After the money and the muscling, come the lawyers. Win or lose, the election war chest is incomplete without funds for the likely legal battle afterwards. The legal option can redefine winning and losing in Nigerian elections, as history has shown.

After the collation of results in the gubernatorial and state assembly elections that held on March 9th in Nigeria, the gubernatorial election results of 6 states – Bauchi, Sokoto, Plateau, Adamawa, Kano and Benue- were declared inconclusive by the umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Supplementary elections to determine the winners in those states were set for last Saturday, March 23rd. On the day, a pending court action stalled the conclusion of the election in Adamawa. However, the exercise that was conducted in the other 5 states were very much like the other elections already conducted in 2019, in terms of disruptions and violence.

As at 11am on Monday, INEC had managed to announce winners in Sokoto, Benue, Plateau and Kano states. For those who are more concerned with counting tallies for the two major political parties, it was two apiece for the major parties in the final collation and result in those four states. The All Progressives Congress, APC, recorded victories in Plateau and Kano states, as Simon Lalong and Abdullahi Ganduje, both incumbents, were announced winners respectively.

The opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP, defeated its fiercest rival through the victories of Aminu Tambuwal and Samuel Ortom in Sokoto and Benue states respectively. Again, a pending court action prevented the announcement of result in Bauchi, even though feelers had it that Bala Mohammed of the PDP was on track to defeat the incumbent APC candidate.

The marked use of violent disruptions to influence results in the elections is one of the major concerns of 2019 so far, and the nightmare seems to be dragging on forever. As at the time of writing, apart from Bauchi and Adamawa states, Rivers State is the only other state where the result of gubernatorial elections are yet to be announced. In a class of its own, Rivers State looks to have been set aside by INEC, probably until conclusion of the exercise everywhere else, because of the alarming degree of violence and disruption that occurred on March 9th in the state. Even if INEC and security outfits plan a concentration of personnel to collate and announce results there, most people agree that only one outcome – a Nyesom Wike win – is likely to restore normalcy (whatever that means in Rivers State) to the PDP stronghold.

As it stands, APC has clinched 15 states to PDP’s 11 in the 29 states where gubernatorial elections were conducted in 2019. With the likely possibility that PDP will take the outstanding three, an outsider would think that our politics has produced a rich democratic outcome with the almost even split between the two biggest parties. The attractiveness of a duopoly for a healthy democracy is a matter of global debate, but Nigeria is in the same company with some aged and mature democracies in its inherently two party political system. The only difference is that our two major parties are separated by a revolving door, and our politicians can not always decide where to come out.

Although the signs have always been there, this election is a refresher on the rudiments of election victory in Nigeria. First, as just discussed, is the adequately sized ‘platform’ – a synonym for political party in Nigeria. As of now, only two political parties fit that profile. Apparently, size does not refer to the number of members; it is about the size of the pocket of the party or the pockets of its key members. This matters in our politics of stomach infrastructure. Bags of rice, beans, garri, etc., are branded and distributd openly in election season, without shame or repercussion, by law or by conscience. In recent times, this has degenerated into distribution of raw cash at the polling units, during voting. There were reports to this effect during the presidential, gubernatorial and even in the supplementary election on Saturday. Our politics is heavily transactional, and only parties with deep pockets can compete.

Then there are the thugs, for obvious reasons. They are unruly, violent and brazen, but methodical and targeted in their activities. They are responsible for most of the bloodshed in these past elections and virtually all the cases of inconclusive results. As for our security operatives, although there has always been suspicion of undue influence by them in elections, in 2019, we have received disturbing reports of active involvement and engagement in the disruption that makes it hard to tell the thugs apart from the security officials. The situation in Kano especially over the weekend further demonstrates that preparations for the disruptions were made. Lives have been lost and innocent voters maimed.

After the money and the muscling, come the lawyers. Win or lose, the election war chest is incomplete without funds for the likely legal battle afterwards. The legal option can redefine winning and losing in Nigerian elections, as history has shown. That is why our politicians always run to tribunals. A day before the supplementary elections on Saturday, a shocker was delivered by the election tribunal hearing petitions against the victory of Gboyega Oyetola, winner of the Osun state gubernatorial election held last year. Oyetola was sacked by the tribunal, and INEC was ordered to retrieve his certificate of return and issue one to Ademola Adeleke of PDP. Of course, Oyetola continues to draw on the war chest by going on appeal. But the decision has given impetus to Atiku Abubakar, now of the PDP who is currently contesting President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory, and other would-be petitioners who have smelled a chance for a come back.

In this regard, the lawyers and tribunals become players in the warped game, selling their services, and more, to the highest bidder. History has exposed the underhand deals that have put the legal profession under scrutiny. Careers have ended and legal reforms have been carried out. But in 2019, old tricks are returning to this theatre of manipulation and with the election exercise all but done, the ball will again be passed on to the lawyers and the nation will say a silent prayer that integrity and honour will prevail, even though the signs have not been good in this election year.

So what does it mean to win or lose elections in Nigeria, in a murky playing field where almost everybody is smeared by the filth on the field of play? Victory is fleeting and the pangs of defeat are short-lived, because the game is always afoot and a loser can switch teams within a moment’s notice to enjoy the benefits on the ‘winning side’. It is not a pleasant picture by any means, especially when the real loss is not suffered by anyone on that murky field of play, but by ignorant cheer leaders, willful or inadvertent bystanders and even the unborn.

To cure the ignorance of the electorates, our politicians need to find a conscience and begin to engage people on issues that matter, rather than through stomach infrastructure. They must begin to engage the willful, apathetic political bystanders, by ensuring a better, fairer contest in elections, with officials that know their duty. The force of law may be needed through better electoral laws, but compulsion should be accompanied by working systems.

National identity cards for example can be synchronised with driver’s license, passport and other documents of identification including the voter’s card, with a unique number for all living Nigerians, managed by a sophisticated system of biometric identification and verification. Integration of this system in the electoral process can help increase faith in the system and minimise disruptions. INEC’s approved budget was over N240 billion for this election alone. If that had been frontloaded into better biometric systems, we would have solved several problems for the price of a failed election.

At the end of the day, the guilt is evenly spread and some may say that we have the electoral system we deserve. Election rice may be sweet on one person’s plate, but the same hand that offered the food may have engineered the death of another Nigerian many miles away or just next door. It is time we get our priorities straight.

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