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Nigeria, In Times Like This…
By Olusegun Adeniyi
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had assured the country of its readiness to deploy the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in the build-up to last Saturday’s presidential and national assembly elections. These two technological innovations would have enhanced the transparency of their process and the integrity of outcomes. INECs inability to deploy them as effectively as promised led to the long-forgotten ‘Orubebeism’ at the Collation Centre on Monday by Senator Dino Melaye of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the crisis we must now do everything to avert.
In the early hours of yesterday, INEC declared Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, candidate of the ruling party All Progressives Congress (APC), as president-elect. With a total of 8,794,726 votes, he defeated 17 other candidates, including former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who polled a total of 6,984,520 votes and Mr Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) who secured a total of 6,101,533 votes. Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) came fourth with 1,496,687 votes. Instructively, Tinubu and Atiku each won in 12 states, Obi won in 11 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja while Kwankwaso won only in Kano. A high-stake election which ended up that close left no margin for error. Yet, last Saturday left no doubt that INEC overpromised and underdelivered.
I have read the reports of various observer teams, including that of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI). The question being raised about the transparency of INEC rests on the deployment (or lack thereof) of technologies it promised. BVAS uses biometrics (voter fingerprints and facial recognition) for the accreditation process and available reports indicate that it worked substantially in that regard last Saturday. But BVAS is also programmed to capture images of the polling unit result sheet (Form EC8A) for real-time upload to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) which allows members of the public to create personal accounts to access stored as PDF files. That was where the problem arose.
In my column two weeks ago, ‘INEC and the Lesson from VAR’, I wrote that when we use technology to drive any process, we make a critical assumption that those managing it will follow the rules. But, as I also argued, even the most advanced technology can be compromised by human omission or commission, which can then cast doubt on the fairness of the entire process, erode public trust and undermine the credibility of outcome. INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu has a responsibility to explain why, as YIAGA Africa pointed out in its statement, only 73 percent of polling unit-level results had been uploaded as at yesterday afternoon. By some curious twist of fate, as I also explained last week, this presidential election left us with a WaZoBia construct that stands on the ancient political tripod of the ethnic affiliation of the three leading candidates. If we had political leaders with sufficient acumen for forging elite consensus, as the military did in 1999, perhaps the primaries of the political parties might have produced different outcomes that would have made the election less fractious. Sadly, that opportunity was missed. Unless our leaders can come up with strategic concessions to assuage genuine feelings of alienation in certain quarters, we could face dire consequences. But this is an issue we will have to deal with another day. Meanwhile, regardless of how we may feel about the outcome of the presidential election, there are many lessons to take from what happened last Saturday. The first has to do with the cost of running elections in Nigeria. The closure of borders, shutdown of businesses and offices, restrictions of movement during the exercise, deployment of a disproportionate number of police and security personnel as well as military troops was a costly exercise. We conduct elections almost like war. All this because we distrust one another not to game the exercise.
For this election, a ‘Naira confiscation’ policy was even conceived and enforced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) ostensibly to prevent vote-buying. In the process, lives and livelihoods have been ruined. Incidentally, all the APC Governors who cared so much about our ‘Nairalessness’ that they threatened fire and brimstone before the election have forgotten about a certain Mr Godwin Emefiele. Similarly, all the PDP politicians who were hailing President Muhammadu Buhari, are now saying something else. Nigerian politicians are incredible! If there is any lesson to take from all the drama, it is about the desperation for power by our politicians. Their concerns are never about the ordinary people. With eyes on the enormous spoils of office attached to these positions, we can understand the ‘end justifies the means’ approach to every election in Nigeria. There are other issues thrown up by the presidential election result, including the implication of a divided opposition against the party in power. It was the subject of my 2011 research paper at the Harvard University Weatherhead Centre, where I argued that whenever and wherever opposition politicians stand divided before the polls, they are priming themselves for unity in defeat: (http://programs.wcfia.harvard.edu/fellows/publications/divided-opposition-boon-african-incumbents. The three leading opposition candidates who contested last Saturday were members of the PDP until last year before they splintered. Yet, the votes they collectively secured are far larger than what the APC candidate received for his victory.
From the result, Tinubu won the election with just about 35 percent of the total votes while the remaining 65 percent of the total votes were cast for the other candidates. Besides, the presidential primaries of the PDP were so mismanaged that five of their Governors (and their allies, especially in the Southwest) were allowed to go rogue and hobnob with the APC for the presidential election. It is interesting that the PDP and LP are now collaborating only after the election when it was always obvious that if the two parties worked together, APC stood little or no chance at the polls.
The second lesson is that if you run against the political tide, especially in whatever is considered group interest, you will be swept off. We saw a lot of that in the Southeast where Hurricane LP (or more appropriately, Hurricane Peter Obi) upended many pollical ambitions. For the first time since 1999, the people went against the PDP to pitch tent with the LP that secured 94 percent of the total votes in Anambra State, 93 percent in Enugu, 80 percent in Ebonyi, 78 percent in Imo and 75 percent in Abia. The bigwigs in PDP and APC are now counting their losses. Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, a former member of the House of Representatives, who sought to move to the senate had his ambition truncated by Okechukwu Ezea of LP who polled 104,492 votes. That more than doubled the 46,948 votes he (Ugwuanyi) secured as a PDP candidate.
The third lesson is that political parties appear less important in this election cycle. The people are now quite aware that one is not different from the other and that all of them, without exception, are mere vehicles to secure power. And with that, it is also easy for the people to vote for individuals they like, regardless of the party platform on which the person is running. The good side to this is that if popular candidates are denied tickets (that are often traded) in the major parties, they can run on the platform of fringe parties and still win. We saw that in a few states.
My friend and former House of Representatives member, Ahmed Wadada, last Saturday won the Nasarawa West Senatorial District election on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). That is the seat held by the current APC National Chairman and two-term governor of the state, Abdullahi Adamu. Wadada was in the APC, but Adamu ceded the senatorial ticket to Shehu Ahmed Tukur, an architect and former gubernatorial aspirant in the state. At the election, Wadada polled 96488 votes as against the 47,717 votes garnered by the APC candidate. The PDP candidate, Musa Galadima scored 46,820 votes while Bala Tongurma of the Labour Party scored 33,228 votes.
Instructively, many serving and former governors also lost their bids for the Senate that has since become their ‘retirement home’. Last Saturday, the apostle of ‘Conjugated Agglutination’ was defeated by the incumbent Senator Jarigbe Agom of the PDP, who garnered 76,145 votes as against the 56,595 votes secured by the Cross River State Governor. For Prof Ben Ayade, an election of ‘Infinite Transposition’ has given way to the ‘Kinetic Crystallization’ of a defeat that may have provoked the ‘Qabalistic Densification’ of ‘Olimpotic Meritemasis’ proportion. There is also an interesting dimension to this election based on the statistics sent to me last night. Peter Obi won the Southern votes while Tinubu won the Northern votes. Out of the 14.7 million votes cast in the North, Tinubu, Atiku and Obi won 38, 36 and 14 percents, respectively. Out of the 9.3 million votes cast in the South, Obi, Tinubu and Atiku got 43, 34 and 19 percents, respectively. We must interrogate the meaning of all these.
I invested no emotion in this election. But I followed it very closely. I particularly enjoyed the ‘WhatsApp classes’ on several platforms that featured a deluge of videos and text messages from partisans. Now that the presidential election is over, we need to get back to real life. There are three critical but unpopular decisions that the next administration must take if we are to get out of our current fiscal mess. We need to put an end to the wasteful regime of subsidy in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry and the multiple exchange rates by the CBN. We also must increase the revenue base by making Nigerians pay tax. These are decisions that will be difficult for any leader.
In the weeks ahead, I am going to write about Atiku who has had a sterling political career even though he may have missed out on the ultimate prize. I have had the opportunity of close interactions with him over the years and he is a genuine patriot who would have made a very good president. But I have always suspected that the incumbent being a northern Fulani man like Atiku is more an albatross than an advantage for his aspiration. Some of his inner cycle never agreed with me on that. Incidentally, just two weeks ago, as I was cleaning my study, I found a book I never knew I had: “Atiku: The Story of Atiku Abubakar”, by the late Adinoyi Ojo-Onukaba. I read the fascinating authorized biography last weekend and I have learnt more about the person and politics of Waziri Adamawa.I am also going to be writing about Peter Obi who is the real story of this election in so many ways. I must admit that I overrated the power of party structure or perhaps underrated the mobilization capacity of the former Anambra State Governor despite his running on a weak platform. He surpassed my expectations and that of many. As I wrote in my recent column in January, given the nature of our political arrangement in Nigeria, there is a value in Obi’s aspiration that transcends his personal ambition. Nothing advances a society better than equity in the distribution of political opportunities, especially at the highest level of government. That’s why his defeat is painful for several constituencies, including many young Nigerians who campaigned for him. But this can be the beginning of something great for him and what he represents if he stays the course. I will also interrogate that in the weeks ahead.
However, let me congratulate Tinubu for realizing his “lifelong ambition.” I recall a conversation I had in May 2008 with President Goodluck Jonathan while spokesman to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Jonathan was vice president at the time. He had just returned from Bayelsa State, and I visited his office to congratulate him on the victory of then Governor Timipre Sylva in the gubernatorial election. A month earlier, Sylva’s election had been nullified by the Court of Appeal in a case filed by Ebitimi Amgbare, candidate of Tinubu’s party at the time, Action Congress. During our discussion, Jonathan said, “You know the interesting about the Bayelsa election? The fingerprint of Tinubu was everywhere, even when his party stood no chance at the polls.” As Jonathan explained, weeks before the election, he called Tinubu to say he needed to see him and was ready to visit Lagos at his (Tinubu’s) convenience. But Tinubu said he would rather come to Abuja in deference to Jonathan’s office. And he did. During their discussion, Jonathan said he asked Tinubu, “What is your interest in the Bayelsa gubernatorial election?” Tinubu reportedly replied: “I want to have a strong political foothold in the Southwest and Southsouth.”
I have never forgotten that conversation so when Tinubu said being president is a lifelong ambition, I knew it was more than a Freudian slip. He has spent the past 16 years since leaving office as Lagos State Governor pursuing this ambition. He has built bridges, forged alliances, taken cold calculations and made compromises. Now that he has what he wants, he must understand that power is about purpose. His acceptance speech yesterday was spot on. I particularly like this line: “Yes, there are divisions amongst us that should not exist. Many people are uncertain, angry, and hurt; I reach out to every one of you. Let the better aspects of our humanity step forward at this fateful moment. Let us begin to heal and bring calm to our nation.” Tinubu is a man on whom I have written a lot in the past (some, not so pleasant) and I will soon begin an inquisition into what his presidency portends for Nigeria. Beyond the issue of governance, the value of his election will be measured in other curious ways as well. Can Tinubu rule in a manner that offers comfort to those who felt alienated by his Muslim-Muslim ticket? Time, as they say, will tell.
Let me also say something about our ethnic relations. If there is anything that Peter Obi has proved conclusively in this election, it is that an Igbo candidate can win a national election. That’s a good sign of the country’s willingness for inclusiveness, despite what the noise may suggest. And we should build on that. Even a benign interpretation of the near unanimity of the Igbo votes for him can be explained by the fact that this is the first time under the current dispensation that an Igbo man has emerged presidential candidate of a serious party. After all, during the 2008 presidential election in the United States, according to the Pew Research Centre, about 95 percent of black voters cast their ballots for Mr Barack Obama who went on to win. And it was never held against him. From the reality of identity politics in Nigeria that we cannot shy from, a collateral benefit of the Obi sweep in the Southeast is to unify the Igbo political voice at the voter level. This is a clear demonstration that the people recognize their real interest and who best represents it.
For now, I will admonish our elders (political, religious, traditional), regardless of where they stood in this election, to mind what they say at this period. In her thesis, ‘The Power of Words in Leadership’ which I once referenced on his page, Linia Anirudhan argued that because words can uplift or destroy, leaders must use them wisely in critical times such as we are in today in Nigeria.
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