The old saying that experience is the best teacher, no matter how well-meaning, remains valid till today or at least Nigerians make it so. On the eve of the 2019 elections, a furious President Muhammadu Buhari warned potential ballot-box snatchers that they might be aiming at their last crime alive as law enforcement agents might have to ruthlessly discharge their duties for order throughout the elections.
Understandably, that was politically convenient for Buhari’s opponents to exploit for electoral advantage even if, in the process, inadvertently putting themselves on the receiving end of the criminals. But publicity seekers, undue libertarians and obviously unconscious anarchists commandeered the argument, as they are wont to, by poorly misunderstanding Buhari’s warning as a “shoot at sight” order. This uncertainty obviously disarmed law enforcement agents from confronting the criminals. The result was the high number of deaths caused by the daring attitude of ballot-snatchers during the elections.
The row over the enforcement of law and order during the elections was triggered by the helplessness which compelled the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to suspend at the last minute the commencement of the 2019 elections, originally billed for February 16. A major part of the unstated reason(s) for the re-scheduling was intelligence report on plans by politicians who (had) employed the services of criminals to disrupt voting exercises by, among others, snatching ballot boxes and setting INEC establishment and equipment on fire. In fact, there was foretaste of the arson in various parts of the country, days before the postponement of the elections. Surely, the field day, which thoughtless libertarians offered the election criminals vindicated Buhari in the warning that law enforcement agents would not be out on child’s play.
As observed in this column on the eve of the elections, the exercise shattered the myth of huge crowd at campaign meetings as necessarily evidence of the popularity/acceptability of the candidate(s) or the invincibility of particular politicians. Against the large crowd attracted to his campaigns at Plateau, Benue, Oyo, Ondo, Edo, Adamawa, Taraba, Ebonyi, Imo or Akwa Ibom, why did President Buhari lose those states? Even in a worse case, former Vice-President and PDP candidate Atiku Abubakar lost Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Niger, Kwara, Borno and Bauchi. What happened to the tumultuous crowd which welcomed him at campaigns in these states? Eyeing Aso Rock tenancy from the Senate Presidency, into which he defiantly sneaked much to the embarrassment of his party (APC) after a mandatory eight-year tenure as governor of Kwara State, Bukunola Saraki, in three months’ time, diminishes into an ordinary citizen, an unkind cut from the 2019 elections. Not in any way from grace to grass but all the same a crash so heavy that only the victim feels the gravity.
Ordinarily, the focus should be on why or how President Buhari was re-elected than why he lost not just states, but such states that, in that famous parlance, should be “banker sure” for him or his party or indeed both. Yes, he lost Adamawa as the home state of his major opponent, ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar or Taraba in a showdown with ex-army chief, General Theo Danjuma. But Plateau and Benue? From a solid stronghold for Buhari and his APC, there was such crisis of confidence created by the murderous herdsmen (be they Nigerians or foreigners) operating almost above the law and leaving in the process hundreds of men, women and even kids killed for no justifiable reason, emphasis on justifiable reason.
The two states, Plateau and Benue, as well as many Nigerians, were unconvinced by Federal Government’s soft response to the insecurity of lives and property of voters in Plateau and Benue, therefore, in protest, voted for Atiku Abubakar. Yet, it was still a surprise because in the last six months before the election, there seemed to be a sort of forgiveness by the two states. It turned out to be a sort of electoral trap for a false sense of security for Buhari. Plateau and Benue people were typically “Northern” in that tactic. The crowd at Buhari’s campaign at Jos (Plateau State capital) was one of the biggest four he attracted during campaigns for the election. The crowd feigned enthusiasm and support such that it was neither possible for Buhari to leave his vehicle for the platform nor to address the crowd and he was assured of votes during the elections. Nobody suspected such a plot. In fact, there was stampede at the campaign, which recorded some fatalities.
The lesson must not be lost on Federal Government for firm and convincing reaction to violent dispute in any part of the country. Yet, Buhari won the presidential elections soundly in other parts of the country. A major reason for the big victory was the opposition mounted against him by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Not in any way a darling of South-Westerners, APC supporters in that zone saw Obasanjo as aiming at dislodging APC Federal Government and, therefore, rallied round Buhari. Northern part of Nigeria? Obasanjo, in his opposition to Buhari merely won the North for him, even among those who had been feeling marginalised by their son’s (Buhari’s) financial discipline in handling public funds. Buhari, therefore, had an easy ride in the North. On the other hand, he lost Edo, Ondo and Oyo states not through protest votes against him. Instead, the protests were against his party (APC) specifically against the posture of unquestionable posture of the state governors concerned.
Unless Buhari and party chairman Adams Oshiomhole curb the arrogant overlordship of APC’s state governors, electoral disaster awaits the party in 2023 and this will be despite the massive infrastructural development, stable foreign reserves, continued rise in the country’s power capacity and the anti-corruption policy, the latter which is constantly assailed as politically distorted.
Avoidable strategies clearly lost ex-Vice-President Atiku Abubakar the election. He did not seem to reckon with the reaction of various group interests in different parts of the country. Restructuring, at least, for now, remains a threat if not political poison to the North. In short, there is not adequate enlightenment on how the restructuring will affect the interests of the North, which he (Atiku) should know is the indisputable power-base (in terms of votes) in national elections. How did he expect Northerners to vote for him with the looming eve if baseless threat to their political interests?
Atiku Abubakar’s economic policy even frightened the barely educated elite all over the country who obviously were “asleep” when similarly policies were purportedly implemented in the national interest but yet turned out to have been pocketed for public office holders and their friends. National assets were misappropriated in the past into hurriedly formed private companies. When, therefore, Atiku Abubakar during the campaigns provocatively asserted that he would sell off Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), he stirred the hornet’s nest. To worsen matters, it was not clear if he actually said he would sell NNPC to his friends but no effort was made to correct that impression. Who are those friends, except those already existing billionaires if not budding trillionaires?
Most Nigerias who could influence the young and uneducated ones, merely concluded that economic policy was dubious. Then Atiku Abubakar enlisted the support of his former boss Olusegun Obasanjo, the same man under whose administration (1999 – 2007) many Nigerian national assets were misappropriated into private companies under the guise of privatisation. After NNPC, which would follow to be sold off, the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)? Obasanjo is on record pressurising Buhari and Osinbajo to sell the gas company? What in return for Nigerians?
A major factor, which also cost Atiku Abubakar the election, was that he was a wrong candidate against a wrong opponent at a wrong time. He and Muhammadu Buhari are both Northerners each with prospects of victory only from Southerners. The two of them are also Muslims, making it very unlikely for the majority North to drop or discard certainty for uncertainty. Still, Atiku Abubakar did not help his case with the image of Uncle Sani’s poodle, which he was acquiring. If elected, what awaited Nigeria under Abubakar? Gradually, Nigeria would be subordinated to the apron strings of world powers, particularly United States and Britain. Otherwise, why was Atiku Abubakar crying up to United States, Britain and European Union to intervene on every issue with which he disagreed in the run-up to the elections? Is Atiku Abubakar as a potential President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria aware that Nigeria operates an independent foreign policy? And nobody among his handlers could draw his attention to the diplomatic gaffe.
Unfortunately for Atiku Abubakar, the same United States was soon to dump him before the elections. A compulsive gambler in diplomatic matters, America initially embraced Atiku with a visit to the country after many years, obviously reckoning he might emerge Nigeria’s president. India’s Prime Minister Modi was for eight years as opposition leader, placed on travel ban by United States. But immediately he won the elections, he was invited on official visit by Barack Obama. America did not wait that long before treading cautiously. Obviously, with Buhari attracting large crowd at campaigns throughout the 36 states, America developed subtle shift. A Reuters report mysteriously appeared sourcing Atiku Abubakar’s American visa to paid lobbyists, thereby tactfully removing any idea of warm embrace to the Nigerian opposition candidate.
Still undone, there was another report on the social media, quoting a topmost American diplomat casting doubt on the eligibility if not suitability of Atiku’s chances in the elections. That report has not been denied till now. And where America goes on diplomatic matters, the Western world follows. The seeming co-ordination of those two reports substantially limited Atiku Abubakar’s chances in the elections.
Then, what did Atiku Abubakar achieve by enlisting former President Obasanjo? Outright defeat, especially in the North where he (Atiku) lost most heavily.
There should be a special political inquest on reasons outgoing Senate President Bukunola Saraki came out worst in the 2019 elections, losing virtually everything a perilous change from his status even three months ago in Kwara. The outpouring boos, the verbal venom being exhumed, the relief being expressed should offer appropriate lesson on the ephemeral nature of political leadership or followership. Events in Kwara were more of public revolt, whether instigated by opponents, spontaneous by long beleaguered serfs, either of which makes no difference. Obviously, Saraki never saw it coming but even if he saw it coming, the magnitude was irresistible. Subservience, whether induced or volunteered, is fraught with disastrous consequences. From the Senate Chamber to the power house of Kwara politics. Senators like Ali Ndume felt used and dumped. Omo Agege resisted being suspended.
Former Sports Minister and ex-National Publicity Secretary of APC, Bolaji Abdulahi, was barred from bidding for governorship of the state. Outgoing Kwara governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, was to follow footsteps by contesting elections to the Senate but encountered total obstacle. Senator Gbemi Saraki’s attempt led by her father (now deceased) to be first female governor in Nigeria faced a convenient moral issue on sister succeeding the brother. Causes of the revolt, known and unknown piled up, until the burst.
If Bukunola Saraki won the first round of the family showdown, younger sister Gbemi Saraki won the return contest. 2015 was the brother’s while 2019 was the sister’s who remarkably knocked the brother out of all political relevance at least for now.
Hate him or love him, Dino Melaye, the Senator from one of Kogi’s districts, has now acquired the status of a man of the people. He either loves them or they love him, and they have shown deep appreciation. Remember the attempt to recall him? More than the required signatures were collected from his constituents.
Then on the day of his political “execution,” not enough votes could be cast. And in the 2019 elections, he effortlessly retained his Senate seat by defeating his opponent, an ex-member of the Senate. Melaye could have been rigged out but he survived all odds.