The ideal situation would be free, fair and transparent elections in Nigeria. Presently, except there is a miracle and the National Assembly passes the Justice Uwais recommendation on electoral reforms, there will still be rigging (I want to be proven wrong). Assuming the National Assembly passes this bill, it still needs to be tasted with an election so as ascertain its efficacy or determine if its fowl proof or not. For me and my group, Option A4 remains the best electoral system, because it has been tasted and trusted. The present electoral system gives enough room for electoral fraud and manipulations, which in turn produces long and painful post electoral litigations. (I did a detailed article on post electoral litigations published on my web blog; briefsfromakuta.blogspot.com and other national and international media).
Am sure that as 2011 general election approaches, many corrupt politicians will be strategizing on how to rig elections. Patriotic Nigerians should also be thinking of how to counter electoral fraud or at best how to provide evidences to the law courts that will count against fraudulent electoral victories. Both the ruling party and the opposition parties might find my advice very useful. I will suggest that Nigerians buy digital cameras and mobile phones with camera as part of our preparation for the 2011 general election. The whole idea will be for people to record every event that happens around each pooling booth, more especially to record on tape the actual number of voters that will turn up for voting. This method will automatically contradict any manipulation of numbers at the collection centers or when the authorities decide to announce something different.
Video records of elections should then be posted to all media houses, and those with internet access should upload to YouTube or other internet websites so that it will be transmitted worldwide instantly. Video evidences can change situations and force accountability. The video recording of where the leader of Boko Haram (Yussuf) was captured alive and his subsequent death in police custody has forced the Nigerian President (Musa Yar’Adua) to order immediate probe. The video recordings of Yussuf’s interrogation by the Nigerian law enforcement agents are already on the YouTube. As a matter of fact, the African Independent Television (AIT) showed clips of the YouTube video of Yussuf on Friday 7th August 2009 during their politics and current affairs programme (Focus Nigeria).
In the West Bank, B’tslem (an award winning human rights organization) distributed about one hundred video cameras to its activists to secretly record Israeli shooting of innocent Palestinians. The video evidences compelled the Israeli Defence Force to order investigations and offer explanations. In the United Kingdom, a New York investment banker recorded a violent police action against a newspaper seller (Ian Tomlinson) just before he died during the G20 protest in London on April 1 2009. Scotland Yard (UK police in charge of policing the G20 summit are under serious investigation as a result of the video footage).
Citing the importance of video evidences, the British government installed more than five million close circuit televisions (CCTV) all over the country. There are more close circuit televisions (CCTV) in the United Kingdom than any where in the world. In addition speed cameras are every where in the United Kingdom and other western societies. These devices have proven very useful in the fight against crimes in the western societies.
In Iraq, Blackwater employees (staffs of a contracting firm that works for American diplomats in Iraq) who were on vehicle escort duty in central Iraq shot dead about seventy civilians whom they claimed threatened them. A key element that contradicted their claim was a video shot by someone who happened to be there. The video was broadcast to people and it immediately raised questions about the credibility of Blackwater. The video footage became a key factor for the political tide that turned against the Blackwater contractors. Within few months five Blackwater personnel were facing manslaughter charges in the US, and the State Department advisory panel recommended that Blackwater be dropped as a contractor for American diplomats in Iraq.
This equipment (digital camera and mobile phone with camera) can be pocket sized and within reasonable cost, meaning that many people can lay their hands on them. This method can reveal institutional vulnerability. Using the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as a case study, video recordings on each pooling station can mar attempts to rig elections or at least provide evidences that could give victory to actual winners. The entire Nigerian public needs to give serious thoughts to this advice.
Non Governmental Organizations (NGO’s), community groups, labour unions, political parties, students groups etc should teach themselves and others how to record events using this simple technology (digital cameras and mobile phones with camera). This should be in preparation for the coming 2011 general elections. People might take for granted this digital technology, whereas in actual fact, it could do a lot to force accountability on the part of government and most influential people. It will also guarantee information transparency.
Another method to enforce accountability on our rulers will be for Nigerians to increase their surveillance of our rulers. Rulers are public servants; therefore their lives should be a public concern. Nigerians should be free to spy and expose their rulers. In the western societies, spying on leaders are very common. It’s a good mechanism to put leaders on check. In May 2009, spying on British MPs’ led to revelations about their expenses scandal. Over 182 MPs’ from all parties were indicted. British MPs repaid nearly half a million pounds in expenses money claimed since 2003. Many MPs are no longer standing for election due to this scandal. In a related development, Alan Duncan (a member of British House of Commons) was secretly filmed complaining about MPs’ pay and expenses. He apologized to the nation over his behavior.
Nigerians can adopt the measures outlined above in our efforts to build a better nation. The key to succeeding in the above ventures will be when all of us become active participants or support one another to undertake the ideas so expressed. May God bless Nigeria.
Chinedu Vincent Akuta
An activist and leader of “Support Option A4 Group” Leicester-UK