This ‘Verdict 2019’ Sef, By Dele Agekameh
Although President Jonathan has been hailed on several occasions for his early concession of defeat in 2015, there is no indication that it will become a tradition at this time in Nigerian politics.
There is a saying, that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. In the general elections that took place over the weekend in Nigeria, there were many quite familiar disruptive incidents, including pockets of violence in certain areas, that tainted the process and led to the death of at least 16 Nigerians nationwide. Many more were left injured or traumatised. Out of respect for the injured and the dead, and for the sanctity of human life, it is only right to acknowledge the loss of lives in the conduct of the elections before moving on to discuss the politics of last Saturday’s exercise. One prays that someday, we will really reach the point where nobody’s ambition will be worth the blood of even one Nigerian.
Early on in the counting of the votes on Monday, Nigerians already had a glimpse of the return of the power of incumbency, as President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) took an early lead over his closest rival, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). By Tuesday morning, the picture of an APC win in the presidential election had already been formed, with President Buhari in the lead, after winning seven of the 12 states already declared, including in two of his core base states, Yobe and Gombe. Atiku, on the other hand, had won, predictably, in the South-East states already announced and, interestingly, in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
With the bulk of the remaining Northern votes expected to go to the president, and with the projected ‘tightness’ of votes from the South-West, analysts already called a Buhari victory after collation was suspended on Monday night, after figures from only 12 states had been returned. However, there were reports of multiple disruptions, especially in the South, from places like Rivers (where one soldier was allegedly killed), Bayelsa, Imo and in Lagos, where a PDP candidate was caught on video disrupting collation after it became apparent that he had lost. He became unconscious in the melee that followed and is reported to have been rushed to an hospital. In Rivers State, at least one electoral officer in Ikwerre local government declared that there were no results to report, as the voting materials had been allegedly destroyed by security personnel in the collation centre.
Even with the irregularities in a number of areas, some rather interesting results emerged. Bukola Saraki, the incumbent Senate president, surprisingly lost his seat to his APC rival, Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe. In Oyo South Senatorial district, Abiola Ajimobi, the governor of Oyo State, also lost out in his Senate bid to Kola Balogun of the PDP. The keenly contested election in most of the zones of the country was reflective of the arch-rivalry between the PDP and APC at the centre, with the race being as closely contested as it was predicted to be. With a few runaway winners, there was a sense of great political competition, even with the very narrow ideological playing field.
It is disappointing for ethnic sentiments to surface at a time when the country is engaged in a general exercise of this nature, which ought to unite citizens in the limited way that partisan politics can. While some say that the disruptions were simply a partisan affair, it is difficult for moderates to argue against ethnic motivations…
One very sore note of the election came out of Lagos State, in Ago, Okota, Aguda and parts of Oshodi, where reports of ballot snatching and intimidation of voters emerged on Saturday. Videos on social media depicted the scene where one of the suspected election thugs responsible, identified simply as “Demola”, was almost lynched by an angry mob. The most troubling part of those disturbances, even beyond the possible disenfranchisement of voters, were the ethnic undertones which where rightly or wrongly insinuated into the electoral violence.
It did not take long after reports of the disruptions by thugs started circulating that insinuations of a coordinated targeting of Igbos in Lagos began to circulate. Many Igbos in Lagos took to social media and gave interviews to reporters from traditional media outlets, claiming that the areas affected where places where people of Igbo ethnicity are known to be in the majority. The insinuation was that they were specifically being targeted in an effort to frustrate them, as part of a long term strategy to force the Igbo out of Lagos. Whilst many other Igbos in Lagos went on social media to express hitch-free participation in the elections, it did little to douse the already bubbling ethnic tension.
It is disappointing for ethnic sentiments to surface at a time when the country is engaged in a general exercise of this nature, which ought to unite citizens in the limited way that partisan politics can. While some say that the disruptions were simply a partisan affair, it is difficult for moderates to argue against ethnic motivations, as Igbos have a history of opposing northern leadership, especially the presidential ambition of President Buhari. Unfortunately, partisan rivalry and the traditional voting behaviour of people from the South-East overlapped in disturbances that now give fuel to ethnic division.
At the time of writing this column, the final votes had not been determined, with results from roughly half of the states still to be confirmed at the national collation centre in Abuja. Without doubt, this will go down as one of the most keenly contested presidential elections till date. The question of what is likely to happen after the final results come in, looms on every mind. For the National Assembly elections, some of the people who lost out, like Saraki, are likely to resort to legal action in attempts to reclaim their seats. The reports coming out of Imo State also point to coming legal contention, especially as one electoral officer in the state is claimed to have announced results under duress.
As we look poised to enter the ‘next level’, Nigerians have lofty expectations, while a growing number of skeptics are equally expectant of certain outcomes. With the not-too-pleasant health condition of President Buhari and the wide complaints of nepotism in his appointments, the next four years will determine if Nigeria is really destined for the ‘next level’…
Whether there will be further contention after the final presidential results are announced, one cannot say for now. With a likely Buhari win, it may not be inconceivable for legal action to follow, with the strong challenge that has been put up by Mr. Atiku Abubakar and the PDP. Although President Jonathan has been hailed on several occasions for his early concession of defeat in 2015, there is no indication that it will become a tradition at this time in Nigerian politics. If, by some weird stroke, Mr. Atiku emerges winner ahead of President Buhari, one may say, as the incumbent, there is greater likelihood of a vehement contention of the results.
Either way, the next four years will be very critical in the history of the country. We are at a turning point, for good or bad, as this column has consistently opined. There is so little margin for error and there is a sense that the populace realise this. The immediate past years have been tough, as even members of the present administration will agree, but the resilience of Nigerians and the hope majority have for the prospects of the country has carried us along. With the regular purposeful or inadvertent stoking of ethnic tensions at every turn, and the weight of security strains in these past years, there is a greater importance for us to get it right, one way or another, starting from the ballot box.
Elections are a good compass for gauging general sentiments and testing the system, as it were. On the sentiments of Nigerians, there is a clear eagerness to see positive outcomes, as interest in government and its processes seems to increase with every passing year. However, the efficiency of systems do not seem to be keeping up with the increasing interests, adding to the apathy that is seen, even in this elections, with the highest number of registered voters in the history of the country. Young people are still lagging behind, but are increasingly getting involved, while confidence in the systems, processes and agents of government, which have been on a steady low ebb over the years, is not increasing. INEC’s earlier decision to postpone the elections added to this. One hopes that the next four years will see an improvement in this regard.
As we look poised to enter the ‘next level’, Nigerians have lofty expectations, while a growing number of skeptics are equally expectant of certain outcomes. With the not-too-pleasant health condition of President Buhari and the wide complaints of nepotism in his appointments, the next four years will determine if Nigeria is really destined for the ‘next level’ or it will sink totally into the abyss.
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