Before the conduct of the presidential and National Assembly elections on February 25, 2023, there was already doubt as to whether the use of university academics (or simply professors) was adding any useful value to the credibility of election results. Some of the professors who participated in previous elections confessed at various times that they announced results that were not credible and some were even announced under duress to escape death. It would be recalled that during the last two long strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in 2020 and 2022, some Nigerians reminded striking lecturers that they were the ones who announced the doubtful results that brought the politicians into power. It was a case of telling the lecturers to harvest the sour fruits of the bad or contaminated seeds they sowed. The point, therefore, is that the role of these academics in the elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has long been questionable.
For sure, the title professor does not automatically confer on any one the virtue of high moral rectitude. No person suddenly acquires integrity simply because he/she has been conferred with the title of a professor. The popular saying that the hook does not make the monk,applies expressly here. When Professor Attahiru Jega (the former Chairman of INEC) in his wisdom popularised the use of university academics to serve as collation officers at the ward, local government and state levels during elections, the idea was to confer a reasonable measure of legitimacy in the electoral process. There was no doubt that some semblance of legitimacy was conferred to the process in varying degrees of success. However, it was obvious also that such success was not huge enough to make a significant difference in the process and its outcomes. This was largely because the process was full of loopholes that enabled politicians to manipulate the electoral outcomes. This was even before the introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the mandatory requirement for direct transmission of results after voting at the polling units.
The continued compartmentalised use of professors in the electoral process without serious reflections on the actual value they were adding to a system that was glaringly open to manipulations and intimidation by politicians, their thugs, and some security agents, has not been a good enough practice. How for instance can a professor (state collation officer) be sitting in a state capital waiting for results (many of which already compromised) at the lower levels of collations (local government and ward levels) and still thinks he/she would do a good job? At that stage, nothing meaningful and significant could be done to results that were already flawed. This is one level of failure of the role of the professor. Perhaps the best practice could have been for a small group of academics (not one professor) to be part of each lower level of collation to be able to confront the pressure and to make sure that credible results were produced. There are cases where rigging was prevented because of a good number of those who resisted the move.
The second level of failure is at the state collation centre itself where a professor is supposed to be in charge or in ‘control’. When genuine complaints were made by political party agents that questioned the credibility of results that were not uploaded at the polling units, the professor simply noted them and still went ahead with the collation process of doctored or fake results. The preferred mode of operation of most of them was to be silent or give assurance that complaints would be looked into later. This is a major disservice to the nation for those who were meant to perform national service for all of us. For avoidance of harsher phrase, the professors as state collation officers acted as robots. Let us expatiate on this.
Everyone saw or heard (except those who deliberately became temporarily blind and dumb because of narrow, selfish and dangerous political interests) what happened at the polling units during the February 25, 2023 elections, where INEC failed to upload the results of the presidential elections, but uploaded the results of the national assembly elections. The state collation officers who were mainly vice chancellors (super professors if you like) saw or heard (like all of us) all that happened at the polling units, which was a violation of the Electoral Act. The question now is: why then did they still go ahead to be part of the compromised process and its outcome. Why would they not insist that the process should stop in the pursuit of truth and service to their fatherland? Why were they cowards? Where all of them compromised across the country? How for instance can they reconcile the violation of the electoral law at the polling units with their good conscience? Why would they simply agree to be used to legitimise the highly compromised presidential election results? Where has their authority as scholars gone?
Academics all over the world are by professional training and calling expected to uphold the truth and nothing but the truth just like the court judges. But do they? Not at all times. The professional ethics which they subscribe to, require them to seek and advance the truth in their teaching, research and community or national service engagements regardless of their personal interests. But in practice, many are not living up to the expectations particularly in developing countries where enforcement of good ethical code of professional conduct is near absent or at best weak. A case of no one policing the policeman/woman.
There are three types of academics we can isolate that go for the INEC national assignment. The first group are the conservatives or pro-government (pro-status quo) group who accept and support the prevailing social, economic and political order. Members of this group can easily be swayed to support the system without much persuasion. However, a little inducement in terms of bribe, juicy political appointment or appeal to ethnic and religious sentiments, can sway them to support and maintain the status quo when confronted with issues that challenge their integrity.
The second group is made up of radical academics who are usually at war with the prevailing social, economic and political order. They are the ones that doggedly propagate the radical ideology of ASUU. They are found within the genuine and non-corruptible cadre of ASUU leadership across the universities and among some rank and file members of ASUU. Many of them in this group would not like to take part in the collation of results exercise of INEC which they know lacks credibility. Some had taken part in previous elections anyway.
The third group of academics are the independent-minded ones who see things largely on their merits. Many of those in this group would hardly participate in INEC assignments because they know that the process is not transparent and can hardly produce credible results.
In general, and in all the three groups, there are many academics who had never indicated any interest or willingness to participate in the election collation exercise because they know that INEC itself is not in total control of the entire process and that some of its honest staff in the field can be overwhelmed by fraudulent forces that intimidate them to compromise. For example, while the national headquarters of INEC can be held accountable for the non-uploading of the presidential results to its server at the polling units in the February 25, 2023 election, the subsequent manipulation of results that followed were carried out by politicians in collusion with some dishonest INEC staff (not all INEC staff) and security officials. The point here is that even in the National Assembly results that were uploaded, some top politicians colluded with some dishonest INEC staff in the field to produce compromised results that were accepted by INEC headquarters.
Now that it is well-known all over the country that professors are not enhancing the credibility of the electoral process for various reasons, it makes no sense to continue using them to give false credibility to the faulty process and its outcome. My humble suggestion is that after the 18 March 2023 governorship and state assembly elections, university lecturers of all categories, should NO LONGER BE CALLED UPON to take part in the collation of election results at all levels. Those who defiantly take part in such collation exercises, should be held accountable for any criminal acts in the election process. They should no longer be exculpated since they are all part of the fraudulent group of people holding this country down from making the much needed progress in various spheres of endeavour.