For Atiku, the Battle Has Just Begun

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Result of the February 23 presidential election is a no retreat, no surrender option for the PDP and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, writes Olaseni Durojaiye

As reactions continue to trail the 2019 presidential election, which many including foreign and local observers have described as keenly contested, much is still desired in the country’s electoral process, amid growing concerns.

And for reasons, which include the fact that the two main contenders – President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – are Muslim Fulani brothers from the North of the country, the election was unusually tough and tight.

Some of the reactions that have so far typified the outcome of the elections were calls on the PDP candidate not to challenge Buhari’s victory, concede defeat and congratulate the winner in order for the country to move on. However, the decision by the opposition PDP and Atiku to challenge the outcome of the election in the courts may have some merits, at least, for the reasons of deepening the nation’s democracy.

On a personal note, too, it may be unfair on Atiku given that even President Buhari challenged the outcomes of the 2003, 2007 and 2011 presidential elections in the courts, up to the Supreme Court and never at any of the occasions congratulated the winner. Of course, President Buhari’s resort to that course has advanced the cause of democracy in the land. So, why not if Atiku decided to tow the same course?

Analysts contended that it is not enough to dissuade the PDP and Atiku from embracing that cause on the basis of the avalanche of commendations that have trailed the elections or the sea of congratulatory messages to President Buhari from friendly nations across the globe.

A statement from the UK’s Minister of State for Africa, Harriett Baldwin, said the result declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was consistent with Parallel Voters Tabulation (PVT) employed by the civil society for the election even as it urged aggrieved parties to seek redress within the ambits of the law while ensuring peace and harmony.

Baldwin said through the poll, “The Nigerian people have demonstrated resilience and a commitment to democracy,” adding that “We urge any party or individual, who wishes to challenge the process to do so peacefully and through the appropriate legal channel and we encourage Nigerian authorities to examine all allegations of wrongdoing carefully, and take the necessary action against individuals found responsible.

Instructively, Baldwin, in the statement noted that “No one should die in the exercise of their democratic rights,” even as she pledged “the UK’s contribution “to support Nigeria and its civil society in drawing lessons from these elections and strengthening its democracy.”

Besides the UK, some African leaders also congratulated Buhari. King Mohammed VI of the Kingdom of Morocco described Buhari’s victory as an affirmation of the level of confidence Nigerians have in their president and promised to work with him to advance the interests of both countries. In the same vein, President Alpha Omar Conde of Guinea extended his congratulations, describing the re-election of Buhari as a dose of hope for the West African region.

It is noteworthy that the superlative and the congratulatory messages have not however drowned the discourse in the polity bordering on some of the worst forms of electoral shenanigans that were recorded during the elections.
Rather, many commentators and stakeholders lamented the uncomplimentary incidence of violence, brazen intimidations, and allegations of high profile rigging, underage voters as well as compromising electoral and security personnel.

For instance, the PDP running mate, Mr. Peter Obi noted that a massive eight million Igbos were disenfranchised during the presidential election. The fact that the mathematics of the vote difference between the winner and the loser did not tally in many instances, speaks to the need to take Obi’s allegations seriously as commentators and analysts insisted it was enough cause for Atiku to challenge the outcome of the election at the courts. Reacting to the outcome of the election, Obi said the results declared by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from Anambra state was unacceptable to the party and alleged that INEC disenfranchised over 8 million registered voters in the South East in Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly elections.

Addressing newsmen at his Onitsha residence, Obi lamented that the elections were systematically planned to ensure the zone did not fully participate in the presidential election and argued that only 20 per cent were able to cast their votes out of 10 million registered voters in the region.

“You will recall that on the Election Day, I said the process was clumsy and we also had major problem of card readers and most people could not vote.
“When over 400,000 Card Readers got burnt, it became clear that something was wrong somewhere and INEC could not save the situation and they will not allow people to vote manually. But in some other parts of the country, people were allowed to vote manually and it was accepted by the electoral body. The impressive turnout of voters was discouraged by the performance of the electoral body last Saturday.

“Now, how can you tell me that a state like Yobe and Borno produced the number of voters that is higher than Anambra and Ebony States put together? The two states are areas that have been at war and I wonder how they got Card Readers that are working so well despite the war situation that they found themselves.”
According to him, the country retrogressed instead of building off on achievements of the 2015 general election. Obi further decried the harassment and attacks members of his party suffered in the hands of security agencies targeted at intimidating them. Though he said it was not in his powers to announce any demand for the cancellation of the election, he was quick to add: “It is left for the party to make its position clear on the matter.”

Some commentators have therefore welcomed the decision of the party to challenge the outcome of the elections and interpreted it as a move help to “draw lessons from the election” and “strengthen democracy”, a move that the nation’s foremost international ally, the UK has also pledged to support, working with Nigeria’s civil society organisations.
Interestingly, PDP and Atiku have not only indicated their resolve to challenge the outcome of the election in the court, the decision has also received the backing of some observers.

Besides the allegations raised by Obi, some analysts also hinged the need to probe the outcome of the election on huge underage voters, which they described as massive in favour of the APC. Indeed, the unwholesome practice of underage voting in the region has for long blotted the nation’s elections with not much attention paid to it let alone finding a lasting solution to the aberration.

Atiku made known his resolve to challenge the results of the election in a statement on Wednesday. He said the election was not free and fair and such was not credible, adding that he would have congratulated President Buhari and offered his hand of cooperation by helping to unite the Nigeria by being a bridge builder between the North and the South if the election was free and fair.

In the statement titled “Democracy will not be emasculated in Nigeria,” the former vice president stated that there were predetermined malpractices in many states across the country.
“However, in my democratic struggles for the past three decades, I have never seen our democracy so debased as it was on Saturday, February 23, 2019. 2007 was a challenge, but President Yar’Adua was remorseful.

“In 2019, it is sad to see those who trampled on democracy thumping their noses don on the Nigerian people,” the statement read in part.
Clearly, Atiku has yet again demonstrated that he is a formidable candidate and not a push over. How he was able to rally the PDP, which was until few months to the election enmeshed in intra-party rancour to post such formidable performance is a proof that he is a force to reckon, thus the conclusion that his turn to rule the country could just be a dream deferred.

Whether he will yet again throw his hat in the ring come 2023 even with the jostling and permutation that the nation’s presidency will go to the South may be a matter for time to unravel. It is sacrosanct, however, that it is within his constitutional rights to do so. And if it so, who says he cannot contest again, after all, President Buhari contested on three good occasions spanning 12 years before he made it at the fourth try.