2019 General Election and the Day After

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In October 2015, the Nigerian Army set up a Board of Inquiry (BoI) to investigate the alleged involvement of its personnel in the malpractices that characterised the 2014 gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states. “The essence of the investigation is to prevent future unprofessional conduct by officers and men in the performance of constitutional roles. It is also to strengthen Nigerian Army’s support to democratic values and structures in Nigeria”, the statement read. Given what has transpired in the course of the 2019 general election, it is obvious no lessons were learnt. The military, the police and other security agencies that were ordinarily meant to help the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct free and fair elections became, in most instances, the problem.

While I am already compiling notes on the sundry acts of misdeeds that we have witnessed in the past one month, the 2019 general election is also unique in certain respects. Three things stand out. One, for the first time in the political history of Nigeria, there was no ‘bandwagon effect’ to render the gubernatorial election ineffectual. Two, when all the emotions are spent and the results are analysed more dispassionately, it will be easy to see how a strong two-party system has evolved in Nigeria. Three, Nigerian voters are becoming very sophisticated. For instance, while President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) won his polling unit in Daura, Katsina State with 523 votes to beat former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who got three votes, the APC candidate for Katsina North senatorial district, incumbent Kaita Baba-Ahmad secured 248 votes to lose the unit to the Accord party candidate, Lawal Nalado who polled 263 votes.

In my coming book, I will examine some of these issues while looking at the violence, vote-repression, ballot-snatching and other forms of electoral manipulation as well as the safeguards that we need to enthrone for our democracy to survive and thrive. However, regardless of how we may feel about the outcomes of some of the contests, there are significant positives. For instance, by the time the presidential and national assembly elections were concluded in Bauchi State on 23rd February, Buhari polled 798,428 votes to beat Atiku who scored 209,313 votes. In that same election, of the 12 federal constituencies contested, the House of Representatives Speaker, Hon Yakubu Dogara, was the only PDP candidate who won. The APC cleared nine seats while the remaining two were won by APC members who contested on the platform of Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) after they were denied party tickets by the governor.

With victory in 22 of the 31 state constituencies, Bauchi could be described as an APC state. But the tide turned two weeks later on 9th March during the gubernatorial election which was rendered inconclusive through what I now understand to be a contrived violence. At the end, the APC governor lost. Today, in Adamawa state, no miracle can save the sitting APC governor from a sure defeat by his PDP challenger. In Imo State, the PDP is taking over from an APC governor. Sokoto was APC until Governor Aminu Tambuwal defected late last year yet, he still won his re-election. The same with Benue state where Governor Samuel Ortom won re-election.

The foregoing is important against the background of what transpired in the past. In 2011, Buhari as candidate of the opposition Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) defeated then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in 11 of the 13 states that make up the north-east and north-west. He also won in Niger state. But because Jonathan won the presidential election, in the gubernatorial election that followed two weeks later, PDP won all the 12 states, including Katsina. In 2003 when President Olusegun Obasanjo was seeking re-election, five of the six Alliance for Democracy (AD) governors in the South-west who were naïve enough to do a ‘Parapo’ deal with him lost re-election due to this same factor of ‘bandwagon effect’ after the presidential polls.

Therefore, President Buhari deserves commendation for the manner in which he comported himself in the course of the 2019 general election. Only few leaders would accept what INEC did to APC in both Rivers and Zamfara states without finding a way to either circumvent the law or arm-twist the commission to backpedal. It is becoming increasingly clear now that the PDP may benefit from the fiasco Governor Abdulazees Yari created with the black market court order he procured to put APC on the ballot in his state. Yet, if INEC decision had been against the PDP, the general conclusion would have been that it was contrived by the presidency.

While, as I said, I am interrogating the elections and all the associated issues for my coming book, it is important that commentators rely on facts rather than emotions, especially regarding inconclusive and supplementary elections which entered our lexicon in 2011 as a result of two provisions in the Electoral Act, 2010: Section 53 which deals with over-voting and section 26 on violence.

As a result of these provisions, two governorship elections were inconclusive in 2011: Imo and Bauchi states. In 2013, Anambra gubernatorial election was also inconclusive for the same reasons. In 2015, the provisions rendered the gubernatorial elections inconclusive in five states: Imo, Kogi, Taraba, Abia and Bayelsa. In 2018, Osun states was inconclusive and this year, we had six states (Sokoto, Adamawa, Plateau, Kano, Bauchi and Benue). While I don’t want to get ahead of myself, it is now evident that politicians are devising brazen acts of brinksmanship to game elections by either instigating violence or muddling the process to ensure over-voting, all in the bid to force cancelation in certain areas.

Section 53 subsection 1 and 2 says, “No voter shall vote for more than one candidate or record more than one vote in favour of any candidate at any one election. Where the votes cast at an election in any polling unit exceed the number of registered voters in that polling unit, the result of the election for that polling unit shall be declared void by the Commission and another election may be conducted at a date to be fixed by the Commission where the result at that polling unit may affect the overall result in the Constituency” while subsection 3 adds, “Where an election is nullified in accordance with subsection (2) of this section, there shall be no return for the election until another poll has taken place in the affected area.”

Given recent experiences, it is clear that in close races, supplementary elections can undermine the integrity of the democratic process by allowing the incumbent to introduce vote-buying, intimidation and all forms of inducement. In the process, the initial verdict of the electorate could easily be thwarted with an unpopular outcome rigged into place as we have seen in some recent cases. But in a situation where INEC is empowered by the National Assembly to postpone election on grounds of a “reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date” as spelt out in section 26 of the Electoral Act 2010, how can the commission proceed with elections when there is outright violence as was witnessed in some theatres across the country?

Now that the supplementary election that our lawmakers helped to institute has turned out to be a tool for manipulation, there is need to sit down with other stakeholders to find a solution in the interest of our democracy. But if there is any take-away from the 2019 general election, it is the increasing desperation for power not necessarily to advance public good but rather because of the enormous spoils of office that are attached to political positions at all levels of governance in Nigeria.

Therefore, until there is a review of these disclosed and undisclosed remunerations and we are able to instil accountability in the system, there will be no end to this mercantile approach to politics and our elections will continue to be a matter of life and death!

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