The Polls Of Our Lives
Nigeria will go to the polls on Saturday to elect the man, perhaps the woman, that will lead Africa’s most populous country for the next four years. Without any doubt, the race is clearly between All Progressives Congress’ President Muhammadu Buhari and former Nigeria’s vice president Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party.
African Action Congress’s Omoyele Sowore, a man whose Sahara Reporters has ruffled the feathers of the political class, has appealed to the spirit of student union-like blend of politics and activism to some, especially to the youth who identified with his Take It Back movement.
Professor Kingsley Moghalu, an academic and former deputy governor of Nigeria’s central bank, spoke eloquently of his career in private and public offices. Moghalu has a glittering resume that puts him in better stead to lead Nigeria, but will voters’ disenchantment with the dastardly binary of APC/PDP trump his limited political clout and make him the choice of the people?
The Third Force, a late amalgam of peripheral political parties, could force the election into a rerun. But the possibility of that happening looks a bit unlikely.
That answer will be provided by voters with their thumbs next Saturday.
But Nigeria is an unusual country where elections can be won or lost long after voters have made their choices.
A date with history
Apart from this contest being about Nigeria’s immediate future, it is significant for both frontrunners.
President Buhari is one of the two men to have led Nigeria as military Head of State and as elected president. In fact, Buhari’s ascension to Nigeria’s number one postmarked the first time an opposition party trounced a ruling party at the polls in Nigeria. Atiku, who served as the VP to Olusegun Obasanjo, who was also a military Head of State and, later, an elected president, is confident of sending Buhari home to Daura.
Before Buhari’s eventual victory as the candidate of APC in 2015, he had contested a few times. Atiku has even contested the position more times than Buhari. He first showed interest in being Nigeria’s president as a member of the Social Democratic Party in 1993. He may finally come good in 2019.
However, a number of analysts have called the election for the sitting president.
Eurasia Group and the Brookings Institution said the outcome may favour President Buhari. Although Eurasia predicted that he will score about 60% of the votes, Brookings Institution was cautiously optimistic of a Buhari victory.
SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based socio-political and economic research firm in its 2019 outlook for Nigeria says whoever is going to win will do so with a slim margin. It notes that if President Buhari wins the election, he may have to deal with a National Assembly controlled by the opposition.
“We envisage that in the best case scenario for the incumbent, he may win but face a hostile national assembly where we will have an opposition party having the majority in both legislative houses for the first time. In the worst case scenario, he will lose the election,” SBM says in a report with an ominous title The Year Ahead – Choose your evil.
The powerful centre
In the months leading to the elections, the news cycle was dominated by the presidential elections. Analyses and reportage largely focused on the presidential candidates and what they were offering or what they didn’t. Even the sizes of campaign crowds made headlines.
The equally important elections of federal lawmakers received far less ink than they deserved.
The problem, Obinna Okenwa, a member of Enugu State House of Assembly representing Enugu South constituency, says is a manifestation of the way Nigeria is structured.
“The way Nigeria is structured…there is too much power in the centre. That is why there is so much concentration on the presidential election,” he says.
Okenwa, however, believes the focus will automatically shift to the governorship and state lawmakers elections in the days ahead.
Francis Jakpor, a resident of Port Harcourt and marketing communications manager at Armese Power Solutions, says the lack of interest in elections of lawmakers follows years of disconnect between the parliamentarians and their constituencies.
“Nigerians couldn’t care less about who represents their interests at the Senate because, quite frankly, the senators have made no tangible impact on their constituencies,” Jakpors tells Guardian Life via email.
“Most often, we only recall having senators or reps when they are bickering or coming to blows over inanities that have nothing to do with the rest of us.”
Olubankole ‘Bank W’ Wellington, an actor and singer who is battling against the moneyed machinery of established parties, and who is looking to represent Eti Osa at the House of Representatives, is hoping to keep the focus of the people firmly on the NASS assembly with his campaign.
“The majority of us cannot even tell who are their representatives, how can politicians be held accountable to their voters?” he says.
“Most of the people don’t even vote for their legislators. Parties just have to activate their base by giving them a few thousands of nairas and they win,” he tells AFP.
But Wellington believes that problem can be solved if people like him rise up to the challenges. For now, he wants to chart the course for others to follow.
“I want to pave the way…”
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This article was originally published on February 17, 2019.