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6.3 Anonymous informant, report, written in 1995, on the 1979 elections, including those in the dependent rural areas around Ilorin, largely populated by descendants of slaves
Background information and text of the report
This report was written by an individual who at the time of the 1979 elections was living on the campus of what was then called the Kwara State College of Technology.
The college campus had been situated just outside the city of Ilorin, within the dependent areas that were (and are) in large part populated by poor farmers, many of them descendants of slaves who had been settled there by their masters, who lived in the city and owned the farmlands. Only a very small part of the campus had been built on by 1979, to provide classrooms, areas for practical work, offices and workshops, and houses for members of the faculty and staff. The rest remained unchanged, still populated by poor farmers. Many of the lecturers and administrative staff of the college came, like the author of the report, from long-settled Yoruba towns and villages to the east of the city, which were generally speaking hostile to the city elite, and which embraced the opportunities that had been created in their areas by missionary education from the colonial period onward. They were regarded as dangerous by traditionalists who wished to preserve the status quo.
I have deleted the name of the author’s home town, to preserve anonymity.
A PERSONAL TESTIMONY/ACCOUNT OF THE 1979 ELECTIONS IN NIGERIA
My family lived on the campus of Kwara State College of Technology (now Polytechnic) during the controversial elections into various political offices. The college had about one hundred and fifty residential academic/administrative staff and dependants as well as over two thousand students; all these people were eligible to vote. Since each polling station was designed to register and accommodate 500 people, our college had several polling stations allocated and we were registered on our campus prior to the elections. There were initial attempts to frustrate the registration exercise but my family members were determined to exercise our right and we got registered against several odds.
The elections were scheduled for five consecutive Saturdays to cover election of people into the states’ Houses of Assembly, the House of Representatives, Senate, Governorship elections and the Presidential elections respectively. My experience during each election varied and we later discovered that this is because certain groups of people were so tenacious in their desire to rig the elections that they wanted to disenfranchise politically aware intellectuals who could not be bribed to vote contrary to their convictions
Elections into the States’ Houses of Assembly and the House of Representatives
We were able to vote in the first two elections although there were allegations and evidence of rigging all over the country. It is generally believed that each of the parties had a conducive atmosphere to rig in their strongholds by multiple voting or simply by filling ballot boxes with imaginary voting coupons or even replacing the legitimate ballot boxes with fake ones filled with equally fake voting coupons.
This was a tough one. As the elections became more important, the more desperate were the efforts to keep the elite out. Nonetheless, I was able to vote but my [spouse] could not. Several names were missing from the voters’ lists even though their names were listed during the first two elections and the same voters’ lists were valid for all the elections. [My spouse] later went to our home town and this gave [my spouse] an insight into some of the electoral problems. Our home town is [deleted] in Irepodun local government area which is considered to be one of the most enlightened parts of the state. Thousands of people had registered to vote in their home towns and not where they worked or lived and they had travelled home to exercise their right by voting for a candidate of their choice. This attitude is not unique to our area since many Nigerians prefer to influence the choice of representatives in their home area and not their place of residence. This is because development often depends on which party an area supports and Nigerians are sufficiently patriotic to put a higher premium on the development of their home town than the place of residence.
In our senatorial district, a particular candidate won by a “landslide” majority as Nigerians put it but there were overt attempts to rig because the candidate did not belong to the mafia-controlled party that was slated for victory. A parallel compilation of fake results was going on while the actual results were being counted. Fortunately, the actual result got to Radio Kwara first and was sustained. Some members of our college were relieved of their jobs eight months later for exposing some of the fraudulent practices or for preventing the “chosen” party’s candidate from winning by a false declaration.
All the polling stations on our college campus were cancelled. After several hours of confusion and anxiety by those of us who wished to vote, we learnt that our voters’ lists had been retrieved in an obscure village several miles from our campus and we were advised to go there if we wanted to vote. This did not discourage my family but several families on our campus did not wish to take the trouble and the risk so they did not vote. We got to this village that had no regular motorable road by negotiating and manoeuvred our way through a footpath by driving through such a dust track! We got to this village only to discover that our names were not on the list. We had to go to another village about three miles away that was even more remote and less accessible.
Most of the names of the people from our college were on the list in this second village but in a distorted order showing clearly that the original list had been tampered with. We eventually voted after much argument. We observed that only the posters of two our of the five parties were put up in this polling station and this is contrary to the regulations since millions of electorates were illiterate and would only choose a candidate by identifying the parties’ symbol. By failing to put up the posters of some parties, many people would have assumed that those parties had no candidates for the particular election. We pointed this out and asked the electoral officers to correct the situation. They got so angry and aggressive it was obvious they had something at stake. They insulted us and dismissed our observation as a futile academic exercise. Hundreds of people were disenfranchised because they could not find the village! That election later became very controversial and there were allegations that the candidate declared the winner did not actually win. There were election tribunals in the state concerning this election but the candidate who was declared victorious was upheld as the governor of the state. Similar problems were reported all over the country as “apparent losers” took “apparent winners” to court with no changes to the original declarations of victory.
This was the toughest! On the eve of the election, the incumbent military Head of State went on the air to announce to Nigerians that “the best man may not win this election” and this became a household comment later. My family and I could not vote in the presidential election because there were no polling booths on our campus. All over the town of Ilorin where we lived, by 11 o’clock that morning there were no activities in several polling booths especially in Sabo and the G.R.A. where most non-indigenes and intellectuals lived. Many people were turned back or told that voting had been concluded hours before the official end of the day’s election. There were rumours that the voting had been completed in the houses and compounds of ward heads but we could not confirm this because these places were heavily guarded and it would have been risky to go there since we had no legitimate business there. We also learnt that the voters’ lists had been edited or restructured.
Like previous elections, the results of the presidential election became problematic for a long time and from my personal experience of indescribable fraud and corruption in countless ways, my verdict is, “Call the 1979 political event any name but it was neither an election nor a democratic exercise.”
The method of voting adopted in 1979 was a failure. Many Nigerians therefore called for a different system subsequently. This explains the open voting and open counting system put in place during 1993 elections. Without any bias, I will say that that was the nearest to a trouble-free and fair election that Nigeria has witnessed in three decades of quest for democracy. No wonder the method was not allowed to survive and no-one knows how Nigeria will wriggle out of the maze of the present  political