Before Nigerians went to the polls on Saturday, February 23, 2019, there were high expectations, based on the promises made by the major actors. The Presidency, on many occasions, gave assurances that it would ensure free, fair and credible elections. The election umpire – Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) – pledged to conduct credible polls. The political parties declared that they would play by the rules. The presidential candidates signed a “peace accord,” making commitment to peace during and after the elections. Nigerian voters, taking all these promises as something they could figuratively take to the bank and cash, decided to play their part: Come out to vote for candidates of their choice.
Election Day has come and gone, but it turned out that only the voters fulfilled their promises. Most of the other assurances, by government, the INEC, political parties and politicians, have been unfulfilled. The voters actually went out to exercise their franchise, but in many areas, they could not perform their civic responsibility, owing to no fault of theirs. In many places, the much talked about smart card readers malfunctioned. In many areas, election materials arrived late or did not come at all. In many locations, voters went through the process of voting, only for political thugs to disrupt the process, hijacking and destroying already cast votes.
In many other places, political thugs, working with political parties and politicians, forcefully dispersed voters. The thugs pointedly told voters who had lined up to take their turns in voting, to go home since they would vote against their (thugs) candidates. In some states, government officials and politicians used security agents, including the military, to intimidate and coerce election collation and returning officers to change results. In many locations, results were doctored and altered to favour particular political parties and politicians, who ordinarily would not win. In other places, election fraud, like illegal thumb-printing and stuffing of ballot boxes, were perpetrated. Also, violence was wrought, leading to the death of scores of people in pockets of locations across the country.
Taking all these together and many more, the 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections obviously came to a disappointing end caused by the combined conspiracy of unscrupulous electoral officers, government officials, security agents, political parties and politicians. Many have described the election as a sham. Others said it was a shameless display of impunity. I call it a huge joke.
Indeed, what was done last Saturday cannot meet the universal standard of elections. It was an exercise in brigandage, where those who wanted their will to be done used the instrumentality of violence and crime to achieve the desired end. It was a crude show of audaciousness and criminality. It is stupid. With such stupidity, we should not deceive ourselve pretending to be doing elections.
The case in Lagos, where voters were openly chased out because of the suspicion that they would vote for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or where legally thumb-printed ballot papers were snatched and maliciously destroyed, was the height of election criminality. This action has made history in election manipulation never seen in the country. And the continued harassment of the Igbo in Lagos, days after the election, because they preferred to vote for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, is not only obnoxious but also a naked display of hatred. Surprisingly, President Muhammadu Buhari and his government, who are the direct beneficiaries of this anomaly, have not singled out this for condemnation.
The result of the presidential election has been declared. President Buhari has been pronounced winner and reelected. The celebration is on. However, the truth is that what happened on February 23 was not an election. It was a selection, at best, done in the crudest fashion. When actions are taken to achieve a preconceived result, this is corruption. I do not know if President Buhari is proud of what happened. I do not know if the Federal Government is proud of an election where the rate of non-compliance with the rules and regulation and disregard to laid down procedure were high. But what is obvious is that nobody with conscience would be proud of a flawed electoral process and election. The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who was elected in 2007, was not proud of the process and eventual outcome. He had, therefore, looked at the process that brought him to power and admitted that it was faulty. He pledged that his government would do everything possible to ensure that such electoral atrocity never happened under his watch.
Election crimes are serious and should be treated as such. They are at the heart of our democracy. They give democracy a bad name. They rob the people of their right to decide who rules them at whatever level of government. All those who were deprived of the privilege to exercise their franchise in the presidential election were robbed. All those who could not vote because of late arrival or non-arrival of election materials were robbed. All those whose votes were snatched and burnt by people under whatever guise were robbed. All candidates who lost elections because of a combination of the above were robbed.
However, while the winner of the presidential election and the other winners are celebrating, gloating and thumping up themselves, they should know that when there is a contrived outcome of an election, the legitimacy of those so elected is on shaky ground. The foundation of democracy is also weakened. And the country loses out. In the February 23 elections, Nigerians, irrespective of tribe, tongue and religion, lost. Those who collected money from politicians to perpetrate violence and other sundry election frauds lost. Those who organised election fraud lost their innocence.
Atiku may have been seen as the ultimate loser in the contest, as his ambition of being president was not realised. However, he is not the main loser. The real loser is Nigeria as a country, since an exercise that was supposed to deepen democracy has made a caricature of this good system of governance. The presidential election has further divided and polarised the country. The exercise has made more people to lose confidence in government and the corporate entity called Nigeria. The election has made some people to know that they are not free to make choices or live freely in cities of their choice.
Take it or leave, the majority of Igbo and non-indigenes, owing to what happened during last Saturday’s election, will never have faith in Nigeria. If they would not be allowed to decide who to vote for in an election, if they would not be allowed to conduct their legitimate businesses where they live because of their political affiliation and preferences, if they would be hounded, intimidated and killed for what they believe in, in a supposed free country, they would certainly feel alienated. The Igbo and non-indigenes living outside their communities of birth may not collectively decide that they would only live in their ancestral homes, shunning other parts of the country. They may not divest their businesses in other parts of the country and take them to their geopolitical zone. However, they would not forget that they are unwanted in a country they have accepted through the singular act of living and investing outside their villages or geopolitical zones.
For President Buhari, who may not have encouraged or participated in last Saturday’s election heist but benefitted therefrom, his government would have legitimacy problems. Being a product of an election many see as non-representative of the wishes of the people, based on what transpired, he would remain a president not accepted by all.
Atiku has given notice to challenge the election. He should go ahead. Since he feels cheated, he should seek justice in court as he has elected. Nobody should dissuade him otherwise. It is his right. Injustice left unchallenged, no matter what the outcome would eventually be, would not give the loser satisfaction. The United States is probing the last presidential election that produced Donald Trump because of suspicion of Russian interference. President Buhari himself challenged three presidential elections he lost in 2003, 2007 and 2011. Atiku should, therefore, should be allowed to satisfy himself. The fear that the courts may not upturn the election is immaterial. If, in the end, the courts affirm the election, he would definitely accept it, just as his supporters would.