Even the most cynical critics of the process and conduct of the 2023 elections delivered by Prof. Mahmud Yakubu-led Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would grudgingly admit that some aspects of the exercise were novel and promised some level of quantifiable improvement. Of course, the remarkable introduction of BVAS, and INEC’s insistence to abide strictly by its usage was somewhat diluted by the unsuccessful attempts to immediately transmit the collated results of presidential election from the polling units to the INEC Result Viewing portal (IReV) as earlier planned. We shall leave the gravity and impact of that partial failure on the legitimate outcome of the disputed election to the judiciary to sort out.
Our focus this week is on other positive outcomes and redeeming features of the staggered elections. For the first time, arguably, the space between voting and declaration of results of the presidential election, as against that of the state elections, was filled with trepidation, confusion and unusually uncontrollable frenzy. That was new. In past election cycles, certain states and governorship candidates were “sure bankers” to be elected or reelected on the whirlwind momentum provoked by the all-conquering political party of the returned president-elect. Not this time.
Candidate-governors suddenly realised that there was no landslide apron string to cling on, and sail unto power. They had to dig in, and, helped by the one week postponement, work their socks off to post any positive result from the 18th of March, 2023 election. Some even resorted to desperate antics – invoking ancestral spirits to shore up their support, and create an atmosphere of primordial fear that led to what some described as voter intimidation and suppression.
Take for instance, a state like Abia where a particular local government area, Obingwa was noted for producing incredible voter turnout for the ever-present ruling party. The “wicked” BVAS knocked back the usual bloated figures, in excess of 80,000 votes, to a mere 30,000 which caused so much ruckus that collation and declaration of results had to be stopped – even after 16 out of 17 LGAs had been declared. However the star performer of the Abia spectacle was the state’s Returning Officer and Vice Chancellor of Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), Prof. Nnenna Oti.
Apparently, the power brokers did not do their homework well on the professor of soil science who redefined the meaning of stoic patriotism, and showed uncommon courage in the face of fire and brimstone unleashed by partisan warlords. Alex Otti of the Labour Party was in a clear lead as the heated collation centre in Umuahia tethered on the brink of malevolence and theatrics. Okey Ahiwe of PDP was struggling behind Otti by close to 80,000 votes. Suddenly, unknown henchmen stormed Obingwa collation centre to perform their usual magic. Their scheme was vigorously rebuffed. Then INEC ordered a stoppage of the entire state collation process. Two days after, at the resumption of collation, Prof. Oti, the Returning Officer (unrelated to Alex Otti as she hails from Ebonyi State, contrary to tales by her traducers) drew some kind of battle line: “I shall stand squarely and unapologetically on these principles. The people’s votes and mandate shall stand… The pastor and the mother in me will not permit me to do anything that will adversely affect the future of our children,” she affirmed on live TV.
Well, Otti won handsomely (175,467 votes, while PDP’s Ahiwe and Enyinnaya Nwafor of the Young People’s Party (YPP) polled 88,529 and 28,972 respectively). The shellacking was so profound that the outgoing governor, Okezie Ikpeazu conceded and urged Otti’s rivals to forget about going to court to challenge the victory.
But that is not the end of the inspiring story. Prof. Oti returned from Abuja, to a heroine’s welcome at her FUTO enclave. There is something special about an academic just back from a tour in a non-academic environment, and satisfying the usually demanding nature of Nigerian undergraduates to such an extent that they formed a mobile guard of honour from the campus gate, all the way to the administrative offices of the university, while singing her praise, and oozing around her in frenzied admiration, with a tinge of hero worship. In the melee of reveries, there was a statement banner which read thus: “Welcome back Nnenna Oti, Heroine of Nigeria Democracy”. Do you blame a generation so shamelessly starved of quality heroes and genuine exemplars?
As it is now expected of the first class graduate of University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Oti delivered another well-aimed speech that should be apropos for generations. Her words: “As an electoral officer, I have never in my life participated in any election, but duty came calling. I made my enquiries from Abuja and I said if I perish, I perish… They came with their threats, they came with their money, they came with their intimidation… I didn’t start today; I stand here before God, I have never defrauded anyone. I declared the riot act as follows: Under me, votes must count. Under me, the people’s mandate will be upheld because I, Professor Nnnena Oti, can never do evil.” Selah!
Another remarkable post-election incident worthy of condemnation by all is the viral video that surged a few weeks after the elections. If the visual would be believed, there was a group of supposed Nigerians who massed in front of the Ministry of Defence in Abuja. Their mission was clearly dictated by the placards they bore – lamenting the conduct of the elections…expressing their disbelief in its outcome, and suspicion of its process… ostensibly begging the occupants of that federal building (i.e. soldiers) to save Nigeria’s democracy from going to the dogs!
Now, what is that nonsense all about? What is the wisdom in asking people you pay to serve you at your borders, and protect you from external aggression, to turn inwards and ‘help’ your democracy from going ‘crazy’!? Who are those folks? If they are too young to have lived through our military past, do they not have access to books or documentaries detailing the abject foolishness of going back to the ‘Egypt’ of military interventions, in whatever guise, under whatsoever political impasse?
Let us tell the young folks incensed about their loss of immediate power to effect political change that politics is a never-ending process… you win today or lose tomorrow. You don’t throw away the kitchen sink because the dishes you didn’t use have mounted. Those who were adults in the 80s and 90s know that the military are not better than any other Nigerian in the political space, in fact they are much worse on account of their training and orientation which brooks no democratic attitude.
Let our disappointed youth know that democratic institutions may fail or stutter, your best bet for a strong and progressive nation is to put all your efforts in strengthening and deepening those democratic emblems by sundry legitimate means – not destroying them, nor threatening their promises with illogical or illegal fulminations. It is well.