The struggle for power in Nigeria has now shifted from balloting to jaw-jawing before it most likely gets to the courts. In this piece, an APC cadre is rolling up the sleeves for his party, subject positioning the PDP tightly, leaving injury all over. It would not be surprising if a PDP counterpart hits him back. Intervention would welcome all of that. His piece reads:
By Salihu Moh. Lukman
Rejecting the result of the 2019 presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP), declared: “in my democratic struggles for the past three decades, I have never seen our democracy so debased as it was on Saturday, February 23, 2019. 2007 was a challenge but President Yar’Adua was remorseful. In 2019, it is sad to see those who trampled on democracy thumping their noses down on the Nigerian people”.
As students of history, politics and leadership, one cannot but ask the question: are we talking about the same 2019 Nigerian presidential election? If it is, could Alhaji Atiku’s claim really be a fair assessment of the election? This can hardly be the case. For instance, YIAGA Africa, one of the civil society networks that monitored the election, noted that, on the whole, the number of ballots cancelled could not call into question the accuracy of the results as to have changed the election outcome. YIAGA statement highlighted some of the imperfection of the election. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) has reported that voided votes constituted about 4.5% which is higher than what was recorded in 2015 (2.8%) and 2011 (1.7%). Perhaps, with reference to voided votes, Alhaji Atiku’s claim could have some weight.
It is true that following the postponement of the election by one week, most Nigerians were disappointed. It is also true that on the rescheduled date of February 23, there were reported incidences of smart card reader failure across the country, late commencement of elections in some polling units, poor logistics and cases of lack of understanding of processes by some few ad hoc staff. All of these were bound to affect the election. A combination of all of these would have accounted for possible reasons for high records of cancelled votes.
However, compared to previous elections in the recent history of Nigeria, the February 23rd, 2019 election must be about the best organized election in the country. Interim reports of various election observer groups acknowledge this fact. The African Union Election Observer Mission, ECOWAS Mission, YIAGA Africa Statement, CDD Election Analysis Centre Final Election-Day Report, among others, as well as Amb. W. Stuart Symington (US Ambassador to Nigeria)’s Statement, all are commending INEC and the security agencies for their dedication and professionalism while appreciating the efforts of political parties for their commitment and demonstration of maturity during the 2019 election. Without doubt, substantial progress was recorded as compared to previous elections. INEC did a good job and, in many respects, it can be argued that the conduct of the February 23rd election is an excellent compensation for the disappointment of February 16th postponement. INEC should be commended for ensuring a very successful election with all the challenges, especially following the rescheduling of election dates.
If this is the reality, what could have informed the assertion by Alhaji Atiku that the conduct of the February 23rd election debased our democracy? Such an assertion is must be unfortunate. Is it that we forgot our electoral history when, for instance almost all election results in the country were written in Wadata Plaza (PDP Headquarters between 2003 and 2007). And there were instances when after writing the results in Wadata Plaza, they were also announced in Abuja even when the election is for a distant constituency. Recall Prof. Jubril Aminu’s so-called election victory as a Senator representing Adamawa Central in 2003. Recall also, for instance, how INEC returned 98% votes from Rivers State in favor of PDP in 2007.
Somehow, it would appear that Alhaji Atiku and many PDP supporters were relating with the conduct of the 2019 elections and the results using their own standards. Otherwise, how manage APC lost some of the constituencies that would have been automatic? For example, how would it have been possible for the Vice President to lose in his polling unit? Or, how could INEC pronounce APC to have lost in Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District, where the “uncommon defector”, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, was the candidate? Could Sen. George Akume have lost Benue North West Senatorial seat if APC had written the results? Had Sen. Akpabio or Sen. Akume won, they would have been in contention for leadership position in the 9th Senate.
At another level, if APC had written the results of the election, could we have had such a balanced result from virtually all parts of the country, reflecting virtually all expectations? Couldn’t APC have awarded itself the usual 90% and above in many of the states on account of which the gap between APC and PDP will be exceedingly high? All these realities only suggest that the PDP probably didn’t prepare for the 2019 electoral contest. It builds its electoral projections around some assumed weaknesses of APC. For instance, it projected that President Muhammadu Buhari would be unable to campaign in all parts of the country due to exaggerated health challenges. This assumption completely failed as President Buhari campaigned in all the 36 states and FCT, while PDP’s Atiku was only able to campaign in 19 states.
Closely related to that is the convenient conclusion that Nigerians are disappointed with President Buhari’s APC government and were not going to vote for APC. Nigerians might have been dissatisfied about many policies and appointments of President Buhari but could that have meant loss of votes? Or could that have meant automatic advantage for the PDP?
Somehow, all PDP leaders, Atiku inclusive, became overconfident and engaged the 2019 Presidential contest almost as if it was a work over for them. And made reckless statements on account of such a mentality, statements made without weighing the electoral damages such statements were inflicting on the PDP. Take for example the statement by Alhaji Atiku that he will sell the NNPC no matter what or when he said he would enrich his friends. How have these statements helped his campaign? Or how many votes has he gained on that basis? Alhaji Atiku could only make the assertion about those who trampled on democracy thumping their noses down on the Nigerian people in reference to President Buhari’s military background and not the conduct or management of the February 23rd, 2019 election.
Somehow, it reflected a statement made by Mr. Clement Nwankwo, Convener of Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room while appearing on Channels TV Sunrise program of Tuesday, February 26th, 2019. Mr. Nwankwo, as spokesperson of the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, conducted himself as if he were an agent of the PDP agent bent on discrediting INEC and the results of the election because they were not going the way of PDP. It could be assumed that Mr. Nwankwo had more than a coincidental relationship with PDP especially given that he (Mr. Nwankwo) was a member of PDP, aspired to contest in the 2007 elections into House of Representatives from Imo State but lost. Although a reputable civil society leader, Mr. Nwankwo could be facing the challenge of declining leadership.
Largely because PDP did not prepare for the February 23rd contest, the attitude of both its leadership and supporters has been to amplify every problem, including the ones that are imagined. Almost from the afternoon of February 23rd, many PDP leaders and their supporters have written off the election even before the business of collation commenced. There were reports of strong lobbies by civil society apologists of PDP to influence observer reports and get the international community to condemn the conduct of the election. It is possible that Alhaji Atiku’s statement rejecting the results of the election could have been written even before the election had been concluded based on the estimated weaknesses of APC.
The worrisome part in all these is that at a time when leadership is required to inject some elements of rationality and moderate followership, it appears our PDP leaders are submitting themselves to the sentimental anger and whimsical reasoning of their followers. Difficult moments require exceptional, not bandwagon, or as Fela of blessed memory would put it, follow-follow initiatives. Imagine South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggles had Mandela narrowed his initiatives to be directed by the anger of black South Africans. Perhaps the words of Michelle Obama, former first lady of the United States of America, in her Memoir, Becoming, where she argued “decline can be a hard thing to measure, especially when you’re in the midst of it” elegantly highlight the unfortunate reality that PDP and its leadership are confronting. That is the reality of a leadership on a decline, something portending a serious national risk.
It is a risk because instead of providing leadership to pull the country away from its anger, it is precisely propelled by the anger of its members. In which case then, animosity, hate and intolerance could become official state policy were the management of our country, Nigeria, to be given to PDP. This is a big risk which could lead to increasing conflict, violence and the possibility of high loss of lives. It is a possibility that no one, except perhaps sadists, want to imagine.
What should be done to ensure that APC doesn’t take the PDP route of decline? This question becomes fundamental given that it took years of systematic erosion of democratic values within PDP to debase its leadership to the level of it being propelled by the anger of its members.