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Nigerians were enveloped in the trending debate over the propriety or otherwise of mounting a billboard with the inscription, ALL EYES ON THE JUDICIARY, in Lagos. Those in support of the billboard argued that the message it carried was inspirationally cautionary, while those against it insisted that it was a ploy to intimidate the learned judges handling electoral cases, especially the presidential and gubernatorial proceedings, at the tribunals.
However, something jolted the debaters out of their entrenched positions — news from abroad tended to suggest that if electoral fraud was a reptile, that of Nigeria was but a lizard while the variant practiced in Azerbaijan was a Komodo dragon.
How could that be possible? Aren’t Nigerian electoral officials supposed to be the acclaimed masters at scrutinising one political party’s scores with concave lenses while viewing the other with a convex pair? Can anyone beat that?
Well, Azerbaijan just did.
Because that country hardly gets appreciable media attention in this part of the globe, a little introduction won’t hurt. The country is a transcontinental republic located at the boundary of Eastern Europe and West Asia as part of the South Caucasus region bounded by the Caspian Sea to the East, Russia (Republic of Dagestan) to the North, Georgia to the Northwest, Armenia and Turkey to the West, and Iran to the South.
Azerbaijan proclaimed its independence on 30 August 1991 shortly before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan is a developing country and ranks 91st on the Human Development Index (by comparison, Nigeria ranks 163rd). It has a high rate of economic development and a low rate of unemployment.
The happenings in Azerbaijan caught the attention of Nigerians and elicited so many rib-cracking comments because their electoral leprosy seems to be more virulent than ours. In our case, we manage to sabotage the system from within and even disable gadgets installed to ensure accuracy. We have since compounded mere thuggery with scientific rigging. The combustible mix has confounded those who witnessed the ‘wet i e’ of the Wild-Wild-West in our ill-fated First Republic.
In the Second Republic, too, the winner of a governorship election in Ondo State escaped to Lagos and addressed ‘his people’ from there. Eventually, it was the judiciary that saved him from himself.
But even with all our electoral iniquities and impunities, we have never declared results before elections were held. We know how to cook and fry figures, yes! But to serve them before the ingredients are provided? No!
Azerbaijan, a unitary semi-presidential republic, made global headlines last week when its electoral commission accidentally published results showing a victory for Ilham Aliyev, the country’s long-standing President, a day before voting! Mr Aliyev was said to have received 72.76% of the vote compared with 7.4% for the opposition candidate, Jamil Hasanli. The screenshot of the figures published by the app used by the electoral commission was taken by an online channel, Meydan TV. Just like the BVAS used by Nigeria’s electoral commission, the app also displayed the number of people that voted at various times during the day.
Meydan TV’s managing director, Emin Milli, said this was a new level of criminality. Many online commentators also felt that this was a new kind of electoral voodoo deserving of recognition by the Guinness Book of World Records, Mr. Milli said in exasperation: “They will stuff the ballots, and in the end they will still write the numbers they want to write,” Although instances of ballot-stuffing have been documented in past elections, this apparent leak of the premature results shows a more serious degree of vote falsification.
President Aliyev’s electoral witchdoctors also conjured exit polls which gave him 92% of the vote. Presidential term limits were abolished in 2009 after an allegedly rigged referendum. This is Mr. Aliyev’s third term since he succeeded his father in 2003. Western political alchemists and ‘omniscient’ commentators who insist on democracy at all costs — no matter its hue, texture, or level of integrity — don’t know how to describe the sit-tight phenomenon or the turning of a democratic system into a dynasty.
In a statement published on its website, however, the agency that developed the app has claimed that it did not show predetermined election results. It said the results in contention were from opinion poll data used in testing the app and did not have any relation to the 2023 elections.
Azerbaijan has a history of ballot rigging and political repression. In 2008, for instance, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the presidential election of that year suffered from a “lack of credible challengers” and “a restrictive media environment” — a euphemism for political repression of opponents and muzzling of the media. The electoral commission refused to register the unified opposition candidate, Rustam Ibragimbekov, because of his dual Russian and Azerbaijani citizenship. Mr. Ibragimbekov had applied to renounce his Russian citizenship but Russia had failed to act on his request.
As the world very well knows, there are many ways of rigging, especially in a developing country. One of them is sole candidacy. All you have to do is neutralise your opponent either by ‘deletion’, detention, incapacitation or arranged accidents, disqualification, terror-induced flight out of the country, or some other exotic means devised by the incumbent president’s terror machine.
But Azerbaijan, in spite of its celebrated malfeasance, still doesn’t take the cake. The world record for the mother of all electoral heists is held by a West African country called the Republic of Liberia. And the Guinness Book of World Records has duly recognised the Liberian elections of 1927 as the most quantitatively fraudulent election in recorded history.
Electoral history has a long history if we bother to check. In the 1927 general elections in Liberia, President Charles D. B. King of the True Whig Party who was running for a third term, defeated Mr Thomas J. Faulkner of the People’s Party by the mathematically impossible margin of 240,000 to 9,000 in a voting population of 15,000. The landslide implied that voter turnout was more than 1,660 per cent!
The opposition made grievous allegations of slave labour and slave trade against officials of the True Whig Party following which the League of Nations set up a commission of enquiry whose findings forced President King to resign.
Liberia is Africa’s first and oldest modern republic, having been founded by freed Black people coming from the United States in the early 1800s. The country’s founders had little interest in the needs or desires of the indigenous peoples. This neglect and a host of other contradictions led to the civil war (1989-1997) which Nigeria-led ECOMOG helped to quell.
History tells us that what happened in Azerbaijan last week can only deliver pyrrhic victory as it has done. In the long run, Truth, the inexorable nemesis of all crooked stratagems, always prevails. I am glad to have Agatha Christie’s concurrence: “Nemesis is long delayed sometimes, but it comes in the end.”
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