THE month of March in 2015 was Nigeria’s golden month. On the 31st of that month, the then President Goodluck Jonathan and presidential candidate of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in that year’s presidential poll wrote his name into history when he accepted defeat and called his main opponent and candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Muhammadu Buhari to congratulated the former army general for winning at his fourth attempt to claim the coveted prize.
The next day, April 1, there were many who thought that people were springing “April fool” jokes on them when the news of Jonathan’s most commendable action filled the airwaves. They were most probably those who had walked away from their television sets when, in the midst of the announcement of results on live television by then chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, Elder Godsday Orubebe staged his award-winning show of shame as he tried, screaming and cursing, to truncate the announcement process. Anyway, the results from all the states were all in, but save for Borno, which the retired general clinched by a mile. The rest is history: the 16-year reign of PDP had come to an end.
The old general repeated the 2015 feat by defeating the PDP candidate in the February 23, 2019 presidential polls, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, by quite a handsome margin (15.1 million to 10.7 million votes) to clinch a second-term mandate. But March has literally lost the “gold medal” it won four years ago. There would be no call from the defeated to the victor this time. And the reason is that some Nigerians are hell bent on a vicious campaign to erode public confidence and faith in the electoral process simply because their beloved candidate had lost.
Since the announcement of the final results, President Buhari has received well-deserved greetings from the international community and prominent national groups and statesmen. The United States noted “the assessments of international and domestic observer missions affirming the overall credibility of the election, despite localised violence and irregularities.” While congratulating Buhari on his re-election, the United Kingdom noted that “the result declared by the Nigerian Election Commission is consistent with the result obtained through the civil society parallel vote tabulation process. Along with our international partners, the UK believes the Nigerian people can have confidence in the result.”
Ohaneze Ndigbo, the powerful Igbo socio-cultural organisation which had one of its sons, Peter Obi, as Atiku’s vice presidential candidate, hailed Buhari on his “well-deserved victory”, adding that “his victory as exposed by the majority of votes cast, has clearly shown that the president has been on the right course in the last four years.” The Sultan of Sokoto and President–General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs congratulated Buhari on his re-election and also commended “all the other contestants as well as the Nigerian electorate that conducted themselves peacefully and with high spirit of decorum during and after the elections.” He urged “all political contenders in Nigeria to, in the name of Allah, take it easy and sheath their swords.”
Although President Buhari has implored his supporters not to gloat over his victory, the outcome of the election was, in reality, quite predictable–a resounding victory for the APC flag-bearer whose relentless anti-corruption campaign has been the signpost of his first term in office. Apart from his battle against sleaze and unrelenting plugging of most of the loopholes exploited for official malfeasance, Buhari had embarked on what many have described as the most ambitious infrastructural projects in the country’s history as his government built and rehabilitated roads and rails massively across the country.
The New York Times called the contest between Buhari and Atiku, “a referendum on honesty”. That reasoning is hinged on the fact that, for a vast majority of Nigerians, the attraction of integrity in leadership remains the strongest on the quality and desirability spectrum, far more than the primordial considerations of tribal and ethnic leanings and even religion. And, say what you may about him, the man from Daura has a more formidable stock of integrity in his closet than the Waziri who, as far as one can remember, has been dogged by the baggage of alleged corrupt enrichment and practices in his public and business dealings. Indeed, the New York Times had described Atiku as a “corruption-stained candidate.”
The eternally damaging testimonial and sordid verdict on Atiku’s public record by his former boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, with whom he won an election on the PDP ticket and served as vice president for eight years and which the retired army general had considered vital and true enough to document in a book for posterity, could not have endeared him to many voters, despite Obasanjo’s robust turnarounds to paint his former lieutenant in glossier colours.
Still, it is a salutary attestation to the evolution of our democracy and party politics that Atiku, in spite of his alleged unflattering credentials, still hauled in almost 11 million votes in the presidential election. His robust performance is perhaps indicative of a potential to win the prize the next time he is on the ticket – especially with help from top-drawer image-laundering. That is for the future to tell.
Thankfully, we did not witness another “Elder Godsday Orubebe show” during the announcement of the results of the February 23 polls at the INEC’s National Collation Centre in Abuja by the unflappable Professor Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman. But what we seem to have instead of a repeat of that despicable spectacle four years ago, is, in my opinion, even more condemnable. And, that is the clearly unpatriotic attempts by some Nigerians, especially the opposition PDP and their supporters, to totally denigrate and discredit our electoral process while also condemning the conduct of the presidential and National Assembly election in its entirety.
Yes, there were irregularities here and there and there were also pockets of violence in some parts of the country. There were reports of late arrival of electoral materials leading, inevitably, to late voting at some centres, malfunctioned card readers, snatching of ballot boxes, alleged seizure of electoral materials from unauthorized persons and groups, alleged tampering with poll results between polling stations and collation points, heavy military presence in a couple of states and, sadly, the loss of some lives arising from election violence. Wherever they are widespread or become the norm, these violations would definitely detract from the minimum standards expected of a free and fair election.
However, there is no record or evidence that the irregularities and violations identified by local or international observers generally characterized the February 23 2019 election. What were witnessed in almost all cities, towns and villages in the country on that Saturday, were the glorious sights of more than 26 million Nigerians trooping out to peacefully exercise their civic obligations to vote for their preferred candidates.
Clearly no election anywhere can really be deemed perfect and totally hitch-free. Take the US for example. Although that globally-acknowledged leader of the free world held its first presidential election some 330 years ago in 1788, the last presidential polls in the US in 2016, won by Donald Trump, was anything but perfect. In an assessment of that presidential election, published in the Washington Post, Dan Slater and Lucan Ahmad Way, both professors of political science, found two sets of violations which they classified as procedural abuses and violations of the substantive norms of democratic fair play. Specifically, they identified, among others, (a) manipulating voting rules to the advantage of one party – as evidenced in the creation of an uneven playing field by some states to discourage turnout among likely Democratic Party voters (b) interference by security agencies which are supposed to be politically neutral as demonstrated by the decision of the FBI to revisit candidate Hillary Clinton’s private email matter, just 11 days to the election (c) the intrinsically undemocratic nature of the Electoral College system which enabled a candidate (Donald Trump) who lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes to win and emerge president and (d) attempts to discredit the electoral process and opposing candidates as well as misinformation on a very grand and institutional scale.
While the foregoing aberrations to the 2016 US election -some of which have also featured in Nigerian elections in one form or the other – were identified for possible corrective measures where feasible and backed by changes in the law, no one had alleged blatantly and without proof that the election was “rigged” in favour of Trump, the winner just because their candidate lost. It is exactly the opposite here. Those hell bent on discrediting our electoral process smeared the re-election of President Buhari with the patently false and unfounded allegation of “widespread rigging” in his favour.
And yet, this was an election in which Vice President Yemi Osinbajo lost in his Victoria Garden City (VGC) polling unit and a sitting governor did not rig his contest for a Senate seat. Indeed, the shocks and upsets recorded across the country and across party lines on February 23 should convince the hardest doubter that the election results reflected the genuine choices made by Nigerians, as attested to by international poll observers who were on ground. Besides, there have been no single reports that any state party agent refused to append his or her signature to the broad results sheets presented on live television, one after the other by university vice chancellors and handed over to Professor Yakubu. So, at what point were the results rigged without the knowledge of party agents.
To be sure, the entire spectrum of our electoral system and institution needs constant fine-tuning, amendments and adjustments. The process can only get better. After all, after more than three centuries of conducting elections the United States is still doing just that.
Akanni is a Lagos-based public policy analyst.
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