Another election, another trouble, By Simon Kolawole
Wow! The inevitable disputes aside, what an amazing presidential election we just had! Surely one of the most extraordinary in our history. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), losing at home to Mr Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP). Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) defeating APC in President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state. A Muslim-Muslim ticket winning in Benue state, where the better part of the last eight years has been about resisting “Islamisation” and “Fulanisation”. The chairmen of the PDP and APC losing at home. The top three candidates doing fairly well outside their zones and regions. Wow!
Before the 2023 presidential election, my worry was not really about the outcome. In the end, there would only be one winner. Personally, I was ready to accept any of the three leading candidates as the next president. I believe any of them would assemble a solid team and manage the economy well. But I knew that no matter who won, the outcome would be disputed — going by our history. My biggest worry was the risk of violence. The heated build-up to this particular election was worrisome. I have a mortal fear for instability, having lived through a horrendous period following the annulment of June 12 presidential election in 1993. The mere recall of it still makes me shiver.
Expectedly, Obi and Atiku have both rejected the outcome and are preparing to challenge it in court. This is lovely. The way forward is to gather evidence and head to the tribunal. Some would say it is a waste of time, but that was exactly what people told Obi in 2003 when he believed he was cheated in the Anambra governorship election. He gathered the evidence and went to the tribunal to prove that the final results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were false. It took him a while, but he won. This has helped improve our experience and practice of democracy. Let’s trust the process. As Mandela said, it always looks impossible until it is done.
Since we started conducting elections after our independence from colonial rule in 1960, it has always been one trouble after the other. The notable first was the Western Region parliamentary polls of 1963 and 1964 whose outcomes were rejected by the Action Group, the party in power in the region. AG believed that the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) — which controlled the federal government — was working through the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) to take over the Western Region (now referred to as the “south-west”, with the exception of Edo and Delta states) by any means foul or fair. NNDP was founded by Chief Samuel Akintola, an AG renegade.
The crisis ended in sorrow, tears and blood. “Wetie” ensued in the “Wild, Wild West”. “Wetie” was the act of wetting people and property with petrol before setting them on fire. As many as 2,000 persons were killed and over 5,000 houses burnt in the uprising. The conundrum destabilised the polity and, many would argue, led to the series of events that terminated the first republic after the failed military coup of January 1966. Part of the unfortunate chain reaction was the “counter coup” of July 1966 and the resultant pogrom that landed us in the Civil War. In life, you can start an event but you cannot always tell where it will end. It seemed to have all started with a little rift in the AG.
In 1983, violence broke out over allegations of rigging in Oyo and Ondo states. Over 70 people were killed. Hon Tunde Agunbiade, the majority leader of Ondo state house of assembly, was killed with his wife, two children, driver and five others. Hon Olaiya Fagbamigbe, a federal lawmaker and secretary of NPN in the state, was burnt to death along with 10 members of his household. Also, in the aftermath of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, soldiers mercilessly massacred an estimated 100 protesters in Lagos as they tried to suppress protests. That was the Nigeria I grew up in. You can now understand why I am paranoid about elections and reactions.
Thank God, not all post-election disputes were violent. In 1979, it was a legal matter. The constitution required the winning presidential candidate to score a quarter of the votes in two-thirds of 19 states of the federation — in addition to winning the highest number of votes. Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) scored 25 percent in 12 states, but a crisis broke out over what was actually two-thirds of 19: should it be 12 or 13? The Supreme Court concluded that it was “12 two-thirds” — meaning 25 percent in 12 states and 25 percent of two-thirds of a 13th state. Shagari met that requirement. It was awkward but we moved on. We did not resort to violence.
In 1993, there was initially a mild dispute over the June 12 presidential election before it was annulled. The National Republican Convention (NRC), which had obviously lost to the Social Democratic Party (SDP), started making a fuss about the embroidery of SDP’s logo on the dress Chief MKO Abiola wore to the polling unit. NRC argued that it amounted to campaigning on the day of the election and a breach of the electoral laws. They asked that Abiola should be disqualified by the electoral commission. We then went into a prolonged debate over whether it was a donkey or a stallion (SDP’s logo was a horse) until the enemies of democracy sneaked in and ended it all.
The dispute in 1999 was mild. Chief Olu Falae, the flagbearer of the AD/APP alliance (the forerunners of APC), rejected the declaration of PDP’s Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as the elected president, alleging rigging and claiming to have “mass and mass” of evidence. He said former US President Jimmy Carter, Obasanjo’s friend, did not congratulate him after monitoring the election and this was proof that it was not a credible process. He filed an election petition, alleging, among other things, that Obasanjo was a cultist and an ex-convict, having been sentenced to life imprisonment by Gen Sani Abacha over an alleged coup. Falae lost but withdrew on appeal. Thankfully, there was no violence.
The results of the 2003 and 2007 polls were challenged by Buhari all the way to the Supreme Court but there was no post-election violence. However, in 2011, there were killings in the north. The case of Bauchi was weird: Jonathan got just 16 percent of the votes but nine youth corps members were killed for “rigging” for him. Buhari alleged that the INEC computers were hacked and that his votes were being deducted and added to Jonathan’s tally. The late Rotimi Fasakin, spokesman of Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), said “some so-called NYSC members were murdered, but in actual fact some are IT consultants”. Over 800 people were killed. It was a very depressing episode.
That was why what Jonathan did in 2015 was remarkable. He not only conceded while INEC was yet to declare the winner, he also went to the extent of picking his phone and calling to congratulate Buhari. That was incredible. I never thought that in my lifetime, I would witness such sportsmanship in Nigeria. It was like a new dawn. Some governors who lost two weeks later emulated Jonathan by congratulating their opponents. But you know what? The APC-leaning Twitter elite said there was nothing special about it and started abusing some of us who celebrated him. They accused us of having “low standards” and celebrating “mediocrity”. They said Jonathan had no other options.
In truth, Jonathan had many reasons to complain and refuse to concede. There were reports that the card readers were bypassed in Buhari’s strongholds and monumental figures were being manufactured there. There were also reports that children were allowed to vote. But Jonathan, as hurtful and humiliating as it was to him, still did the unusual by accepting defeat and congratulating the president. Of course, manyb would argue that figures were also sexed-up in Jonathan’s strongholds — but that is the point: in Nigeria, politicians only complain when they are outfoxed. If they lose, their opponents cheated. If they win, the process was perfect. That is the game.
From what we later heard, there was a real plot to make sure Jonathan did not accept defeat. All sorts of options were considered. Elder Godsday Orubebe, former minister of police affairs, pulled a stunt at the national collation centre in trying to stop further announcement of results. He kept asking Prof Attahiru Jega, then INEC chairman, to “go back to your office… we will not accept this… this is tribalism” — trying to whip up ethnic sentiments. The word then was that there was a plot to kidnap Jega between the collation centre and his office so that the process would be inconclusive and truncated. By law, only the INEC chairman can declare the winner of a presidential election.
Mr Mohammed Bello Adoke, then attorney-general of the federation, recounted in his book, ‘Burden of Service’, how a lady asked him to get an injunction to stop the announcement of results. “I told the lady… that election had taken place and it was incumbent on INEC to announce the results and declare a winner. I said I was the Attorney-General of the Federation, not the Attorney-General of the PDP,” he wrote. “If PDP had any problems… they shouldb collate their evidence and get their lawyers to head to the elections petitions tribunal. I told her, politely, that nobody should call me again. She did not like it but I was thinking of the larger picture: the peace and progress of Nigeria.”
In his memoir, ‘My Transition Hour’, Jonathan recalled: “I was fully informed about the manipulations, intrigues, intimidation and betrayals. The consequences of not conceding were only better imagined. My natural instinct for peace automatically surfaced. I was going to make a decision which reflected my commitment to that ideal.” Ironically, Buhari never conceded any of the three elections. Also, Atiku did not concede to Buhari in 2019. He said he won and mentioned something about INEC servers being manipulated. This should put some perspective on what Jonathan, as a sitting president, did in 2015. It was extraordinary. If it was that easy, others would have done it.
I remain glad that there are no violent protests over the 2023 presidential poll. The consequences would have been ugly. It is important to continue to keep the peace, for the leaders of the opposing sides to continue to speak to their supporters to shun provocative acts and resist the urge to self-help. The peacemakers and security forces need to maintain vigilance too. The fact that we have escaped the Doomsday projection so far doesn’t mean we are out of the woods. Eternal vigilance, in this case, is the price of peace. We are all better served in a peaceful country: if things break down, we may know the beginning but may not know the chain reaction. Let’s learn from history.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
BUHARI NOT INEC
President Buhari, by luck or design, is not being accused of rigging the 2023 presidential election in favour of the candidate of his party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. All the anger has been directed at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and its chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu. Buhari bought himself the reprieve by implementing a chaotic naira redesign policy that many alleged were targeted at stopping Tinubu from winning via vote-buying. Some APC governors openly took on the president and asked citizens to defy his deadline for the old notes. It would, thus, be unfair to hold the president responsible for Tinubu’s victory. Sense won’t kill Buhari. Distanced.
When ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, a staunch supporter of Peter Obi, issued a strong-worded statement asking for the cancellation of some results of the presidential poll, his intervention was met with scorn in some quarters. Some accused him of not wanting another Yoruba to be president, recounting how he, as military head of state in 1979, voted for Alhaji Shehu Shagari and spited Chief Obafemi Awolowo. In 1993, his statement that Bashorun MKO Abiola was not the messiah was believed to have helped legitimise the annulment of June 12. Well, say whatever you want about Obasanjo but he will always stick his boot in and doesn’t care what about the reaction. Obstinate.
Increasingly, the number of Nigerians voting in presidential elections has been dropping. According to the data boffins at TheCable Index, the 24 million that turned up on February 25 was the lowest since 1999 when 29.8 million voted. There were 39 million votes in 2003, the highest ever. The introduction of biometric technology and card authentication machines might have played a major role in the falling numbers, but INEC also has some work to do. I have a feeling that the register has not been thoroughly cleaned up to tackle over-registration. It can’t be just about those who have died or relocated. There may not really be more than 50 million legitimate voters in Nigeria. Fishy.
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the president-elect of Nigeria, surely has to thank the broken opposition for his victory. As many analysts have pointed out, it would have been more difficult for him if he was facing PDP’s Atiku Abubakar only. The south-east, south-south and Christian north always came through for the PDP in presidential elections, but this time they had to share their votes and LP’s Peter Obi was the major beneficiary. However, contrary to the belief that the G5 Governors achieved nothing, I would say they had an impact, even if some of them did not deliver their states. A lot happened behind the scenes, including in Lagos state, that are stuffs for memoirs. Politics!
Source: First published in Thisday Newspaper