The avalanche of controversies trailing the recently concluded 2023 General Elections in Nigeria appears to have amplified calls for the proscription of university professors as returning officers in Nigerian elections. This is sequel to rising allegations of complicity in election rigging on the part of these professors. Evidences often cited by the champions of this position include the phenomenon of university professors brazenly “returning” results that are markedly different from the ones originally recorded and displayed at the polling units, the melodrama of university professors finding it difficult to read out the same results they had prepared, requiring in some cases, the need for flood lights to be scrambled for the professors to enable them read the results. In this instance, the inability to read out results is not really attributed to a reading deficiency on the part of the concerned professor rather, the assumption is that too many manipulations of electoral figures appear to have created the confusing situation in which the professor as returning officer is now trying to manage the delicate task of reading out the results while taking immense care not to give himself away especially if it was becoming obvious that the number of votes cast would exceed the number of accredited voters. In other words, the momentary inability to read out results probably arises more from the distraction of reviewing manipulated calculations as a last minute effort to cover up possible contradictions while simultaneously announcing the results.
The point in issue is that the call for the ditching of university professors as returning officers in Nigerian elections is probably misplaced and misdirected. Without prejudice to playing the devil’s advocate, the use of university professors as returning officers during elections cannot be the singular problem of elections in Nigeria. If anything, the politicians are the major problem of elections in Nigeria. Consequently, in trying to locate the problem of fraudulent elections in Nigeria, one needs to ask the following questions: Who corrupts the university professors and other electoral officers? Who corrupts the Judiciary or judicial officers that preside over electoral and non-electoral offences? Who corrupts the heads of several religious institutions who now deliver fake prophecies about the emergence of politicians in several elective offices during elections? Who induces the electorate to acquiesce to vote buying? Who mobilizes the youths for violence and other electoral offences during elections? Who has destroyed the prestige of the traditional institutions, turning monarchs to beggars grappling to please politicians in order to partake of the crumbs that fall off their table? Who has undermined defence and security by setting up former political/electoral thugs as parallel armies while emboldening other non-state actors to contend the sovereignty of the Nigerian state? Who has weaponized poverty to such an extent that the average electorate would prefer a thousand naira, a cup of salt, a yard of “adire,” a bag of rice or a carton of noodles over a future of prosperity? To go beyond election-related matters, who has plunged Nigeria into the conundrum of unending debts? Whose has influenced or informed the economic policies that have driven inflation to over 27% according to the National Bureau of Statistics report for October 2023? Who has turned our policemen to errand boys and girls who now serve as glorified waiters and waitresses to the wives of “Very Important Persons”? Who has underfunded hospitals, increased the fees of Unity schools and other federal academic institutions? Who has created the economic conditions that elicit rising prices of petrol to the added suffering of the average Nigerian? It is the politician.
There is no doubt that the university professor who is being dragged to the guillotine for alleged complicity in electoral fraud may be deserving of such opprobrium due to the dereliction of enforcing his right of refusal to inducement but the very atmosphere under which he operates diminishes that right. In some cases, university professors who show aversion to inducement are known to have been threatened by the same people who induce them and in other cases, professors with reputable integrity are tacitly prevented from participating in the process. Those who manage to ward off abetting politicians and go on to conclude the electoral process with their heads still on their shoulders may find it rough in the near or distant future given the uncanny ability of these politicians to lie in wait for long periods looking for opportunities to witch-hunt them. In other words, the politicians create an atmosphere under which it would be practically difficult for the culpable professors to refuse their demands even when the society expects them to do so. Unfortunately, a lot of the members of society who expect these professors to lose their lives while resisting politicians are also afraid of losing their own lives in any agitation, protestation or revolutionary politics aiming to overthrow the prevailing oppressive order.
Therefore, more than the malfeasance of the politicians, the hypocrisy of the Nigerian citizenry in these matters also accounts for the continued deterioration of things either at the level of elections or in the general management of society. The fact remains that the propensity for fraud at all levels of electoral administration in Nigeria has contributed to the perpetual elusiveness of credible elections. From the appointment of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission to the appointment of partisan card-carrying resident electoral commissioners, the system has immense opportunities for corruption. Therefore, rather than blame university professors who are just a microcosm of the entire process, a holistic approach to rid the electoral process of corruption must begin with ensuring that electoral offenders are severely dealt with, regardless of their position in the society. That way, both the errant university professor and the abetting politician would steer clear of electoral offences.
The ‘Alternative Viewpoint,’ penned by Flight Lieutenant Christopher Uchenna Obasi (Retired), is a sophisticated weekly column that delves into the complex dimensions of socio-political issues. While it concentrates primarily on the African context, the column also casts a wider analytical net to encompass global affairs. Through incisive commentary and in-depth analysis, it aims to offer alternative perspectives that challenge mainstream narratives and provoke thoughtful discourse on critical matters.