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2019 poll exposes elite disconnect versus voter discontent

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
25 February 2019   |   3:56 am
While the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) readies itself for the release of authentic results from the presidential and National Assembly election held last weekend, it is apparent that the much-talked about 2019 election exposed the fact of elite disconnect from the society and determination of voters to enjoy the freedoms of democracy.   Right…

National Assembly in session

While the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) readies itself for the release of authentic results from the presidential and National Assembly election held last weekend, it is apparent that the much-talked about 2019 election exposed the fact of elite disconnect from the society and determination of voters to enjoy the freedoms of democracy.
Right from 1999 when Nigeria regained the path of multiparty democracy, godfather intrusion, violence and intimidation have remained the shortcomings of the country’s democracy.

The evil of vote buying became a recent but equally damaging evil on the system.

The violence that characterised the first stanza of the two-pronged general election could be traced to the arrogance of Nigerian elite, especially those in the political class, who fail to understand that the citizenry, nay voters, have matured with every election cycle to the level of making independent judgment while casting their ballot.

What remains therefore in the process of continuing voter maturation is further public enlightenment on the evils of financial and other forms of inducement.

It is the attempt by the elite or moneyed class to hold the masses in subjugation that propelled the pockets of violence that featured during last Saturday’s election.

Dichotomy of voter orientation
DESPITE the large-scale election-related violence that was reported in Kano two days to the election, reports across the northern part of the country show that the election was largely peaceful without any untoward occurrence.
The fact that the two major presidential contenders, President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, hail from the north, it would have been understandable if their followers decided to settle with fists and cudgels the difference in choice that could be easily settled by the ballot.
But the situation in the southern part, particularly Lagos and Rivers States, shows that regardless of its assumed educational advantages over the north, the south wallows in social distemper.

The recourse to violence underscores the fact that political leaders have assumed the posture of colonists by trampling on the democratic freedoms of the people.
Taking advantage of the docility of the citizens, the political godfathers insist on taking power by force, solely for their personal aggrandisement and not service to the community.

It is therefore this attempt to grab power at the expense of the masses that political thugs, most of who are street urchins and cultists, continue be rented by political godfathers.

What took place in Lagos State, for instance, followed that pattern. Paid thugs attacked polling units and scattered ballots, but an irate mob, comprising of enraged voters, attempted to lynch the paid thug.

In the confusion that followed, the nefarious plot by the thug to disable voting was lost on the altar of partisan and ethnic bigotry.

Similar narrative followed the Rivers State incident, which culminated in loss of lives.

In contrast, while belated arrival of election materials in certain wards could have sparked riots among the voters in some northern states, those who turned up on time waited patiently.
For instance, in Ungwar Maigero, near Barnawa, INEC officials arrived about 1p.m., one hour to the stipulated closing time for accreditation.

Accreditation did not take off until an hour later. However, it was discovered that result sheets were not among the materials brought to the polling unit.

However, voters, most of who have been standing patiently on the queue from 8a.m., resolved that the process should proceed on the condition that officials and polling materials would not leave the polling unit unless the result sheets are provided.
There were also complaints of adhoc staff that were earlier trained for the election being substituted with those who did not partake in the workshop. All these little breaches were enough to strike tinder and ignite riots, but the electorate in Kaduna State comported themselves in a peaceful manner.

Fear of accountability
THE sixth general election in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic has shown that politicians, particularly those occupying elective offices and the so-called godfathers, do not want to give account of their stewardship in office.
While those occupying elective positions cringe at the approach of elections, the godfathers who exude false sense of confidence that they are in charge of certain constituencies get down into dark crevices and even reach out to the underworld to recruit urchins to levy violence on the electoral system and voters.

These godfathers who act as middlemen or brokers of rigging devalue the democratic process through the use of thugs. That scenario played out in Lagos and Rivers States. All these boil down to morbid fear of facing the electorate.
But the people seem to have learnt to endure the excesses of politicians knowing that Election Day is equivalent to judgment day. As such, the options which elections provide for the electorate are: will the people rejoice or riot?
The questions could be answered at the polling units, point of sorting, collation and declaration of results.

The violence that broke out at the point of accreditation and voting was therefore a revelation that the people’s verdict was going against the interest of the godfather or the elected representative who wish to evade accountability.

Privatisation of public service
CALLS have been made for the reduction in salaries, emoluments, perks and other luxurious appendages for public officers.

The 2019 poll has shown that most of those angling for public offices are not doing so for the noble reason of offering public service, but to service their individual appetite with free income that comes with occupation of those positions.

Ordinarily, the presidential and National Assembly election which opened the 2019 general election ought to have provided a veritable opportunity for incumbents seeking another term to satisfy voters on their record of performance on expiring mandate. 

Contemporaneously, the election should challenge the contenders to reach out to voters with an outline of what they propose to do in the course of delivering on mandate if elected. Regrettably violence and inducement become alternative fiduciaries.
Surprisingly, a greater percent of Nigerian voters have become aware of their rights under a democratic dispensation.

The electorate has moved beyond the level of 1999 when politicians rigged their way to responsible offices only to behave irresponsibly until the next election to bulldoze their ways back.
Given this revolutionary turn in voter behaviour therefore, vote buying becomes a needless intrusion and distraction.

Perhaps on account of the outrage the ugly innovation has elicited, violence becomes the ready forte of godfathers and political gadflies.   
All the same, election violence, which is part of the vanishing vestiges of military hangover on Nigeria’s democratic system, if it does not torpedo democracy, would die a natural death because, as demonstrated by northern voters, election is not war.
According to a Chinese proverb, the man or woman whose words fail to the extent of going physical shows that she or he has lost the argument.

By extrapolation, whichever political party or politician that was responsible for the violence that trailed the 2019 poll has owned to its defeat.

The large turnout of voters at various polling units across the country is not only symptomatic of the people’s resolve to pass their verdict on political leaders, but also a demonstration of their feeling about the past four years.
Hidden under the people’s resolve is the possibility that with unity of purpose Nigerians can change, not only their material circumstances, but also make the political leaders accountable and responsible.

It is possible that a national conversation that addresses the yearnings and aspirations of the common masses would begin after the 2019 election has been won and lost.

If those who represent the people were attentive to the feelings of the people it would be clear by the demonstration of citizen solidarity that a new orientation has come into the nation’s polity.
It does not seem that the violence that trailed the election was in a bid to halt a possible Buhariexit or enforce immediate Atikulation of a better Nigeria; rather, it was the last attempt by godfathers to maintain the status quo, which is inimical to the socio-economic health of the country.
But having been disconnected from the grassroots, the elite have failed to understand the impatience of the masses.

That impatience and reluctance to endure the status quo further could be what propelled the voter discontent that mobilized Nigerians to the polling units like never before.

Whatever ultimately becomes of the 2019 election by way of outcomes and public reaction to those outcomes, it is evident that Nigeria’s democracy has evolved.

As such, something new will happen in the country. Instead of violence or riot, the leaders should allow reason to prevail.
The best way to start the next dispensation is to accommodate citizens’ inputs in the further reforms of Nigeria’s electoral system, especially the Electoral Act.

Experience of the past 72 hours has shown that the refusal of President Buhari to endorse the Electoral Act amendment bill led the country to the quagmire attending the civic exercise. Why sustain analogue communication in a digital era?

For whatever it is worth, having to wait for the physical conveyance of election results to Abuja, instead of electronic transmission, provides room for possible violation of the fidelity of ballot.