In Africa and beyond, only few nations in the developing world would be older than Nigeria as independent countries. Yet, Nigeria pampers itself with one political tension after another. Ironically, such tension is either self-induced or artificial for purposes of blackmail in desperate situations. In any case, if such tension were genuine, there are laws in place with which any seething problem could be solved.
Rather, what is the standard practice? We resort to unnecessary patching up, as if the whole world was coming down on account of Nigeria’s post-election crisis. The latest example was the 2019 presidential election, which routinely produced a winner and a loser. This is not peculiar to Nigeria. Again, the 2019 Nigerian election lived up to its routine reputation when the loser, ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar rejected the results and decided on election petition at the tribunal. What was alarming in that mere exercise of a personal right under Nigerian laws? But Atiku Abubakar had hardly decided on his step than Good Samaritans at the best pleaded with him not to petition against the election result, while others at the worst condemned him. One man who would not agree with the Good Samaritans is the winner of the 2019 elections, President Muhammadu Buhari because he himself, on three different occasions spreading over 12 years, 2003, 2007 and 2011, tried his luck at election petition tribunals against former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan. The outcome on each occasion is now history.
Why are we always afraid to allow laws to operate in Nigeria? Fortunately, Atiku Abubakar rejected all the unwarranted pleas and proceeded to file his election petition. The man is correct. Laws are made to guarantee against perceived wrongs. Otherwise, our capability at building tension round every disagreement in governance is amazing. Also the right to petition against election defeat is neither meant to be mere decoration nor is it peculiar to Nigeria. Every election petition is treated on its merit by the tribunal, leaving the petitioner with only one of two verdicts, either victory or dismissal. Election petition is, therefore, a right to be exercised by whosoever wishes and such a right is aimed at solidifying conduct of elections, should there be lapses.
As mentioned earlier, Buhari unsuccessfully exercised his right at election petitions three times without crashing the heavens in the process. Instead, he enabled himself to plan better against 2015 when he eventually won the presidential election. Looking back now, it was of course ridiculous that the hands of the 2019 presidential contestants were tied by a laughable peace committee to agree to accept the results. What a joke. Was it legally binding on any of those who signed the agreement? Where in the civilised and genuinely democratic world is such an agreement signed in advance of an election? By the way, Buhari did not need to sign such an agreement mainly for two reasons. His predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, conceded defeat in 2015 while the same Buhari early in office and as ECOWAS chairman, with the threat of military action, forced Gambia’s former President Jammeh out of office following his defeat in the election he organised. It was, therefore, unthinkable that Buhari, with that record, would have refused to concede if he lost the elections.
The presumption of the Good Samaritans against rejection of election results was unfair to both Buhari and Atiku Abubakar for obvious uncomplimentary implications. For example, putting pressure on the defeated PDP candidate seemed to indicate “Atiku Abubakar, we know Buhari rigged but, please, let him be.” Who determines a rigged election? Only election tribunal is so legally authorised. For even any non-statutory body or group to unconsciously judge one party wrong would amount to denying the winner his well-deserved glory. On the other hand, it must be inconsiderate to plead with a contestant judged loser after investing so much in financial, material and financial resources, to just walk away. In which case, the question arises: For what purpose(s) were election petition tribunals established under the Electoral Act and were such tribunals inaugurated for the fun of it?
If Atiku Abubakar genuinely lost the election, and the Good Samaritans succeeded in stopping him from going to the election tribunal, public sympathy would have been wrongly conferred on him. It is exactly to guard against such miscarriage of justice that election petition tribunals were provided for aggrieved parties to establish their case purely on merit rather than sentiments. Whichever way an election tribunal verdict goes, law, politics and society would have been well-served. We must remember that election petition battle ends only at Supreme Court.
There was this other concern from the 2019 elections – a purported voters’ turn-out. Even if there was anything of the sort, such could not have been absolute. If anything, the gap, and a wide one between registered electorate and actual voters was a fall-out of malpractices of politicians long before the elections proper. The common practice of politicians is to inflate figures on anything census at voters’ registration. These eventually determine revenue allocation, delimitation of (especially) federal constituencies for membership of National Assembly, allocation of various national resources and eventually grabbing of political power at federal level. The bitter truth is that all the 36 states indulge in these malpractices and these are the major factors influencing the mentality of politicians.
When, therefore, over 80 million Nigerians were reported to have registered for the 2019 elections, it was all the result of criminal multiple and indeed, quadruple registration of party supporters by politicians and for which INEC could not be held responsible. The various voter’s card with different names prove useful on election days as the criminals move from one polling unit to another to be paid for each exercise.
For example, should two states, each with some 20 million population, be each split into four states to comprise new eight states, within three to four years, each of the new eight states would be credited by political vested interests with at least 10 million if not more in population, thereby making a total of 40 million for each of yesterday’s only 20 million in population. Within three years? Of course, the sudden but dubious increase in population would be instantly reflected in astronomical increase in voters’ registration. By the time the remaining 34 four states join in the inflated census figures and bogus voters’ registration, the new figures in about five years’ time would be not less than 120 million registered voters, if not more. Where in the world are such figures recorded?
It is of course untenable comparing voters’ turn-out in 2019 elections to similar exercises in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015, all of which were each higher. For what it is worth, INEC and its preceding equivalents, over the years, introduced measures to drastically reduce fraudulent voting. Hence the downward trend in voters’ turn-out rather than the so-called voters’ apathy. And the higher the number of bogus voters politicians cook up and unable to utilise on election day owing INEC’s preventive measures, the lower the total number of voters in any subsequent election.
The reality or even the bitter truth is that despite ever-increasing awareness of Nigerians for voting in elections, despite gradual rise in population figures (as in other lands) and based on genuine voters’ registration even for future elections, the number can hardly be higher than 50 million. Voters’ turn-out in 2019 elections, if maintained in 2023, will, therefore, be more realistic at 50 per cent. Otherwise, as the fraud in population and voters’ registration continues, voters turn-out will artificially and gradually dwindle to 10 or even 5 per cent in the future.
A harsh lesson, incidentally, came for EFCC from the 2019 elections. Buhari won the elections without the clobbering of his opponents by the EFCC. In fact, any deserving candidate in the future would still attain the same feat if only the EFCC could discard its obscene political partisanship against candidates of opposition parties. That was the rebuke for the EFCC in this column turning the height of the campaigns for the elections when Atiku Abubakar’s running mate, Peter Obi, among others, had his bank personal accounts frozen almost six years after he left office as Anambra State governor. Till today, EFCC gave no reason for that action.
The 2019 general elections marked the return to centre stage f a former dominant figure of post-1999 Delta State politics and the state’s former governor James Ibori. A victim of ups and downs of political life, Ibori was going to rush back to political battle some years ago but was advised in this column to lie low for some time to enable him properly re-equip himself for his second coming. 2019 elections gave him that opportunity and he did it clandestinely but most successfully. Somehow, hardly was he noted as he was there directing operations at PDP rallies for presidential and gubernatorial candidate of the party in Delta State. Ibori put smiles on the faces of Atiku Abubakar and Governor Ifeanyi Okowa.
In fact, against the formidable opposition Okowa faced in his re-election bid, only James Ibori could have won the race for him. Ibori’s successful return to his terrain was all the more remarkable because his immediate erstwhile political beneficiary, successor and former Delta State governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, contested a senatorial seat on the platform of APC but was defeated by his PDP opponent supported by Ibori. For most part of Uduaghan’s tenure as Delta State governor, Ibori was abroad but, on his return, has now re-asserted himself as the indisputable king of politics in Delta State. Ibori has shown that it is better as the head of a dog than the tail of a lion. He can bark and bite in Delta State if unable to devour in Abuja.
The political earthquake in Kwara State makes it virtually impossible or at least uneasy to single out a particular outcome as the most significant in the 2019 elections. For a long time to come, the Kwara State episode will also remain outstanding even in Nigerian political history. Even if the previous status quo were to return tomorrow, the fact of being displaced at all in the 2019 elections would be more remembered in the history of the state. And without ignoring the role of others, Information Minister Olayiwola Mohammed merits all his smiles for this personal achievement.