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Nigeria’s 2019 elections: A post-mortem

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[FILE] A man gets his thumb marked to indicate he has voted at one of the polling unit in Lagos on March 9, 2019. – Nigerians are voting for a second time in a fortnight in governorship and state assembly elections, with heightened concerns from observers of violence and an increased military presence. Elections for governors are being held in 29 of Nigeria’s 36 states, for all state assemblies, plus the administrative councils in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. (Photo by STEFAN HEUNIS / AFP)


Tension and fears stimulated by the 2019 general elections have been consumed by the workings of history. But the footprints left by the process stare at us, begging for assessment. Waving them away as petty would not check the evil it holds for our democracy. Even as the process gasps for conclusion in oil-rich Rivers State, it’s ideal to do an assessment of the events, including twists and turns, the roles of political parties, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), citizens and security agencies and how we arrived at having below par polls.

The 2019 elections fell short of expectations. Informed commentators rightly identified the process smashing records. Standards dropped! We had to deal with having too many political parties on our ballot. The INEC presented 91 parties for the elections. A whopping 73 presidential aspirants, an unprecedented figure in the history of our democracy, expressed interest in leading the country to greater heights. Some of them withdrew, thus they couldn’t complete the race. Validation of the elections now rests with the court.

Of the 29 states where gubernatorial and state House of Assembly elections held on March 9, six of them – Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Kano, Plateau and Sokoto – had to go through supplementary elections. Now, we know that rerun are trajectories for intimidation, suppression, inducement and violence.

Ballots were burnt in Benue. Thugs attacked journos and disenfranchised voters in Kano. Voters were induced in Bauchi. A friend and journalist narrated how the elections were won and lost in Bauchi with the attendant influence of court orders, threats of manipulation and over-reliance on politicians. Lawmakers and the executive should get equal share of blame for disagreeing on issues and legislations that would have made the elections credible.

After dealing with arson and postponement, more challenges lurked around for the electoral umpire. Apathy came to dine with our electoral process. Apathy ejected its host, INEC and ate to its fill. This affected votes recorded at the polls on February 23 and March 9. It appeared citizens had lost confidence in the process initially scheduled for February 16 and March 2. Their minds were made up!

Questionable figures influenced victories against the wishes of the people. Results were declared at gun points. But again, we have ourselves to blame for not showing up at polling units on elections day. Although we can’t feign ignorance of conspiracy at collation centres, apathy fuels and prepares the ground for the enthronement of compromise.

Cash determined the winners and losers. ‘Secure the bag’ rose in ranks at the expense of contesting to serve the people. Bullion vans moved freely on our streets. We saw no wrong in this yet we answer the title – propagators of modern democracy. We helped politicians to strip and banish democracy and its principles in the scheme of things. Transactional politics wrestled with ideologies. One may suggest it didn’t just start now but it has come to stay. Dibo ko sebe (vote and cook) toppled rationality. Cash coupled with brawn and impunity threw ideological politics out of the ring. Cash chose leaders for us. And we saw nothing wrong with that. Those that got some naira notes should realize they have no moral right over the politicians who offered them money to secure electoral victory.

Politicians yelled orders to our security agencies. They had them wrapped around their arms to fulfil selfish objectives. We wished and prayed for neutrality. And then we found we couldn’t trust those entrusted with the task to preserve peace and maintain order. Security of lives and properties withered significantly. Operatives failed to contain polling agents, thugs, most of them youth who saw no reason to engage in stuffs that would improve their lives. They succeeded in frustrating peace and progression.

We lost promising men and women. Killings engulfed the young and old. Dreams were shattered. The death of first time voter Daniel Usman in Kogi is one I wish we could have shooed away. Corps members on duty were left alone. Do you remember the picture of the selfless corps member that saved his colleague from the heat of crisis in Rivers while policemen stood aloof? Or the ones that came under attack in Anambra during the presidential and national assembly elections?

Can we make a promise not to colour the way things played out? INEC failed to justify the funds it received for the elections. The electoral umpire skidded on the ladder of standards. What we have in 2019 doesn’t match up with Prof. Jega’s 2015 achievement. Elections held in 2015 ranks as one of the best in recent times. Our elections are now fiercer and “more competitive”. We have shut our eyes and ears to making elective positons unattractive. Our elections have become what we can refer to as anything goes. We now know that politicians don’t come to serve us. They come to swindle; to siphon and to serve themselves. They come all out to water the path of their children and their children’s children.

It appears politics propelled by ideology is going through rough moments. We were treated to doses of self-serving politics before, during and after the polls. Consider Ogun. Consider Rivers. The result is the same. Our politicians play this game with pride. They do all they can to get to elective positions. They become devils in the process and tell us to go to hell. Custodians of the law balled at parties organized by political gladiators. They revelled in nauseating merriment, dishing questionable judgements to players with the goodies. Zamfara readily comes to mind. Perhaps the APC would have to relinquish its victory at the state’s guber poll to PDP.

The court of appeal in Sokoto recently held that a lower court in Zamfara “failed in its duty to properly evaluate the evidence before it” to justify the APC primaries that enabled the party’s contest during elections held in the state. This should spur other judges to rule justly on collation and announcement of election results in Rivers. We are, sadly, at a point where democracy is inching towards “recession” brought to our notice by YIAGA Africa. The people’s wish is not the deciding factor. Godfathers decide. Godfathers dole stipends to people and tell them where to thumb.

Because we disregard the output of collective efforts, we have inflicted needless burden on our polity. Why did we fail to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 into law? Why did we sweep the report of the Uwais Election Reform Committee published in 2008 under the carpet? There are recommendations for us to consider in the reports of the 2014 National Conference. We may have lost grips on election management handling with the polls mired by inconclusiveness, violence and compromise. We may have failed to provide adequate security. But the status quo will remain if we don’t take learnings. Therefore we need to shift attention to raising the standards of our elections with reforms, professionalism, legislations, technology and reorientation.

Citizens should begin to look the way of politicians who push for ideas, not those who jump from pillar to post with every election. When we embrace politics driven by ideas, impunity will be relegated. Ultimately, the embrace will inspire us to initiate the process of painting a picture of what democracy should really look like.
•Afeez, a socio-political analyst, wrote from Lagos.


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