Logic of the February 25 polls, By Segun Ayobolu

Having spent the best part of the last two to three years attacking, traducing, insulting, denigrating and hurling all kinds of weapons to demonize Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and derail his unhidden presidential aspiration, it is understandable that a not insignificant number of newspaper columnists, public analysts, social media influencers and electronic medium talk show anchors are investing considerable time and energy in trying to discredit the February 25 elections in which the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate has emerged as President-elect. To his bitter and apparently inconsolable adversaries, any of the other major contestants for the apex office emerging triumphant would have been preferable to Tinubu’s victory. It is not impossible that the often inexplicably fierce antagonism to his person and politics may have impelled divine forces to aid the realization of Asiwaju’s ambition even in the face of almost superhuman odds.

Of course, those who oppose Tinubu for whatever reasons have as much right to their political choice and stance as those like this writer who have not disguised their support for and inclination towards the President-elect. Whatever line one takes, however, it is intellectually dishonest to seek to de-market an election and call vociferously for its arbitrary cancellation simply because a candidate of one’s choice did not emerge victorious.

Let me quickly say that I have been in the place of those who feel bitter, disappointed and despondent that this election did not go the way of their favoured candidates. As a teenager in final year of secondary school, I was a polling agent of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the 1979 presidential elections in Kwara State. My support for the party’s presidential candidate, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was predicated on what I saw as his superior programmatic agenda over his co-contestants as well as his glorious and incomparable track record of performance as Premier of the Western Region in the First Republic, which I had copiously read about. There are a number of interesting parallels between the 1979 elections and those of last February 25.

The dominant ethnic groups – the Hausa/Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba had key contestants in the race. Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) from Sokoto State, Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim of the Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP) from Borno State and Mallam Aminu Kano of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) from Kano State were the northern candidates eyeing the presidential office. Dr. Nnmadi Azikwe of the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) from Anambra in the South East and Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) from Ogun State in the South-West were the contenders from the South.

As was widely projected before the election, the candidates performed well in their various ethno-regional bases. For instance, Azikwe scored 82.88% of the votes in Anambra State, 84.69% in Imo and 49.70% in Plateau, the three states won by the NPP out of the then existing 19 states. He recorded a total of 2,822,523 of the votes cast in the election. The Christian factor contributed to his victory in Plateau. Chief Obafemi Awolowo made a clean sweep of the South-West recording 85.78% of the votes in Oyo, 94.50% in Ondo, 92.1% in Ogun, 82.30% in Lagos and 53.20% in Bendel which used to be part of the old Western Region to win those five states. His party also performed relatively well in Gongola where it recorded 21.67% of the votes.

While Aminu Kano won 76.41% of the votes in his native Kano State, his party won 31% of the votes in Kaduna although the PRP narrowly clinched the state in the governorship election but with the NPN, however, winning a majority of seats in the House of Assembly. The winner of the election, President Shehu Shagari, secured victory in nine states winning 62.48% of the votes cast in Bauchi, 66.58% in Sokoto, and 35.2% in Gongola in the core North.
What secured overall victory for Shagari, however, was his victory in the ethnic minority states where he scored 76.38% in Benue, 64.40% in Cross River, 53.62% in Kwara, 74.88% in Niger and 72.65% in Rivers. Where Shagari did not come first nationwide, his party mostly came second thus having not just the highest number of total votes cast but also the widest spread of support across the country as required by the constitution to be declared victorious in a presidential election in Nigeria.

It is interesting that while Shagari scored a total of 5,688,857 to win the election, Awolowo had 4,916,551 votes, Azikwe scored 2,822, 523, Aminu Kano, 1,732,113 votes and Waziri Ibrahim 1, 686, 489. But the NPN was the only party to meet the constitutional spread demand with 25% of the votes cast in 12 states and a substantial number of the votes cast in a 13th state, namely Kano. Despite the undisputed bias of the military superintendents of the transition, the General Olusegun Obasanjo regime, there is no way they could have handed over to any of the others and not instigated widespread instability and political insecurity. Yet, the opposition was vociferous in claiming that the election was rigged in favour of the NPN and the loudest in this regard was naturally the UPN whose candidate came a close second in overall numbers even whele winning only in the five states of his home region.

Incidentally, that was also my view for many years until much later with greater emotional detachment and dispassionate analysis it became clear to me that Awolowo’s UPN simply did not have the spread of support to have won the 1979 election. To make the UPN’s case worse, Awolowo picked his running mate, Chief Phillip Umeadi, from the South-East thereby ignoring the whole North yet his party performed abysmally in the South- East. Interestingly, in the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections, both Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) are vehemently claiming to have won the presidential election and to have been rigged out by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which allegedly manipulated the polls in favour of the ruling APC. A battery of public intellectuals including columnists and radio as well as television anchors and pundits have taken up the ‘rigged election’ battle cry with hardly any credible evidence or convincing logic to support this perspective.

The Chief Ayo Adebanjo-led Afenifere socio-cultural group has arbitrarily and magisterially declared that its preferred candidate, Peter Obi, won the election. No figures. No facts. No logic. Just like that! The ordinarily cerebral political scientist, Mr. Akin Osuntokun, DG of the LP campaign, claimed on national television that his candidate, Obi, won over one million votes in Lagos. These surely are claims which have to be proven in court but the opposition parties obviously do not want to go that route. They prefer an outright and legally baseless cancelation of the results and a recommencement of the process de novo. But the pertinent question is whether or not there is a clearly discernible logic to the outcome of the election. I believe there is just as in 1979. For instance, in his South-East Igbo redoubt, Peter Obi’s LP scored 1,960,589 votes to the miserly scores of 127, 605 and 91,195 recorded by the PDP and APC. He recorded nearly 95% support in the region. Was that also a function of rigging or did the election manipulation take place only outside the South-East?

Outside the South-East, is there not a logic to Obi’s victory in Lagos, Delta, Edo and even Nasarawa and Plateau States in the North? Here, both the ethnic Igbo factor and the evangelical Christian vote, which he deliberately and consciously courted, worked in his favour. But then, there was a downside to this as the politicization of Christianity boomeranged against him in the vast North-East and North-West where Obi did not record up to 25% of the votes in any state.

In the same vein, Atiku won key northern states in his base such as Adamawa, Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi, Sokoto, Katsina, Kaduna and Taraba as largely projected before the elections although Tinubu came a close second in these states thanks to the strong support he enjoyed from sitting APC governors in those states. As I stated last week, “The APC had a total of 1.7 million votes to PDP’s 1.4 million votes in the North Central. In the North-East, the APC scored a total of 1, 185, 458 votes to the PDP’s 1,741,845 votes thus coming second in the region. And in the North-West, APC scored 2,652, 253 votes to the PDP’s 2,329,540”. Thus, Tinubu came first in two of the zones in the North with Atiku triumphing only in his North-East region.

Again, was this unexpected? The answer is most certainly no. As I put it last week, “Again, the PDP inexplicably went into the election as a divided house especially with the grievances of the G5 governors – Rivers, Benue, Abia, Enugu and Oyo – 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”. In kano, Rabiu Kwankwanso of the NNPP eviscerated Atiku’s hitherto strong electoral base winning the state with 997,279 votes to Atiku’s 131,716 votes. Meanwhile, Tinubu scored 517,341 votes in the state.

Tinubu predictably had a strong showing in his South-West where he won Oyo, Ondo, Ogun and Ekiti but narrowly lost Osun and Lagos states to Atiku and Obi respectively. Just like the Shagari victory in 1979, where Tinubu did not come first in many states, he posted a close second thus winning the widest pan-Nigeria support base of all the aspirants. Outside his own zone, Tinubu won in Niger, Kogi, Kwara, Jigawa, Benue, Zamfara, Borno and Rivers. Another key factor in understanding the logic of the outcome of this election was the factor of young first time voters to whom Obi no doubt had considerable appeal and boosted the performance of the LP.

It is unfortunate that even seasoned columnists who are also respected academics would readily quote foreign newspapers and agencies in trying to discredit the election when an informed and unbiased local media ought to provide the most reliable and authoritative source of news on the polls for their foreign counterparts. Were the elections perfect and faultless? The answer is no. But there are no perfect elections anywhere in the world. The last American presidential election in the US, a country which has been practicing democracy for over two and a half centuries, is a case in point. That country is still trying to recover fully from the fallouts of that exercise. Millions of Republicans still cannot be convinced that the election was not “stolen” from Trump. The era of some countries giving others lessons in democratic practice should be over and should no longer be indulged.

Some other analysts fault the election on the basis of the perceived low turn out of voters. They claim that the opposition party candidates combined had more over all votes than the President-elect. This is nonsensical. Did the constitution stipulate a given percentage of voter turnout for the election to be valid? No. Were the votes cast for the opposition candidates jointly or for each party candidate separately? Did either of Atiku or Obi singly score higher votes than the proclaimed winner of the election? Again, no. True, Tinubu had 8,794, 726 votes but all 24,965,218 total votes cast affirmed their faith in the process and invested it with legitimacy whichever party or candidates they voted for.

In conclusion, let me quote a piece sent to me online during the week on the cavalier claims that the elections were rigged. It read: “All PDP and Labour Party senators-elect and House of Representatives members-elect went and collected their Certificates of Return from INEC without complaints. This is the same election, same day, same polling units, by the same INEC, same processes, and same BVAS. And this was the same election that was rigged? They should have rejected their certificates in protest. Now PDP and LP have validated the election. You can’t eat your cake and have it”. End of discussion.

Source: First published in The Nation Newspaper

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