Going Forward or Backward?

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The conduct of the 2019 general election has, expectedly, become the subject of heated discussions and debates everywhere — offices, schools, homes, newspaper vendor stands and social media. Predictably, supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari are satisfied with the outcome which favoured their candidate, while those in the corner of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the flag bearer of the leading opposition party, have questioned the integrity of the elections. In the opinion of Buhari’s supporters, the overall result reflected the wishes of Nigerians. Atiku’s supporters are, however, crying foul. Like Buhari did thrice, Atiku will challenge the outcome in court.

In December 2018, I made presentations on the 2019 presidential election to a group of corporate executives in Lagos and thereafter to my colleagues at TheCable. I started my projections with the south-west. I said Buhari was not more popular in the zone today than he was in 2015, and that he would win there but with a narrower margin. I was right. His 612,000 margin of 2015 was reduced to 260,000. I also said Atiku would get more votes from the south-west than Buhari would get from the south-south and south-east combined. I was also right. Atiku got 1.77m from the south-west while Buhari scored 1.4m in the south-south and the south-east put together.

I projected that the north-central would go Atiku’s way. I was wrong. Buhari got 2.46 million votes — taking four out of the six states like he did in 2015 — while Atiku scored 2.02 million. To be honest, I never saw that coming. I was thinking more about pre-2015 voting patterns and the recent herders/farmers clashes — although, on hindsight, I would say only Benue and Plateau are really in the thick of the crisis. The development in Kwara is historic — the Saraki dynasty finally fell. Or did it? Given that Senator Gbemisola Saraki is in APC and her brother, Senate President Bukola Saraki, is in PDP, it may be a case of the baton changing from one Saraki to the other. Watch this space.

On the north-east, I still remember my words: “I don’t know what Buhari gave them to eat, but he will always win in Borno, Yobe, Gombe and Bauchi. They have always voted for him since 2003.” Someone who hails from that axis looked at me in a way that showed he disagreed. The thinking was that because Boko Haram was still very much alive, the people are disappointed with Buhari and would vote against him. I said it does not work like that. It is a devotion to Buhari. Most people’s minds were made up long ago. And I was right. I also said Atiku would win Adamawa and Taraba. I was right, but I exaggerated his margins. The two states were more competitive than I projected.

I moved to the north-west and reasoned that the zone would determine the overall winner. I said Buhari always does well in the north-west — which has the highest number of states and highest number of votes in the country. I, however, said unlike in 2015 when Buhari rolled over Jonathan by over five million votes in the zone, he would not beat Atiku by the same margin. Was I right? Buhari defeated Atiku nationwide by 3.9 million votes — but in the north-west alone, he had 3.7 million more than Atiku! If you are thinking what I am thinking, you would agree with me that the north-west is the real deal. It has always been so since 1999. Seven states cannot be a joke!

Nevertheless, I got my conclusion wrong. I predicted a “very tight” race and said the winning margin could be in hundreds of thousands or at most a million. I was completely wrong, judging by the final results announced by INEC. A margin of 3.9 million votes is not the definition of “tight”. In the end, Buhari has held on to his traditional base in the far north, made gains in the south-south and south-east (from 616,838 votes in 2015 to 1.4 million in 2019), maintained his new base in the north-central and just managed to keep the south-west on his side. Those are my preliminary observations on the official results.

A PDP supporter is reading this and calling my analysis “bunkum”. Atiku himself has described the election as “the worst” since 1999 — a dubious distinction previously conferred on the 2007 polls when people hardly voted. There are various complaints of malpractices, all boiling down to allegations of voter suppression in Atiku’s strongholds and vote inflation in Buhari’s safe havens. The role of the military in the south-south has also been questioned by Atiku, who believes it was responsible for the low figures from Delta, Rivers and Akwa Ibom. I am happy that these grievances will be addressed in the courts rather than on the streets. We have shed enough blood in this land.

While this controversy rages, I want to offer a critical overview of the first half of the 2019 elections. Have we regressed or progressed — compared to four years ago? For starters, more voters were registered and more PVCs were collected but the turn-out was lower. Total votes cast were less and total ballots rejected were more. This is not progress, if you ask me. It is not a good testimony that 5.5 million collected PVCs in Lagos and only 1.1 million voted. The shortfall is ridiculous. The disrupted votes in Ago and Surulere were in thousands, so it cannot explain the low turnout in Lagos. We have to explain the voter apathy despite all the noise on social media and the like.

Despite the postponement of the elections by one week for logistical reasons, there were still reports of late arrival of materials, missing result sheets, multiple voting, manual accreditation and other issues. Many will argue that these issues were not widespread enough to undermine the final outcome, but INEC needs to step up. I also thought the final results of the presidential election should have been announced earlier than Wednesday morning. I reckoned that we held three elections same day, had nearly 100 political parties on the ballots, and voting closed at 6pm — not at 2pm as it was in 2015. These factors caused delays. We need to improve the speed.

It is also very important for us to take a second look at the number of parties taking part in the presidential election. It’s becoming a joke. I think there is confusion somewhere. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that INEC does not have the power to deny political parties registration because the constitution guarantees “freedom of association”. However, the court did not say they must participate in presidential elections. We need a regulation that says for a party to participate in the presidential election, it must meet some requirements. For one, I would suggest that a party must have won at least a seat in the House of Reps in a previous election.

Furthermore, I was very sad about the reported intimidation of voters of Igbo origin at Ago in Lagos. As someone with interest in how we can intelligently manage our ethnic and religious differences for the sake of the peace and progress of Nigeria, I see no sense in trying to suppress the political choice of anybody. If Yoruba leaders would not tolerate the intimidation of their kith and kin in other parts of Nigeria, why should they endorse same of other ethnic groups in Lagos? It all boils down to my diagnosis of the Nigerian problem: the manipulation of our differences for political gain disguised as group interest. Why set Nigeria on fire because of personal ambitions? That’s backward.

Finally, I remember telling my colleagues at TheCable two days to the election that unfortunately, many people would die because of these elections. I stood right in front of them in the newsroom and declared: “Guys, by this time next week, there will be many dead bodies, most of them poor and lowly people, because of these elections. No politician is worth dying for.” As at last count, the body bags were in excess of 20. What a waste. What a needless waste. This is not a sign of progress. Sadly, it has become part of our political culture for lives to be wasted. The winners will enjoy their booty. The losers will reconcile with the winners. Life goes on. The dead die in vain. Shame.

It was not all bad news though. Judging by the voting figures from 2015 and 2019, I think we are finally getting to the real voting population of Nigeria. Obasanjo scored 24 million in 2003, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua also got 24 million in 2007 while Dr. Goodluck Jonathan had 22 million in 2011. However, since the introduction of biometric voter cards and electronic accreditation in 2015, the winning figures have come down to 15 million and the winning margins are becoming more reasonable. I have always believed we sex up figures in Nigeria. I don’t believe our population is up to 190 million. We cannot be more than 120 million. The truth is coming out gradually.

In all, I do not believe we made enough progress with our elections this year compared to 2015. INEC is still basically a shambles in terms of logistics. Voter intimidation remains in some places. Violence and deaths are still features of voting in Nigeria. State institutions, such as EFCC and security agencies, are still not neutral. Voter turn-out remains disappointing — it should be going up, not coming down. Why should we have more registered voters, higher PVC collection rate and less voter turn-out? When the dust has settled, INEC needs to commission a study on this. But let me end this discussion on an optimistic note: cheer up, it could have been worse!

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

HOT SEAT
President Buhari lost the two Presidential Villa polling units to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar by a margin of 17 votes (1,030/1,013). This came as a shock to many, but the Aso Rock jinx is real. Sitting presidents hardly win there. In 2015, Buhari defeated Jonathan 613-595 — a margin of 18 votes. In 2003 and 2007, Buhari won the Presidential Villa against the PDP. Jonathan had broken the jinx in 2011 when, as president, he defeated Buhari by 1,232 votes to 696. The conventional wisdom is that a sitting president should ordinarily enjoy the votes of those who live within and around the premises of power, but only once has that happened in this democratic dispensation. Jinxed!

HOME DISADVANTAGE
Am I the only one who found it amusing that Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Mr. Jide Sanwo-Olu and Mr. Jimi Agbaje all lost their polling units in the presidential election? Of the lot, it must be quite humiliating that Atiku was not supported by his Yola neighbours. In December 1998, Obasanjo lost his Abeokuta ward in the local government poll, but managed to win his polling unit in subsequent elections, although he could not win Ogun or any other south-west state in the presidential poll. Is this a case of prophets not having honour at home — or prophets not popular enough on their own streets? Goodness!

SPREAD OUT
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar won 13 of the 17 southern states, while Buhari won 14 of the 19 up north. Atiku did not win any of the three northern geo-political zones, while Buhari claimed the south-west. Atiku had a better spread: he won at least two states in five zones. Buhari did not win any state in two southern zones, but he did far better than expected in the south-south and south-east, thus having more spread in 2019 than 2015. Buhari’s spread this time around suggests that he is finally burying the electoral baggage that hovered around him for over a decade. Now, he has to run an all-inclusive government as he promised after his victory. Imperative.

AND FINALLY…
Alhaji Sani Shinkafi, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in Zamfara state, angrily ejected refugees from his shelters after the February 26 elections. He could not believe they still voted for the All Progressives Congress (APC) despite their condition. He said: “I have asked all the IDPs residing in my Shinkafi houses to immediately pack out because they are not serious in life. These are people who had to leave their villages due to insecurity caused by a government that could not provide such basic necessity to them, yet they went and sold their votes trying to bring back the same gang.” Devotion.

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