When in December 2011, I had an opportunity to visit the Israeli museum built in memory of the victims of the Holocaust in Europe during World War II, our tour guide said the place was built to remember the victims and to ensure it did not happen again. It, therefore, presupposes a national commitment to memory and good historical habits.
For most Nigerians, the outcome of 2019 elections as a whole gives so much concern that they have chosen to remain quiet for some time. This classs of silence-keepers has rather tried to remain meditative and introspect on the affairs of our nation-state, Nigeria. I am one of such people. Despite the level of involvement or attachment to the electoral process and the deep concern for the survival of our country and the well-being of its people, one did his best to be objective in relation to the campaigns, the political parties and the 2019 elections.
This analysis is a product of a deep review of the history of Nigeria’s elections and their implications over the years. This should help us revive our culture of remembrance, which is naturally poor among us as a nation and a people.
In 1959, the election that ushered in political independence was conducted and superintended by the British colonial government. It produced the political leaders of Nigeria at Independence, from mainly the National Council for Nigerian and Cameroons (NCNC), Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and Action Group (AG). There were seeming arrangements that portrayed power-sharing and no political party looked too irrelevant in the political process. The NPC and NCNC formed an alliance to produce a federal government in which Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of the NCNC became Governor-General and later President, while NPC produced the Prime Minister in the person of Sir Abubakar Tafawa-Belewa. The AG constituted an official opposition. Despite the usual challenges of a new nation, the joy of independence triumphed over the rough interplay of the centrifugal and centripetal forces of that era.
Nigeria, in the real and practical sense, commenced its electoral journey in 1964, having achieved the status of a republic in 1963, with the elections supervised by the mostly Northern Peoples Congress-controlled federal government. The political alliances formed by the two opposing political forces of that First Republic produced Nigerian National Alliance (NNA) and United Progressives Grand Alliance (UPGA) before the elections. The outcomes of the elections nationwide were considered massively rigged in favour of the NPC and their allies, especially in the Western Region. It was very glaring the signs of electoral confusion were imminent and visible. Election meant to take place on December 30, 1964, did not take place until March 18, 1965, in some constituencies in the Eastern Region, Lagos, and Mid-Western Region due to a boycott in December. That was the early sign that Nigeria would have it tough with elections in its political journey to nationhood.
The election was marred by violence and manipulation. The ensuing crises led to a series of riots in the Western Region and created a situation that came to be known as the “Wild-Wild West.” A state of emergency was declared in the West. Chief Awolowo and his associates were accused of coup-plotting, tried and sentenced to prison. Nigeria would never be the same again.
The scenario provided an alibi for misguided military officers who planned and executed the first coup in January 1966, and the counter-coup of July 1966. To put it simply, blood flowed and stained the nationhood of Nigeria. The innocence of the Nigerian people was violated and many prominent and innocent citizens were murdered in cold blood. Wanton killings and annihilation of political figures had been inaugurated; Nigeria became a theatre of blood and senseless massacre of human beings, until a full-blown war took place in the seven-year old nation, between 1966 and 1970.
I am sincerely of the view that all the sad developments and occurrences of the period that culminated to the Nigerian civil war were the consequences of the rigging and violence of the 1964 elections. These sad political situations justified military’s rule for 13 years, 1966 to 1979.
The Federal Military Government under Olusegun Obasanjo organised the 1979 election to return Nigeria to civil rule within the framework of five political parties: National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), Great Nigeria Peoples’ Party (GNPP) and the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). The outcome of the election did not generate crises or destructive forces beyond the argument and litigations in court about 2/3 of 19 states as in the case of whether NPN had won the election according to Nigeria’s Constitution and Electoral Act or a bye-election between the NPN and UPN. The NPN could not, in the end, form a government but had to go into coalition with the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP).
From the way that government was constituted on the basis of coalition of two political parties, the rainbow nature of the National Assembly of 1979 to 1983 and college of governors of the 19 states of Nigeria then, one could observe the wisdom in power-sharing instead of a “winner-takes-all” brand of politicking. The five political parties won elections in their strongholds but there were neither exclusively northern parties nor southern parties.
When the President Shehu Shagari-led NPN federal government superintended over the elections of 1983, it was glaring in its outcome that the seed of destruction was again sowed by the NPN’s plan and intention to win everywhere and for political office holders to “deliver their states,” whatever that means in classical political terms, beyond the warped reasoning of the average Nigerian politician, who behaves like the proverbial sheep that pollutes its own body imagining it is cheating its owner.
The second tenure of President Shehu Shagari lasted only three months and ended in a military coup, because of the rigged 1983 elections. Nigerians welcomed a Head of State called Major-General Muhammadu Buhari and his men. The military again, due to faulty elections of 1983 and associated fallouts, rationalised their return to politics. The junta took turns to rape Nigeria and run an unrealistic transition plan, particularly the Ibrahim Babangida administration, whose transition plans created the two political parties called National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The conscription of Nigerians into these two parties by military fiat led to the elections of June 12, 1993, which Chief MKO Abiola won but which was annulled. The annulment of the June 12 election by Babangida constituted a violation of the sanctity of the ballot box and the will of the Nigerian people. The violation triggered crises and political upheavals that impacted so negatively on Nigeria such that no one can, in his or her true senses, state that Nigeria has overcome the June 12 mistake till date. Thousands of lives were lost because of poor management of elections. It augured well for no one. Just like General Gown said the Nigerian civil war had neither victor nor vanquished.
With the annulment of June 12, Nigeria and Nigerians continued to suffer brutalisation in the hands of the military until 1999, when civil rule returned on May 29, 1999, led by a retired military man and former Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo. The elections of 1999 saw three political parties winning elections at the state and national levels, with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) producing the President of Nigeria, so arranged to assuage the ill-feelings generated by June 12 annulment and crises.
In 2003, the PDP federal government was to supervise one of the worst elections in the history of Nigeria in a bid to “win everywhere.” That election was massively rigged by the PDP and tended to destroy the growth and emergence of opposition parties in Nigeria’s democracy. The champions of that era, however, never enjoyed the four-year mandate, as it was a period of free-for-all fight in the Presidency. Nigeria was the loser!
The 2007 elections were also massively rigged as it was dubbed “do-or-die” by Obasanjo. In a hasty bid to checkmate then Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s quest to succeed his principal, President Obasanjo in 2007, the PDP and Obasanjo foisted Governor Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on the country as President. The election was so badly and violently rigged under the chairmanship of Professor Maurice Iwu’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that the European Election Observer Mission in Nigeria reported, “Nigerian leaders had deceived their people.”
This drew the anger of Obasanjo’s government, which asked the foreign election observers to leave Nigeria.
The rate of election petitions and litigations that followed the 2007 elections was of monumental proportions among the three major political parties and their candidates then, both at the national and state levels, the PDP, All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Action Congress (AC) with Yar’Adua, Buhari and then Vice President Atiku Abubakar, respectively.
Yar’Adua, in his inauguration speech, acknowledged the fraudulent nature of the election that brought him to office to the admiration of the whole world and his countrymen. He went on to set up the high-powered Electoral Reforms Committee, chaired by Justice Mohammed Uwais. The committee made far-reaching submissions in its report, which was applauded by the nation, but which late President Yar’Adua and President Goodluck Jonathan implemented in a measured and perfunctory manner, leaving Nigeria’s electoral process still in limbo of malpractices, rigging, ballot snatching, violence, fraud and evil manipulations, which still haunt us till date.
Neither President Yar’Adua nor the Nigerian people enjoyed that mandate as the President was in and out of hospital, in and out of the country, till he left this world, leaving behind controversies and unnecessary crises that almost brought the nation to a halt.
Since Independence, the outcomes of elections have always threatened national peace and security, continually questioning the existence of Nigeria and bringing its economy to its knees, creating an ugly image of Nigeria as a nation that takes one step forward, while taking several steps backwards in its march to nationhood and economic development.
The 2011 and 2015 elections under the supervision of Professor Attahiru Jega’s INEC and under the superintending influence of President Jonathan saw to a decrease in tensions in our body polity as it relates to elections and its associated crises in Nigeria. The litigations also reduced and opposition politics improved in Nigeria, strengthening our democracy. The only ugly side of that electoral period was General Muhammadu Buhari’s aspirations and utterances. He had registered a political party called Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), whose statements and body language during campaigns in the northern part of Nigeria triggered electoral violence when he lost in 2011 to President Jonathan. Several people, among whom were Nigerian youths on National Service, lost their lives in the North, while working as ad hoc staff of INEC.
In 2015, Jonathan lost to Buhari, who the candidate of a new alliance called the All Progressives Congress (APC). Jonathan congratulated Buhari even before the results were fully announced. Neither Jonathan nor the PDP went to court to challenge the outcome of the election and these had a trickle-down effects on other candidates. President Buhari’s electoral history has been a chequered one that, if subjected to forensic examination, may turn out to be one that has claimed many innocent lives, due to the violence it has generated.
So, with General Buhari’s victory, Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief. Now that someone whose supporters are fanatical, a champion of anti-corruption and good governance and credible and transparent elections had won, Nigerians looked forward to a peaceful country that would be characterised by successful fight against corruption, good and transparent governance, and, most importantly, credible elections. These were the reason Nigerians celebrated the victory of President Buhari and his inauguration as Nigeria’s leader.
However, four years after, most Nigerians’ expectations and the promises of government have been met in half measures. The last straw in the network of failures was the inability of the Nigerian people to witness a free and fair election in the February and March 2019 ballot, which claimed several lives, and left several unfinished and rigged elections, as if we had returned to the sad years of 2003 and the 2007 “do-or-die” era.
We thank God for the peaceful way those who feel aggrieved at the elections results have gone to the Election Petition Tribunals. At the last official count, 736 election petition cases have been filed in court. A situation that make Professor Maurice Iwu and Professor Mahmood Yakubu, and Presidents Obasanjo and Buhari two sides of one coin. These four men have one thing in common: supervisors of the worst elections in Nigeria’s history.
Renowned historian, Professor J.F. Ade-Ajayi, sees history as the ability to think in sequence and to see things in time perspectives. He encourages the human race to develop and practice historical habits; because history is a rear-guide mirror. It enables you watch your back so that you can chart the future.
Nigeria’s electoral history is a study in controversies, violence, deaths, national crises, civil wars, riots and destruction. A good application of historical knowledge would enable us avoid these disasters in future.
The thesis of this piece is that no flawed election like that of 2019 ever advanced the cause of national progress and development in the past. I am afraid, if the judiciary does not rise to the occasion and right some of the major wrongs glaringly done against the Nigerian state and her people at the 2019 elections, most people may be forced to resign or advised to change school, from Nigeria’s college of democracy. It will not be good for us as a people. I am just thinking aloud!
•Jim-Nwoko, a political science scholar, wrote from the Catholic University of Nigeria, Abuja, and can be reached via [email protected]