Preliminary Lessons of 2019 Elections

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SATURDAY COUNTERPOINT 

By Femi Akintunde-Johnson

Eventually, the Presidential and National Assembly Elections took place last Saturday, February 23, 2019. As the results trudged in, and yells or guffaws of various emotions – disappointment, disgust, euphoria, bewilderment, etc – seeped through the nation, we could not ignore the costly and wasteful losses of lives and property, distressed hopes, punctured permutations and genuine fears of serious trouble.

 Treasured humanity and structures were undercut by thuggery, vandalism, brutal victimisation, crass arrogance and murderous aggression of political actors and their henchmen. Those irresponsible expressions of our faultlines as a nation of diverse tongues and cleavages should be strongly condemned, perpetrators must be apprehended and prosecuted accordingly.

Even as we look forward to the state elections next Saturday, it is not presumptuous to review a few of the acts, threats and consequences of the fallouts witnessed in the days before, during and after the last election day.

40-yr-old Saraki Hegemony Unraveled

Perhaps the most astonishing surprise was the defeat of the Scion of the Saraki family, Dr. Bukola Saraki, the incumbent Senate President and medical doctor. He was shockingly trounced by his 2011 rival, Ibrahim Yahaya Oloriegbe, also a medical doctor and former majority leader in the Kwara State House of Assembly (1999-2003). Oloriegbe polled 123,808 votes to Saraki’s 68,994 in the Kwara Cental Senatorial race.

 To underscore the rooted displeasure of his kinsmen, Saraki equally lost in his longtime stronghold, Ilorin West LG (30,075 to Oloriegbe’s 51,531).

As if that personal decimation was not enough, the rival APC (the party under his control barely six months ago) took the entire Kwara State into the bag for President Muhammadu Buhari with a whooping 308,984 votes, compared to his leading opponent, Atiku Abubakar – 138,184 – with a handsome 170,800 votes as “change”.

 The Saraki’s had held Kwara State on the jugular since the late 70s – a tortuous 40 years of the 51 year old state that has barely stepped into modernity in spite of billions of federal allocations and other largesse in an essentially agrarian landlocked spread; a land betrayed by self-appointed messiahs who seem serially challenged by integrity and vision.

 The roiling dynasty of the Saraki’s – sired by the original Oloye, late Dr. Olusola Abubakar Saraki – is well known to all political habitues. Since the late Saraki tried his hand, albeit unsuccessfully, as an independent parliamentary candidate three years before the state was created in 1967, the seed for a sprawling hegemonic hold on the Emirate of Ilorin, and by extension, the entire state was sowed.

 Most Kwarans had watched in suppressed animosity and permissive indignation as the Saraki machinery rolled over opposition and wearied constituents, installing vassals and vessels, irrespective of their capacity to deliver, and ability to inspire.

 In 2019, by myriad of contending forces and providential missteps, the Saraki dynasty tottered under the virulently toxic exclamation – “O to ge” – a ditty best preserved in its Igbomina (a Yoruba dialect) coloration. In the pithiness of “O to ge” (roughly translated as “enough is enough”) the Kwarans found their voice and located their guts. End-result? The immensely strategic and opulently endowed generalissimo of the Saraki rump was devastatingly worsted… Until the battle next time… for the campaign chief of the main opposition.

Buhari’s Victory: Brutal Class Battle

It appears that scholars of political science and keen researchers of mass behavioural tendencies will find a mine of materials in the different dimensions of the presidential election. My preliminary reaction was that in many parts of the North and South West, the contra-strategy to deflate the ambition and socio-economic master plan of the Atiku juggernauts was essentially to provoke the poor (after all, Nigeria was recently tagged the headquarters of the world’s most impoverished) to see the election as a life-time opportunity to get one up on the elite, and to some extent, the nose-raising educated middle class. The APC strategists apparently up-turned Abraham Lincoln dictum on democracy: the government of the people, by the people, and for the people… by basically inserting “the poor” wherever there is “the people”. And it worked almost to a hilt.

 A cursory look at the voting pattern, of course, without prejudice to the usual irregularities and manipulation in different degrees…the clear tone, arguably, is the trenchant determination of less-privileged Nigerians to re-install the man they consider as one who is most concerned about their welfare. Watching hundreds of polling units on TV screens, we saw armies of ordinary folks in far-flung rural settlements and villages, determined to make their votes count…for the man, rightly or wrongly, seen as the friend of the Talakawas. Of course, more vigorous statistical interrogation will prove or disprove this observation.

INEC National Collation Centre: Between The Snail And The Tortoise

It is indeed a daunting assignment waiting on emerging results of the presidential election from the National Collation Centre of INEC located at the International Conference Centre, ICC, Abuja. With hours on end devoted to the excruciating routine of listening to a retinue of Vice Chancellors acting as SCOPEs (State Collation Officers for the Presidential Election) can render an avid reporter or observer catatonic.

 Sitting pretty across a battery of microphones, was the placid-faced INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, flanked on either side by half a dozen corterie of National Electoral Commissioners looking glum and frazzled with boredom.

 The professioral SCOPEs tagged along with each state’s Resident Electoral Commissioner, and would seize the hotspot, reading from a large spreadsheet of scores collated from all the 774 local government councils, over 8,000 wards – in all the 36 states and the FCT.

 Some of the uncomfortable Profs were stressed to display their “oratorial” prowess in announcing each party’s initials, and its score – all the 73 of them! A few Profs stumbled over this tiresome drag of a task – in need of more light, or even a “ruler”! (I kid not).

 The Collation process is so tedious, painstakingly sluggish time and energy-consuming, that it would have been comical if it were not a critically important assignment.

The collation centre opened a day after the election (Sunday) and final declaration of winner was conducted few minutes before 5am on Wednesday(!!) The Commission must find a way to upgrade and digitalise its processes and deliverables in a manner consistent with modern critical capacity-building infrastructure. We cannot be taken seriously when we deliver national assignments in such snail-like timelines, (or is it tortoise?) I don’t know which is slower.  

 Yet, we must thank Nigerians who stayed behind, dug in, queued at empty polling units, rallied and queried on open fields and social media…to produce another civilian-to-civilian political transition. Kudos…as we await the usual legal fireworks!