If there is any consensus among people of different political divides in the elections that were held on February 23 and March 9 respectively, it was that they fell far below expectations. With the outcome of some of the elections set to be contested at the election petition tribunal, there are lessons from the two set of elections that deserve sober reflections:
One, it is time we began honest conversations about the nature of elections in this country. If elections are meant to enable the people choose their leaders, and if increasingly number of people seem to believe that what some now call ‘the other votes’ (i.e. ‘manufactured’ votes, especially at the collation stage) now outnumber ‘organic votes’ (i.e. those truly cast by voters) in determining electoral outcomes, it means that the rituals of voting and campaigning have lost their essence. I really believe that the elections of February 23 and March 9 were a sham, with both major parties rigging in their strongholds and the security agencies openly partisan in some cases. Does it then make sense to keep budgeting billions of Naira to conduct elections whose outcomes hardly reflect the wishes of the voting public?
As someone who lived under military rule (at least after the Civil war), I cannot recommend any form of autocracy. There have been several suggestions on how to reform INEC but I am really sceptical whether any reform can do any magic – for as long as the elections will be conducted by Nigerians and the contestants and their supporters will be Nigerians. The sheer incompetence of INEC and suspicions that it is a biased umpire (accentuated by the number of its ‘inconclusive results’ or ‘suspended elections’ or ‘cancelled votes’ – often in the strongholds of the opposition parties) – raises strong legitimacy questions about the electoral umpire. Though I have spent the greater part of my adult life being a Pan-Africanist, I will honestly not be averse to having a conversation around outsourcing the conduct of our elections to Western institutions. The pseudo nationalist might call this ‘bleaching complex’, my counter argument is: if both the ruling and the opposition parties have a penchant for looking for legitimacy from some Western powers by petitioning them on any suspected infraction by their opponents (apparently because some believe they are trusted by all sides and have the muscle to enforce sanctions impartially if you mess up with them), why not outsource the conduct of our elections to them? If this sounds outlandish, remember that their audit firms already audit the accounts of our major corporations – largely because they are trusted more than their local counterparts both for competence and for not likely to agree to be compromised.
Two, given that elections seem to be losing their essence, do we still have any moral compunction to condemn the increasing commoditisation of voting and the emergence of markets for votes across the country? With the quality of governance across the country regressing at an alarming rate amid increasing hardship, vote selling may have become a rational economic behaviour in response to the anarchy that our elections have become. Though I cannot in good conscience support the burgeoning market on votes because it means giving up hope or allowing the triumph of this near lawlessness, I can see where the vote sellers are coming from – even if they are sanctimoniously condemned by those who are sure of their next meal.
Three, the elections raise once again the unresolved question of the tension between citizenship rights and the rights of indigenes. It is remarkable that an election in which the two leading presidential candidates – Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Muhammadu Buhari – are Northern Fulani Muslims, has ended up weaponizing the rivalry and distrust between the Igbo and the Yoruba. Of course the selection of Peter Obi, an Igbo, as Atiku’s running mate was bound to give ethnic undercurrent to the contest, because the sitting Vice President, is Yoruba. Governor Abiola Ajimobi dramatized this by framing the election as being between the Hausa/Fulani and the Yoruba on the one hand and Hausa/Fulani and Igbo on the other hand. In essence he sought to ossify the election as a contest in which the South-West will defend their assumed privileges under the APC government against assumed attempts by the Igbo to push them out from that position. Such simplistic binary is bound to appeal to the emotions of some, especially as both the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Power, Works and Housing Minister Babatunde Fashola had asked the Yoruba to vote for APC so that power would return to the region in 2023. The Igbo are also laying claim to the presidency in 2023. Additionally, some Igbo provocatively call Lagos ‘No Man’s land’. True, Lagos was a federal capital developed largely by the federal government, using revenue from the Niger Delta, it remains a Yoruba heritage – in much the same way as Abuja is for all Nigerians but the ancestral land of the Gbagyi people.
The interesting angle here is that the Igbo living in Lagos were asked to toe a particular political line in appreciation for being welcome to live in Lagos. While I believe that people in exercising their citizenship rights must be sensitive to their environments and decorous in the manner they relate with all people, to ask such people to toe a particular political line seems not just groupthink but also fascist. The logical extension of this argument is scary: the ethnic Berom people in Plateau State can ask the Hausa/ Fulani to toe their political line or vacate; the Gbagyi can ask all Abuja residents to abide by their political options or leave, Buhari can ask all who voted against him in the FCT to leave because they behaved contrary to ‘North’s interest’ and the Niger Delta can ask Tinubu’s First Nation Airline, which flies on their aviation fuel, to find alternative sources of fuel because the colour of his planes and the food they serve in them offend their cultural sensibilities.
Four, the elections raise the question of whether the social media are over-rated in terms of their ability to impact on electoral outcomes. In the run-up to the elections, many of the ‘third force’ candidates had more weight in the social media (with some having hundreds of thousands of followers on twitter and Instagram and similar number of likes on Facebook) than they did on the ground, given the paltry number of votes they got in the elections. All the 71 or so candidates outside the APC and the PDP combined got less than five per cent of the total votes cast. Of all the ‘third force’ candidates, Omoyele Sowore of the African Action Congress was probably the only one who won at his polling unit. This makes it difficult to have an appropriate nomenclature to capture these parties – calling them ‘third force’ exaggerates their weight by wrongly presenting them as counter weights to the PDP and the APC – while calling them ‘fringe parties’ disrespects the sacrifices many of the candidates made just to be on the ballot. Given this scenario and the cost of having so many candidates on the ballot, I will suggest that in future, candidates for offices should be made to deposit a tidy sum of money with the electoral body, which they will forfeit if they fail to get a certain percentage of the votes cast in the election.
Five, the elections afford us a good opportunity to interrogate our ‘men of God’ (including the ‘pastor-prenuers’) who tried to profit from the election with all manner of prophecies. In fact most of the presidential candidates in the 73 odd parties had ‘men of God’ who had promised them that God had revealed to them that they were the Lord’s anointed. In the run-up to the 2015 election for instance, Fr. Ejike Mbaka, a fiery priest of the Adoration Ministry Enugu gained a bragging right when he predicted (or was it guessed?) that Buhari would win the presidential election. Buhari became President – as predicted or guessed – and his stature as an intermediary between God and man blossomed. He later apparently got disappointed in Buhari and predicted that if Buhari sought re-election, he would be disgraced. He claimed that God had anointed the Governor of Gombe State Ibrahim Dankwambo in his stead. Again in the run-up to the 2019 election and during a bazaar of his ministry (where he called Peter Obi, stingy) he also predicted that Senator Hope Uzodinma, (who gave him a ‘kola nut’ of N2m), would become the Governor of Imo State. Well, not only did Dankwambo lose at the PDP presidential primaries, he also lost his bid to get to the Senate. Similarly Hope Uzodinma did not even come second in the governorship election in Imo state. So much for soldiers of fortune masquerading as men of God and preying on the innocence or naivety of the gullible.