On the 20th anniversary of the election that returned Nigeria to Democracy in 1999, the country is again at a crossroads.
Nigeria has never been this divided as citizens file out today to elect a President that will run the country for another four years, effective May 29.
The two leading candidates in today’s election – President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have divided the country across all lines.
In the last few weeks, Buhari and Atiku’s campaigns across the 36 states and Abuja have been rancorous, with both candidates feeding fat on tribal, ethnic and religious sentiments.
It is in the midst of this bitter division that the over 72 million Nigerians that collected Permanent Voters Card (PVCs) will troop out this morning to determine the fate of the two candidates.
The 2019 general elections will be the largest single-day peacetime logistics and security undertaking by the commission since 1999, with over 72 million voters, 91 political parties and 23,213 candidates vying for 1,558 positions, involving over 814,000 electoral officials.
As at press time, INEC had distributed sensitive election materials to all the states of the federation.
The election promises to be keenly contested.
Candidates of these two parties also dominate the race for the seats in the National Assembly across the states.
After the slip last week, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu, has assured Nigerians that the commission would not fail the nation and the international community again, promising that “the election will be free, fair, credible and lead to the outcome that all Nigerians expect.’’
INEC reiterated its readiness to conduct the rescheduled elections yesterday at a press conference in Abuja.The INEC Chairman assured Nigerians and the international community that it had concluded arrangement to commence election by 8. a.m.
The electoral body also warned that underage persons trying to get accredited on the election day would be arrested alongside their sponsors.
The chairman explained that measures had been put in place to combat vote buying and other malpractices that can undermine the electoral processes.
Yakubu stated: “We have engaged 825,543 ad hoc staff ranging from Presiding Officers to Collation and Returning Officers. We have mobilised about 80,000 commercial vehicles and about 996 boats for the deployment of personnel and materials, including 707,892 ballot boxes and voting cubicles, to various land and riverine locations.
“We have accredited 120 domestic and 36 international organisations deploying a cumulative total of over 73,000 observers
“We have concluded the movement of personnel and materials to the 774 LGAs and 8,809 Registration Area Centres nationwide. All arrangements are now in place to facilitate the opening of polls nationwide at 8 am tomorrow.
“Citizens can obtain locational directions to their polling units by visiting gotomypu.ng. They will access the locational name of their PU and a link to a Google Map that will lead them to the PU. In the last 10 days, about 190,000 voters had utilised the various social media platforms to geo-locate their polling units.
“Election will hold at the 36 state of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Voting will take place in 176,973 locations, made up of 119,973 polling units and 57, 023 voting points.
“Tomorrow is election day, a total of 73 presidential candidates, 109 senators from 1,820 senatorial candidates and 360 House of Representatives members from the 4,631 candidates contesting in the election.”
The INEC chairman stated further that the national situation room would open at 6 p.m on Friday, while the national collation centre would also be opened at 6pm on Sunday, both situated at the International Conference Centre (ICC), Abuja.
The Chairman cautioned: “Underage voting is an illegality, and let me cease this opportunity to warn those who may wish to sponsor underage persons on election day to vote that they will be arrested.”
He reiterated that voting would be by simultaneous accreditation and only registered voters with Permanent Voter Cards would be allowed to vote.
Yakubu also warned members of the public against issuing any result, saying only INEC is empowered by law to declared results.
Police Promise Total Security
On his part, the acting Inspector General of Police (IG) Mohammed Adamu, reassured that the security agencies would secure the election materials, electoral personnel, observers and the electorate. As part of efforts at ensuring a peaceful conduct of the election today, Adamu has ordered a water-tight and robust security arrangement in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Accordingly, the IG has directed the Deputy Inspector Generals (DIGs) of Police already deployed to the six geo-political zones of the Country to ensure adequate security presence, coordination, supervision and implementation of security strategies for the election in all polling units, registration area centres (RACS), super RACS, collation centres, INEC offices, government and critical national infrastructures, as well as flash vulnerable points across the states of the federation.
A statement by the Force Public Relations Officer, ACP Frank Mba noted that a similar directive was given to Assistant Inspectors General of Police (AIGs) in the 12 Zonal Commands and the Commissioners of Police (CPs) in the 36 State Commands and the FCT to beef-up security in their respective areas and to work closely with the Senior Police Officers deployed on election duties to the three senatorial districts and form part of security management base for each State.
“They are to ensure that no stone is left unturned towards emplacing adequate security including the supervision of security personnel deployed to each of the Senatorial Districts under their watch”, Mba said.
Also, the Election Intelligence Monitoring Team (EIMT), has been directed to intensify constant surveillance, intelligence gathering and monitoring of security personnel deployed nationwide while the Special Election Investigation Team (SEIT) is to ensure discrete investigation of electoral cases and diligent prosecution of all electoral offenders.
“While charging all security personnel on election duties to ensure they remain patriotic, professional, unbiased and apolitical in the discharge of their duties, the IG however, warned that he will not tolerate any form of impunity or unethical conduct on the part of any personnel.
“He further reiterated that on no account should any policeman or woman attached to VIPs be seen escorting their principal to the polling unit or moving around with them on the day of election as any police officer caught will be arrested and dealt with accordingly.
Buhari Vs Atiku
President Buhari has said he deserves a second term and urged Nigerians to vote for him today.
The president, who made the appeal in his nationwide broadcast last Thursday, reeled out what he termed the achievements of his administration and tasked Nigerians to evaluate such achievements.
He also charged them to interrogate themselves if another government could perform better if allowed to upstage his administration.
According to him, if the dream of another set of leaders is merely to do what his government had so far done, he should then be given the preference at the polls. He advised the electorate to think very deeply, insinuating that tomorrow’s presidential election is all about the choices of the electorate and not about the ruling party or the opposition.
On his part, Atiku appealed to Nigerians to end the economic hardship, hunger and killings across the country by voting for him. He has promised to get Nigeria working again by restructuring the country.
In his Facebook video on Thursday, Atiku urged the electorate to use their PVCs to remove the ‘’incompetent’’ APC government led by President Buhari on Saturday.
“On election day, we are all equal, as no single vote is more important than any other but if you do not vote, you will be accepting that the next four years will be like the last.’’
Atiku further added that the power to get Nigeria working again was in the permanent voter card, saying he will be voting with his tomorrow. He called on Nigerians to please join him irrespective of who they will be voting for.
He warned that if Nigerians failed to come out and vote, they would be accepting that the next four years would be like the last.
Strengths and weaknesses – Buhari
Incumbency is the biggest factor expected to work in the favour of Buhari.
It is in rare cases that incumbents lose elections in Africa and beyond, though it happened in some instances. The incumbency factor may go a long way for him the way it is being deployed.
Still related to the power of incumbency, Governors are known to influence the outcome of elections by recreating the scenario from the center where they deploy state resources to get things done their way. With APC having majority governors, it is likely that they will deploy them to deliver the states to Buhari.
Buhari is also being sold on the strength of his integrity thereby portraying the contest as between Mr. Integrity and the one lacking same. Over time, he has been seen as an upright man who would not dip his hands in the till and therefore would keep the treasury from looters.
The North-east and parts of North-west regions are seen to be in the firm grips of the President as he has always had his strength and numbers from the region.
The South-west is seen as the decider in who wins today; the appeal to ethnic sentiment of not abandoning Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as son of the soil as well as the vice-grip hold of Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the region may work in favour of Buhari
However, Buhari’s unrepentant sectionalisation and nepotistic appointments devoid of secular considerations has tarred him with the brush of pursuing a religious agenda and disregarding the constitutional provision of federal character, while making other sections of the country feel excluded.
APC internal squabbles could also be a factor against Buhari. It had been simmering and reached a worrisome state at the party conventions where direct and indirect primaries divided the states leading to some not fielding candidates.
It peaked at the rally in Ogun State where stalwarts were pelted with pebbles and sachet water. Protest votes are expected and were acknowledged when the President urged party members to vote their choice of candidates.
Some mistakes and absent mindedness of Buhari in some of the states portray him as weak and not in sharp control of himself. The cabal in control outcry by Aisha Buhari may take its toll on confidence of the people on who runs the country.
The President has also been making claims of advances against insurgency and security of the country which are proving to be either half-truths or near lies and impugning on his presumed integrity.
The activities of herdsmen and Myetti Allah groups in the North central which went unpunished till close to election will definitely cost him a lot in the region.
Also, wild claims by the Minister of Information whose veracity of statements are confirmed in reverses are making it more difficult to believe what the government says.
Strengths and weaknesses – Atiku
Atiku is carrying other sections of the country along and pledging inclusiveness and demonstrated this by picking his Vice Presidential candidate from the most marginalised region while those miffed by the way APC was handled and decamped to the PDP like Rabiu Kwankwaso have divided the block votes in their regions and states in favour of Atiku.
Like he demonstrated in Port Harcourt during the PDP primaries, Atiku has the capacity to self-sponsor and fund most of his campaigns.
Being a businessman with hundreds of employees and therefore more amenable to job creation in the face of mass unemployment, Atiku appears preferred. With the level of poverty and unemployment in the country, most voters even in the stronghold of APC are likely going to resolve their doubts in favour of Atiku by way of seeking alternatives to the present reality especially with the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics reeling out the millions of jobs lost to shady handling of the economy.
With the level of killings by herdsmen and insurgents, the fear of resurgence after elections with the alleged islamisation agenda of President Buhari, the North central region will swing to Atiku, while the fear of spread of killings may further make voters want to try alternatives. Loyalty by erstwhile political allies arising from past political heavyweights may work in favour of Atiku while the early resolution of disagreements within the PDP after the nomination was won and lost gave, ample time for him to fill the internal cracks in the party which appear to give him a common front to fight external battles to win.
However, Atiku has been painted by opponents as a corrupt politician and since corruption is adjudged the most destructive malaise, most voters may fear entrusting the treasury to an alleged less than clean man.
State institutions like the like the police and army, DSS and other security agencies are usually under the command of the government in power, even the electoral umpire get their funding from the government in power and to some extent, directives.
Elections are known to be rigged by these institutions which the government in power can easily deploy to its advantage, even when it goes for adjudication, lips are read and body languages watched to please those that can reward while in power.