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Concerns over violent polls, delayed outcome

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Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman Mahmood Yakubu opens a unveils result cheets on February 25, 2019 in Abuja during the presidential elections announcement. Kola SULAIMON / AFP

Three days after the Presidential and National Assembly election, Nigerians are still in the dark regarding who sits in Aso Villa as president. This is days after bitter campaigns and violence-filled polling that has incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar are frontrunners.

While there were 73 presidential candidates for the polls, the contest was largely between the two Northern leaders who have shown determination to win at all cost. They are also the most favoured, with their huge financial war chest, popularity and experience to play the kind of murky politics prevalent in this part of the world.

Whereas 76-year-old Buhari is seeking re-election under the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), Atiku who is 72, is taking his fifth shot at the presidency under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

However, both failed to heed the directives of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that political parties and their candidates conduct their activities in an organised and peaceful manner, devoid of rancor, hate and/or inflammatory speeches. Rather than focus on issue-based campaigns, Nigerians were set against each other on the lines of ethnicity, religion and party affiliations.

The polity was heated up with vulgar abuse, indecent and indecorous utterances from supporters that concerned Nigerians who understood the consequences expressed worries. Nigeria Broadcasting Cooperation (NBC) listed some stations for sanctions, but this didn’t happen.

A former Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi lamented that the election filled him with ‘fear and trepidation’, noting that in his experience of monitoring elections he had never been filled with so much dread. Akinyemi further urged politicians to watch their utterances, appealing to political leaders to call on their supporters to eschew violence and any undemocratic behaviour during the elections.

Also, the United States Government in December expressed fears that the country’s general elections were likely to be characterised by violence. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, during the U.S. Congress’s hearing on Nigeria’s forthcoming elections in Washington DC said, “We are already seeing increased tensions and polarisation as the election approaches. We assess that politicians are turning to narratives of identity politics in an attempt to improve their popularity, with potentially serious consequences for national unity.”

These warnings, however, fell on deaf ears as the parties continued in their game of personal attack, with a view to leveraging on the weaknesses of opponents rather than present to Nigerians possible solutions to identified social problems.

Nagay listed states that might experience violence during the elections to include Rivers, Borno, Benue, Plateau and Kano States, adding, “In assessing potential ‘hotspots’ for violence, we look at places that are historically volatile around elections such as Rivers and Borno states.”

These two states didn’t fall short of the prediction. While multiple blasts from bomb explosions suspected to be from the Boko Haram insurgents shook Maiduguri, Borno State, in the early hours of the election day killing five, many were also killed in Rives in election violence.

The peace Accord
Signing a peace accord has become a yearly electoral ritual in Nigeria. The presidential candidates in this year’s elections signed the accord twice but this did not reflect in the conduct of the elections. The candidates had on December 11, 2018 and February 13, 2019 signed Peace Accord in Abuja. The idea of the accord is to get candidates to specially commit to the peaceful conduct of an election and accept its outcome.

The accord signing, facilitated by the National Peace Committee, convened by Bishop Matthew Kukah and chaired by former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), came into existence in 2015 in response to fears arising from open threats to lives and property by some political actors.

The agreement mandates that the candidates agree “to run issue-based campaigns at national, state and local government levels; refrain from making or causing to make in our names and that of our party, any public statements, pronouncements, declarations or speeches that have the capacity to incite any form of violence, before, during and after the elections; commit themselves and political parties to the monitoring of the adherence to this Accord by a National Peace Committee made up of respected statesmen and women, traditional and religious leaders support all institutions of government including INEC and the security agencies to act and be seen to act with impartially and forcefully and publicly speak out against provocative utterances and oppose all acts of electoral violence whether perpetuated by our supporters and/or opponents.”

According to a public opinion analyst, Mr. Victor Ugwumba, “It’s worrisome that despite the several peace accord signed over the years, Nigeria has always been in the forefront of violent elections. Unfortunately, none has and will be punished. This keeps us at crossroads that we neither move forward nor backwards.”

Nigeria still in search of violent-free elections
The elections have shown that Nigeria is very far from the real definition of democracy, which guarantees the freedom of the people to choose their candidates without fear or intimidation. According to civil society groups, over 30 people were killed and several others injured in various violence-related crisis across the states.

The groups said the death toll during this year’s election is higher than those of 2015 poll, which was widely considered to have been orderly, aside from a Boko Haram attack that killed more than a dozen people.

Convener of the Situation Room, Clement Nwankwo, which represents more than 70 civil society groups, said 16 people were killed in election violence across eight states, while Lagos-based consultancy SBM Intelligence said 35 deaths.

INEC’s ineptitude
The mistakes INEC made in this election are quite similar to the ones of 2015 elections. With four years to conduct the elections, what happened can only be described as a huge sham. The election, which was scheduled to hold on February 14, was moved by the electoral body to hold February 23, 2019 for logistics reasons.

However, the postponement did not solve any of the perceived issues; rather, it aggravated them and possibly heightened the spate of violence.

In several polling units across the country, issues arose from malfunctioning card readers to bad batteries, to late delivery of election materials and INEC staff manipulating election materials.

Days after the elections, Nigerians do not know who the next president will be. The problems had started from the local councils to the state collation centres, and up to the federal level in Abuja.

Even Lagos where results usually came out first, had to wait till 2:00 p.m. yesterday before the last batch of results were announced.

However, a political commentator, Mr. Ifedayo Kunle, said the delay is not only a sign of incompetence on the electoral body but a planned attempt to manipulate the outcome of the polls. He said Nigerians are to blame for the increased violence witnessed in the elections, because they chose to fight themselves in favour of politicians who are concerned only about their pockets.


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