With shift comes possible alteration in poll dynamics

By Seye Olumide  |   18 February 2019   |   4:11 am  

President Muhammadu Buhari at Delta State All Progressives Congress (APC) campaign


There are indications that the last-minute postponement of the presidential and National Assembly elections could likely tip the balance in the expected outcome of the poll, which appeared to favour the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, who would have won. President Buhari, the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were seen as the frontrunners in the presidential election. But citing power of incumbency, some observers believed it was a poll Buhari would ordinarily win.
 
Even before the postponement, members of the ruling party seemed not perturbed in anyway as to whether their standard bearer would lose. This optimism was displayed in their comments and open display of confidence. As a matter of fact, one of APC’s election strategists, while narrating how Buhari would win had the election held, told The Guardian that their candidate would trash Atiku in the North and Southwest convincingly, even as he said Buhari would get the required 25 per cent of votes expected to be cast in the South-South, Southeast and the Middle Belt.

The source boasted that the ruling party under the Buhari administration has achieved more than enough to retain power not minding the prevalent rate of poverty and hunger, which appear to have eroded the trust and confidence of the Nigerian masses in the government. The incumbent himself exhibited similar confidence of retaining power if the election had held on Saturday when granting an interview to CNN Africa in his hometown Daura about a day to the poll, saying that nobody could unseat him.

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The president had made the comment in reaction to insinuation about his health status and that he is physically unfit to govern Nigeria for another four years. Aside Buhari’s comment about assurance of winning the poll, national leader of APC, Bola Tinubu, while addressing the party’s faithful in Lagos last Thursday, was quoted as boasting that he has enough money to bankroll the incumbent’s reelection. Tinubu allegedly ordered his followers in Lagos to go get their neighbours to come out and vote for APC, saying after he must have seen the favourable results of the elections he “would bring out good money.”
 
Although, the former Lagos State governor was quoted to have agreed to the fact that the president does not have the war chest for the presidential election, he assured his supporters that whatever he promised them (monetary wise) the deal was for real – “and it is coming from my own pocket.”He, however, told APC supporters who had come to visit him before the postponed presidential and federal parliamentary polls that he would reward them financially after they had “delivered victory” for Buhari.
 
While some political pundits described this as advanced ‘vote buying and inducement’ ahead of the poll, others were of the view that it was part of the strategy of the government in power to induce the electorate before the suspend election, only that Tinubu did not manage his comments appropriately while addressing the people.It would be recalled that the national leader made similar boasts before the September governorship election in Osun State, which nearly cost APC the state if not for the ‘tailored’ rerun election. The Guardian learnt that some of his (Tinubu) political foot soldiers quickly moved to quash the report in the press but were unable to achieve their aim.
 
It goes without saying that until the election was suspended by INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, on Saturday morning after hours of brainstorming with stakeholders, the ruling party might likely have coasted home to victory with the use of federal might, security agents’ support and possibly vote-buying that had been carefully worked out.
 
Meanwhile, the narrative appears to have changed since yesterday judging from the kind of sharp reactions of Nigerians, the international community and other political stakeholders in the country. A source from the ruling party in a chat with The Guardian yesterday said he began to nurse fears when APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, accused INEC of collaborating with PDP’s candidate, Atiku to doctor the outcome of the election.According to the source, “I smell a big shivering on the part of the leadership of our party in summing up what the president, Tinubu and Oshiomhole said a few hours to the election, considering the fact that immediate past governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayo Fayose, had raised the alarm a few days to the suspended poll that the exercise would be cancelled.”
 
Another narrative is that PDP could take advantage of the one-week extension to rearrange itself internally and articulate its points to secure the support of Nigerians who have generally reacted sharply to the development in view of what they lost due to the election postponement on Saturday.The expectation is that PDP and Atiku, that have been playing in the defense in the last two months, can now operate on the offensive, with the opposition also playing on the chances that whatever result the electoral umpire will declare that favours the incumbent must be explicitly defended and proved beyond reasonable doubt to Nigerians and the international community.

Although, INEC has placed a ban on campaign and collection of Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) till the elections hold next Saturday, the decision has been described as deliberate attempt by the commission to muzzle the rising popularity of the opposition party to the advantage of the ruling party.For instance, the governorship candidate of PDP in Lagos, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, while reacting to the development, said the postponement is not good for our democracy as it is capable of eroding confidence in the entire electoral process, apart from damaging the credibility of INEC.
 
According to him,  “This can put a question mark on even the results of the elections, especially if, God forbid, it now favours the ruling party. The commission had given no hint it would be a barren weekend for Nigerians geared up to vote.”But a Southwest socio-cultural group, Yoruba Ronu Forum, has cautioned leaders of APC, PDP and other stakeholders to exercise restraint in making inflammatory comments against INEC, as events turned out since Saturday. The group said it is expedient for political actors to check for facts before hurriedly crucifying INEC.

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Speaking with The Guardian on the telephone, Secretary General of the group, Akin Malaolu, said although Yoruba Ronu must confess its sadness over the postponement, the unfortunate and hurried judgment being passed on the umpire by leaders across the two major political parties in the contest was unfortunate. He said INEC, being an independent body, has the right to postpone any election if logistics goes wrong suddenly or anyhow, even if at the eleventh hour to the election. 
 
Malaolu said in spite of the postponement the results of the elections would not be different from what Nigerians had expected even if there should be another postponement again.In another reaction, a Lagos-base advertising practitioner, Alhaji Saheed Odusanya, urged the commission to look inward because a week’s postponement may not be feasible to address necessary issues, saying, “I will rather advice that INEC should give Nigerians a month’s notice so that they can be fully prepared for the elections.
 
In the final analysis, the postponement appears to have created a kind of level playing ground for Buhari and Atiku, while it would also make it extremely difficult if not impossible for any government’s agency to unduly interfere or use it to achieve any undue outcome. The integrity of the electoral commission is also going to be put to great test while Nigerians are now more than ready than they were before to ensure their wish is respected on Saturday if at all INEC would not further shift the polls.

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