Nigeria’s presidential election portends good for democracy, By Femi Odere

The much-awaited and anticipated Nigerian presidential election has come and gone with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) declared the winner of the presidential contest. The president-elect was also a two-term governor of Lagos State (Nigeria’s foremost commercial and most populous state) for eight years.

The recently concluded presidential election, which is the seventh by the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) since the restoration of democracy in the country in 1999 has never been much-awaited and anticipated than this one not only because the major contestants, quite frankly, exacerbated the country’s ethnoreligious and political fault lines, but also because of the palpable fears among many a Nigerians that the presidential election may not hold after all.

Perhaps the acrimonious atmosphere generated by the participation of the four major contestants, each of them big political personalities in their own right from the four of the country’s six geo-political regions in the election would not have been as pronounced, if not perplexing, if the principle of power rotation has been adhered to by one of the two major political parties. Yet, political power rotation has been largely responsible for the relative peace that has sustained the country’s unity.

The candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who was also a former vice president in the Rtd. General Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration egregiously violated this power rotation principle by winning his party’s ticket most especially with a sleight of hand despite serious warnings from all the southern governors (who are seventeen in number) that the two major political parties should cede their presidential tickets to southerners for fairness and equity.

The southern governors thought—-and rightly so—-that it would be grossly unfair, and an impediment to national cohesion, if President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor should come from the same geopolitical region and ethnic stock as the president which would have happened had Atiku Abubakar won the presidential election. National unity and cohesion probably didn’t matter to Atiku because of his effrontery, if not an affront to Nigerians, by presenting himself for the presidential election. Atiku further imperiled the much-needed national cohesion when he pointedly admonished, in one of his campaign hustlings, his northern audience not to vote for candidates from the Yoruba or Igbo ethnic stocks as none of them would represent their interests in the national and political scheme of things as much as he would.

Alhaji Rabiu Musa Kwankwanso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), a former governor of Kano State and former federal minister also falls into this category as a northerner which put paid, ab initio, to his presidential bid.

The former governor of Anambra, a South Eastern state Mr. Peter Gregory Obi of the Labour Party (LP) based his entire campaign on ethnic and religious baiting. Perhaps realizing that the minimal campaigns he did around the country hardly gained traction among the Nigerian voters, Peter Obi went out on all fours to court the votes of his Igbo ethnic stock and the Christian religious communities as he shuttled between the churches of the different religious faiths for votes.

As if this new low of harnessing votes was not bad enough, not a few of the pastors of these faiths converted their churches into campaign grounds, using their bully pulpits to threaten and sometimes rain abuses and curses on their members who would dare not to vote for Peter Obi, the Labor Party presidential candidate. Furthermore, Peter Obi is believed in some quarters as not only a closet supporter of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), a southeastern-domiciled terrorist group seeking to extricate the region from the rest of the country by all means but allegedly one of the main arrowheads clandestinely funding the terrorist group.

The decision of the winning party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) to present a Muslim-Muslim ticket to the Nigerian voters even when it was purely a strategic move to garner votes from the northern half of the country where Muslims predominate was mischievously advertised by the Labour Party and their acolytes as an attempt to Islamize the country if the party should become victorious. It matters not that the wife of the president-elect is an ordained pastor in, unarguably the biggest Christian denomination in the country where Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo is also an ordained pastor.

The President-elect Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is an extremely formidable juggernaut from the southwest geopolitical region whose victory was, without doubt, hinged on not only the selfless sacrifice he made, and continues to make for his party but the fact that he had built bridges across the country which contributed in no small measure to his electoral victory.

However, the presidential election has thrown up not a few surprises. Even when some polls are premeditated and tilted in favor of Peter Obi as the assumed winner, he nonetheless took the bookmakers and the country by surprise by not only the number of votes garnered but also the states he won.

No one would have thought that the Labour Party candidate would win Lagos state of all the states he won. But win he did although by a slight margin. He also won in unexpected states such as Rivers, Cross River, Edo, Nassarawa, and Plateau aside from his complete sweep of the southeastern states—-his natural political habitat.

The other confounding surprise that Peter Obi’s electoral victory threw up was the fact that he was beaten into the third position with a little over 700, 000 votes by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (who came second) of the PDP, a serial presidential contestant from a well-entrenched political party under whose banner he was Nigeria’s Vice President for eight years.

These surprises couldn’t have been possible were the election conducted by the electoral umpire not fair, transparent, and credible. Yet, the losers and their supporters would want to impress on the rest of the world that the election was rigged. There cannot be anything farther from the truth.

It’s important to remind us at this juncture that the disputants of the election did not hinge their disputes on the total number of votes they and the winner scored but that INEC did not upload the results announced at the collation center on its server in real-time. But they failed or were unwilling, to avail the world of the fact that the upload by INEC is discretionary and not legally mandatory. What’s more, the results that were announced at the collation center were taken from the result sheets that had been signed by all the party agents present at every polling unit which authenticated those results. One then wonders why the rush by the PDP and Labour Party that INEC should immediately upload results into their server and failure to do so was, therefore tantamount to rigging.

It’s also important to mention that the PDP and the Labour Party are two out of the eighteen political parties that contested the presidential election crying foul over the election. The fifteen other political parties have since passed a vote of confidence on INEC and its Chairman.

While it should be conceded that there are still challenges that INEC must come to terms with such as making sure that thuggery was eliminated from the voting process and nipping in the bud the late arrival of ballot papers and election personnel at polling units to enhance the integrity of the votes among other things, the presidential election has been adjudged from around the world as fair, transparent and credible most especially from international observers. According to the ECOWAS observer team, the presidential election passed muster. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who was part of an international observer team has expressed his satisfaction with the process and its outcome.

It can therefore be reasonably concluded that the two disgruntled parties are not only engaging in a wild goose chase for calling for the cancellation of the election but also an attempt to call the dog a bad name to hang it.

Since the President-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu was declared the winner and given the Certificate of Return by INEC, there has been an outpouring of congratulatory messages from within and without. Traditional rulers around the country have congratulated, and continue to congratulate the president-elect while they enjoined him to extend the olive branch to the vanquished, which he did in his acceptance speech.

The former military head of state Gen. Ibrahim Babangida said in his congratulatory message that “It is a thing of joy that this is happening in my lifetime. I can confidently say that Tinubu is a good man for the job.”

Leaders in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Morroco, Ukraine, and many other countries have congratulated and issued official statements on the emergence of the president-elect. These congratulations and goodwill messages wouldn’t have happened if these countries had reasonable doubts and sufficient reasons to believe that the presidential election was not fair, not transparent, and not credible enough.

Femi Odere is the Head of Media and Publicity at the Diaspora Directorate of Tinubu-Shettima Presidential Campaign Council

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