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2019 presidential election: As Nigerians continue search for answers

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Days after the conclusion of the 2019 presidential election in which President Muhammadu Buhari was re-elected for another term of four years, different political developments have continued to trail the exercise, which would shape political developments in the next few days and weeks.

The biggest of these issues was the rejection of the results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, on the ground that the exercise was not free and fair and that it was characterised by many irregularities.

INEC chairman, Professor Yakubu Mahmood, had, on Wednesday morning, announced the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), President Buhari, as the winner of last Saturday’s presidential election, having polled 15,191,847 votes to defeat Atiku, who polled 11,262,978, with the latter winning in 19 states while Atiku came out victorious in the remain 17 (and also the Federal Capital Territory).

In his acceptance speech after the declaration by INEC, Buhari had promised that his administration would intensify its efforts in the area of security, restructuring the economy and fighting corruption, saying: “We have laid down the foundation and we are committed to seeing matters to the end. We will strive to strengthen our unity and inclusiveness so that no section or group will feel left behind or left out.”

But Atiku, in rejecting the result of the election, said: “If I had lost in a free and fair election, I would have called the victor within seconds of my being aware of his victory to offer, not just my congratulations, but my services to help unite Nigeria by being a bridge between the North and the South.

“However, in my democratic struggles for the past three decades, I have never seen our democracy so debased as it was on Saturday, February 23, 2019. 2007 was a challenge, but [the late] President Umaru Yar’Adua was remorseful. In 2019, it is sad to see those who trampled on democracy thumping their noses down on the Nigerian people. Consequently, I hereby reject the result of the February 23, 2019 sham election and will be challenging it in court.”

With these words, the opposition candidate had impugned the president’s credibility to see to the conduct of a credible election and also impeached the credibility of the electoral umpire, INEC, indicating that the country might be back to its dark days of long legal tussles and fireworks that usually followed presidential elections.

Coincidentally, President Buhari, who now sits in the saddle as president and major beneficiary of the 2019 exercise, had always been the protagonist in the court cases, challenging every presidential election result, from 2003 when he started contesting, to the Supreme Court, until he eventually defeated Dr Goodluck Jonathan, an incumbent president, in the 2015l elections. Jonathan had, however, taken a sharply different course, conceding defeat, even before the conclusion of the collation and refusing to approach the court despite immense pressure from party loyalists. But the 2019 experience is set to return Nigeria to its usual turf, as Atiku, like Buhari in the past, has decided to ‘reclaim his mandate’ through the court. How far will Atiku go? Should he even go to the tribunal or just accept the result like a statesman and move on?

These have formed parts of the debate in the body-politic since PDP hinted on rejecting the election results few days ago, with Nigerians across different strata weighing in with varying opinions. The publisher of the Ovation Magazine, Chief Dele Momodu and Chief Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) were the first set of Nigerians to call on Atiku to concede defeat and move on to nation-building, with the latter citing the need for the former vice-president to take the role of a statesman. “He might have moved backwards by his loss but he should not lose sight of the legacy and greatness that lies in front of him. He can build a new Nigeria movement from the motley of small parties, third force actors, change actors and millions who are desperate for a strong, united Nigeria,” Agbakoba said.

But an associate professor of Political Science at the University of Lagos, Dr Laja Odukoya, had a different view about Atiku approaching the court. According to him, “the other alternative to going to court for Atiku is for him to resort to self-help and violence. The court is an important institution and pillar of any democracy, so Atiku’s decision to go to court is commendable, forthright and politically correct. It shows he is a democrat and believer in the rule of law.”

If the former vice president, indeed, makes it to the tribunal and subsequently the Supreme Court, the nation would be playing a script it has become used to. But the questions observers would ask are whether Nigeria has returned to acting its one step forward, too steps backward drama all over again and whether, with the conduct of the 2019 presidential election, it has made any gain in democracy and election conduct. Though the election had begun on a footing that could make it comparable to what obtained in the country’s not-too-distant past, with a last-minute postponement akin to what obtained in 2011 coming first in a series of many events, its conclusion had been a complete deviation from the 2011 and 2015 electoral exercises, which many observers of elections in the country noted had been steady improvements in election conduct in the country.

Coming a week after the earlier scheduled date of February 16, the February 23 presidential and National Assembly election, Nigerians and, indeed, the international community, had looked up to INEC to deliver a hitch-free election that would reflect its extra one week of preparation. In reaction to that huge expectation, the commission’s chairman, Professor Yakubu, had boasted that only an act of God could stop the poll, expressing the commission’s readiness to conduct the poll.

INEC had also expressed its commitment to surpass the achievements of previous polls in the country. But these boasts, after the conclusion of the exercise, can be said to have, in reality, remained mere words as the election, going by various developments witnessed during and after the exercise, failed to hit the mark of the last two presidential elections in the country, let alone surpass them.


electionThe ‘unwinnable war’ over logistics

The trouble started on Saturday, with complaints over late arrival of election materials in several states of the federation bedeviling the exercise. From Oyo to Delta, from Lagos to Plateau, voters had expressed disappointment over the late arrival of election materials, with the commission taking the bold step to correct the situation by extending the closing time for voting in the affected places. But Nigerians and the international community had expected that with the commission’s loss in the battle against logistics challenges a week earlier, which led to the postponement of the election, it would easily win the war on the rescheduled date. This was, however, not to be, as observers noted that the commission still recorded several lapses in this regard.

The European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria, in its report after the election, maintained that INEC had “many operational shortcomings,” even as it lamented the late arrival of election materials at many polling units. Though the EU Chief Observer, Maria Arena, in a preliminary report on the election, in Abuja, commended INEC for making various improvements, she stated that “its serious operational shortcomings reduced confidence in the process and put undue burden on voters,” adding that 14 per cent of essential election materials were missing from polling units.

“The majority of polling units opened extremely late, leaving voters waiting for hours, uncertain of when voting would begin. This was compounded by a general lack of public information from INEC. As a result, there was confusion and tension and voters were likely deterred from participating,” Arena said.


Unprecedented voter apathy

An indication of how last Saturday’s election fell short of expectations in comparison to the 2015 exercise conducted by Professor Attahiru Jega is the fact that, despite the 16 million increase in the number of registered voters from 68 million in 2015 to 84 million in 2019, only 34. 7 per cent of the registered voters voted in last Saturday’s election.

In the build-up to the election, INEC had revealed that 72.8 Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) had been collected by Nigerians in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) but, in the end, less than half of that figure came out to decide the fate of the country for the next four years, with only 28, 614,190 voters turning out to vote. Of that number, 1,289,607 votes were invalidated.

The voter apathy was, however, more obvious in the southern part of the country, where the figures was half of what the region turned out in the 2015 elections.

With more registered voters, observers had expected the turnout of voters and the number of votes to increase immensely, but this was not to be, though some analysts and members of the PDP pointed out that what happened on Saturday might not be a case of apathy but disenfranchisement. The PDP vice presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi, had alleged that eight million South-East voters were disenfranchised, as only 20 per cent of the 10 million registered voters actually voted. Though he pointed hands at INEC, a reflection on the results showed that the situation was similar in other states where the number of registered voters increased but not the votes.

A look at the country’s voting pattern since 1999 showed that the 2019 presidential election, despite recording the highest number in terms of voter registration, recorded the highest incidence of voter apathy. In 1999, the country had 57,938,945 registered voters and 30,280,052 (52.3 per cent) turned out to vote in the election. In 2003, the country had 60, 823,022 registered voters, with 42,018,735 (or 69.1 per cent) turning out to vote. For the 2007 presidential election, there were 61,567,036 registered voters and at the conclusion of the voting, 35,397,517 was said to be the valid votes, while 73,528,040 registered to vote in 2011, with 39,469,484( representing 53.7 per cent) turning out to vote.

Another indication which would make the 2015 elections stand tall beside the 2019 elections was the time it took for the votes to be collated and for results to be announced. The electoral body had used the same number of days to finish the collation of the election, with more difficulties, despite opportunities provided by the four years and access to technology, to improve on its techniques and modalities. In fact, as the election, in the coming days, will continue to be rated by different bodies, it is clear that INEC might be adjudged to have been underwhelming in the conduct of the exercise.


electionOne election, too many deaths

But if the challenges posed by logistics cast blight on the presidential election, making it fall several steps behind the 2015 elections in terms of rating, the reports of violent attacks on voters and deaths of over 20 people during the exercise would dwarf whatever success the exercise could be said to have recorded.

“Reports from security forces and in the media indicated that between approximately 20 and 35 people were killed on polling day in election-related incidents,” the EU observers noted sadly, while the Commonwealth Observer Group also expressed disappointment with the cases of violence in Rivers, Lagos and other places. The chairperson of the group and former president of Tanzania, Dr Jakaya Kikwete, had, in a preliminary report on last Saturday’s election, said the violence and losses of life were troubling.

For too long, elections in the country had always been characterised by violence, as political parties and gladiators, in desperation, try to gain undue advantages and outdo one another while political parties also create unnecessary tension ahead of the elections. But this situation, many thought, would have been put under check with the apparent militarisation of elections in the country, as soldiers, policemen and other paramilitary agencies have now become a permanent feature in elections in the country. Sadly, however, the presence of these security forces and the tough talk by the president that anyone who causes crisis during the poll would do so at the expense of his life did not stop the recurrence of violence, a situation decried by many of the election observers who monitored the exercise.

With the number of deaths and cases of violence recorded during the presidential election, there is palpable tension and fear over what might happen in the governorship election, scheduled for Saturday next week and which is often more keenly contested and domesticated because of its closeness to the people. Though the president has promised that perpetrators of violence in last Saturday’s elections would be brought to justice, the questions remain whether the security agencies would be up to the task in curbing violence during the next round of election or would the country wet the ground with more blood in the coming governorship election? These and many questions would continue to prop up in the minds of not a few people as the country moves into the next round of election, with special attention on Rivers, Kaduna, Lagos, Akwa Ibom and Benue states, among others, which have been seen as flashpoints of violence.


Factors, policies that aided Buhari’s victory

As politicians, election observers and public analysts continue in the attempt to explain how Buhari’s victory came about, several key factors can be considered to have played a role in the re-election of the president. For many an observer of political trends in Nigeria, Buhari’s victory can be explained by extrapolating from the results he has garnered across the states of the federation in the past four elections before the 2019 experience. But beyond the fact that the president has become a field marshal in contesting elections, analysts have maintained that several key factors worked in his favour in last Saturday’s poll. These include the perceived integrity of the president and his government’s policies and how they have affected people, among others.

In the view of the president’s supporters and, sometimes even those outside that range, there is the perception of the president as incorruptible. Though those in opposition to the president were often quick to lay blames at his doorstep, especially citing how he turned blind eye to alleged corrupt individuals in his government, it can be said that air of integrity and incorruptibility remained one of the major strengths Buhari took into last Saturday’s presidential contest.

While it was often the case that Buhari was praised for possessing integrity and being upright, his opponent in the contest, Atiku, had often been summarily dismissed and, sometimes, wrongly judged as corrupt, despite the fact that no court or government agency has tried or prosecuted him for corruption ever since he left office in 2007.

While speaking on how the perception of Buhari as honest and down-to-earth affected the outcome of the poll in the northern part of the country where the president polled the largest number of votes, the spokesperson of APC in Adamawa State, Honourable Mohammed Abdullahi, said: “There is honesty and integrity in President Buhari. He has never been found wanting in any way in the country, despite the fact that he has held different high posts in the country. He is not like others who use positions to enrich themselves. So, this attracted him to the common man because he looks so simple like the common man. His interest is to promote Nigeria; he has the interest of Nigeria. That is why in the North here, despite the level of poverty, he is seen as a messiah because he is encouraging people to do what they know how to do best, that is farming.”

Another factor that played an important role in Buhari’s victory was his connection with the downtrodden or what is referred to as “talakawa” in Northern Nigeria, which has, since 2003, formed the bulwark of support for the president. Unlike any other politician in the northern part of the country, Buhari could be said to have a special connection with the underprivileged and downtrodden masses, which are in the majority in the North. The president could be said to have emerged as the political leader of the northern masses, assuming a dimension said to be only comparable to the Sardauna of Sokoto, the late Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, in terms of having a political support base in the North.

For instance, since Buhari has been contesting in presidential elections, his candidature has continued to resonate more with the “talakawa” than with the northern elites and power blocs, who have not only continued to oppose him but also joined forces with others outside the region to cut General Buhari to size, albeit to no avail. The build-up to the 2019 elections had seen the northern powerful elements, including former Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida; General T.Y. Danjuma and other arrow-heads, teaming up against Buhari’s re-election.

The breakdown of the 2019 presidential election, however, demonstrated the strong love of the northern masses for Buhari, as he not only won in all the states of the North-West, but also racked up a large chunk of votes in the North-East where his main rival, Atiku, hailed from. Explaining the president’s deep connection with the common man, Abdullahi maintained that the common people see themselves in the president, because he looks simple like them.

Apart from Buhari factor, however, political observers have maintained that the president might have reaped the rewards of his government’s policies. President Buhari had, upon his assumption of office on May 29, 2015, promised to focus attention on key areas, including security, economy and anti-corruption. The performance of the president on these three broad areas, observers of political developments in the country argue, played a pivotal role in his re-election on Saturday, with the Executive Chairman of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), Mr Debo Adeniran, in a chat with Nigerian Tribune, saying that as far as CACOL was concerned, Buhari’s administration has “fought corruption more than any other one before it.”

Adeniran said Nigerians saw the resolve and steps taken by the president in fighting corruption, adding that, with the many policies introduced, revived or implemented by the administration, including the Biometric Verification Number (BVN), Treasury Single Account (TSA), Nigerian Financial Regulatory Council and the Special Control Unit Against Money Laundering , among others, the Buhari administration have succeeded in making it difficult for people to commit crime and also blocked leaking taps in the nation’s resources. He maintained that these achievements in fighting corruption could be said to be one of the reasons Nigerians elected the president for another term.

In its three years and nine months in the saddle, the Buhari administration has made the war against corruption one of its main programmes. Though it has been criticised as being too selective in the prosecution of the anti-graft war, however, political analysts note that it was quite easy to capitalise on the anti-corruption campaign under the APC government to discredit the major opposition party in the country as well as its members, some of who had been caught in the corruption allegation web. With APC successfully prosecuting prominent members of the erstwhile ruling party, PDP, in the court of public opinion and courts of justice, securing guilty charges, even before the conclusion of legal cases, as public sentiments rose against the former ruling party’s members; the ground for Buhari’s re-election victory had been successfully prepared. Indeed, the fight against corruption had become a major campaign point for the two leading parties, with the APC claiming that it has cleared the Augean Stable of corruption in the country, while the opposition PDP and many Nigerians claimed that the ruling government’s anti-corruption war had been one-sided, selective and targeted at witch-hunting the opposition. Citing how many PDP leaders, including the wife of the former president, Mrs Patience Jonathan; former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd); former governors still loyal to the PDP such as Jonah Jang; Gabriel Suswam; Ayo Fayose and many chieftains of the party had been hounded while former governors and leaders who have defected to the APC were left unbothered, the PDP emphasised its resolve to fight corruption with a different approach.

Apart from anti-corruption, the effort of the administration on fighting insurgency has been described as another key reason for its victory in last Saturday’s poll. Though opponents of the government would be quick to rate the government low, citing the rising cases of insecurity across the country, with kidnapping, armed banditry, herdsmen-farmers clashes and other killings, supporters of President Buhari are always quick to point to how the administration tackled the Boko Haram insurgency.

At a recent parley held by the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, one of its leaders, Senator Femi Okurounmu, had lamented how badly things had gone for the country in the area of insecurity, citing how killings in Zamfara, kidnapping across the country and Boko Haram violence had shown that Buhari was not ready to tackle the issue. He had canvassed votes for Atiku on the ground that he would be able to end insurgency and tackle insecurity challenges in the country. But APC publicity secretary in Adamawa State, Abdullahi, stated categorically that Buhari won the presidential election because he “has been able to arrest the insecurity situation in the North-East” and that people voted for him in the states affected by insurgency because they believed they could trust him to restore total peace to the area.

Another factor that was said to have facilitated the massive victory of the president in the poll, especially in the northern zone where he had a bumper harvest of votes, was the ongoing agricultural revolution in the North. Those who hold this belief often point to how the Federal Government, under Buhari, has implemented several policies to boost agriculture and food production in the country in the country, pointing to the government’s release of N250 billion to the Bank of Agriculture (BoA) in 2016. As a result of some of these policies on agriculture, rice farmers in the country who were beneficiaries of the Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme had, in December 2018, stated that it had raised N1.2billion for the president’ re-election through N100 contributions from its 12 million members across the country. With the huge concentration of farmers in the northern part of the country, last Saturday’s contest, analysts noted, was a contest between the continuation of what they enjoy under Buhari and a new policy thrust, if a new president is elected.


electionThe ‘we versus them’ wound reopens

Ever since the declaration of the results by INEC, on Wednesday, one of the major talking points had been the pattern of voting in the election, the number of states where the overall winner, Buhari lost and the sentiments against a certain section of the country for voting the way it did. This is a development that has reopened the North versus South dichotomy in the country.

In a dramatic result that tended to show how badly things have gone for the unity of the country, Buhari won in 19 of 36 states while Atiku won in 17 (in addition to the FCT result), a development which political observers said was an indication of the growing division in the country, citing how the president had enjoyed a wider acceptance in 2015 when he won in over 20 states. The president also lost grounds in Plateau, Benue and Kogi, where he won massively in 2015.

In its 58-year history since independence, Nigeria has faced major challenges and weathered various storms, including a civil war, but the ethnic intolerance and the North versus South confrontation has remained a largely insurmountable challenge. Dating back to the pre-independence era, when foremost nationalist and Premier of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, described Nigeria as a geographical expression, the country’s history has been replete with different experiences that border on the ‘we versus them’ sentiment, with last Saturday’s presidential election only serving to reopen the wound.

Following the announcement of the results of the poll on a state-by-state basis, a section of Nigerians, especially from the southern zone of the country had gone to town with debasing comments about the North, insulting voters in the northern region of the country for voting for Buhari despite their high level of poverty. To this category of Nigerians, Buhari’s government had brought poverty on the nation and they would not expect northerners, who in their estimation, were suffering the most in terms of poverty, to still vote for Buhari when they had another option in Atiku, who is also from the region.

On a face value, the comments had looked like a mere social media rant, but the dimensions the comments took as northerners on social media and beyond began to respond showed that the election has opened an unhealed wound in terms of ethnic intolerance. Indeed, the ‘we versus them’ battle had begun in Lagos, with Igbo ethnic group said to be targets of attacks from a certain political party owing to their tendency to vote for its opponent. A similar situation had played out in Kano, where southerners alleged that they were deliberately disenfranchised. But the North versus South differences had been more pronounced, as voters from the two sections continued to trade words across different social media platforms and beyond.

Responding to blames on northern voters who, despite their poverty level, had voted massively for Buhari, Abdullahi disagreed with the view that Buhari brought poverty upon the country, saying: “I want to disagree with the notion that the Buhari government has brought poverty upon the nation. Nigerians have been too lazy, always going for cheap money. We value those who will go and loot our resources and distribute peanuts to us. That is why people are no longer productive. But with the coming of this government is its vision was for people to be productive and self-reliant. That is why there has been so much emphasis on agriculture and you know that the North is agrarian. The people were happy that they have been encouraged to go back to the farms. So, this was one of the things that made the North to renew President Muhammadu Buhari’s mandate, because they are mostly farmers and anything you do to promote farming, they will support it.”

Also responding to the North versus South dichotomy as reflected in last Saturday’s voting, which saw Buhari garner most votes from his North-West Region, while the South-West, South-East, South-South and North-Central voted along a particular pattern, either favouring their sons who were running mates or along some other lines, Agbakoba SAN said last Saturday’s poll was dominated by primordial sentiments.

“The voting pattern for the 2019 presidential election shows that ethnicity played a significant role in the election. President Muhammadu Buhari kept his base in the North, while former Vice President Atiku Abubakar largely held his base in the South. Both APC and PDP benefited from primordial voting. The excepted zone is the South-West where voting occurred on the basis of issues,” Agbakoba had said.

With the 2019 presidential election came the reality that the nation’s politics might continue to tether on the edge of a precipice, as primordial sentiments dominated voting in last Saturday’s election. The phenomenon, which reflects the sharp division among the people of the country, was heightened in the 2015 presidential election, which involved President Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner and Buhari from the North. It was, however, unexpected that such similar sentiment would have a place in last Saturday’s poll, which was a straight contest between two politicians of northern extraction.

In order to overcome the ‘we versus them’ sentiment, or what Agbakoba described as primordial voting, the lawyer said something must be done about it, noting that if not checked, the situation will still occur in 2023.


The imperative for a united Nigeria

With the views expressed by Agbakoba and the existent division emphasised by the voting pattern in the presidential election, the treatment being allegedly meted out to non-indigene voters in Lagos, Kano and other places as well as the allegation by the vice presidential candidate of PDP, Peter Obi, that south-easterners were disenfranchised, among others, it is clear that Nigeria’s search for nationhood continues.

But with the Buhari administration insistence that the country did not need to be restructured, contrary to the widely held views of socio-cultural and ethnic organisations across the country that the country needs to be dialogued and be restructured for it to forge ahead, there would arise more questions on the unity, oneness and trust among the people of the country in the coming weeks and years.

Would the southerners who voted for Atiku be treated equally by a president that once said that those who supported him with five per cent of votes could not be treated like those who gave 90 per cent? Would the agitations for a new structure, which have been vociferous in the South and a section of the Middle Belt, go unheeded for another four years or would the president change direction this time? Though the president has promised to strive to strengthen the unity and inclusiveness of the country and to see to it that no section or group is left behind, these are the questions that would continue to ring loud in the body-politic.

For Dr Odukoya, the outcome of last Saturday’s election, like the mid-term election in the United States, “has brought to the fore the underlying crisis and contradictions of the Nigerian state and has called to question once again the unity of Nigeria often deemed non-negotiable by those in power,” a position he described as a grand delusion. To move forward, the scholar believes that the president must now turn his attention to nation-building and uniting the country, saying “the task of nation-building, national consensus and finding lasting solution to the National Question has become more than ever a categorical imperative. If the president wants to leave any enduring legacy, the task of nation-building should receive his serious attention.”

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