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Monday, May 27, 2024

Lessons from Nigeria 2023 elections

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By Ebrima Baldeh, New York

Amid the rowdy conduct before the polls, during and even at the national collation center, the chairman of the independent national election commission, professor Mahmoud Yakubu on early Wednesday announced the final results of what was a nail-biting presidential election.  Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, affectionately call by his ardent supporters as political godfather, a development-oriented individual, was declared winner of the February,24th presidential elections, but to his harshest critics, Bola’s win, is a setback for Nigeria because he represents an establishment that did little to improve nation’s perennial social economic woes since they independence from Great Britain in 1960.

When one critically examines the Nigerian case, it brings to mine a plethora of issues, given the shining examples of the intellectual capacity of some of its citizens in academia and other spheres of life. Yet, in contrast, Nigeria, as geo-political entity is seemingly bedeviled by an unquenchable inferno that gripped the nation for far too long.

Unprepared leadership

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In a recent tell-all interview dubbed: roadmap 2023 with Channels Tv, the catholic Bishop of the Sokoto diocese, Mathew Kukah, performed a surgical analysis of the nation in the countdown to the election season. Kukah opines Nigerians have done a great job by trying to stay together as a country but leadership has not been Nigeria’s strong jacket. He argued that the British left the nation with an efficient and effective bureaucracy, and everything seemed to be going well until the tragic coup of January 15th, 1966.  “The coup set an imaginary emotion that destroyed the very foundation of the bureaucracy and subsequent infrastructure and the vision of a great Nigeria. That’s where we took the wrong turn and since then everything has been a question of tumbling and fumbling,”said the Bishop.

Away from Kukah’s postulations, let’s take a linguistic journey around history, in August 1965, a group of army majors began plotting a coup d’état against incumbent Prime Minister Abubakar Balewa on the pretext that the government was running Nigeria around with corrupt ways.  The military also accused the ministers of living flamboyant lifestyles and looting public funds at the expense of ordinary citizens.   At the height of the growing discontent within the nation, president Nnamdi Azikiwe left the country in late 1965, first for Europe, then on a cruise to the Caribbean. The Senate president, Nwafor Orizu, was drafted to fill the void during his absence and assumed the powers of the president.

According to published references, matters came to a head on January 15th, 1966, mutinous officers killed twenty-two people including the Prime Minister of Nigeria, many senior politicians, several senior army officers (including their wives) and sentinels on protective duty.  Within a two-day span, the coup plotters were subdued.

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The General Officer Commanding the Nigerian army, Johnson Aguiyi-Oronsi was compelled to take control of the government of a nation in turmoil. Ironsi ascendancy to power was deemed a conspiracy by the coup plotters, who were reportedly said to be constituted by Igbo officers, consequently, the retaliatory events by Northern members of the Nigerian army led to the deaths of many innocent Igbo soldiers and civilians caused the Nigerian civil war.

Despite its enormous resources, not forgetting its place on the continent, Nigeria has recorded five military coup d’états. And to this, Bishop Kukah states, since then, no leader came to office fully prepared:

“If you go back to even 1966 and run through the entire history of who has been prime minister and who has been president whether through a military coup; there has been nothing linear in the sense that military coups that stretch over a twenty-year period where just glorified banditry and armed robbery because you pulled a gun and became a head of state. And almost until today, very few Nigerian presidents have come fully prepared for the job,” he added.

Bishop Kukah continued: “If I take you back, look at president Buhari now, in 2011, he said, I don’t want to be president again, I’m tired. He was literary pulled out screaming to be president in 2015, he took over from Jonathan, Jonathan himself, you know the circumstance that brought him to power. Yar’Adua before him, was already saying I’m done, I want to go back and teach at the university. Before Yar’Adua was Obasanjo, he was in prison, hoping that one day he will walk out of prison, and if he’s strong enough, he will go back to his farm. You can go on and on… Abdulsalam was about to be retired from the military when Abacha died and became head of state. You can go all the way down in Nigeria, you are not going to find one single person, who has become head of state that came prepared for the job”

From his vantage location in Great Britain, Theophilus Ejorh, who has long been an enthusiastic critic of polity and politics in his native Nigeria, backed the labour party candidate because he believes, Obi, was the most appropriate candidate to take the country forward.

Weighing the candidates, Ejorh who is au fait with the day-to-day politics by the virtue of his stint as reporter and editor in Nigeria several years back, argued the other front runners in the race were one way or the other dirtied in Nigeria’s convoluted political governance. His first salvo was directed at the imbalance in the APC’s shopping for candidates in the race.  For a country, that tends to reverberate along religious lines, zonal politics and ethnicity, Ejorh thinks the APC got it all wrong:

“In Nigeria, we maintain balance, the Nigerian constitution stipulates that we should have a balance – a sense of ethnicity and religion when deciding the positions of president and vice president. The APC did not stick to that. Buhari tried and picked Osinbajo, a Christian as his running mate. So, why didn’t Tinubu pick a Christian running mate?”

In her op-ed published on Tuesday by the New York Times award-winning writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, said she has always found it curious that African countries were expected to form functioning democracies right after independence, even though the colonial governments that had only just freed themselves from were dictatorships in everything but name. She summed the mood in these words: “Nigerians want a functioning democracy, and they are starting on the path to it but might be derailed unless the international community pays attention now”.

Hope for an Oba masque moment fades

In hindsight, the young people jostled around the nation combing through safe and insecure neigborhoods with the candidate of the moment, Labour party hopeful Peter Obi, urging anyone they could convince to rally around Obi, to restore the hopes of a tired nation. But Nigeria is different from the United States, and other nations, where candidates outside the old establishment could suddenly emerge victorious with little or no credentials from the oligarchy.  The takeaway is that Peter Obi performed exceedingly beyond expectations; having trounced the man who is credited to have presided over the modernisation of Lagos in his own turf.

As for Atiku Abubakar, it’s almost over, but then, nothing is over in politics when one is alive.  If the recent stats of the presidential election is anything to lean on, Atiku should just retire honorably and zoom out gracefully.  The wave of discontent emanating mostly from overzealous youths who are determined to fight so that a youth-friendly candidate can take Nigeria to the Promised Land is still a realistic dream.

While the results tilt positively toward the ruling APC, with Bola Tinubi scoring 8,794, 726, capturing 12 states, and with 36.61%, his closest rival, affectionately referred to as “serial candidate” by the media, Atiku got 6,984,520 also swept 12 states, with 29.07% of the votes cast, Obi, the surprise element in this election, carried 11 States + FCT went home with 6,101,533, with 25.04%. And the fourth candidate, Rabiu Kwankwaso, contended with 1,496,687 with 6.23% of the votes cast.

What to sip from the episode

The electoral umpire was scathingly criticised by some section of the mainstream media, the electorate, and even some international observers for its inability to feed the election results real time on its website as soon as counting was concluded. And what Nigerians couldn’t fathom is the usual excuses Inec issues every time elections are conducted. Happy-looking and enthusiastic voters queued hoping that their participation in the exercise will count, woe and trauma replaced this feeling when hoodlums from nowhere sprang forward and ran away with sensitive voting materials.  The issue of over voting was also incredible to hear, how comes?

It gladdens my heart when I saw our man, Alieu Momar Njie, as election observer at the national collation center; there’s certainly a thing or two that he will take home with. But one thing is certain; professor Yakubu must be a thick skin individual to accommodate all sorts of criticisms and drivel thrown at him, yet he stood his ground and did what the commission is mandated to do.

The security forces were also pilloried, rightly so, there were serious lapses, how can hoodlums take them by surprise, what happened to the locations where they crept in, where were the security officials?

I watched a report by the Channels Tv with the security team tasked with responsibility of securing Lagos, assuaged the feelings of a worried nation that everything was ok in the bustling metropolis. A helicopter ride hovering over the sprawling city in response to social media reports that bandits were on a rampage in Lagos, was not enough to calm nerves.

With everything at stake, it’s a matter of survival for some, while for others, they wouldn’t mind, speaking out when things are not palpitating the way it should be. Obasanjo came out of his closet and issued a statement, to the government and the electoral umpire, but Obasanjo, was not neutral figure, he had already openly declared his support for Peter Obi.

Although, there are still lingering issues relating to the conduct of the polls and Nigerians across the political divide need time to process this moment. Bola may be the ultimate winner, but cumulatively more Nigerians voted against him than those who put their faith in him.

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