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By Caleb Onyeabor/Special to The African Times/USA
Nigeria’s recent Presidential and parliamentary elections February 25 had controversial candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the winner and he is set to replace Muhammadu Buhari as President May 29th. According to the country’s electoral body, INEC, Tinubu polled the highest number of votes and is said to have fulfilled other requirements set by the electoral law to emerge as the President-elect. Interestingly, the elections lived up to the predictions of pundits as arguably Africa’s most fiercely contested in recent times.
Since the declaration, the Nigerian space has been enveloped by a cloud of uneasy calm. Prior to the declaration of Tinubu as the winner, electioneering had been replete with accusations and counter-accusations of improprieties by the competing political parties.
During the actual voting, voter turnout and enthusiasm were octave high with many believing that the outcome of these elections, especially the presidential election offered hope for a turn around in the fortunes of the citizens who had been dogged by a battery of socio-economic problems. Resultantly, the general atmosphere leading up to the actual voting was understandably tense. The three leading candidates – Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi were at their campaigning best. And their supporters were equally yielding no grounds while holding out hopes about the chances of their candidates at the polls. Most vociferous were the youthful supporters of the Labor Party (LP) whose candidate, Peter Obi was enjoying a cult-like following.
However, all these were doused on Election Day with reports of a plethora of both logistic and some say, deliberate challenges ranging from late arrival of election materials, the malfunction of the electronic voting devices, voter intimidation and suppression down to pockets of violence in some areas of the country. And where there were obvious evidences of violence, especially in five particular states, voting was postponed to the following day, February 26.
At the end of voting and with the release of the results, protestations and mass dissatisfaction eclipsed the national enthusiasm with many of the opinion that elections had been rigged. This was followed by rumors of violence while the candidates and the central and states authorities took turn to call for calm and the opposition promising to seek redress in the courts.
Meanwhile, here are factors and variables that The African Times/USA noticed in the events surrounding the February 25th elections in Nigeria:
1. The Buhari Legacy:
President Muhammadu Buhari will ingloriously go down in history as one of the worst performing presidents in Nigeria’s short democratic history. His critics view his inability to unify the various ethnic groups as perhaps his biggest sin. His sulky attitude and propensity to pander to sectional interests did not help matters. Buhari’s promise to bequeath Nigerians with a free and fair elections, many argue remains unfilled if the conduct of the recent elections is anything to go by.
2. The Trojan Horse: The Military:
Leading up to the voting, Buhari had promised to ensure peace and security for his countrymen and women as he ordered the deployment of both the military and the other law enforcement agencies to foreclose the chances of any brigandage during the elections. This also proved to be an unfulfilled promise as a rash of violence was witnessed under the full glare of the same security forces.
3. The New Electoral Act and the BVAS Machine:
The passing of the long awaited new electoral Act that came with some legal innovations that offered pathways to credible elections and the introduction of BVAS machines is perhaps the biggest reason why many Nigerians believed the polls would be free and fair. Unfortunately, the BVAS machines did not work in some areas resulting to manual accreditation, and where the BVAS machines worked, there were allegations of pre-configuration and lastly, the biggest issue during the collation of results was the apparent disregard of the provisions of the electoral Act by the INEC chairman.
In the most important election in the history of Nigeria, the INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu is accused of chosing to collude with the ruling party during the process of result presentation and collation by disregarding the provisions of the Electoral Act which stipulates that the results of the election should be shown on a screen as recorded and transmitted from the various polling units where elections were conducted.
Section 64 (4) of the Electoral Act states that “a collation officer or returning officer at an election shall collate and announce the result of an election, subject to his or her verification and confirmation that the number of accredited voters stated on the collated result are correct and consistent with the number of accredited voters recorded and transmitted directly from polling units and that the votes stated on the collated result are correct and consistent with the votes or results recorded and transmitted directly from polling units.
64 (6) states that “where during collation of results, there is a dispute regarding a collated result or the result of an election from any polling unit, the collation officer or returning officer shall use the following to determine the correctness of the disputed result – the original of the disputed collated result for each polling unit where the election is disputed ; the smart card reader or other technology device used for accreditation of voters in each polling unit where the election is disputed for the purpose of obtaining accreditation data directly from the smart card reader or technology device; data of accreditation recorded and transmitted directly from each polling unit where the election is disputed and; the votes and result of the election recorded and transmitted directly from each polling unit where the election is disputed.
The essence of transmission of results from the polling unit to the result portal is to prevent the cancerous practice of distortion of results by agents of political parties at collation centers. This singular provision has the capacity to reduce rigging to the barest minimum but was discarded by the INEC Chairman when he allowed returning officers to read results from hard copies rather than the results being directly uploaded to the portal from polling units.
Nevertheless, there were some interesting takes, shockers and surprises that these elections threw up. Top on the list is the shattering of Tinubu’s dominance of Lagos politics. On February 25th, he which he was roundly trounced by Peter Obi’s Labor Party.
“This development is so remarkable” a political analyst said “since Tinubu has never lost any election in Lagos State since 1999 either as a candidate or as a ‘godfather’. Add that to his loss in Osun state where he said to have been born”.
Followed by the demystification of Tinubu in Lagos is the fracturing of the usually block vote of the Northern states. With Atiku and Rabiu Kwankwaso (the fourth candidate) both from the north, the votes were inevitably spilt between the two, and this inexorably cost Atiku the elections.
Of remarkable note is that even President Buhari lost his traditional base to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) while the Labour Party also defeated the ruling party in the APC national chairman’s state – Nassarawa – plus an equal loss of the state of the director general of the ruling party’s Presidential Campaign Committee.
Of equal interest were powerful sitting governors in Cross River State, Enugu, Benue, Kebbi, Taraba and Abia States who lost their bid to win seats in the Red chambers of the Nigerian Senate, the usual transition for most of the states chief executives who termed out.
Aside Lagos State, oil-rich Rivers State under Governor Nyesom turned out to be one of the most hotly contested states in the presidential election voting. Wike who suddenly became the stormy petrel of the last elections frustrated his own party, the PDP due to internal wrangling which ensured that Tinubu beat the PDP candidate Atiku in Rivers State, a predominantly PDP state. Someone even described the election results in Rivers State as “yam that was cooked until it became fufu”. The general notion on the elections in Rivers State was that of extreme manipulation of results and violence underscoring Wike’s reputation for brutality and for being odious.
Most evident development in the Nigerian elections was the power of social media. This phenomenon was singularly responsible for galvanizing and mobilizing supporters for the candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi who had been pejoratively referred to as the “the social media candidate”. For the first time in the political history of Nigeria, the youths, most of who are on social media were actively involved in the election.
Finally, what has obviously troubled the generality of disgruntled voters in the last election who we spoke with is the swiftness of the congratulatory messages sent to Tinubu from both the US State Department and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom despite allegations of wanton malpractices in the Nigerian elections. “These messages from the Western governments with strong ties to Nigeria’, a Nigerian journalist told The African Times/USA “ are tantamount to endorsing the farcical electoral events of February 25th, and further undermining the confidence of Nigerians and other Africans in the impartiality of Western powers when it comes to the affairs of the continent”.
In the final analysis, most Nigerians who were polled by this media outlet – The African Times/USA – believe that on the overall, the recent elections in Nigeria fell short of best international standards. “And as the biggest democracy in West Africa, these elections have further dampened our belief in Western democratic process and principles especially with the West African sub-region now experiencing a rise in cases of military coups”. And unless there is a judicial reversal of Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s disputed victory, there may still be trouble in the offing or Nigeria as often will have to find a way to soldier on in her inchoate democratic project.
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