Flashpoints Ahead of a Bumpy Election Year

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Ojo Maduekwe write that aside the issues that are pointers to a likely flawed 2019 elections, there are also flashpoint states which if left unchecked could lead to a breakdown of law and order

The 2019 general election is expected to be the most disorganised and flawed since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, a drawback to the electoral reforms recorded by past governments up to 2015.

Concern keeps piling up that the All Progressives Congress (APC), which is rounding up its first term after defeating the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015, does not intend to relinquish power soon.

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) electoral violence risk assessment on Nigeria, alleges that the APC may use “intimidating tactics” to shore up the votes, as well as to “deter large turn-out of electorate in the opposition strongholds.”

Even the APC leader and Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, who prior to his election in 2015 was alleged to have brokered a gentleman’s agreement to do only a term, has since reneged. As the party’s 2019 presidential candidate, he is now running for his second term.

Following what critics say are its failures to secure the country, revive the economy and uplift millions of Nigerians out of poverty, the popularity of the APC, as well as Buhari’s, that saw a bewildered populace buy into the party’s change promises in the 2015 elections has since dipped.

After the recent claim by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) that it was lacking funds to update the unemployment data, critics of Buhari worry that the unemployment figures might now be higher than the 18.8 per cent rate that was last released by the NBS in the third quarter of 2017.

They allege that the figures may have ballooned to a point that the APC-led government, worried that it might be used by the PDP to campaign against them ahead of next year’s election, has refused to fund the NBS.

Ranked as the poverty capital of the world, with 86.9 million Nigerians (this figure represents nearly 50 per cent of Nigeria’s estimated 180 million population) now living in extreme poverty.

Last week Wednesday the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) in its 2018 ranking on terrorism, ranked Nigeria, for the fourth consecutive year since 2015, third position among countries worst hit by terrorism. The activities of Boko Haram and the Fulani militia have been blamed for this ranking.

In responding to this dwindling fortune, Buhari and the APC claim that a single tenure of four years is not enough to deliver the change they promised Nigerians during campaign in 2015. They are now promising anew to “consolidate” their “achievements” in the next four years.

Delivering his speech at the launch of his ‘Next Level’ campaign ahead of the 2019 elections, Buhari said his government, over the last three and a half years, had laid the foundation for a “strong, stable and prosperous” Nigeria, and needed four extra years to take it to the next level.

Worried of the possibility of voter-apathy, Buhari and the APC are pulling all the stops and taking no chances. Their actions have been interpreted by the PDP as an attempt to rig the election.

On more than three occasions, the opposition PDP through its national chairman, Uche Secondus, has expressed concern that the elections might not be free and fair, alleging that “INEC will rig the elections”.

The USIP had stated that according to several Nigerians they spoke to during the conduct of their research, there were fears that “any regression from the level of performance achieved by INEC in 2015… would be viewed…as deliberate attempts to frustrate the will of the voters.”

Critics of the president have stated some of the issues which they claim are pointers that the APC government intends to compromise the election. Also there are states which they say are flashpoints to watch out for, and which they suspect the APC would take advantage of.

According to USIP, “states such as Adamawa, Anambra, Ekiti, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Plateau, and Rivers are of greater risks of election violence.”

Investigation by THISDAY, following the running internal crises generated by the controversial nationwide party primaries conducted by the APC, have included the following states as part of the flashpoints to watch out for: Akwa Ibom, Delta, Imo, Kwara, Kogi, Sokoto, Yobe and Benue.

One of the issues that are likely pointers the APC plans to rig the elections is Buhari’s refusal to assent the 2018 Electoral Amendment bill passed by the National Assembly for the fourth time.

There are reports that the “closeness” of the 2019 elections and the “need not to cause confusion as regards the provisions of the law” regarding the elections, are reasons why Buhari rejected the bill this time.

For the three times he had rejected it, there was never a time the president cited closeness to next year’s elections as reasons for not assenting, which is why observers believe that his refusal again to sign had always been because he fears an amendment bill will mean he loses reelection.

Few days before Buhari’s refusal to assent the bill, opposition political parties under the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), had alleged that he was refusing to sign because of a “hidden agenda”.

A source who spoke to THISDAY last week says the president was uncomfortable with the insertion of a clause in the bill which allows for the use of smart card readers, arguing that that section, which provides for the transmission of counted votes from the ward level to the state level, could be a great impediment to rigging and other electoral frauds.

There are insinuations that Buhari does not want the use of card readers for the elections, but rather that incident forms be used instead, because most of his supporters in the northern part of the country are underage and legally barred from voting. Critics of the president who make this allegation say that he knows a card reader would recognise this flaw.

Another issue observers claim as proof the APC was gearing to rig the 2019 elections is the partisanship so far exhibited by the security agencies during the conduct of recent elections such as the 2018 Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections and by-elections in Kwara and Bauchi.

In Osun, during the controversial rerun election, the Nigerian media had made a detailed report of how security agencies in cohort with thugs belonging to the ruling APC in the state, providing them cover, had intimidated voters and denied them from voting. This took place in areas of the state said to be strongholds of the PDP.

These issues aside, the flashpoint states also pose a serious threat to the free and fair conduct of next year’s elections. In Akwa Ibom for instance, the APC’s Pointsman, Senator Godswill Akpabio, said to be under pressure to deliver, is bent on justifying his defection to the ruling party.

Akpabio has been fingered as the mastermind behind the recent invasion by thugs belonging to the APC young wing in the state, backed by former members of the state House of Assembly in cohort with the police.

It is alleged that one of the conditions given to Akpabio to avoid prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by defecting to the APC is that he must deliver Akwa Ibom to the APC. Under pressure, he’s resorted to every imaginable tactics, including violence.

In Rivers state, the immediate past governor and now transportation minister, Rotimi Amaechi, hopes to correct the impression that his failure to deliver the APC’s candidate in the 2015 governorship election was due to the “federal might” factor and not because he was incapable. During next year’s elections, observers believe he will stop at nothing to ensure the APC wins majority of the elections holding in the state, if not all.

The controversial APC party primaries produced three disgruntled states, two of which are potential flashpoints, namely Ogun and Imo.

The governors of these states, Ibikunle Amosun and Rochas Okorocha, in retaliation for the defeat they suffered in not having their chosen candidates emerge as the APC’s gubernatorial candidate in their states, have vowed to work against their party’s governorship candidate in 2019.

Delta is another flashpoint that causes concern, with the likes of Senator Ovie Omo-Agege and the Great Ogboru who is the gubernatorial flagbearer for the APC in the state. There are fears that Ogboru, who has been trying for years to be governor, would stop at nothing to get elected this time and hopes to deplore “federal might” to realise this ambition.

Moving up north to Sokoto state, there are concerns that a battle between the incumbent governor, Aminu Tambuwal against two of his predecessors, namely Attahiru Bafarawa and Aliyu Wamakko, with the collaboration of a host of APC state and federal members would be tough as both Bafarawa and Wamakko would like to justify their defection to the APC.

Recently, developments from Benue has been quiet, but the state remains a flashpoint for the 2019 elections, as the threat posed by members of the Miyetti Allah, an umbrella organisation for the Fulani ethnic group remain. Members of the organisation are alleged to still occupy communities and farms in Benue after driving the original indigenes away.

In Kwara it will be a tough battle. The APC national chairman, Oshiomhole and the APC leader and former Lagos state governor, Bola Tinubu are determined that the Bukola Saraki political dynasty crumbles.

Following the recently held Kwara by-election where the ruling PDP in the state suffered a humiliating loss to the APC, Oshiomhole said that he was happy that Saraki suffered a “humiliating defeat” and that the Kwara people were “determined to dismantle” the senate president’s structure.

With the spade of political instability across the country, and the internal crisis in the APC escalating in the weeks leading to the elections, there are concerns that this could threaten Nigeria’s democracy; and that the APC-led government failures will only aggravate the problem.

QUICK FACTS:

* The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) electoral violence risk assessment on Nigeria, alleges that the APC may use “intimidating tactics” to shore up the votes, as well as to “deter large turn-out of electorate in the opposition strongholds.”

*Failure to secure the country, revive the economy and uplift millions of Nigerians out of poverty has led to a dip in the popularity of the APC, as well as Buhari

*Nigeria is ranked as the poverty capital of the world, with 86.9 million Nigerians (this figure represents nearly 50 per cent of Nigeria’s estimated 180 million population) now living in extreme poverty

*The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) in its 2018 ranking on terrorism, ranked Nigeria, for the fourth consecutive year since 2015, third position among countries worst hit by terrorism. The activities of Boko Haram and the Fulani militia have been blamed for this ranking

* Buhari and the APC claim that a single tenure of four years is not enough to deliver the change they promised Nigerians during campaign in 2015. They are now promising anew to “consolidate” their “achievements” in the next four years

*Possibility of voter-apathy from the millions of Nigerians, Buhari and the APC are pulling all the stops and taking no chances. Their actions have been interpreted by the PDP as an attempt to rig the election

*On more than three occasions, the opposition PDP through its national chairman, Uche Secondus, has expressed concern that the elections might not be free and fair

*According to USIP, “states such as Adamawa, Anambra, Ekiti, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Plateau, and Rivers are of greater risks of election violence.”

*Investigation by THISDAY, following the running internal crises generated by the controversial nationwide party primaries conducted by the APC, have included the following states as part of the flashpoints to watch out for: Akwa Ibom, Delta, Imo, Kwara, Kogi, Sokoto, Yobe and Benue

*One of the issues that are likely pointers to the APC plans to rig the elections is Buhari’s refusal to assent the 2018 Electoral Amendment bill passed by the National Assembly for the fourth time

*Another issue observers claim as proof the APC was gearing to rig the 2019 elections is the partisanship exhibited by the security agencies during the conduct of recent elections such as the 2018 Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections and by-elections in Kwara and Bauchi