How To Steal a Nigerian Election

The presidential elections held this past April in Nigeria were seen as sufficiently “free and fair” by many observers, but at the local level for the gubernatorial elections, reports of fraud, violence, ballot stuffing, and intimidation were rife.  In several key states, candidates for the opposition party Congress for Progressive Change were subjected to bureaucratic harassment and attacks from the media, while in some cases the ruling People’s Democratic Party enjoyed the support of the military to deliver the vote.  Now the victims of the vote fraud are beginning to speak out.

Over the course of my law firm’s 30-year history in Nigeria, we’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the country’s most impressive entrepreneurs, young leaders, and impressive public servants, but this latest story stands out as a sad example of how the political system sometimes works.  The experience of Yusuf Tuggar, a popular former member of the Nigerian House of Representatives (2007-2011) who ran for governor in Bauchi State as the CPC candidate, featured nearly every trick in the book, from fraud to violence to curfews to basic cheating.  The overwhelming popularity of his campaign in Bauchi – an important northern state with a population the size of Norway – led his opponents to undertake desperate measures to manufacture a stolen victory.

This week we caught up with Mallam Tuggar by telephone to learn about his background and find out what happened this past Spring in Bauchi State.

How did you first get involved in politics?

Well, I come from what you could call a ‘political family.’  My father was a national politician, serving as the Organizing Secretary of the ruling Northern Peoples’ Congress in the period before and after independence in 1960, and later went on to become a Senator in the Republic.  Growing up in this family home, I was fascinated by public policy, and later went on to earn my degree in International Relations at university in the United States.  Even during my career in the public sector working as an oil and gas consultant, I regular published columns in newspapers and magazines, where I proffered my own opinions and possible solutions to Nigeria’s political and economic problems. But following the death of my father, I finally made the decision to get involved in politics, having realized that would be the best way to give back to society and strenghten the linkage between myself and the people of Bauchi and Nigeria as a whole.

During your tenure in the House of Representatives, what were some of your goals and accomplishments?

To begin with, I was the Chairman of House Committee on Public Procurement, which oversaw government spending on a variety of projects, be it construction, oil and gas, education, health, water resources, and beyond.  Our goal was to ensure, as much as possible, compliance with the Public Procurement Act that had been recently been passed in 2007 by the incoming president Umaru Yar’Adua, aimed at increasing due process, openness and transparency.  We created a tracking and monitoring system of government contracts open to the public on the internet, connecting with civil society groups to monitor and discourage instances of corruption – and I saw this as an important new link between civil society and the legislature.  We also actively pursued the creation of the National Council on Public Procurement, which we felt would separate the day-to-day affairs of awarding contracts from the meddling of the president’s cabinet, allowing transparency to prevail.

I was also a member of several committees, and worked on the passage of Local Content Bill, which was geared towards ensuring that Nigerian companies became more active in the oil and gas sector.   I served as a member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Committee on Agriculture. Before all of that I was also Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Public Petitions.  In this department, we successfully carried out several petitions that helped common Nigerians seek redress where it was not possible from other the other arms of the government – in the past, this had been a big problem, in that a petition filed with the National Assembly would often not go any where, but we provided real and lasting solutions for many citizens.

On my own, I was also the sponsor of quite a number of legislative items, including a bill looking into the inhumane transport of livestock, much needed amendments of past bills, such as the procurement act, as well as motions that drew attention to youth issues.

In your opinion, what do the people of Bauchi State need from their leadership?  How did you seek to address these needs in your campaign for governor?

What we saw as really deficient in Buachi was a lack of focus, policy programs, for governance. As such, before even declaring my candidacy we worked avidly on ensuring that we knew what we wanted to achieve in getting into government in Bauchi state.  Our primary focus was agriculture, because Bauchi is one of the leading states in terms of agricultural resources and tax potential that is yet to be realized.  In order to do this we focused on a number of policy areas.  Education was a major initiative of my platform, as we aimed to implement programs that would provide more skilled and unskilled labor for the agricultural sector.  Water infrastructure is another primary need for the people of Bauchi, and because of my experience on procurement in the House of Representatives, I could see what needed to be done in the state as a whole.  My constituency was a microcosm of the state as a whole, and I experimented with water projects within my constituency and could see what could be achieved as a whole. The next thing is health: of course, access to primary health care is still a major issue in Bauchi State, and one that has a big impact on the economy.  And lastly, our focus was on building quality roads – providing access to the market, access to the source of production of cereals and other agricultural products. These are the five things we wanted to focus on.

Do you feel that you were running a successful campaign?

Compared to the other candidates we had almost a flawless campaign. There was little to no incidences of violence.  I was the only candidate who campaigned throughout the entire state. Out of 212 wards Bauchi, I visited voters in 202.   The 10 wards I wasn’t able to go to were only delayed because the governor decided he wanted to go on the same day.  We carried out a very responsible and positive campaign emphasizing the program I described earlier, and we sought to avoid any clashes with the opposition.  Whenever an opponent or the opposition was going to be in a particular area, we kept all of our people away.  We eschewed violence and trouble making.

The popularity of our campaign was self-evident from the beginning.  As Bauchi has a youthful population, and I happen to be considered ‘young’ by Nigerian standards young, we were able to capture a strong appeal among many influential youths.  Other voters told us they were attracted to our campaign because of our record of achievement and competency in local government.  My constituency, which had become a model of sorts for other wards, was seen as a success story.  But a key difference, I believe, was that we had our policy program clearly defined.  We did not simply promise to provide water, medicine, and hospitals out of the sky – no, instead we decided to break it down to show voters how we intended to fund, plan, and implement the projects at the grassroots level.  This had not been done before.

Lastly, I think that our willingness to campaign broadly and travel to nearly all the wards was new.  For most of the wards, it was the first time they were seeing a candidate visit. It was quite remarkable experience, and by the end, as the vote neared, all the polls showed a very comfortable lead:  we were expected to take approximately 44-45% of the vote, well ahead of the other three major parties, leading a 10-15% margin over second place.

So what happened?

Well, after the presidential elections, which preceded the governorship election, the ruling party, the governor and some of his supporters instigated violence, which provoked an already unsettled reaction from much of the Bauchi population to the presidential outcome.  Fearing a defeat at the ballot box, they sought to create a ‘security situation’ as a pretext to put in place a curfew, which is what they did, on April 26.  They put in place a curfew, enforced by the Army, followed by crackdowns – although we have evidence that members of the PDP were given passes and allowed movement.  Needless to say, many of our supporters were arrested.

During the violence I was actually called upon by the head of the security agency to come out and help calm the situation down, appeal to people.  It is interesting that this was not something that there were asking the governor to do, because you know if the governor goes out, the people were obviously not on his side, and probably he would not be able to perform that function.  So I agreed to go out and help calm the situation, at the behest of the security agencies.

Of course the main issue here is that there is nowhere in the world you have a free and fair election with a curfew in place.  There was a curfew the day before the governship election, as well as the Election Day itself, from 7 am all the way to the election.  This of course meant our election workers, monitors, and representatives were not allowed to freely monitor the dispersion of election materials from the local governers all the way to the ward levels, which was the norm.  And under the laws of Nigeria every political party has a right to have its agents witness the distribution of those materials. Our agents were deprived of doing that because of this and subsequent curfews.

To the best of my knowledge, the only time you have curfews imposed during elections is when you don’t want free and fair elections to be held. It happened in Ivory Coast in 2010; Iraq in 2010, when terrorists imposed a curfew; and I think it also happened in Honduras when people in opposition to a military coup also declared that there would be a curfew, they would not go out and participate in elections. So when a state governor who is also contesting in a particular election, decides to impose a curfew, clearly he’s looking to take advantage. Which is what the governor did. He retreated to the government house and started issuing passes for his own operatives and supporters. They could move freely because they were given these passes. Whereas our own supporters, CPC members, were not allowed to move.


And how was the election ‘stolen,’ as some have said, during these curfews?

Firstly, it’s important to understand that the enforcement of the curfew meant that there was a massive deployment and crackdown by soldiers and police.  In my own particular polling unit, soldiers came and chased everybody away, proceeded to take election material, and while they were doing that I was told what was happening.

This was early in the morning. I was just getting ready to come out to the polls for accreditation as required by the law, there’s supposed to be accreditation of those registered to vote first. Months back there was the registration, and on the day of election there is accreditation, and after you commence voting. At the point people had lined up for accreditation, agents of the Governor and security services consisting of both police and army came to chase people away from the polling units. We have several reports of women being beaten, and others who suffered attacks from these groups.  And following these raids, they would simply take the ballot papers, fill them out as they desired, and then stuff the ballots and then move on.

Many people were refusing to put up with this.  Some supporters regrouped and still proceeded to go out, looking to connect with senior INEC officials that had come from Abuja to monitor the election.  This resurgence later in the election day and the presence of INEC created some doubts on behalf of the governor and his agents, and in some areas they pulled back, allowing a real vote to take place.  So there were actually elections where people voted overwhelmingly before that. But that at the end of the day did not matter because the results had already been written on result sheets. And that was what was taken to the INEC. The stuffing of the ballot boxes they were doing simply just to backup some of the results in the event there was an investigation.

We knew that there was a strong possibility of ballot stuffing and as a result of that we dispatched cameras to many of the local polling sites.  Our cameras captured a sizable amount of footage which shows what was going on. In the case of my own polling unit, after I had left my home, the soldiers made their raid, and we approached as they were making their escape.  I reached for my camera, and they took off. I chased after them and recorded their faces. While we were chasing them they threw documents out of the car, including a form EC8A.  Soldiers have absoutely no business possessing this form. It is an INEC duplicate result form which is supposed to only be filled by INEC agents.  But this is what happened.

Do you believe that this curfew and subsequent electoral fraud was planned in advance?

It’s important to consider that both Kaduna and Bauchi were both singled out to hold their governership elections on the 28th of April instead of the 26th, like everyone else.  The excuse was that because of the civil conflicts and violence following the presidential election, these two states were to be delayed.  Kaduna is of course the state of the vice president, while Bauchi is where you find Governor Yuguda.  He tried as much as possible to use his relationship with the vice president to gain advantage, pure and simple, because he did not have the influence and resources to rig an election on his own.

These were the only places where curfews were imposed, and these were the only two states that had their elections on a different day.  The police force in the state is relatively small and incapable of such an operation, but the crackdown allowed for the opportunity to bring in outside high numbers police and troops, which were able to come because their own states had already voted.  The brutality of the crackdown was flagrant – they knew what they were doing, and they knew that no one would bring them to account for it.

What do you believe this election experience means for the future of Nigerian democracy?

Obviously it was a transparently terrible experience, as the citizens of Bauchi State were denied their right to suffrage.  But what the poll riggers failed to realize is that this election became the nexus of electoral fraud, corruption in government, and terrorism and unrest – problems that plague the country as a whole.  What has happened in Bauchi ties all of these problems together. What is feeding the violence in northeastern Nigeria?  Because people are living in increasing abject poverty, not for lack of resources, but for lack of competent governance.  Northeastern Nigeria and Bauchi state are in the poorest part of the country, where you have more youths than other part of country, facing no education, no future, no hope, no roads, and no schools (or grossly insufficient).  This is all linked to corruption in government.  People who are not legitimately elected are getting into positions of power, and they know they’re not accountable to the people.  They spend their time looting the treasury and depriving the people at large. That’s providing a ready tool for extremist organization for criminals for so on and so forth, recruiting tools for these sorts of groups. The world has to realize that all these things come together, and it all begins with electoral fraud.  If you know you’re duly elected than you’re accountable to the people.  If you don’t deliver they’ll hold you responsible. But if you know you’re using instruments of power to simply get to the position than you don’t care what the people think and you’ll do what you want, because they didn’t get you there in the first place.  Too many leaders in Nigeria feel they don’t need voters.  This what the world has to understand.