SATURDAY COUNTER POINT
By Femi Akintunde-Johnson
As Nigerians go to the polls to re-elect the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari or elect his main rival, Atiku Abubakar, millions of Nigerians hope these elections will be free, fair, credible and peaceful. Though commentators love to call it a two-hour race, let me assure you that this is not exactly a two-party affair. There are over 70 other political parties angling for the prime job…with gusto from four or five contenders admittedly less visible or endowed. Unfortunately, man-made hurdles and years of elite marginalisation have combined to tie our waists to the convenience of accepting, rooting and justifying whatever and whoever the ruling party, All Progressives Congress, APC, and the former ruling party, People’s Democratic Party, PDP, dump upon us.
So, today, by the crafty manoeuvrings of stubborn strategists, and the peculiar misadventure of the Nigerian situation, we are saddled with two septuagenarians, former uniformed men of same faith and tongue, with highly debatable credentials to lead us into the future.
However, it is already too late in the day to be foaming in the mouth about the exposure, alertness, integrity and astuteness (or lack thereof) of the main contenders. Rather, we should worry more about the consequences and robustness of preparations, projections, provisions and postures of the election’s umpires (the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC).
As we troop to the polls, it is perhaps useful to reflect on the few incidents and outbursts that may influence the course of these national elections. We do not need to go as far back as when electioneering campaigns were unleashed officially on Sunday, November 18, 2018. So much have transpired in the past three months that will take several books to capture moderately. Therefore, in gazing at today’s events and that of March 2, we shall focus on few of the sparklers thrown into the political furnace only in the election month of February.
Rainfall of Polls & Predictions
As it is now common, many mainstream publications threw their so-called objectivity into the thrash-bins, and promoted vigorously what they considered as Nigerians’ voting preferences several days before the actual election. Of course, each publication gave the “tight race” a convenient spin towards its favourite, after elaborate “investigations”. The Nation newspaper saw a Buhari victory in its “Buhari Versus Atiku: How States Will Vote”; from ThisDay’s “field intelligence gathering”, Atiku was the clear leader in its “How Nigeria May Vote, State by State”; The Punch prevaricated in its “Presidential Race: The Battleground States”, splitting the contest almost equally between Atiku and Buhari, with 15 odd states as dominoes that can fall either way!
Expectedly, in the days prior to election day, more newsprints and bytes would have been surrendered to predictive diagrams and surveys. Surely, more abrasive publications would step out with formal endorsement, and front page “alright sir” prognoses.
While one does not begrudge individual freedom of expression (I am right here exercising mine), one is a bit perturbed why corporate entities imperil the lives of staff and families by critical partisan posturing – because that’s how it’s done in civilised world? Without admitting that we are less than civilised here, it is in enlightened self-interest to remain corporately non-aligned within a society that often sees politics as ethnic vibrations (euphemistically dubbed “all politics are local”).
By the way, the international media have not also been shy on who will win – such presumptuousness! The Economist Intelligence Unit gave it to Atiku (twice, really). A nebulously named British Business Group and the grandiloquent Eurasia Group were bent on Buhari, with the latter posting an emphatic 60% bet on the incumbent. The BBC elected to be enigmatic – “too close to call” a winner for the Brits in an opaque article: “Nigeria Election 2019: Mapping a nation in nine charts”!
Of course, there are also those who claim to see the ballot paper of God in elections – prophets, seers, forecasters and prognosticators whose “revelations” were not unanimous concerning whom God wants to lead us. Assuredly, God is not confused… but His creations often are.
INEC Removes the Choke that was Zakari
The news crept on us casually about two weeks before the general elections: ‘INEC moves Amina Bala-Zakari, Others Out of Collation Hub’.
Well done, INEC, for not remaining stiff-necked over this Zakari posting, and associated baggage… and kudos for maintaining your stiffness over Zamfara APC, Rivers APC and Ogun PDP… until the law reverses itself.
All we ask for is that INEC continues to be independent, law-abiding, responsive and commonsensical! We may just have the most peaceful and fairest election on our hands.
Pressure or Anticlimax: Wages of Endorsement
Even with the power of clairvoyance, it is nigh impossible to isolate the potency of recent endorsements garnered by both Buhari and Atiku.
Since the close of last year, “professional endorsers” have been relentless – prominent are the regional socio-cultural but politically exposed groups (Ohaneze N’digbo, Afenifere, Middle Belt Forum, Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), etc) had raised Atiku’s hands. Miyetti Allah, at the last check, seemed unsure – depending on the state or region – of whom to entrust their cows with between their two kinsmen.
Now, my next statement is not a joke, nor an attempt to disparage: it has been reported that the Association of White Witches in Nigeria (AWWN) claimed Atiku as their favourite; in the same vein, members of the National Association of Nigerian Prostitutes, NANP vowed to mobilise their members nationwide as they had endorsed Atiku. They also hinted at a weekend of free service in coital support of the Wazirin Adamawa, pledging two weeks ago to assail Abuja with at least 10,000 soldiers of the flesh in solidarity with the PDP candidate.
Well, Buhari is not an orphan in this lucrative business of endorsements. Apparently, his candidature had divided even the ethnic tin-gods as factions of Afenifere, Ohaneze and other stakeholders have punctured the Atiku bubble, and rather hooted for Buhari. Or elected to stand aloof. The Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF also rose from its slumber this week to pull down the totem of NEF, declaring support for Buhari. Smaller political parties have also been queueing, in tens, to endorse either Buhari or Atiku – mostly in battleground states.
A few summersaults from “critical stakeholders” have clearly indicated that endorsement is now the fastest growing”industry” in our political “society”. Some are so fluid that it took rigorous research to identify who, between the two contestants, had a subsisting endorsement of a notable. A monarch once endorsed a visiting Buhari on a Tuesday, and by Thursday, confronted with a boisterous Atiku, the monarch simply withdrew his earlier affection, and decorated Atiku with a fresh endorsement, without even a pause for self-recrimination, or public abnegation… inside the same palace, barely two days apart!
As if to buttress the axiom, many roads lead to the market, some disparate organs have erupted with their own racket. The other day, former military administrator of Lagos State, serial governorship candidate in Adamawa State and APC stalwart, Brig-Gen. Mohammed Buba Marwa (rtd) led 70 other generals to copiously salute Buhari, and in the words of one of the most senior delegates, Vice Admiral Jubril Ayinla (former Chief of Naval Staff), “to pledge our full support and continued loyalty.” Reports indicate that the civilianised infantry also included two former Lieutenant Generals, 15 Major Generals, two Rear Admirals, eight Air Vice-Marshals, 12 Brigadier Generals, three Commodores and nine Air Commodores.
It seemed an intimidating array, timed with precision and pomp. Little wonder, PDP quickly lashed out, and condemned this particular mass endorsement as an act of “name-dropping”! I have not stopped laughing… Nigerian politics!
So, PDP has suddenly forgotten how former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida boasted in 2017 about the retired but potent presence of the PDP’s “military wing” which august membership comprised himself, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd), Lt. Gen. TY Danjuma, Lt. Gen. Aliyu Gusau… and let me add: Lt. Gen. Jeramiah Useni, Brig. Gen. Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Major General David Jemibewon, Brig. Gen. Tunde Ogbeha… these, and more, have been dropping their names in Atiku’s bucket.