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The winners, the losers and the future of our democracy

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Presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party Atiku Abubakar

The results are in. The people have spoken. But a post mortem on the 2019 general elections, as in what went right, what went wrong and why, has to await the second and final tranche of the elections on March 9. Still, there are some important points worth noting in the conduct of the presidential and national assembly elections on February 23.

The first and most obvious point is that the elections have been won and lost. It is only natural for the winners to celebrate and the losers wonder about what hit them. Buhari and Abubakar put up a determined struggle to win the people’s mandate. They deserve to be congratulated. Thanks to them, our national politics would be the better for their time in the roped square.

The second point is that the winners and the losers do not appear to be entirely satisfied with the results of the elections. If INEC has not totally pleased the parties, it means it did a good job in accordance with the laws and the rules of the game. Barring what the courts would eventually say in particular cases, it would be uncharitable not to commend the commission for making what some observers have described as improvements in the 2015 general elections, warts and all. But we should expect court dockets to soon fill up with petitions from the aggrieved. The courts are the final arbiters in the contest for the people’s will.

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The third point is that it could arguably be accepted that the fall of the current big men who become former big men from may 29, shows the power of the ballot paper and the people’s power in action. To put a fine point on it, it means that the people’s votes, arguably, counted, hence the electoral misfortunes visited on some of the shakers in our political kingdom who had held the nation and parts thereof by the ears and looked electorally impregnable since the return to civil rule in 1999.

The fourth point is that the predicted election violence did not happen at the level predicted. It was more isolated. Still, the fact that some people were killed in the violence cannot but take something away from the generally peaceful conduct of the elections. Political violence is a virus and it behoves the politicians to rise up to the challenges of eliminating it in our body politic. I agree with former President Goodluck Jonathan that nobody’s political ambition is worth the life of a single Nigerian citizen. The peace accord signed by the presidential candidates at the initiative of the National Peace Committee was intended to drive this point home.

The fifth point is that voter apathy appeared to have cast a dark shadow on the presidential election. From the figures released by INEC, the votes cast for Buhari and Atiku, the two leading candidates, were nowhere near the registered voters. Of the 84 million registered voters, only some 26 million people voted in the election. In some states, less than half of the registered voters were accredited for the election. This is not a particularly new problem but it remains a major political problem all the same. Self-disenfranchisement is as bad as naked rigging and the subversion of the people’s will in a democracy. It is a national problem begging for an urgent solution.

The sixth point is something that should worry us if we are serious about building a cohesive and united nation. The Daily Trust of February 27 published a front page story on the final results of the presidential election that gave Buhari a winning margin of some 3,928,869 votes. The story was accompanied by a map of the country giving details of who won where. In terms of states won by each candidate, the margin is almost insignificant – 19 for Buhari and 18 for Abubakar. The spread of their win tells a different but disturbing story. Buhari cleared virtually the northern states, except Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa and the FCT that went to Abubakar. Abubakar’s strongest showing was in the South-East and the South-South as well as Ondo and Oyo states in the South-West.

A casual glance at the map would create the erroneous and disturbing impression that we had a northern candidate versus a southern candidate. I shudder to think of what this could mean to our collective efforts towards the emergence of a Nigerian leader claimed by every part as its own. I do not think that Abubakar was an adopted candidate of the south or Buhari an adopted candidate of the north. But this is the impression created by the vote spread. This is a new and unwanted development in our national politics.

In 1979, the departing generals decreed that for a candidate for president to be elected one, he must score at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in two-thirds of the then 19 states. The idea was to force on the country the process for choosing a national leader rather than a sectional or tribal one. Such a candidate must not win by overwhelmingly winning one section or a cluster of states in the old regions. The policy remains in office but based on the Daily Trust map, I do not think the results of the election gave us the right spread. While the Sokoto voter could claim Buhari, the Bayelsa voter would not do so. My point here is that we seem to take it for granted that the popular votes weighted in favour of one part necessarily gives us a Nigerian president. Matters could be worse were a bona fide southerner to be pitted against a bona fide northerner in a presidential contest.

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The seventh point is that the vocal elite left matters severely in the hands of the people. The abdication of their responsibility this way, and not for the first time, means the fate of our country at all levels continues to be decided by those who are the least qualified to take such fundamental decisions.

The eighth point is that Buhari would be right to see his re-election as evidence that the people are pleased with his rule. You cannot deny him that. But I think the renewal of his mandate has less to do with that but more to do with the tyranny of a largely uninformed electorate on the nuances of democracy and leadership. Yes, we need a strong leader but not necessarily the jailer of looters. We have more things riding on his decision than the theft of our common wealth, bad as that might be.

There would be huge implications here if the president feels encouraged by the people’s thumbs up to continue along the same path of ruling instead of leading. We would be in for rough times ahead. This is the time to persuade him to take another look at his style of leadership and his stand on the rule of law versus national interest. This is the time to persuade him to commit to the number one constitutional assignment given to a Nigerian president: security. We must feel safe in our country. The killings have gone on for too long. They will not stop unless they are stopped. This is the time to persuade him to constitute an economic team to help him properly manage the economy. This is the time to persuade him to be more open-minded rather than remain as a prisoner of provincialism in thoughts, words and deeds.

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