Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s victory in the February 25 presidential poll has raised hackles among his opponents who charge that thugs under the auspices of his All Progressives Congress intimidated voters and destroyed voting materials in some polling units. Because of a technical glitch initiated by APC in INEC’s collating system, they also claim, votes were doctored to favour the party. Using thugs to whip people into line during elections, THEWILL finds out, isn’t such a novel idea in politics. Michael Jimoh reports
“He who controls the streets,” one of the most infamous characters of the 20th century wrote, “controls politics.” At the time Adolf Hitler made his down to earth observation in Mein Kampf (My Struggle) he was languishing in a German jail for treason. Once out of the slammer, the Fuhrer knew exactly what to do to become chancellor of Germany.
Famous for his gift of the gab, Hitler reckoned that his oratorical skill alone wouldn’t be enough to persuade Germans to vote for him. He added some brute force to his rise in German politics through the Brownshirts aka Storm Troopers – a brutish paramilitary group renowned for its “thuggish vigilantism attached to the Nazi Party.”
Of course, the Fuhrer had his way. He won the German Federal election in 1933 with the Brownshirts functioning as “a security force at Nazi rallies and meetings, using threats and outright violence to secure votes and overcome Hitler’s political enemies.” But Hitler’s victory in Germany, his virulent anti-Semitism and subsequent Blitzkrieg in Eastern Europe sent most of the continent into a tailspin culminating in World War II.
Ninety years after, some analysts are now seeing some similarity of action in Hitler’s Brownshirts and political thugs who disrupted the presidential elections in Nigeria on February 25. And thanks to social media, Nigerians and the rest of the world saw live and direct political thugs carrying out these atrocious acts brazenly as if they didn’t give a hoot, as if nobody – even law enforcement agents – could do nothing about it.
In a video of one such brigandage that has since gone viral, nearly a dozen armed men surprised a polling unit in Surulere where they shot sporadically into the air to scare away voters then destroyed the voting materials. A witness who ran for cover during the surprise attack narrated her experience to Al Jazeera’s Femke van Zeijl published on March 2, 2023 headlined “How violence robs Nigerians of their votes.”
Like most Nigerians in her age bracket, 31-year-old Tobi Olayinka hoped for a change in government, for something other than the two most powerful parties – All Progressives Congress and Peoples Democratic Party – in Nigeria. Naturally, she plumped for and was going to vote for Peter Obi, presidential candidate of the Labour Party. She then waited at the unit so she could see the results at the end of the election. Alas, it never got to be.
In less than half a minute Olayinka’s hopes had turned to ashes in her mouth. As the video showed, a group of men surprised the unit, shot into the air, prompting the first time voter to “run for cover.”
“I ran faster than I ever had, I flew over flower pots and gutters,” she told Al Jazeera. A sympathetic resident opened the gate for her and others to take refuge in. Next, the video shows what the men have come for, as reported by the cable news media.
“What happened next at PU 24 was recorded from a roof terrace across the street with a clear view of the polling booth, which came under attack from 10 men. One grabs the table the electoral officers had sat on and flings it onto the street, scattering all documents that were on top. Another goes straight for the box with the red cover marked PRESIDENTIAL, lifts it up high above his head and slams it onto the asphalt, the cast ballot papers piling up onto the street. The other two ballot boxes get the same treatment from a third man.”
Just last week, this newspaper reported the various acts of brigandage visited on peaceful voters carrying out their civic duties at Polling Units across the country.
There was, for instance, “the unpremeditated beheading of Samuel Arunsi Eze by a political thug Daniel Mgba in Abia state. The killing took place in Ndi Agwu Community of Abam in Arochukwu council. One of the assailants was himself killed in the process.
“Violence in other states and cities were soon recorded and reported in the papers and social media. Polling stations and INEC officials were invariably the target of such attacks by political thugs. In Lagos state alone, polling stations in Amuwo Odofin, Badagry, Fadeyi, Iba, Ijaiye, Ijanikin, Iyana Shashi, Ikate, Ikorodu, LASU Iba, Lekki, Mafoloku, Ogombo, Ojota, Sangotedo, Surulere were attacked effectively disrupting the polls.
“Thugs in Surulere working on behalf of the ruling party APC reportedly warned voters who were not willing to vote for the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, to vacate the polling units while policemen looked away.”
“If the police looked away while the thugs operated in Surulere, their action was even more damning at Ogombo Primary School. According to one account, “thugs chased away voters and locked the gates while police officers stood still, smiling at them,” a situation that was not “different at Ojota Senior Secondary School.”
Did the acts of violence alter the results of the elections? A capital yes is the answer because many potential voters were disenfranchised by the thugs.
Still on the disruption in Surulere, Al Jazeera reported that “on Akerele Street, two kilometres (1.2 miles) from Olayinka’s voting unit, about five men wearing black masks and holding black pump action rifles jumped out of a yellow minibus near the gate of Falolu Road around 2:30pm (13:30 GMT). They fired shots in the air to scatter the crowd as Nigerian and international journalists looked on. The masked men took possession of the presidential ballot box and destroyed the other two before disappearing. Voting at this polling unit with 934 registered voters was subsequently cancelled.”
Continuing, Al Jazeera noted that “violent groups known as political thugs have been used by the established political parties in Nigeria for decades to influence the electoral process by force,” insisting that “if the voting does not seem to go their way, the candidates mobilise these thugs to raid the polling units. Not only does it scare people away from casting their ballots in the first place, but it also invalidates the ballots of the people who do come out to vote.”
Aside from the political thugs who carried out their acts of sabotage in the open, critics of the presidential poll now insist that the most damage was done in isolation in a room. At least for now, that is the contention of the presidential candidates of the PDP, LP and NNPP, Atiku Abubakar, Peter Obi and Rabiu Kwankwaso, respectively – that is altering the results of the election by shutting two of INEC’s three servers.
An unnamed software engineer working with INEC admitted as much in a recorded interview that has since gone viral. In it, he told an interviewer how APC approached him to do their bidding. “I said I was not interested.” It is best to hear the full text of his interview to understand how APC, in his words, compromised the results.
The software engineer who obviously works with INEC began by telling the interviewer what possibly transpired. “INEC has three servers. The first one is where they host the electoral body’s website. The second one is where the BVAS data is stored. The third one is the intermediary – the link between the website and the BVAs when you collate data and you want to upload to the website. What happened was that they switched off the BVAS server and the Intermediary server. Now when they switched it off…I thought they logged me out of the system because APC came to me to say can I help them in the election? I told them I was not interested. The only other person I thought that could do it also told me he was not interested.
“I was monitoring the servers out of due diligence. I now realised that, for some reason, I could not log in. I now thought that they logged me out. But by some miracle we have a very strong cyber security team. They switched off the server and you cannot connect to something that is offline. When I now realised that they switched off the servers, I said what is going on? Then I inspected the space. It turns out that the space is being consumed without any data being in-putted online. So, that means someone is manually imputing data. That is literally what happened. That is literally how they rigged the election. There was no hacker. They didn’t need any hacker to do that. They simply turned off the BVAS and the Intermediary servers and started in-putting the numbers themselves.”
Already declared winner of the presidential polls and presented with his certificate of return, Tinubu has been taken to task by his opponents who insist the election was rigged in his favour. For one, PDP, LP and NNPP party representatives duly complained right before INEC chair even while the results were being collated at International Conference Centre Abuja last week.
Their chief complaint was that, contrary to its assurance to upload results from polling units straight to the BVAS, INEC did not live up to its promise. On his part, Mahmood insisted that the BVAS could not be breached by hacking. If the software engineer is to be believed, the INEC chairman is not far from the truth. The BVAS and Intermediary servers were never hacked. They were only switched off so the trespasser could feed the server with his own results in place of the original ones from the polling units.