Electoral managers need to be firm, focused, says Bauchi REC
The Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Bauchi State, Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim, said his former job as a retired director in the Department of State Services (DSS), assisted him in his conduct of the controversial 2019 election in Bauchi State. In this interview with RAUF OYEWOLE, the REC narrates how political actors from the two major political parties, All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), subjected him to intense pressure to influence the outcome of the 2019 general elections. Excerpts:
What was your experience during the conduct of this year’s general elections in Bauchi State?
It was a very worthy experience. Since our appointment as Resident Electoral Commissioners, it was the first major election I conducted though I have conducted by-elections, both at federal and state levels and I believe that helped me to understand the system better. Given my background as a former director in SSS, I have witnessed the conduct of so many elections, which also prepared me ahead of tensions some people tend to generate as a result of their perceptions on likely outcome or interference. At the end, I think it went well.
What would you say were your major challenges during the 2019 polls in the state?
During the elections, some typical politicians gave me pressure by way of making propaganda and wild allegations of perceived unfairness. That was the major challenge. But for someone who understands politicians like I said, because of my background in SSS, I was able to deal with them as expected of my position. Many elections were held when I was director of SSS in several states that I presided over.Honestly, it was not easy because of pressures and, if one is not firm, you can easily be derailed. The only way you can remain resolute and focused is by keeping off anything that may be used against you.
The way I interact with people in town, I don’t mingle unnecessarily and I don’t commit myself materially. That helped me a lot, because I made sure I remain neutral, especially for the two major political parties. All of them mounted pressures on me. They are all selfish and they don’t care. If you do their bidding, even if it is not in line with the guideline and even if you don’t do it they will say you’re bad. So, all of them mounted pressures in their own ways; it was a big challenge, especially from local politicians.
What was the nature of the pressures?
Some of the pressures were demand to declare the result when it was not due and proper, like the issue of Tafawa Balewa Local Government result. There are procedures and processes to guide our conduct in any election and these pressures don’t guide the activities, but a politician wouldn’t mind. The moment he sights what he considers victory, he wants you to give it to him even before concluding and allowing the process to run its full course. He wants you to follow shortcut. One, because this is the right thing; two, for posterity and even because of litigation, you should be able to give account.
It is just like a judge, law must guide any ruling. Most pressure from politicians is that they want you to put people that will serve their partisan interests in electoral positions; all of them are guilty of that. But glory to God, I was able to stand firm and do the right thing.
At a point, you declared the governorship election inclusive and that generated protests from different groups and political parties and even litigation. Was there a threat to your life?
There was no threat to my life at all. In fact, the peaceful demonstration was not around my office; it took place on the streets and maybe they weren’t conversant with the procedures of declaring of an election. For politicians, they feel that is the only weapon they could use to mount pressure to make sure their interest is protected.
What lessons did you draw from the rough and tough process?
One of the lessons I learnt was being firm and doing the right thing no matter the pressure, because politicians are very difficult to handle and one must be careful. Some of the wild allegations leveled against me were unimaginable. I saw a gentleman who cooked up an allegation against me, but at the end he said it was a game. A lot of lies were said by way of rumour and even feeding the press with these lies. Imagine if the press hasn’t been careful, maybe misinformation would have been published than what they did but because the pressmen were professional, that was why they stopped at where they stopped, because they (politicians) don’t mind mudslinging. It’s a watchword as far as politicians are concerned. To them, you’re either for me or against me and everybody will strive to bend you to their side. These pressures come separately –from west, south, north and east. Everyone mounts it. If you refuse, they will say you are with the other person (party).
Was monetary inducement part of the pressures from politicians?
There was no monetary pressure; just that they come to influence by way of an appeal to one’s conscience. I cannot remember any monetary pressure. First, I refused to mingle with them. If not that, pressure wouldn’t have come in that form. You don’t open up for them to penetrate and that is one of their major problems with me. I don’t like to sit down one-on-one with anyone of them (politicians) and that helped me a lot. There is a limit to how they can say rubbish to me. Some of the reports about me were compromised as a REC. At least if you claim someone is corrupt you should be able to prove it. Like I said earlier, I have experience in dealing with politicians though in different capacity. I know what they are up to and I avoid anything that can implicate me.
I have also learnt to be transparent and focused in order to run a successful election. Just like the last election we had, Bauchi is one of the few states where we had mixed choices unlike in some states where it is one way. I can tell you, the state has four political parties with representation in both national and state assemblies. People’s Redemption Party (PRP) got two federal seats; NNPP has a seat at the state assembly; PDP won governorship and assembly seats and APC also have their own share. This is good development: one, it shows the sophistication of the state’s electorate and also, confirm the neutrality of the electoral umpire for allowing such a thing to happen. Ordinarily, people were afraid that smaller parties would be stifled, but you can see the wishes of the people have been respected and their choices were also allowed to prevail.
Were you also under pressure to replace the collation officer for Tafawa Balewa Local Government after declaring the governorship election inconclusive, because she said she was forced to announce the result under duress?
You see, because of the controversies the collation of Tafawa Balewa result generated and because of the mistake she made during her presentation, she did not only confuse herself but also the audience (at the state collation centre). A situation where someone said, ‘this thing I want to give you is not the correct thing but all the same I have to give it to you.’ I remember she said she was presenting a result that she was forced to announce; the clips are there. She said she was under duress to do it and to save her life, which means she didn’t believe what she was saying. She said all these in public, to the world. Because of this, it attracted a lot of controversies around her, and created doubt about her impartiality. And more so, she said she was not interested in continuing, claiming she was threatened after making such comments. She got series of threats; she was afraid and somebody had to come and finish the job.
Poor welfare was part of the major complaints of ad-hoc staff in virtually all the states with some instances of corps members sleeping on bare floors and inside vehicles during the election. What’s INEC doing to correct that?
Fine, let me clarify something today; the corps members are supposed to be in one place 24 hours before the voting. The only place that we gathered corps members were at was the RAC centres – where election materials would be distributed to them and where they would undergo refresher training before heading to their respective polling units. The only thing we provided at that point was just a small resting material, because it is usually a busy place. But we made provision for mats, although they are not supposed to be sleeping; they must be active. It is erroneous for them to say they were not given rooms, beds and all that; they are mainly there to be trained and be moved to their places of primary assignment.