In 2015, March was Nigeria’s golden month. On the 31st March 2015, the then President of the Republic Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, and presidential candidate of the then ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in that year’s presidential polls wrote his name into history when he called his main opponent and candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Muhammadu Buhari to accept defeat. He also congratulated the former army general for winning at his fourth attempt to claim the coveted prize.
The next day, April 1, there were many who thought that people were springing “April fool” jokes on them when the news of Jonathan’s most commendable action filled the airwaves. They were most probably those who had walked away from their television sets when, in the midst of the announcement of results on live television by then Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman Professor Attahiru Jega, the great “Elder” himself, Godsday Orubebe, staged his award-winning show of shame as he tried, screaming and cursing, to truncate the announcement process. Anyway, the results from all the states were all but in, save for Borno, which the retired general clinched by a mile. The rest is history: the 16-year reign of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had come to an end.
The old general has repeated the 2015 feat by defeating the PDP candidate in the February 23, 2019 presidential polls, former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, by quite a handsome margin (15.1 million to 10.7 million votes), to clinch a second-term mandate. But March has literally lost the” gold medal” it won four years ago. There would be no call from the defeated to the victor this time. And the reason is that some Nigerians are hell bent on a vicious campaign to erode public confidence and faith in the electoral process simply because their beloved candidate had lost.
Since the announcement of the final results, President Buhari has received well-deserved greetings from the international community and prominent national groups and statesmen. The United States, on its part congratulated President Buhari on his re-election and also commended Nigerians for the generally peaceful elections. In particular, the US noted “the assessments of international and domestic observer missions affirming the overall credibility of the election, despite localised violence and irregularities.” Whilst congratulating Buhari on his re-election, the United Kingdom noted that “the result declared by the Nigerian election Commission is consistent with the result obtained through the civil society Parallel Vote Tabulation process. Along with our international partners, the UK believes the Nigerian people can have confidence in the result.
Ohaneze Ndigbo, the powerful Igbo socio-cultural organization which had one of its sons Peter Obi as Atiku’s vice presidential candidate, hailed Buhari on his “well-deserved victory” adding that “his victory as exposed by the majority of votes cast, has clearly shown that the President has been on the right course in the last four years.” The Sultan of Sokoto and President –General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs congratulated Buhari on his re-election and also commended “all the other contestants as well as the Nigerian electorate that conducted themselves peacefully and with high spirit of decorum during and after the elections.” He urged “all political contenders in Nigeria to, in the name of Allah, take it easy and sheath their swords.”
Although President Buhari has implored his supporters not to gloat over his victory, the outcome of the election, was, in reality, quite predictable–a resounding victory for the APC flagbearer whose relentless anti-corruption campaign has been the signpost of his first term in office. Apart from his battle against sleaze and unrelenting plugging of most of the loopholes exploited for official malfeasance, President Buhari had embarked on what many have described as the most ambitious infrastructural projects in the country’s history as his government built and rehabilitated roads and rails massively across the country, stabilized many states that were on the brink of bankruptcy and invested heavily in education, agriculture and social intervention schemes targeted at poor and the most vulnerable members of society.
The New York Times called the contest between Buhari and Atiku, “ a referendum on honesty”. That reasoning is hinged on the fact that, for a vast majority of Nigerians, the attraction of integrity in leadership remainsthe strongest on the quality and desirability spectrum, far more than the primordial considerations of tribal and ethnic leanings, and even religion. And, say what you may about him, the man from Daura has a more formidable stock of integrity in his closet than the Waziri who, as far as one can remember, has been dogged by the baggage of alleged corrupt enrichment and practices in his public and business dealings. Indeed, the New York Times had described Atiku as a “corruption-stained candidate.”
The eternally damaging testimonial and sordid verdict on Atiku’s public record by his former boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, with whom he won an election on the PDP ticket and served as Vice President for eight years, and which the retired army general had considered vital and true enough to document in a book for posterity, could not have endeared him to many voters despite Obasanjo’s robust turnarounds to paint his former lieutenant in glossier colours. So too, are the Waziri’s pending $40 Million alleged bribe and money laundering matters in the United States which his hasty trip to America last December could not have erased or obviated in the minds of some voters.
Still, it is a salutary attestation to the evolution of our democracy and party politics that Atiku, in spite of his alleged unflattering credentials, still hauled in almost 11 million votes in the presidential election. His robust performance is perhaps indicative of a potential to win the prize the next time he is on the ticket – especially with help from top-drawer image-laundering. That is for the future to tell.
Thankfully, we did not witness another “Elder Godsday Orubebe show” during the announcement of the results of the February 23 2019 polls at the INEC’s National Collation Centre in Abuja by the unflappable Professor Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman. But what we seem to have instead of a repeat of that despicable spectacle four years ago, is, in my opinion, even more condemnable. And, that is the clearly unpatriotic attempts by some Nigerians, especially the opposition PDP and their supporters, to totally denigrate and discredit our electoral process whilst also condemning the conduct of the February 23, 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections in its entirety.
Indeed, the media, both mainstream and social, have lately been awash with an orchestrated campaign to paint the process that produced President Buhari’s re-election as heavily rigged in his favour and preponderantly tainted with irregularities. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Yes, there were irregularities here and there and there were also pockets of violence in some parts of the country. There were reports of late arrival of electoral materials leading, inevitably, to late voting at some centres; malfunctioned card readers, snatching of ballot boxes, alleged seizure of electoral materials from unauthorized persons and groups, alleged tampering with poll results between polling stations and collation points, heavy military presence in a couple of states and, sadly, the loss of some lives arising from election violence. Wherever they are widespread or become the norm, these violations would definitely detract from the minimum standards expected of a free and fair election. However, there is no record or evidence that the irregularities and violations identified by local or international observers generally characterized the February 23 2019 election.
What was witnessed in almost all cities, towns and villages in the country on that Saturday, was the glorious sights of more than 26 million Nigerians trooping out to peacefully exercise their civic obligations to vote for their preferred candidates. Of course, the electoral process as well as the handling and conduct of the election by INEC was imperfect, given the overwhelming transportation, logistics, security, monitoring and staffing challenges and problems the Commission must confront every four years and which are also compounded by the infinite capacity of political parties and their supporters anywhere in the world to compromise and circumvent the system thereby degrading the integrity of the electoral process. Clearly no election anywhere can really be deemed perfect and totally hitch-free.
And yet, this was an election in which Vice President Yemi Osinbajo lost in his Victoria Garden City (VGC) polling unit and a sitting governor did not rig his contest for a senate seat. Indeed, the shocks and upsets recorded across the country and across party lines on February 23 should convince the hardest doubter that the election results reflected the genuine choices made by Nigerians, as attested to by international poll observers who were on ground. Besides, there have been no single report that any state party agent refused to append his or her signature to the broad results sheets presented on live television one after the other by university Vice Chancellors and handed over to Professor Yakubu. So at what point were the results rigged without the knowledge of party agents.
To be sure, the entire spectrum of our electoral system and institution needs constant fine-tuning, amendments and adjustments. The process can only get better. After all, after more than three centuries of conducting elections the United States is still doing just that.
*Bolaji Akanni is a Public Policy Analyst based in Lagos