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Massive turnout that upset politicians

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By Gambo Dori

TWO days before the Gubernatorial and House of Assembly elections I was at the Nnamdi Azikwe Airport, Abuja, heading to Maiduguri on a Max Air flight. It was a motley crowd that gathered to join the flight. There was the usual, excited, crowd of husbands and wives living in Abuja, along with their troops of children, going home to their spouses. But out of the crowd those that really stood out were the politicians, who came in all shades and hues. Many of them that day seemed rather weary and expectant, looking forward to the culmination of their efforts of the past year or so, and were not keen to engage in undue meddlesome small talks.

A lot of the politicians I spotted in the crowd had crossed parties so many times, zig-zagging like crabs, that I had difficulty tagging them. With many of them you would not be sure whether to commiserate for the loss or congratulate them for the win in the Presidential election. Personally I was on the flight to observe the voter turnout in that part of the country – a turnout that was so heavy in Borno and Yobe states that it looked out of tune with the national pattern, and was pooh-poohed as implausible and thus controversial.

Election: Low voters turn out in Abuja

Soon the airport protocols were over and the flight rolled and gathered steam. Nose up in the air, the plane was soon high up gliding effortlessly above Abuja and heading north-east. One of the best times to travel in this part of the country. Though the rains have come, once or twice, the south-westerly and the north-easterly winds have not yet begun their battle for controls of the skies. It was still calm above the clouds with hardly any jolting turbulence. I soon dug into my seat and set myself in the mode of reflections, particularly pertaining to the last election that took place a few days ago and the brouhaha that broke out when the figures were released. Many of us were irked by utterances of some political gladiators to the effect that the figures from the extreme north-east were not believable.

Trained staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are blocked from work as their names are missing in the list at a Regional Area Centre ten minutes before scheduled opening voting time for the Presidential and General election in Port Harcourt, southern Nigeria, on February 23, 2019. – Nigerians began voting for a new president on February 23, after a week-long delay that has raised political tempers, sparked conspiracy claims and stoked fears of violence. Some 120,000 polling stations began opening from 0700 GMT, although there were indications of a delay in the delivery of some materials and deployment of staff, AFP reporters said. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

I had voted in Abuja but my wife voted in Maiduguri and I recall conversing with her in the early morning of the election when she reported deafening booming sounds emanating from either the direction of Giwa Barracks or Polo grounds, both short distances from our residence on Circular Road. It turned out to be that they were being shelled from indeterminate directions possibly all in the attempt by the usual suspects to discourage voters from coming out to exercise their civic responsibilities. But that was exactly what was needed to ginger voters out of their comfort zones to queue up in the polling units. That and more was what I confirmed from my interactions as the flight touched down and I made my way into Maiduguri.

There was a widespread indignation in the insinuation that Borno and Yobe had become ghostly areas and depopulated as most people had been killed or moved to other parts of the country and the neighbouring countries. People who carry such stories forgot that the two states are home to over six million souls going by the 2006 census and though it is true that they had borne the brunt of the insurgency, the number killed is in hundreds.

Yes, villages and towns had been displaced, but the reality is that the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, have mostly been catered for in Maiduguri and Damaturu and other centres within the two states. It is true that some numbers have slipped into other parts of the country and the neighbouring countries but it would be scurrilous to be talking of depopulation due to such movements of a number of families.

It is common knowledge that in Yobe State, by end of 2016, the IDP camps had all been closed and the affected families returned to their homes. I had the privilege of visiting the last camp in Damaturu two years ago and I wrote about it on this page and even then the camp was in the process of closure. In Borno the insurgency had persisted despite the fact that the military had significantly degraded the power of the terrorists and recaptured all the lost territory.

Yet the fact remains that a significant number of IDPs have returned to their homes. There is plenty of evidence that the Borno State Government had rebuilt homes for the citizens in many local government headquarters, built from the scratch, in many towns and villages, markets, schools, hospitals to attract and resettle those displaced earlier. This can explain why, while 20 local governments voted in IDP camps in 2015, only two, Abadam and Kukawa were constrained to do so in 2019 and the number of votes though important, were paltry 10,000 or so.

It would have been more engaging if the critics of the voter turnout had questioned why people who were so deprived and harassed by terrorists still came out to vote and in such large numbers. I would put my thumb on the people’s resilience and of course the elite mobilization urging them to resist. Somehow there seemed to have been a total unanimity among the elites on the direction to go, agreeing that the only means of salvation was to vote for the party that when in government had largely kept the blood thirsty terrorists at bay.

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Many who were in Maiduguri that morning of the Presidential election could attest to the mortar attacks and the courage to come out in large numbers to vote. And one could see from the clean sweep of the seats by those coming to the National Assembly from the two states. The two State Governors, Kashim Shettima and Ibrahim Geidam that had lived and governed through the dark days of the insurgency will be leading a formidable team to the National Assembly. Both of them will be senators and they had also encouraged their appointees as commissioners, heads of parastatals, local government chairmen to seek for seats in the National Assembly.

I guess they want to bring to national attention the depravations suffered by the region. This could partly account for the massive turnout as people were mobilized to vote not only for the sitting President, but also for a National Assembly that could be supportive to him. On the morning of the Gubernatorial and the State Assembly election, I rode around to see the voter turnout.

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Maiduguri was at peace with no reported incidence of attack, though there was said to be an attempt on Friday to attack Mafa, about 40 kms on the Gamboru Ngala route, but the group of terrorists were quickly repelled. In all the places I visited I witnessed something akin to festivities in every polling station and one could see that many would wait until the votes were counted. The turnout was less than the previous election but as many said it was the first election that really mattered.

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