Issues in the presidential election, By Segun Ayobolu

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It was easily one of the most keenly and bitterly contested elections in this dispensation since 1999. The intense competitiveness of last Saturday’s presidential election was reflected in the number of states won by the leading political parties with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) winning in 12 states each including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, which went to the LP. Mr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwanso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) swept the polls in Kano as had been widely envisaged.

The degree of competitiveness is clearly a function of the substantial credibility and integrity of the electoral process notwithstanding some of the technical hitches as well as logistical failures experienced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at the initial phases of the exercise on polling day. Sporadic acts of violence in some areas were quickly contained by security agencies. Hijacked Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) machines were promptly replaced. The shortcomings witnessed were insufficient to fundamentally change or alter the ultimate outcome of the exercise. The election largely reflected the will of the electorate. Despite the glitches, which are understandable since there are no perfect elections anywhere in the world, those who contend that this was one of the best-organised elections in this dispensation cannot be faulted.

Indeed, the voting pattern and trend of support for the leading presidential candidates confirmed the projections and prognostications of many analysts and pundits before the elections. Perhaps the greatest revelation of the election was the performance of Mr. Peter Obi on the platform of the Labour Party (LP). Many analysts and members of the dominant parties had dismissed the LP as lacking in the elaborate structures needed to win a national election. The party had no governors and hardly any seats in the National Assembly or state legislatures. It could not boast of controlling any Local Government Area. Yet, Peter Obi won emphatically in the five South-East states and also recorded electoral victories in Lagos, Plateau, Delta, Edo and Nasarawa states outside his home region. Obi skillfully projected himself as a ‘born again’ politician of sorts with a mission to fundamentally overhaul and radically reform the prevailing system.

To those who rallied to his trumpet call, it did not matter that as governor of Anambra State for eight years and running mate to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in the 2019 presidential election on the platform of the PDP, Obi was part and parcel of the system he now disavowed in often trenchant language. Had Atiku won the 2019 election, Obi would have been in office as Vice President of Nigeria today and would most likely have been on the ticket of the PDP in that capacity in this year’s elections. Obi was an entrenched member of the subsisting system and only quit the PDP to pick the ticket of the LP when it dawned on him that he could not clinch the PDP’s presidential ticket at the primaries. There is no significant difference between the values Obi stands for and the philosophical orientation of the PDP or any of the other dominant parties.

Yet, Obi is one of those who have vehemently denounced and rejected the outcome of the elections as well as voicing his intention to challenge the results in court. But if the election had been rigged against him as Obi insists, how on earth could he have won over 90% of the votes in the South-East while the other leading candidates performed abysmally in that region? Indeed, the South-East was easily the most monolithic and one-sided in terms of voting pattern while other regions were more diverse and liberal in their voting behavior. While the LP recorded 1,960, 589 votes in the South-East, the APC and PDP scored 127,605 and 91,195 votes respectively. If the election was indeed rigged against him as Obi alleges, how come he defeated Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s APC in Lagos State, a party that had won every election in the state since 1999? Can it be that elections were free and fair only in those states where Obi’s LP won?

Running a most divisive campaign, Obi, apart from understandably enjoying the massive support of his Igbo kith and kin, also deliberately and consciously courted and sought the Christian vote never giving a thought about the dangers of politicizing religion in a complex, multi-religious polity like ours. Engaging in what has been described as “church tourism”, Obi made a point of attending the annual mass gatherings of the mega Pentecostal churches where he was rapturously received by some of the leading pastors openly endorsing his candidacy. This is one of the reasons why the APC’s Muslim,-Muslim ticket, chosen for strategic and pragmatic electoral purposes, became a contentious issue, particularly in Christian circles. The Christian factor was thus a key consideration that swung substantial Christian votes to Obi in states like Plateau, Nassarawa, Delta, Edo, and even Lagos to some extent.

However, the obverse side of the coin in this regard was the dismal performance of Obi in the North-West and North-East. Those pastors who were openly and sometimes threateningly projecting Obi as a Christian candidate were unwittingly de-marketing him in key Muslim areas with substantial voting numbers.

Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and his party, PDP, which came second in the polls with 6,984,520 votes has also not unexpectedly rejected the outcome of the polls and also hinted that he will be going to court to challenge the results. However, Atiku ought to have known that he was headed for defeat even before the votes were cast. His strategy was to project himself as a Northern candidate hoping to win massive votes across the North while calculating that Tinubu and Obi would split the Southern votes to his electoral advantage. However, the APC governors and other younger and more liberal elements from the North were determined that the zoning policy of rotating power between the North and South must be honoured in the best interest of equity, justice and national cohesion. Thus, even though Atiku won key northern states like Yobe, Gombe, Adamawa, Sokoto, Katsina, Bauchi, Kaduna, and Taraba, the magnitude of his victory was marginal as Tinubu came a close second in many of these Northern states won by Atiku.

The APC had total votes of 1.7 million to PDP’s 1.4 million votes in the North-Central. In the North-East, the APC scored a total of 1,185,458 to the PDP’s 1,741,845 thus coming second in that zone. And in the North-West, APC scored 2,652, 253 votes to the PDP’s 2,329,540. Again, the PDP inexplicably went into the election as a divided house especially with the grievances of the G5 governors – Benue, Oyo, Rivers, Abia and Enugu – not addressed by the party and its presidential candidate. The indifference of the governors to the Atiku campaign no doubt partly contributed to the loss of the party in all the South-East states as well as in Rivers, Benue and Oyo states.

Although he has attributed his loss in the election to rigging, Atiku himself acknowledged that lack of cohesion within the ranks of the party contributed to the disappointing performance of the party. As he told the press, “Obi took our votes in the South-East and the South-South but that alone cannot make him President. We are ready to dialogue with Obi with a view to forming an alliance”. But such an alliance or mutual understanding should have been undertaken before the elections, not after. Lack of cooperation and a working relationship among the leading opposition parties rather than the rigging allegation is responsible for the outcome of the elections. It is unlikely that either of the PDP or LP could singly on its own defeat the APC at the polls.

Although he was the most vilified, denigrated and relentlessly attacked by his adversaries and opponents, obviously because of his front runner status in the race, Tinubu overcame all odds to triumph at the polls and emerge as President-elect. His victory demonstrates once again that it is impossible to become President of Nigeria based on the votes of just one region or religious faith. The Director of Media and Publicity of the APC PCC, Mr. Bayo Onanuga, makes this point succinctly, “God created our country in a way to make it impossible for any part of the country to exist without the other. The framers of our constitution also worked to bind our country together with provisions that will make it impossible for a section of the country and any religion to have political dominion over the other. What this means is that any aspiring politician for the presidency of Nigeria must have a strong Pan-Nigeria appeal and strong support and must be embraced by adherents of other religions”.

Tinubu has been forging friendships, building bridges and forming alliances across ethnic, regional and religious lines over the last three decades and this was reflected in the outcome of the presidential elections. Amazingly, it appears that Tinubu contested not only against candidates of other parties but also some forces within his own party who were unenthusiastic about his candidacy. Thus, how do we explain the inexplicable protracted fuel scarcity as well as the abrupt cash swap policy that threw hundreds of thousands of Nigerians into indescribable pain and anguish right into the election with the strong possibility that many would be angry enough to vote against the ruling party and its candidate?. But the Jagaban triumphed. However, for the first time since 1999, his party lost in one of its most formidable strongholds, Lagos, where APC lost to the LP by 9,848 votes.

From all indications, however, the dynamics of the governorship and House of Assembly elections in the state next Saturday will be different. Many complacent APC leaders and supporters who had taken victory for the party for granted will be highly motivated to come out en masse to vote for Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s election. In any case, the presidential election in Lagos was not reflective of the relative strengths of the parties in the state. For, in last week’s election, the APC won the three Senatorial seats as well as 20 of the 24 House of Representatives seats. Those who continue to wail that last Saturday’s elections were rigged will have to explain how the APC lost in Lagos or how President Buhari’s party lost in Katsina or how governor Nasir ‘el-Rufai lost in Kaduna or the loss of the DG of Tinubu’s campaign team, governor Simon Lalong, in Plateau State to name just a few in elections that were allegedly characterized by large scale fraud.

Source: First published in The Nation Newspaper

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