Not Village

Adéwálé Májà-Pearce

There is now strong evidence that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was in cahoots with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to ensure Bọ́lá Ahmed Tinúbú would be Nigeria’s next president come 29 May, the handover date. The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), which was supposed to upload the results in real time and so end once and for all the incessant rigging that has plagued Nigerian elections, failed to work in the 25 February presidential ballot but not the concurrent votes for the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Both Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party and Peter Obi of the Labour Party, the two leading opposition candidates, rejected the results and headed to the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal to compel INEC to release certified true copies of the materials used in the election. They were granted a court order on 3 March but INEC didn’t release the documents, even as it complied with another order requiring it to reconfigure the BVAS in time for the forthcoming gubernatorial and state assembly elections scheduled for Saturday, 18 March. By now thoroughly frustrated with what it called an ‘act of judicial insubordination’, the Labour Party threatened ‘to call our supporters to march to INEC offices nationwide in a non-violent protest’.

Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chair, called a press conference to declare that ‘the commission will not hide any document from anybody and will make available any document that they have requested,’ but this was the same man who had assured an audience at Chatham House in January that only an act of God would prevent the BVAS from working perfectly:

Each and every machine has been tested and confirmed functional. For the last two weeks, our officials were in the 36 states of the federation testing these machines, and the functionality is simply encouraging.

As for ‘glitches’: ‘There is always a back up. We have IReV technical support that will fix the machines in the unlikely event of any glitches.’

It’s unlikely that INEC will want to dent its image any further come this Saturday’s elections and this may be a problem in Lagos, which the APC unexpectedly lost in February. Nigeria’s commercial capital has been held by the ruling party since the return of democracy in 1999. Tinúbú was governor until 2007, and has continued to collect a 10 per cent commission on all state tax revenues through his company, Alpha Beta Consulting, under his hand-picked successors. Now it seems that the current governor, Babájídé Sanwó-Olú, might not win a second term and he has been frantically trying to drum up support, especially among the Igbo population who voted overwhelmingly for Obi in the presidential election.

Although Lagos is predominantly Yorùbá, about 40 per cent of the city’s population are Igbo (they also control much of its commerce). Ethnicity is less important here than elsewhere, especially among the young who are fed up with the old men who have trashed the country. Sanwó-Olú’s biggest headache is the Labour Party candidate, Gbadébọ̀ Rhodes-Vivour, who has two things going for him: he turned forty earlier this month, which makes him practically a baby in terms of Nigerian politics (especially Yorùbá politics); and although he is Yorùbá his wife and his mother are both Igbo, thereby annulling the ethnic card for those inclined to play it. He also comes from a distinguished family almost as old as Lagos itself but that is another matter.

You can gauge the threat Rhodes-Vivour poses by the language deployed against him. TheNews called him ‘a tribal bigot and a religious fanatic who is determined to put a knife on the rope that ties us together’. And here is the ‘notorious’ Sam Omatseye writing in the Nation:

Rhodes-Vivour has acted like one who wants to stalk a city in silence, like a predator on the sly. No one can blame him for who he loves to marry, who delivered him at birth, or a riven parenthood. But he has to account whether he exploits either or both to rip a community apart. It’s not whether someone split his blood ancestry. It is whether it can spill blood.

‘Nigeria’s most decorated columnist’ (according to his Twitter handle) persists in calling Rhodes-Vivour by his Igbo first name, Chinedu (‘God is leading’), instead of the Yorùbá one that he is better known by, Gbadébọ̀ (‘the one who brings the crown’), as if to suggest that the man himself is denying the other, which he isn’t. He has also been called out for apparently speaking better Igbo than Yorùbá, i.e. he’s not a proper Ọmọ Èkó (Child of Lagos), but given his background – expensive Lagos boarding school, Massachusetts Institute of Technology – he probably speaks better English than either Nigerian language, in common with many from his background. He’s not ‘village’, in other words, having described himself as ‘an epitome of Cosmopolitan Lagos’.

One of Rhodes-Vivour’s election promises is to clean up the finances of Africa’s fourth-richest city (after Johannesburg, Cape Town and Cairo) and end the ‘state capture that focuses on milking the state for the interest of one man and his family and cronies’. Some believe this is enough to put his life in danger, and Rhodes-Vivour himself claimed that his convoy was shot at by APC boys during a visit to the suburb of Epe, where he was otherwise received with much fanfare. The police have denied any such incident ever happened, but there is a precedent.

Just before midday on 27 July 2006, as Tinúbú was coming to the end of his second term as Lagos State governor, Funsho Williams was killed in his study. A 58-year-old engineer with experience in the state government during the military era, he had signalled his intention to run for governor on the platform of the opposition PDP. He was found lying face down in a pool of blood, with his hands tied behind his back and a dagger wrapped in newspaper protruding from his corpse. The post-mortem confirmed that he died of ‘manual strangulation’.

Williams’s murder remains unsolved despite calls to revisit it but this would be pointless. At the time, the state government invited detectives from the UK to prove it had nothing to hide but by then the crime scene had been hopelessly compromised. A major road was later named after Williams, which made people even more suspicious. As for the danger to Rhodes-Vivour, there are an awful lot of young men with guns ready to do the APC’s bidding, especially if INEC plays by the rules.

During the election last month, I heard gunshots from my local polling station in the middle-class suburb of Surùlérè (‘Patience has rewards’). Opinion polls suggested we were likely to vote the ‘wrong’ way, but according to the official count we ended up narrowly endorsing the status quo. Strolling through the neighbourhood yesterday evening, I was struck by the number of armed police out on patrol.


  • 15 March 2023 at 4:44pm
    Idowu Omoyele says:
    Alas, if the recent history of Nigerian politics is any measure, the culprit(s) in the assassination of Funsho Williams may never be found, just as the murderers of Bola Ige, Nigeria's Minister for Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, have yet to be brought to justice.

    • 15 March 2023 at 7:23pm
      Adewale Maja-Pearce says: @ Idowu Omoyele
      Indeed so.

  • 16 March 2023 at 9:32am
    Mike Okeowo says:
    INEC has another election to conduct in a few days time. That the expensive, critical equipment for the conduct of the next round of elections would be held hostage by litigants when the evidence on it has been preserved and can be accessed without the consequence of disenfranchising all citizens who intend to vote in the subnational executive and legislative elections on 11 March is a fantasy that will be entertained only by bad-faith election losers, luddites and atavistic troglodytes.

    Of course, INEC approached the courts to request the the relief that would allow it get on with its constitutional job. And, the court having considered the evidence and arguments presented by all the interested parties found in INEC's favour, leaving those enamoured of conspiracy theories to howl toothlessly.

    My career has taken in using technology to promote election transparency in Nigeria.

    Nigeria is acknowledged to be infrastructure poor, including digital infrastructure poor, but somehow this could not have had any impact on INEC performing a tough digital task in a high-stakes election.

    INEC's rhetoric before the elections—well-meaning but clearly unwise to the vagaries of enterprise-grade technology, for the standard performance of technology at the scale that INEC has to operate is closer to what the apps provided by Nigeria's national banks manage day to day (noting that INEC's outlay is lower, its system cheaper) than it is to the high-end smartphone on which I am typing this comment. What is more, the banks transmit text over Nigeria's telecommunications networks but INEC pledged itself to transmit photographs—and the radio silence it maintained out of consternation when the technology did not perform as advertised did not help matters but more on that shortly.

    It was only to be expected that when an unproven piece of technology was deployed for a crucial task in a high-stakes election, any glitch would be weaponised by those who lost and those who voted for them.

    The BVAS component of the technology INEC deployed for last month's elections, for accreditation and to prevent overvoting and phantom votes, was an incremental improvement on a type of technology that INEC had deployed in two previous election cycles.

    In 89% of polling units, BVAS functioned excellently. In 8% of polling units, it malfunctioned but was fixed. In 2% of the polling units, it malfunctioned and was replaced. In 1% of polling units, elections were not held, having been postponed for a variety of reasons.

    This then leads us to the other component of the system, that designed to transmit results over Nigeria's weak networks.

    Like a child with a new toy, INEC's top management told whomever would listen before the elections how enthused and confident they were about transmitting election results in a way that would deliver the utmost transparency.

    However, the peg on which that coat and hat were hung was the IReV component of the system and its ancillary sub-components, an all-new introduction to Nigeria's elections, only previously tried in two off-cycle subnational elections and a national rehearsal.

    I can tell you this with confidence: INEC set house of representatives, senate and presidential election results transmission on the same priority levels on Saturday, 25 February.

    The legislative results data packets are smaller, so they kept delivering while only the smaller presidential results packets were getting through. Cock-ups, not conspiracies is how the wise approach a complex and complicated world.

    By Sunday, when INEC realised what was happening and due to the blowback they were getting, they reset the priorities to allocate more resources to presidential results. Consequently, the delivery rate of presidential results rose.

    By that time, on Sunday, they had also taken the login wall off the frontend of their servers—a significant nod to transparency for anyone who knows anything about the digital aspects of election management—so everyone who cared and had the inclination was on their server observing.

    I observed and participated in last months elections, and because I am committed to learning what happens in Nigeria's elections in ways separate from the final results returning my preferred, a popular or any candidate whatsoever, I have developed a discipline of combining both the anecdotal and systemic. I am not going to surrender what I know and saw to the ignorant or to conspiratorial writers trying to titillate their readership. I shan't capitulate to the outrage of the outraged, whose only animus is that their candidate won some parts of the country but fell short in the national aggregate.

    On 1 March, a rigorous parallel vote tabulation effort from Nigeria's civil society validated the presidential results that had been announced. This rigorous, nationwide and independent election integrity effort is based on a random sample of actual results endorsed by all political party agents at polling units, a methodological nicety that places it a rung above the standard exit polling. That parallel vote tabulation effort also said the promising outsider candidate had been robbed in Nigeria's oil producing Rivers and Imo States.

    While the outsider candidate, whose popularity made these elections a bona fide three-way contest, had won in spite of the robbery in Imo State, he had not managed the same in Rivers State, where the ruling party candidate was returned. Long-time observers of Nigeria's elections can comment on the notoriety of results from Rivers State.

    The outsider candidate will have his day in court, and it can be expected he will get his deserved win in Rivers and his additional votes in Imo State.

    However, Nigeria has 36 states and a federal capital territory. The robbery in Rivers and Imo notwithstanding, election results as announced by INEC and as validated by civil society show that the president-elect, the main opposition party candidate that came second and the outsider candidate who came third fall into that order because of how the majority of votes were cast across the country.

    What is more, since the INEC servers were opened to the general public, some of Nigeria's tech-savvy young people have completed a census of results from the polling units across the country.

    Many of the tech-savvy, young people in many of Nigeria's southern cities support the outsider candidate. They are loath to admit it, but they published their findings of their census yesterday, 15 March, and they have only corroborated what INEC and civil society have said, including the detail about the outsider candidate being cheated out of a win in Rivers State.

    Nigeria's elections are not perfect. Yet, the number of polling units that did not open or in which equipment malfunctioned or for which insufficient election materials were provided or that were venues of ballot box snatching or disruptions of the voting process are a trivial number relative to the polling units where the overwhelming majority of Nigerians, millions of them including the elderly and pregnant women and people with disability, cast clean votes that decided the contest under peaceful conditions.

    That means, also, all the cases of election malpractice cannot overwhelm the courts. In every single case of malpractice, justice can be served.

    If the old guard of Nigeria's political establishment have managed to keep their grip on power this time round, it is because the majority of Nigerian voters chose them in an election where over 70% of the voting-age citizenry chose to stay away from the polling booths.

    What anti-democratic conspiracies will achieve is that voter turnout in future elections will even more closely match the turnout of the bases of the politicians of the old guard.