With this setting, therefore, the 2019 elections, just like the US Midterm elections, would be a referendum on President Buhari.
On Tuesday, November 6, 2018, when United States citizens fully exercised their franchise, in the Midterm polls, the expectation was that the Democratic Party would sweep the senatorial polls and take over the control of the upper legislative chambers. There were talks about “change” as people expressed the sentiment of voting against the Republican Party to show their reservations and resentment about happenings in the last two years that President Donald Trump has been in the saddle. The media was frenzy with analysis and projection of a tsunami against the Republican Party.
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However, by the next day when the results were out, the expectations were not fully met. Instead of the Democrats gaining control of the Senate, they lost seats, for the Republicans to get firmer control. However, the surprise came in the House of Representatives where Democrats brushed aside Republicans to take control. The setting now is a near balance of power. The Republican Party controls the Presidency, with President Trump as head of government, as well as the Senate, while the Democratic Party is in charge of the House of Representatives, whose Speaker is, in any case, the number three citizen of the United States. If anything happens to the US president and the vice president, it is the Speaker of the House of Representatives that would take over the rein of governance in the interim.
In Nigeria, the outcome of the US elections is a lesson to both the All Progressives Congress (APC), which is seeking to retain control of the Presidency and the National Assembly in the 2019 elections and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which is hoping to displace the ruling political party. It
is a lesson to the effect that the APC should not be too confident that Nigerians would line behind it in the coming elections.
It is a lesson to the PDP, which has been expressing confidence that its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, would trounce President Muhammadu Buhari in the February 2019 presidential election, forgetting that it is not in total control of factors, which influence elections. Indeed, with what happened in the US, the PDP, most especially, should not be overconfident, no matter the perceived misgivings it thinks Nigerians have about President Buhari and the APC. Projections do not always come true, in the final analysis.
There is a similarity between the US Midterm elections and the coming Nigerian 2019 elections. In the US, President Trump said the election was a referendum on him, being aware that most Americans are not happy with his conduct in office so far. He was making reference to the expression of disgust about his racist remarks, divisive comments and attitude as well as his anti-immigrant policy. Indeed, many United States citizens say that the country is more polarised under Trump than ever before. The whites and coloured people have drifted further apart than before. The gulf between Christians and Muslims is widening more than before. Immigrants are seen more like pests who are taking over the birthrights of whites. There is the “Trumpnisation” of government, with President Trump’s children, associates and cronies firmly in government.
The US situation is playing out in Nigeria to a great extent. There is a feeling that the country is now more divided than ever before under President Buhari. People now see themselves more as Igbo, Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba, Efik, Annang, Ibibio, Ijaw, Tiv, Kanuri and other tribes than Nigerians. Muslims and Christians are not best of friends. Fulani herdsmen and Christian farmers in the Middle Belt are like cats and dogs. There is the talk about the northernisation of government by President Buhari, with northerners occupying more sensitive positions than any other ethnic group. The only difference between the US and Nigeria is that whereas the economy is doing well in America, even if it is more for the rich, in Nigeria the economy is in bad shape, with higher job cuts, rapid closure of companies owing to bad fortunes and people not making ends to meet from their meagre salaries and income from personal business engagements, as the case may be.
With this setting, therefore, the 2019 elections, just like the US Midterm elections, would be a referendum on President Buhari. Buhari will be on the ballot, as he seeks reelection. He will be judged by his performance and failures, which will impact on the other elections, be they governorship, National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly. Nigerians will, in voting, decide whether the present, under Buhari, is better than yesterday, under the PDP/President Goodluck Jonathan, in terms of economy, tolerance, prospect, security, profligacy, rule of law, respect for fundamental human rights, appreciation of the contributions and sacrifices of the people, prudence, fight against corruption, feeling of Nigerianess and fulfilment. The Nigerian voters will pass judgment, just as their US counterparts did in the Midterm elections. By giving the House of Representatives to the Democrats, US citizens did say they are not happy with President Trump. No matter how Trump and his party gloat over the fact that they are still in control of the Senate, it does not detract from the fact that there is a shift in the polity.
Nigerians expect a shift in 2019. Whether this shift would be at the Presidency, National Assembly or state level is a matter of conjecture. What is for sure is that Nigerians would take a decision on whether to stand with President Buhari or replace him with Atiku, sentiment or no sentiment.
However, whatever will be the case, the most important thing is for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to be as independent and neutral as possible in conducting the 2019 elections. Also, it is important that the Presidency, nay President Buhari, actually fulfills the promise of ensuring credible, free and fair elections that would produce a result that would be a reflection of the will of the people.
Observing the US Midterm elections at the Marylyn J. Praisner Community Recreation Center on Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville, Maryland, United States, one could see what the conduct of elections should be. At the centre, one did not see armed policemen or soldiers. One did not see the unruly behaviour of political party supporters. One rather saw people lined up orderly waiting for their turns to cast their votes electronically. One saw candidates coming to vote in the company of members of their family, including children, without fear that anybody could be physically hurt. One saw people openly telling journalists, during interviews, who they voted for or were going to vote for, without being afraid of victimisation. One saw maturity in the conduct of both electoral officials and voters.
In the election, one saw more women candidates than ever, to the extent that 100 women were elected into the Congress, the highest so far and many winning governorship seats. One saw young people contesting elections. This is a challenge to Nigerian women and youths.
In 2019, one is anticipating a situation where people would go to the polling centres and vote without intimidation or molestation, where the process would be transparent and where the votes cast would be duly counted and declared so that the people’s will prevails. One expects that the loser, be he the incumbent, will accept and concede defeat, without qualms.