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Mfonobong Inyang: Electioneering and Violations of Human Rights in Nigeria



It’s shameful how shameless we have become as a collective and a corporate entity. Here, we are still writing think-pieces calling for the respect of fundamental liberties in a country that is allegedly the largest black democracy in the world. You would think that in an election season, the political actors would be on their best behaviour and at least pretend to respect civil rights but no, they double down on the violation. When I say that I have my reservations about Nigeria being a democratic state, I do so with every sense of responsibility. It’s not a flippant assertion or some propaganda to score cheap political points. As a social scientist, I rely on the evidence of my eyes and ears to make inferences, not necessarily what I am being told.

Earlier this year I posited that what the system refers to as political structure is a euphemism that has five principal signatures: vote buying, voter suppression, thuggery, rented crowds and rigging. Take out these and some supposedly popular persons and parties will crumble like a pack of cards. This explains why there were reports of people from certain demographics being stopped, delayed and sometimes attacked when trying to sign up or collect their permanent voters’ cards. The undertone here is that the system we operate doesn’t recognise us as citizens; it allows us to do everything else but have a political voice or say in governance. People are harassed and attacked not just by sponsored thugs but by law enforcement for having peaceful assemblies or protests. Yet the Supreme Court has ruled that permissions are not even needed to have political assembly, if anything, such gatherings should be protected by law enforcement officers.

In one breath, we admonish people not to pick up arms against the state yet the same system tries to frustrate non-violent political participation in politics. Like my friends who adorn the wig and gown say in legalese: “you cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time”. As Malcom X famously opined, we have to choose between “the ballot or the bullet”. It’s feudalist behaviour to implicitly tell people that they should pay taxes but they cannot vote, participate in electioneering or have political associations. If people are not allowed to make inputs in their own governance then that’s effectively is not a democracy. It is  something else – perhaps, vestiges of a pre-civilian dispensation. Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Emphasis on the people.

I used to think that the biggest attraction in government for unscrupulous politicians was the seemingly unfettered access to public coffers. But in hindsight, I think the overarching catch is impunity. Many people have come to believe that being in government makes you above the law, ensuring that there are almost zero consequences for bad behaviour. Typical of George Orwell’s Animal Farm where some animals are more equal than others. Otherwise, explain it to me like a five year old why we cherry-pick which court judgements to obey, refuse to implement submissions by validly constituted panels of inquiries or where people are extra-judiciously killed, their humanity and existence gruesomely denied.

It’s hard to talk about human rights infringements without addressing those who facilitate these abuses and defend such unfortunate narratives. So-called intellectuals who would go on record and say things like the banning of Twitter, which infringes on people’s fundamental rights being a “win-win” situation for the parties involved. It’s also interesting when security agencies act as though they are still in the funk of colonial mentality, where they were originally set up to protect the interests of the political elites instead of securing the lives and property of ordinary citizens. How else can you explain the brutality from those who are paid by taxpayers’ monies? Make it make sense. The hostility is so institutionalised that the lines are blurred between prosecution and persecution.

Why are some people boasting in public that they would win their elections by a landslide but the same folks are outchea using thugs to suppress political participation? There were reported cases where some officers of the electoral body were seen demanding bribes to allow people register/collect their PVCs. Is voting now a privilege or some favour being done to electorates? It is this type of dysfunction that makes desperately unqualified people arrogant and entitled because they are relying on such criminal structures instead of votes from the electorates in credible elections which is a referendum on their abominable leadership. We have to decide whether we want to operate a monarchy where opposition is seen as rebellion to some divine mandate to rule or at least pretend we are running a democracy where divergent political interests are free to express themselves within the ambits of the law.

Isn’t it wonderful that certain groups who have been written off as noisemakers on social media have allegedly had PNDs being slammed on the bank accounts being used for running their political operations? How did we move from complaining about voting apathy especially amongst young people to brazenly suppressing their self-organised and self-funded efforts in the electioneering process? Shouldn’t it be a thing of joy that the political space has become more animated? What makes an uptick so fearful during voting participation? These are the questions that need answers.

Another unfortunate signature is the restriction of advertising spaces by incumbents of certain sub-nationals – denying opposition parties the use of such platforms by threatening vendors with non-renewal of their operating licenses. The same applies to use of public facilities even after due process has been followed and the necessary approvals have been sought. The most laughable is the overt use of law enforcement to put up a “show of force” when certain parties are having their activities or their covert use by conjuring up unfounded “security risks” which curiously is the case only when members of the opposition have events planned. This abuse of state power is rather unfortunate; strong-arm tactics reeks of desperation and a morbid fear of facing the wrath of a hugely disappointed voting public.

Brazil has an estimated population of about 220 million people, yet in the last elections, there were 155 million registered voters. 123 million of them showed up on election day, representing a voter participation of about 79%. Don’t even get me started with the fact that the mean age of Nigeria is 18 which is the same age for voting. We claim to have a similar population strength but when the electoral body presents the number of people registered to vote, that maths is not mathing for me. How is it a system where the majority are supposed to have their way end up being one where only a handful of people decide election outcomes? Is this an oligarchy in play?

It’s unfortunate that a chunk of potential voters were systematically disenfranchised because for some wild reason, the INEC technology seems to only able to detect “invalid registrations” after-the-fact and not in real-time which could have helped such persons take necessary actions and retrace their steps. Yet the same system couldn’t detect the successful registration of underage voters. I find it rather curious that the Nigerian Immigration Service has this tech but the electoral body doesn’t have it. Nigerian youths are literally the brightest tech heads on the globe but here we are, stuck with some dinosaur modus operandi in 2022. In an essay. I argued that if we want to deepen participation of young people in the electioneering process, INEC must double down on cutting-edge tech because “young people have peculiar lifestyles in which they consider pop culture; they communicate, work, and trade at the click of a button. So it evokes apathy from that demography when you ask them to participate in a process that is cumbersome and protracted.”

Human rights are on the ballot next year. Some people are still locked up in jailed for participating in a lawful protest. Some have spent time in jail for writing “unfavourable things” about some political actors who are quick to publicly claim they don’t control law enforcement officers but surreptitiously use them to harass opposing voices. It was wild this year to see a lawyer being whisked off to jail where he spent a month as he was defending his client in court. I will not be so unfortunate as to enable the country’s perpetuity of lawlessness by using my own hands to vote in persons and parties that have a high propensity to maintain or worse, aggravate our unflattering human rights records. The rest of the world has since moved on to artificial intelligence, nanotech, space tourism and advanced robotics but here, we are criminalising cross-dressing and other shenanigans. You can’t dash me human rights because human rights na my property.

Now available in select bookshops and on my Selar Store - get your hands on my brand new book, Hope Is Not A Strategy; Faith Is Not A Business Model - Mfonobong Inyang is a creative genius who works with top individuals and institutions to achieve their media, tech and communication goals. He is a much sought-after public speaker and consummate culture connoisseur who brings uncanny insights and perspectives to contemporary issues. As a consummate writer, he offers ghostwriting, copy-writing and book consultancy services. A master storyteller that brilliantly churns out premium content for brands on corporate communications, book projects, scripts and social media. A graduate of Economics – he speaks the English, Ibibio, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa languages. He appears to be a gentleman on the surface but the rumours are true - he get coconut head! Reach out to me let us work together on your content project(s) - [email protected].

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