Let the healing begin, By Bolaji Adebiyi
A few days after the results of the presidential election were announced, this column, 24 February 2023, made the case for a peaceful resolution of disputes arising from the keenly contested poll. Titled: Time to Move On, while acknowledging the complaints about some irregularities by the opposition political parties that lost out in the election, cognizance was taken of certain trends thrown up by the outcome, which gave the credibility of the results the benefit of the doubt.
The most significant of the trend is the parity in the spread of wins as the three frontrunners, All Progressives Congress Bola Tinubu, Peoples Democratic Party’s Atiku Abubakar, and Labour Party’s Peter Obi, won outright in 12 states each with New Nigerian Peoples Party’s Rabiu Kwankwaso taking his home state of Kano. The other trend is the narrow margin of win across the states and regions except for the South-east where the winner scored an average of 90 per cent of the votes cast. Finally, the turnout of slightly above 24 million, a far cry from the several million usually recorded in past elections exemplified the significant progress that had been made in the journey toward electoral fidelity.
Without a doubt the increasing use of technology, from electronic card readers to bimodal voter accreditation systems, has helped to weed out the army of fake voters and results, leading to the low figures that were recorded in the presidential poll. But more important is the increasing interest that the people, particularly young people are showing in the electoral process. This has uttered the pattern of electoral outcomes, which shows that the electorate is becoming more discerning in their political choices. Whilst there are indeed ample signs that ethnicity and religion are still key tools for the manipulation of voters, evidence is emerging that the people are beginning to pay more attention to the need to empower those who will take their aspirations more seriously.
If anyone is in doubt about this emerging trend, the defeat of seven sitting governors who bided for seats in the Senate should have cleared the doubt. Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), Samuel Ortom (Benue), Ben Ayade (Cross River), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Simon Lalong (Plateau), Darius Ishaku (Taraba), and Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi) were told to go back home after their tenure by their people. It is also interesting to note that many of them that sought a second term had to struggle to win.
Of the 10 governors that have been re-elected, five, Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos), Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Inuwa Yahaya (Gombe) and Abdullahi Sule (Nasarawa)
struggled to make it back. Yet the issues were not essentially about performance in office otherwise Sanwo-Olu, generally assessed to have done well, would not have gone through the hassles he went through to emerge. More interesting is the case of Nasarawa where the contending party was not the main opposition PDP but the fringe Social Democratic Party.
Meanwhile, the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP traded places and strongholds with LP and NNPP making it to one government house each. The APC won 15 of the 28 states on offer, losing Plateau and Zamfara to the PDP while the main opposition party won nine, losing Sokoto and Benue to the ruling party. This might be a strange outcome given the widespread complaint of underperformance by the APC but obviously, issues beyond the delivery of dividends of democracy were at play.
But for the ethnic and religious tensions that were aroused, particularly in Lagos, the South-east, and some Northern states, the trends earlier highlighted ought to be positive developments in our electoral and democratic history. At least the outcomes of the presidential, federal legislative, and governorship elections show that no one can claim to be a godfather of any place anymore.
Tinubu lost in Lagos, and Buhari could not deliver him in Katsina even as the president’s 12 million votes bank evaporated without any positive impact on his presidential flagbearer. The PDP lost its 24-year-old dominance of the South-east to a fringe LP. These were essentially due to citizens’ action of rejection of their experiences with the prevailing order, and the desire for positive changes in their material conditions.
But it is the toxic ethnic slur and verbal attacks that have dominated the media space. In spite of the decision of Atiku and Obi to take their grievances to the electoral tribunal as provided by law, their supporters have continued to hurt and trade bitter exchanges. More unfortunate are hate-filled and reckless statements of official spokespersons whose utterances ought to reflect the disposition of their principals.
That none of the aggrieved presidential aspirants has called their supporters and spokesperson to order is worrisome. However, a ray of hope for caution appeared on Monday when Tinubu sued for peace, regretting and condemning the ethnic slur that characterised the last-minute electioneering for the governorship after the announcement of the presidential election results.
“My appeal is for us to rise above our differences, which, in reality, are fewer than the valued strings that bind us together as a people irrespective of the circumstances of our births,” he said in a statement, adding, “As former governor of Lagos State, I can attest to the strength in our diversity and togetherness.”
He pledged as president-elect, he would bring the spirit of inclusiveness that was engendered in Lagos into national governance so that together Nigerians could attain their full potential.
Tinubu said the elections were over and that all contestants should come to terms with the fact that the people had made their choice of who would serve them for the next four years. “The time for leadership and governance is now upon us,” he stated, adding, “We must take urgent steps to unite the people; those who voted for us and those who did not.”
Although the feelers from the opposing camp have not been encouraging the reconciliation that the president has been seeking, he pleaded, “We must champion the healing process by embracing the opponents and their supporters. As I have stated previously, the time for politicking is gone. This is time for nation-building, a task beyond one individual or a section of society. We need every hand from wherever it may come to be on deck.”
The case for reconciliation could not have been better stated. But it’s important to appreciate that the need for reconciliation and peace does not exclude the right of the aggrieved to ventilate their resentment at the appropriate channels laid down by law. It is against this background that the Atiku and Obi petitions at the tribunal could not be taken as a rejection of Tinubu’s Olive branch. Lasting peace is only possible if the aggrieved feel a sense of justice and closure.
The petitions at the tribunal, therefore, should not be an excuse for the aggrieved to escalate the dispute. At the same time, it should not be a pretext for the victorious not to persist in the efforts to curb the disagreement.
Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from firstname.lastname@example.org
First published on THISDAY Newspapers