The week after, By Olatunji Dare

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The last installment of this column appeared on this page the day before the Independent National Electoral Commission announced the definitive outcome of the presidential election. In the week leading to the poll, the internet bristled with rumours, the content of which ranged from the apocalyptic to the farcical.

You could dismiss more than 95 percent of them with a cursory interrogation. They emanated from the usual purveyors of the darkest conspiracy theorists and their idle followers, all operating at full throttle and occluding strong intimations from knowledgeable sources that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the candidate of the APC and his running mate, Kashim Shettima, had won the pivotal race.

Those intimations were doused by INEC’s earlier announcement that Peter Obi’s insurgent Labour Party (LP) had worsted the ruling APC in Lagos State, its redoubtable bastion. Some surveys which many dismissed as “Onitsha Market polls – shades of Onitsha Market Literature, per Emmanuel Obiechina – had predicted that much, but they had about them that familiar penumbra whereby hope triumphs over experience.

In Lagos, hope triumphed over experience.

The triumph galvanized the Obidients into a frenzy and sent them pouring into the streets and neighbourhoods of the metropolis in song and dance in a triumphalist outing that seemed ill-suited to the occasion, if not downright provocative. Wherever you turned, Obimania pervaded the air.

If the street was effusive, the higher reaches of society were hardly less restrained. Based on the Lagos election results, one of the nation’s best-known diplomats composed and dispatched for publication a congratulatory letter to Obi, whom he described, riffing on the candidate’s first name, as “The Rock” on which Nigeria’s unity stood. The letter was to be published the moment it was announced, as the writer confidently expected, sooner rather than later, that Obi had won the presidential race.

For now, his letter is resting in the publisher’s vault. It may yet be published, suitably backdated, if and when the courts affirm Obi’s claim that he won the election.

To return to Obi’s sensational Lagos outing: Would the development be replicated nationwide?

The APC’s stalwarts said there was no cause for alarm. They said their Situation Room was in possession of actual figures showing the party coasting to victory on the first ballot. There would be no second ballot with the sterile horse trading and the desperate backroom deals that characterize politics at its ugliest, they assured their followers.

Subsequent returns from INEC would show that the LP’s achievement in Lagos was no flash in the pan, for it had swept the South East comprehensively as was expected, and made gains in the Christian enclaves in the North and the Middle Belt. The returns would also show that the APC had built up a prohibitive lead over its closest rivals. The jury was not yet out.

Then INEC named a time for announcing the final results and proclaiming a winner, thus putting a pause on the speculation and second-guessing, not forgetting the online traffick in disinformation and vile propaganda that was threatening to convulse the polity.

Ever so mindful of the June 12, 1993, presidential election debacle, I called professional colleagues and democracy activists in Lagos to ask whether the PDP or the LP or any disaffected party for that matter had obtained a court injunction restraining INEC from announcing the final results.

They said no such thing had happened, to the best of their knowledge.

One of the disaffected parties, I learned, was frantically shopping around for a high court that would issue such an injunction. They had found one in Bauchi, but its enthusiasm for the task was less than reassuring.

With no injunctive restraint or an imminent prospect of one, INEC announced the results as scheduled. Tinubu had won garnering 8.79 million or 36.9 percent of valid votes cast. In addition, he had won at least 25 percent in 29 of the 36 states and Abuja Federal Capital Territory, much more than is required to meet the geopolitical spread mandated by the Constitution. There would be no second ballot.

Tinubu had graduated from Asiwaju of Lagos and Jagaban Borgu and all that to President-elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, just like that.

Atiku Abubakar of the PDP came second with 6.92 million votes (29.1 percent) and Obi came third with 6.1 million votes (25.4 percent). They rejected the figures and demanded with former president Olusegun Obasanjo who has made a habit of playing referee even after abandoning that rarefied perch for the murky pitch of partisanship, that the entire poll be cancelled. Separately, Obi claimed, much to Atiku’s bemusement, that he was the runaway winner.

If recent history is any guide, the disaffected parties would seek a court injunction restraining INEC from carrying out the next stage of the election, namely, presenting a Certificate of Return to the president-elect and the vice president-elect. Had any court issued such an order?

I kept up this line of inquiry until the INEC chair, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, presented the certificate to them, at a ceremony witnessed by some members of the team of foreign observers in town to monitor the elections and report on how they measured up on the scale of best practices in democratic elections.

In their submissions, the observers had remarked the glitches and malfunctions that can occur even in the best-ordered polls, as well as incidents of violence. They concluded, however, that lapses had not occurred on a scale that could have vitiated the entire poll.

At this writing early on Monday, March 6, no such injunctions had been sought or granted. But there are still some hurdles to clear.

Every general election cycle America is haunted by a clear and present fear that, a week or two before the presidential race statutorily scheduled for the first Tuesday in November, a candidate would release a nugget of damaging information that would not merely take his opponent out of contention but virtually terminate his political career as well. They call it the October Surprise.

The Nigerian equivalent for the election just concluded would have had to be a February Surprise. It was not for lack of effort on the part of the stragglers of the anti-June 12 Confederacy that they could not pull it off. They tried everything conceivable and even unimaginable. To no avail.

Would they seek an injunction restraining the Federal Government and its agents from swearing in the President-elect, in effect preventing him from taking office?

Personally, I will not rule it out. Even after he is sworn in, I will not put it beyond them to seek an injunction restraining him from executing the office of President of the Republic and Commander-in-Chief. In Nigeria, In Nigeria, no election is over until it is well and truly over,

Meanwhile, as Atiku and Obi litigate their claims, political attention has shifted to the gubernatorial and House of Assembly phase of the General Election. Lagos, the crown jewel of Nigerian politics, is again the epicentre, in what is threatening to be a war for control of the megalopolis.

The Labour Party is accused of deploying even more brazenly the ethnic and religious cards that had worked so well for it in the last round, by harping on the Igbo antecedents of its candidate, trumpeting his Igbo name and rallying the large Igbo population to vote for him. The Yoruba, who have always held sway in gubernatorial elections in Lagos, see this as an existential threat and are mobilizing their Yoruba population to ward it off.

The battle lines are drawn.

Few residents can recall a time when relations between the twain have been so brittle and so fraught.

Accomplished facts – or what the French call faits accomplis, have a way of defanging the most confounding situations. They are piling up in the APC camp and making Atiku and the Obi seem tiresome. But we cannot continually rely on them to solve fundamental problems of Nigeria’s existence.

Elections prove nothing and settle nothing if a dysfunctional structure remains rigidly in place.

Meanwhile, Mefi’s malignant authority continues to roil the micro-economic landscape.

Source: First published in The Nation Newspaper

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