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The shape of the elephant

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Candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar (L) speaks with PDP Chairman of Board of Trustees Walid Jibrin as they attend an emergency National Executive Committee party meeting in Abuja on February 19, 2019, ahead of rescheduled general elections. Pius Utomi EKPEI / AFP


We have just rounded up a presidential election that was fiercely fought by two battle tested warriors. Both Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP have contested for the presidency of Nigeria at least four times each under different political parties in the last two decades or so. The election just ended was perhaps the most eventful confrontation and when the sparks were flying you couldn’t help but cower in a corner for fear that they might come in your direction. Now the electoral umpire has declared President Buhari the winner and given him a certificate of return. Mr Abubakar has rejected the result and has assembled a legal team headed by Dr Livy Uzoukwu, a Senior Advocate, to take his case to the courts and do battle. Atiku has submitted a video to the chairman of the Peace Committee, General Abdusalami Abubakar. The video is Atiku’s proof positive that the election was widely rigged in Buhari’s favour. He is therefore asking that victory be either awarded to him or there should be a re-run.

Several people have suggested that Atiku should not bother to go to court for several reasons but Atiku the warrior has responded with a resounding rebuff of such pleas. True warriors like the smell of gunpowder. The bayonet and the buggle are their clarion call to get into the trenches and face the fury of the foe. As it is often said politics is war by other means. The presidential diadem has eluded Atiku four times even though as Vice-President he was only a spit away from the top job. Now he is 72 and by the time the bell rings again for hostilities to begin in 2023 he will be 76 and too old to run.

The hurt is something close to extreme pain when you are within touching distance of the object of your desire and yet you cannot touch. People may mistake this for desperation but it is not. It is simply the oddity of being so close and yet so far away. Atiku is at this odd juncture in his life’s battle. Added to this is the fact that in 2023 the presidential slot will obey the unwritten law of rotation and return to Southern Nigeria. The fight for it has already begun and is threatening to tear apart the relationship between the Igbos who in fairness ought to have it and the Yorubas who, based on greed, seem to want it again.

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Atiku has lost the presidency but he has made some gains which should be some kind of consolation prize. One, he has reconciled with his former boss former President Olusegun Obasanjo with whom he had been bitter enemies for years. There are very few blessings in life better that the ability of friends who had become, by acts of omission or commission, enemies to become friends again. Friendship, genuine friendship, is a precursor to societal peace and stability. Never mind what those on the other side of a peaceful reconciliation may think. Two, the story from the APC was that Atiku had committed some unpardonable sins against America and that he could not step into Uncle Sam’s country without being put in handcuffs and legcuffs and bundled into prison. The Minister of information Mr. Lai Mohammed even warned America not to grant a Visa to Atiku because if it did it would amount to an endorsement of the opposition candidate. Atiku got a visa and with his campaign chief Dr. Bukola Saraki in tow both of them landed on American soil unmolested and undeported.

They even held meetings with government officials and business men as well as Nigerians. Three, in the heat of the campaign the Buhari campaign was making all kinds of innuendos about and verbal convictions of Atiku on the issue of integrity. Without being able to substitute any of the allegations the idea seemed simply to keep ranting about his alleged lack of integrity without any concrete specifics. Professor Itse Sagay, the government’s Anti-corruption Adviser, had to express the frustration of the president’s campaigners on Atiku. He said that even though they had been told of Atiku’s wheeling and dealing they had combed everywhere without finding something concrete with which to nail him. Throughout the campaign they were diligently digging for dirt but they found nothing on him. So it is either that their search was not thorough enough or that Atiku knows very well how to cover his tracks or he is simply a clean guy who is being badmouthed because of “bad belle.” You may choose the option that makes you happy. Four, in contesting the presidential election Atiku wanted to be President. But he is not President. He has risen to the position of the foremost opposition leader today. That may be cold comfort but it offers him the opportunity to lead the fight for Nigeria’s renaissance. This country is in a very bad shape. It is deeply divided. Even President Buhari knows it which is why he said that will run an inclusive government in his second term. Also, unemployment is very high while we have become the poverty capital of the world. These and many more issues call for a dedicated engagement of the opposition and civil society groups with the government.

As someone who knows the issues and has a warrior’s courage Atiku is the person best positioned for the battle.I cannot tell Atiku not to contest the result of the election in court. Such a contest can only improve our democracy because it indicates to his followers that it is better to fight in the courts than in the streets. Besides, if the rigging episodes get full airing in court we may learn more about the length and breadth of it. No one can deny that there was rigging, some people say massive rigging, but none of us can truly say how massive the rigging was, who did it, where and at what cost. Rigging is like an elephant and the seven blind men. Each blind man touches a small part of the elephant, may be the leg or the ear, or the body and describes what he has touched as the elephant. But he only touched a part, a small part, not the entire elephant.

That is the story of rigging. You only know a small part of the story, the part you personally witnessed, or the part you were told by someone who was there when it happened or the part told you by someone who was told by someone else. Stories get embellished as they pass from mouth to mouth, from chat group to chat group and from one drinking spot to another. Atiku has a video recording of rigging episodes recorded by his team around the country, which he intends to use for his forensic battle. The Chairman of APC, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, had said that his team will be pleased to meet the Atiku team in court. He has indicated that the APC will submit a cross appeal. He said: “Atiku said he is heading to court. I don’t have a problem with that. We will equally cross petition in some areas because in Adamawa State he had already lost the election before he did some magic that gave him that narrow victory in the state and other parts of the country.”

When battle is joined between the two sides and each side tells the story of the abracadabra that happened on the other side of the political fence then we will be better briefed about how fair and free the last election was. This is the story of the elephant and the blind men I referred to earlier. From our experience rigging can largely be done where you already have support. You can magnify that support through rigging. Where you do not have support of the people but you have some obliging INEC staff and security personnel, you can do one or two things Prevent people from voting or Make sure the votes do not count or are not even counted. You just write the results. From what we hear all these strategies and more were utilized in the strongholds of the two major parties.

When the parties have their day in court, the full story of our rigging culture will be told. It is not that we haven’t heard these stories before. It is just that the rigging strategies keep changing with the election method devised by the election manager. Those who are producing the movies, The 4th Republic, will obviously have some stuff with which to do a follow – up movie titled The 5th Republic after listening to the riveting stories that will be told during the court sessions. The sad thing is that these stories of pure magic at elections are not new. We have heard various versions of them since the fifties. Other African countries had these stories of woe to tell too but most of them have moved on beautifully and reformed their electoral systems. Since 1999 we have had three election review panels and we have not moved one inch from where we were before 1999, instead we have been moving from rigging to more rigging and from magic to abracadabra. Sad!

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