In the fullness of time, a proper postmortem of the February 25 presidential election in Nigeria will be done and documented for posterity. But for now, the badge of infamy is already stamped on those who bungled the process and abbreviated the right of the people to freely elect their leader. Nonetheless, the Nigerian voter will be well advised not to vent their disillusionment and despondency on the March 11 elections in states of the federation through boycott. That way they will be playing into the hands of enemies of democracy who want to assert their emergence as winners long before the election is conducted. Hitherto, not a few had wondered what buoys such optimism. Alas, events of the past few days have exposed what they were banking on. Active participation of the people in the election process can ultimately stop these political desperadoes.
A lot of Nigerians endured the rigours of registering to vote only to be let down by an INEC that overpromised but underdelivered without any scruples. It is disappointing that while results for the National Assembly elections were uploaded in real-time to the iRev portal, results from the polling units for the presidential election were not. It took hours before this could be done, creating a suspicion that the delay was to create room for the doctoring of results from the polling units. It should be of concern to INEC that out of 87 million registered voters, only about 25 million or 29 percent cast their votes on Saturday, pointing to allegations of vote manipulation. Not even at the outset of the current dispensation was the voter turnout this low. While a little over 50 million Nigerians were registered to vote in the 1999 presidential election, about 30 million votes were eventually counted.
Who wouldn’t be disappointed when an umpire apparently works from an answer to a question where the utmost integrity is required? Even when his attention was drawn to infractions and malpractices, the INEC Chairman continued with the collation of the results forcing some leading party agents to stage a walk-out. It is also impolitic to throw in the towel midstream given that the electoral umpire may just be out to use the gubernatorial and state houses of Assembly polls to redeem itself and save face. There is no denying the fact that last Saturday’s election and collation of results fell even below the Nigerian standard. The first and second runners-up in the election including Omoyele Sowore, a fringe candidate, have dismissed last Saturday’s election as an unprecedented fraud, the worst since the return to democratic rule, and did not meet the minimum standards expected of a free, fair and credible election. The NNPP had before now rejected the election, making the poll highly controversial and disputed
Similar sentiments have been expressed abroad. The United Kingdom issued a statement through its Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, who hailed registered voters for exercising their democratic rights and “encourage the authorities to examine all concerns carefully, take action to resolve outstanding issues and focus on delivering the will of the Nigerian people.” It is not about who eventually emerged winner but the process which was clearly in contravention of the guidelines which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) set for itself and the assurances given by Chairman Mahmood Yakubu.
Local and International observers observed that the election was manipulated and marred by irregularities. In an editorial titled: “Nigeria’s badly flawed election”, the Financial Times of London wrote, “What Nigeria needed above all was a clean election to reiterate the basic message of democracy: that a sovereign people can choose its leaders. Sadly, it did not happen. The election — which appears to have delivered the presidency to Bola Tinubu, a wealthy political fixer running for the incumbent All Progressives Congress — was badly mismanaged at best.”
The rehash of the above appraisal of the poll isn’t to further dampen the disillusion but to make them realize that their ballots have burdened perpetrators and beneficiaries of the electoral heist with the legitimacy question. The high participation of the electorate has also made the riggers not to be smelling of roses the world over. Never in the history of the country have states bonded together to approach the Supreme Court with the request to void the declaration of a candidate as the winner of a presidential election. These six states could so approach the apex court due to the enthusiastic participation of the Nigerian electorate in the election. That’s a win for democracy!
The opening up of the political space is equally another high point. It threw up the situation where unlike before, two front runners are claiming victory and are poised to prove this in the courts. It wouldn’t have been so if public participation wasn’t as frenetic and animated as the world witnessed in the buildup and on Election Day. Now, if the widespread rejection of the presidential election isn’t enough confirmation of the statement made by a large segment of Nigerians, how about the announced winner’s admittance to hearing them loud and clear? These should count for something and encourage citizens to troop out to cast their ballots in spite of INEC and the powers that be!
While INEC has come under this much excoriation and public opprobrium as regards how last Saturday’s election was conducted, the sunny side may just be that there isn’t as much partisan interest and pressure in the sub-national election as in who becomes the president-elect. Perhaps, those who hold the aces were dazed by some presidential candidate’s popularity and opinion polls that they went on overdrive in a devil-may-care manner. Thankfully, such desperation fueled by a sense of insecurity hasn’t been seen in the sub-national election. Hence the same zeal and thinking that made Nigerians vote in the first leg should apply.
Nigerians to return to the polls on Saturday, March 11, 2023, to elect governors and state houses of assembly members. Democracy is a work in progress and will eventually be achieved in Nigeria through confidence in the system. Voters shouldn’t be deterred by setbacks recorded in the last outing. While it’s left for the authorities to make amends, we enjoin the presidential candidates to rally their bases and galvanize them to vote for their respective parties. That may well validate their claim to victory. As voters come out, we insist that there must be no intimidation or violence. Thugs must be reined in and not allowed to run amok as they did last Thursday. The security agencies have their work cut out for them and must unleash the maximum force on troublemakers as earlier threatened. Nigeria mustn’t miss this chance of letting the world have something to cheer about, even if not learn from the 2023 general election.