Nigeria’s present somewhat quiet political climate should be quickly utilised to build electoral trust, writes Monday Philips Ekpe

The last presidential poll had the trappings of an epic battle. The three top contenders namely, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Wazirin Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), are all political heavyweights, the first two being older and with longer records of national politics. The months between the party primaries and the general election generated fireworks that in turn produced a heightened anxiety among the populace. Confronted by the growing hardship experienced across the country and the glaring necessity for transformation, people, especially the younger generation, were determined to exercise their franchise and re-write their own prospects for change of fortune. To further boost their enthusiasm, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) never failed to seize any chance to assure Nigerians of its readiness to bequeath to the nation its fairest polls. Sadly, however, the unfavourable reactions to the February 25 outing locally and internationally seem to outweigh the positive ones by far.

But then, blessings, even mixed ones, come in various forms. And, somehow, we react to them faster and more favourably if their nature and timing rhyme with what we yearn for. Otherwise, our responses may range from slow appreciation, denial of their material evidence, trivializing their true value, to outright refusal to recognise the very fact of their existence. So, what exactly is there to be happy about now in a country full of contradictions and mangled hopes, you may ask. Or, have you matched the salutary against the contrary feelings about the presidential poll and found the former more dominant? Even more pointedly, can you honestly argue that the faith of the majority of Nigerians for a better tomorrow has moved upwards or southwards after that animated buildup to the election?

Legitimate questions, no doubt, but then optimists would always grab opportunities to remain enthusiastic and hopeful against all odds, if not for anything, to stay alive and well, particularly mentally, in anticipation of attaining the ideal. The beauty of this upbeat mind-frame is that one can actually possess it without compromising one’s conscience or undermining any quest for the truth. Politics has always pitched people against people, individuals against other persons, ideologies against opposing philosophies and, of course, political parties against one another. The hunt for the power to run the affairs of societies, states and nations, is among the most intriguing and exerting activities known to man.

Interestingly, Nigeria has had its fair share of the twists and turns of the game. The ongoing battles to make meaning out of the last election, enjoy the announced victory, verify the figures and, if proven beyond doubt, accept losses in good faith, are, therefore, not unexpected. But that all these are happening right now without the breakdown of public order or loss of lives and limbs – contrary to some predictions and worries – shouldn’t be taken for granted. We can’t forget in a hurry the many people who perished in 2011 when President Muhammadu Buhari lost that year’s poll to former President Goodluck Jonathan, in the country’s most violent post-election protests in the current republic. Those who have termed what obtains at the moment as peace of the graveyard might have done so after considering the enormity of the perceived injury inflicted on the wishes of majority of the voters. The infractions, aggressively documented and transmitted via the internet and other media of communication, can’t simply be wished or pushed away.      

To be clear, last week’s declaration of Asiwaju Tinubu as the winner by the National Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, was received by a hugely fractured electorate, who also shared in the pains of the grossly disaffected leading opposition parties. Some people have even described that poll as Nigeria’s worst in its electoral history. Whether that classification is a product of the heat of the moment or a careful and informed assessment of the exercise, may be confirmed or discarded in the months and years ahead.

The relative tranquility that the country enjoys now should be properly situated and appreciated. Wazirin Abubakar and Mr. Obi took the mature route early by appealing to their supporters to embrace non-violence and announcing that they would pursue their victories through the courts. Happily, the judicial processes have commenced. The other day, Abubakar stepped out in an unusual spectacle to lead orderly black-wear demonstrations to INEC headquarters to demand the cancellation of the results, resignation or removal of Yakubu, and to register his disappointment with the manner in which the all-important national assignment was conducted.

The parties are also assembling formidable legal teams to argue their cases. Making these lawful and restrained moves in the face of credible provocations ought to satisfy those who pressurised the two gentlemen last week to call the President-elect, Tinubu, to concede victory the way Jonathan did in 2015 when he called Buhari soon after triumph for the latter became obvious. Too much energy needn’t be put into convincing anyone that the 2023 presidential poll is different from the previous ones in many significant ways, a subject for a future date. So far, Atiku and Obi, in particular, through their actions and pronouncements, have been contributing immensely to setting the stage for dialogue and due process to thrive. Truth is, a civil, more progressive political environment is now an imperative as most observers, both domestic and external, have expressed very low opinions about the just-concluded election, putting it mildly.

I sincerely don’t envy Tinubu at this moment. The climax of what was his lifelong ambition seems to be wrapped, at present, in an anticlimactic veil. No matter the explanations from his very loyal, loving associates and followers, his win hasn’t attracted the kind of jubilation one would expect at such momentous times, even by our own standards. The pockets of congratulatory messages from some persons clearly do not bring comfort to those who look forward to a Tinubu administration that can unite Nigerians soon enough and secure the badly required cohesive, willful participation in nation-building.

Equally disturbing is the deluge of adverse press about the election from abroad. It would have been easy to simply put it down as imperialistic and condescending if the opposite holds here at home. An editorial of Financial Times on March 2, 2023 titled “Nigeria’s Badly Flawed Election Fails to Set an Example”, for instance, is too compelling to be dismissed. It reads in part: “More worrying still was voter turnout, which was pitifully low at 27 per cent…. Apathy cannot explain it. Something, including the possibility of widespread voter suppression, must have prevented them from voting…. Tinubu’s tally of 8.8mn gives him the weakest of mandates…. Nigeria has been teetering on the edge of catastrophe, with a breakdown of security and an almost total absence of growth. Neither is sustainable. By 2050, Nigeria will have 400mn people. They cannot be left without hope.” Ironically, Tinubu ran his campaigns with the slogan of “Renewed Hope, Revived Nation”.

Some of the things that have happened indicate the urgent need for brinksmanship, firmness and integrity, especially on the part of INEC, federal government, political class and judiciary, if Nigeria is to be taken seriously by its own citizens and foreigners. A teenage Nigerian has committed suicide, citing the outcome of the election. While it may be hard to establish the cause and effect relationship in this matter and the mental status of the victim, many Nigerians think, all the same, that a young life has been extinguished on account of the alleged shoddy execution of the poll. Those reported to have destroyed their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) do also give credence to the likelihood of many citizens who’re deeply traumatised by the election. May 29 this year now truly appears a cautious reality.

Dr Ekpe is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board


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