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Buhari and phony fears for 2019


Alabi Williams

Alabi Williams

During his recent visit to Benin City, Edo State, president Buhari had cause to lament what he thought was a precarious road to 2019. He wondered whether the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that has found it difficult, so far, to conduct one-off elections in a few states, could handle the next general elections across the country, which will present with far bigger issues. The president based his fears on what happened in Kogi governorship election of November 2015, that of Bayelsa in December 2015 and Rivers legislative rerun elections.

Hear him: “What happened in (the last elections) Kogi, Bayelsa and Rivers States disturbs me a lot. I think we should go beyond these actions. Why do we kill each other? Putting tyres on people and setting them ablaze?”

The president’s fears are real and it would be most unfortunate, if Nigeria were to add complex electoral disputes to prevailing economic troubles that seem very difficult to tackle. Economic issues are enough trouble to manage, while elections provide opportunity for parties to aggregate views on how to deal with them. But if elections are violently disputed, as was seen in parts of the country in 2011, and the socio-economic environment is disturbed, the impact on the economy could be terrible. It is against that background that Buhari’s concern must be weighed and appreciated. And we are doing so in order to troubleshoot and make suggestions. And we shall apportion blames, too.

As for the Kogi election, the candidate of APC, late Abubakar Audu, died shortly before the final announcement of the result, in which he had a clear lead. At Audu’s sudden death, INEC, which was close to rounding off the process, decided to declare the election inconclusive. Before then, the Returning Officer, Emmanuel Kucha (Vice-Chancellor of the University of Agriculture, Makurdi), had given Audu and the APC 240, 867, while Idris Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), scored 199, 514 votes. But INEC cited the difference between votes garnered (41, 353), as being lower than 49, 953, the number of registered voters in 91 polling units, whose election were canceled due to violence and other glitches.

So, technically, the reason given by INEC for declaring the entire election inclusive seemed reasonable. But pundits went to town, alleging that the APC, in collusion with INEC, decided not to proceed with the announcement of the final result, since in the absence of Audu, James Faleke, who was joined as deputy governorship candidate, would inherit the votes and become governor. They went on to add that elements in the APC, including the Presidency, did not want Faleke to be governor, because that would extend the political territory of Bola Tinubu, national leader of the APC, from the Southwest to the North-central. Faleke is said to be Tinubu’s protégé, and was actually nominated for that position by the former. That conspiracy theory gained traction, even though INEC vehemently denied being prevailed upon to stage-manage the final outcome of that exercise.

Faleke, feeling denied, went to the tribunal to dispute the process, and the matter went up to the Supreme Court, where the verdict was that he had no case. Kogi, therefore, has come and gone and one wonders why Buhari still thinks there are matters there to be addressed. Legally, the matter is rested, but politically, perhaps, it is not. And one is moved to feel that Buhari’s attachment to the Kogi events could have come from a troubled conscience. It was APC versus itself and the matter could have been better managed, if the party leadership had brought all stakeholders to the table. That did not happen. Instead, there was a moment of suspicious silence, after which deft moves deployed.

The failure to resolve the Kogi political impasse outside the courtroom strengthened the mutual suspicion among the legacy partners of the party. Remember that after the June 9 inauguration of the National Assembly and the contrived election of its leadership, APC had become a troubled party. It is unable to enjoy its majority status in the NASS, but is actually behaving like the opposition. The presidency has more trouble to deal with among its own party than with opposition elements, all because the seed of mutual antagonism had been sown. The same thing is now playing out in Ondo, where this Saturday’s governorship election, if it holds, presents a greater source of worry than that of Kogi.

In Ondo, the type of conspiracy that was orchestrated in Kogi seems to be in the works. Tinubu, again, is being denied the level playing field to play politics the way he did it in the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Tinubu’s capacity to play godfather has shrunk, not because the APC policy is geared to empower the party and push individuals to the background, but that some hawks in the party and the presidency are bent on whittling the man’s influence. The import here is that the party was unable to carry out a free and fair primary election of a sole governorship candidate. And that is affecting its cohesion and preparation for the election. The situation has caused splinter groups to migrate their support to other parties, creating an environment of confusion, ready made for electoral violence.

Meanwhile, in the PDP, moles of destabilisation that planted themselves are hewing away at the party’s soul. Six days to a major election, the party does not have a rallying point. The mainstream PDP is weakened and confused, as of today, while a faction is acting puppetry all over the place. The stage for 2019 is well set for disaster and I agree, that this should worry President Buhari.

Therefore, for 2019 to be seamless and be an improvement over what former President Jonathan and the PDP handed to this government, Buhari has to first work on his party. The APC was an opportunistic creation in the absence of a strong and well-organised political party to confront the PDP. After forming government, APC has refused to demonstrate largeness of heart to accommodate itself. Cleavages have surfaced and even before 2017, they are tearing at themselves so viciously.

INEC must, therefore, rise up to rescue the political system from disintegration. If there are still misgivings in Kogi despite the Supreme Court permanently resting the matter, it is because INEC did not assert itself. There is reason to believe that the electoral management body was prevailed upon in Kogi. Even after the Kogi rerun (supplementary election), which brought in votes from the 91 polling units that rendered the Kogi governorship inconclusive in the first instance were captured, only 6, 885 votes out of the 49, 953 registered voters were counted in favour of Yahaya Bello to make it conclusive. Idris of the PDP got 5, 363 votes. Put together, the supplementary election was way off the intendment to capture all eligible voters. Some think INEC could have gone ahead to declare the first results.

If the Kogi matter was not the real test for the EMB, Edo was. While all was set for the poll to hold, INEC was prevailed upon to shift it by two weeks. Security reasons were adduced, whereas, not a single life-threatening episode was recorded prior to that day. Edo did not present the type of confusion that Ondo exhibits, yet, we are not hearing from INEC, the Police and the DSS that Ondo governorship should be postponed. Such double standards belittle the credibility of INEC and the electoral system. Edo has no history of violent elections of monumental proportions, but Ondo has a frightening history of political violence; yet, nobody sees any reason to postpone the elections, to calm the temperature and troubled nerves.

As for the violence Buhari talked about in Bayelsa and Rivers, it was the division in the PDP, which is the most formidable party in the states that was and is still responsible for whatever violence that took place. If the president cares to listen to exchanges between his minister, Rotimi Amaechi and Governor Nyesome Wike, he will be thoroughly worried for the rerun election coming up soon. These two are chips off the same rough political history and would do anything to force victory.

Therefore, the APC should not force victory anywhere, so that they don’t set the country on fire. Buhari should also worry more for the new PDP members of his party. They have a history of rebellion and they will tear APC apart. But to avoid that, let the party mature fast to accommodate all tendencies. Otherwise, they are the ones that will make 2019 highly combustible, and the country ungovernable.

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