration of the smart card readers
  • Receipt and deployment of sensitive materials to the LGAs
  • Refresher training for ad hoc staff
  • Deployment of personnel to RACS

And people thought well, if they had been briefing us on these earlier, in preparation for the briefing, they would have figured out that these things …

AO: That there are holes in their preparations.

RS: Yes, yes, and they would not have been reassuring us every day that they were ready up until past midnight on the voting day.  Just going forward, what do you think of the suggestion of many people, many commentators, that for the next elections, they should actually, that it’s crucial to the integrity of the process, that they actually brief us on these things on a more or less daily basis.

AO: Well, I mean, you can’t really argue with that, but we will also be in a better position to say whether it makes a difference after tomorrow’s polls.  Because they may be briefing us and they may be hearing reports from the field and so on and so forth, but until we actually, you know, it’s where the rubber hits the road that we will know, is this so many fine words and assurances, because at the end of the day, nobody can be everywhere, or is it really, has the exercise of ensuring that these things that they’re briefing us about, that they’re briefing us on the basis of what has actually been achieved, or whether they are saying:  Yeah, we know, we’ve got to take care of it.

RS: Okay, may I just, on the logistics.  Someone told me a small joke, one of the conspiracy theories, when the INEC official said they had been standing at the airport for several days.  So he told me that what he heard was that some of the planes that were to cargo the sensitive material, no one had looked at the size of the doors and the dimensions.

AO: Why is that a joke?  I’m waiting for the punchline.

RS: Yes, and that they had everything stacked up and someone called and said: Ah, Oga, the thing won’t fit through the door!  And they were like: Let’s come and see ourselves. And they all gathered there looking at the small door, and: Who hired this plane?

AO: That’s the joke is it?  

RS: Yes!

AO: Do you see me laughing?  Do you see the Nigerian people laughing?  That’s no joke Rotimi.

RS: No, but when I heard it, I just laughed.  And I thought Ok, you know if this is true, someone has made provision for some planes, and didn’t say: Oh, by the way, the cargo door has to fit packages of XYZ dimension that will be sealed.  And it’s not a question, but may also say …

AO: It’s the kind of thing that you can very well imagine  happening, I mean, on a serious note, it’s the kind of thing that one can very well imagine happening simply because … I mean, I will give you a brief example, If you don’t do a run-through, when I was, I think I’ve mentioned, I think I’ve boasted before about my role as the Assistant Polling officer when the South Africans  were having their 1994 April elections. And the reason why my colleagues chose me …

RS: Their first election?

AO: Yes.  The reason why my colleagues chose me, the reason why my colleagues asked me to occupy that role, was that we all sat down and we all took notes and we did this and we did that, and then we all said we’ll meet here tomorrow.  And I said; Excuse me. Can we please … let me be the idiot voter, and let’s see how this thing works in practice. And so by doing a run through then we were able to see where the gaps lie. Because when it’s all on paper, it all looks very good, but when you now get to actually see, does this work in practice?  Then you discover …

RS: How many seconds does it take to verify, how many seconds does it take to go from Assistant Polling Officer one, to two, to three … and then actually go and cast your vote,  and in some places they may assume that it’s going to take ten minutes

AO: That’s even at the polling station, because of course, the training for ad hoc staff needs to include that kind of run through, but it’s also the run through of the logistics operation itself.

RS: From departure point to arrival to …  Ok.

AO: Well, those are the basics which are the beginning point at which we start talking about the integrity of the polls.  Of course, there are so many other aspects about the conduct of us the electorate, the conduct of those who are vying for political office and their political parties, but at the end of the day, it’s the voice of the people, and as they say, the voice of the people is the voice of God.  Let’s hope we hear it loudly tomorrow.

RS: Ok.  So that’s it for the IDEAS segment.  We’ll take a short break for ads, and when we come back, we’re going to be looking at all the numbers and figures.  The total registered PVCs, total collected by state and all the other numbers that you may need to know to give you a sense of the big picture, so please stay tuned, we’ll be back in a few minutes.