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Election 2019: Calm after the storm

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Ballot papers for the Presidential election are seen during the eletorial preparation at a local office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Port Harcourt, southern Nigeria, on February 22, 2019, a day before postponed voting day. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

The fact that Nigeria has not been torn apart following the 2019 elections, as some vicious predictions envisaged, shows that the election was successful.

There is peace in the land and people are going about their businesses unmolested. There is cause to celebrate the escape from the election windstorm.

No doubt, it was not without some violence across some states. Those were very much expected. Thuggry and violence have been part of our evolving political culture.

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Since the early 60s, elections in Nigeria have always been a tug of war. That culture has not left us. The politicians have not learned any lesson.
As a matter of fact, they are as desperate as ever.

The parliamentary elections held in Nigeria in December 1964, the precursor of the crisis that erupted in the Western Region, were marred by manipulations and violence. Thuggry was an acceptable way of settling political scores. Those ugly experiences ought to have taught politicians some lessons.

But alas, nothing has been learned, hence, the impunity of the political class, which manifests in arson, ballot box snatching, burning of electoral materials, abduction, disruption of electoral process and other untoward acts persists. But our goal is to have a political culture that is free from thuggry, violence, rigging, etc. Hopefully, we will reach there.

Gold is not found on the surface but deep in the belly of the earth where men must labour and sweat before reaching it. And it doesn’t end there. The gold must be fired through a red hot furnace before it comes out as pure gold. We face the same predicament in our quest for electoral peace.

WE must acknowledge that the country has recorded another feat. Not a mean feat, I must say. That must be appreciated. It is not easy for a country like Nigeria where forces – centrifugal and centripetal, are acting and contending for the soul of the country. What we are hoping for is the day when elections would be conducted in a rancor-free atmosphere, with no bloodshed, no snatching or burning of ballot boxes; where there would be no threats and intimation and people would be free to vote their consciences and the votes would count. Hopefully, we will reach there.

That we were able to overcome yet another election trauma shortly after the 2015 elections doom predictions of disintegration calls for celebration. Every living Nigerian is a victor. Those who died in the process were the sacrificial lamb that should not be forgotten. They paid the ultimate price to make Nigeria stand.

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Going by the reports coming from across the states, the elections were generally peaceful. Nigerians can boldly count on another successful outing. If the evil projections materialised as predicted, by now, most parts of the country would be engulfed in crisis. People would have been running helter-skelter in different directions for safety. But thank God, Nigerians craved for peace.

While the prevailing peace should be maintained, the security agencies should remain on alert to forestall post-election troublemakers. This country is bigger and above parochial interest of any individual or group. All the contestants are Nigerians; therefore, whoever wins should be accepted and supported for us to move forward.

An Igbo proverb says if the meat escapes today, tomorrow is another hunt. Again, another proverb says, the meat that escaped today tightens the rope for others. That is to say, those who didn’t win should re-strategise for the next election. It may be their turn.

Millions of Nigerians went to the polls without fear or intimidation. The desire to vote superseded the fear that was generated. There were fears of violence in many states but a few incidents occurred in a few places.

In Rivers State for instance, a soldier and five other persons were reportedly killed while several others sustained injuries in the violence that trailed the Presidential and National Assembly elections. There was ballot box snatching and burning of votes in parts of Lagos State where hooligans attacked voters. One person reportedly died from injuries inflicted on him in Okota area. But the election did not stop because of the dastardly attacks.

The governorship/state Assembly elections were more vicious. Despite heavy security, nine people were reportedly killed in Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Enugu, Ibadan and Katsina and twenty INEC staff abducted in Katsina. INEC suspended results collation in Rivers and Imo States after hoodlums stormed the centres. Police reported scores of arrests

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Apart from these, the overall conduct of the election was peaceful. It was also free and fair in most places. Some international observers acknowledged that the elections were acceptable. The United States congratulated Nigerians upon a ‘successful vote’ that handed President Muhammadu Buhari a second term.
“We commend all those Nigerians who participated peacefully in the election and condemn those whose acts of violence harmed Nigerians and the electoral process,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

Similarly, both the UK Government and African Union (AU) have congratulated President Muhammadu Buhari on securing a second term as president.

The ECOWAS Head of Election Observation Mission to Nigeria, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, urged all candidates in the Presidential and National Assembly elections to accept the results “in good faith”. She said this in Abuja at the mission’s preliminary declaration on the elections held on Saturday February 23, 2019. Johnson-Sirleaf, who was the former Liberian President, said that the elections were largely peaceful and transparent as voters were able to cast their votes freely.

By these testimonies, Nigeria may have scaled another hurdle in its democratic experiment. If the results as counted and recorded at the various polling units in the presence of voters were captured by INEC without being doctored, the election would pass as sufficiently credible.

Nevertheless, the rejection of the election results and the decision to go to court by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, should be seen from the point of view of constitutional right and something that would further strengthen our democracy. The setting up of election tribunals presupposed that there would be discontent with the election results in some quarters.

That Atiku fell back to the law to seek reprieve shows maturity and a sharp departure from the old 1964 culture when politicians resorted to thuggry and vandalism to settle scores. Falling back to the rule of law is a step forward that should be commended.

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The debate over the massive deployment of soldiers for the elections is understandable. Ideally, soldiers were not supposed to be involved in a civil matter like election. Though, the soldiers were not seen around the polling booths in many places; instead, there were unarmed policemen at the polling stations. People trooped out freely as early as 7a.am to begin accreditation at 8 a.m. as announced by INEC even though, in most places, INEC personnel arrived from around 9 a.m.

The late arrival of INEC is a recurrent problem. One may ask why it keeps recurring. The reason is that lateness has become part of Nigerian culture. This culture permeates our daily life and sociology. It is captured in what is called “Africa time,” which is widely understood to mean the time after the actual time.

The greatest problem encountered during the polls in some polling booths was the “failure” of the card reader. It was not clear whether the problem was due to faulty devise or operational hitches. The hiccups obviously caused delay in some places and even led to the rescheduling of election in some places. Nevertheless, instead of raising the alarm and condemning INEC, as some governors were voicing out, Nigerians were patient with INEC.

Following the card reader challenge, manual accreditation should be used wherever the devise failed. Nigerians should appreciate the fact that the years of fraudulent elections, in which thugs had a field day, and favored candidates were imposed on the people, with impunity, are numbered.

Rather than vilify INEC, the electoral umpire should be commended for the innovation and audacity, focus and proactive disposition.

Granted that there were hitches in a few places, overall, the election could be adjudged overall good! It would be foolhardy and unrealistic to expect 100 per cent perfection in the poll. Nigerians should accept the outcome of the poll and look forward to future improvements.

As a way of mending fence, the parties that won should be broad minded. There are sharp brains and intelligent minds in the supposedly losing parties. Those individuals should be engaged in one way or the other to help fix Nigeria. The culture of the winner takes all should be done away with. Let’s join hands to build Nigeria.


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