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Monday, September 25, 2023

Reflections from Nigeria’s 2023 Elections

Adamu Muhammad Hamid

Between February 25 and wee morning hours of March 1st, Presidential and National Assembly elections and related events in Nigeria gathered and inevitably cycled away with the announcement of Alhaji Ahmed Bola Tinubu as the new president. Elections were generally peaceful except for some process disruptions involving gunshots to snatch ballot boxes in Lagos and tempers that frayed in a few places across the nation. These are usual and typical of political behavior in Nigeria but other notorious happenstances during the elections would shock you.

The integrity of the election was dented by late arrival of materials to polling units. This seems to be a recurring misconduct almost every election in the country. At Election Day, some polling centers started voting after 3.00 p.m. instead of 8.30 a.m. Why INEC has consistently failed to deal with this aberration is a serious concern. Along the line, from Professor Yakubu to the Polling Clerk, someone did not execute his or her duty well. European Union observer mission accused INEC of lack of adequate preparation, while commentators say that many of the ad hoc election staff did not pass the night of the eve of election where they were instructed to, close to their duty posts. Whatever the reason, consistent failure of INEC to take disciplinary measure on erring staff keeps the wrong doing repeating.

Again, voter turnout this election has been significantly abysmal. Enugu which has over 2 million registered voters got only close to one million voting, while Lagos with a little less seven million registered voters, had a little more than 1 million voting. At Kano, the total of voting population across all the parties a little above 1.5 million is not up to what Buhari got at 2015. Voter turnout this year appears to be a little above 25% of registered voters down from 35% of 2019.

It is true that election at some places did not take place until two days after; that is 27th February. This is understandable because those areas are Nigeria’s insecurity regions, especially Borno. 

The major issue of concern during the election exercise was the failure of INEC Server on Election Day between 3 p.m. and past 9 p.m. This was a major issue because the law stipulates that for transparency purposes, BVAS pictures of signed results sheets should be uploaded to the Server for backup purposes and conservation of the results. Though INEC refused to give sufficient explanations for the Server failure, analysts commented that INEC shut down the Server because of a botched attempt to attack it electronically. And the Commission was reticent in order to avoid dragging itself into rancorous controversies.

At the National Collation Center, the attempt by to Dino Melaye to scuttle the presidential election collation process did not surprise me at all. He was strategically chosen by his party for purpose like this because of his antecedents at the Senate. If Dino did not do what he did, it meant he did not render his primary duty to his party at the National Collation Center. At the time Dino was shouting at the INEC chairman, all participating political parties were privy to the trends of the complete results through their agents at polling units, ward, LG and state collation centers. The moment I saw how Dino and co. fuming at the collation center, I just thought it was illogical for a party that was on the path to winning to be clutching at excuses to scuttle the processes that would lead to the swearing in of its candidate as president. This is absurd! Their singular action then was the clear writing on the air that spelled to me that the winner of the election is not any of those parties.  My premonitionfurther strengthened when the representatives of the parties at a moment staged a walk out on the INEC chairman. These data supported my theory that the next president would not come from any of those parties, and the final declaration by INEC chairman confirmed my theory. I must also state that I was fascinated by the calm mien of Professor Yakubu, the INEC chairman, at the Melaye and co.’s tantrums. He also refused to respond to any of their allegations immediately. He must not! He was careful to have allowed himself the opportunity to consult legal and other experts at the commission to crystallize definite responses for the allegations. It appeared to me this arrangement was conceived before the commencement of the national collation. Again, frequent appearances of the INEC chairman to update the public through the media helped the entire process and cut uncertainty.

I was still not surprised by the attempts to scuttle the process of collation because politicians even in developed democracies behave in the same way. When it was apparent that Donald Trump was losing America’s last presidential election, party supporters and hoodlums were instigated to invade the Capitol Hill to stop the announcement of a new president. That Republican Party supporters behaved in a similar way, it’s not surprising if Nigerian politicians behaved in similar way.

The misdemeanor and similar other regrettable moves did not surprise me but the political statements of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo shocked me. In a letter, Obasanjo advised INEC to cancel the February 25 elections and arrange a new one on 4thMarch, threatening fire and brimstone if his opinion was not complied to. He was citing the same reasons of INEC Server failure just as the PDP and LP did. What shocked many was the stance taken by the former president in the letter and his short video was that of a statesman and a former president. Obasanjo could have conveniently assumed that stance if he were Abdussalami Abubakar or Yakubu  Gowon who happened to beapolitical and neutral past presidents. But Obasanjo forgot some months ago, he publicly declared his support for Peter Obi, the Labour Party candidate. Declaring for Peter Obi perpetually denies him the statesman neutrality status to be able to advise INEC or President Buhari, especially that Peter Obi was apparently losing the elections. Obasanjo at the material time did not have honor to advise other Nigerians than those in Labour Party. I was also shocked that it is Obasanjo now crying foul about election misconduct. He forgets in a hurry how Professor Maurice Iwu declared ‘Yar Adua as president in 2007 after results for only about 12 states were announced at national collation. This happened under the stewardship of Obasanjo as president. This misconduct alone denies Obasanjo the moral justification to call on Buhari to correct any perceived wrongdoing related to election. Analysts and election observers from other regions adjudged Nigeria’s 2007 election as the worst election all over Africa. Late Umaru Musa ‘Yar Adua the principal beneficiary of the election himself admitted that the election was marred by irregularities.

Trends of election results in many states have later on come to vindicate INEC on the objections of Obasanjo, PDP and Labour Party. For example, it was unimaginable that Tinubu would lose Lagos State or Buhari would lose Katsina to Obi and Atiku respectively. Or incumbent governors like Simon Lalong, Ortum and many others would lose bid for senatorial seats. These are shock waves the magnitude of which was never witnessed before. To a political scientist this trend was a further testimony that votes actually counted, raising the fame and trustworthinessof INEC. 

A problematic aspect of INEC’s performance is the over-trust of the commission for university lecturers. In 2019 elections, I saw with my eyes many instances in which they were compromised. The ward and LG collation officers collected money denominated in naira and in dollar from undisclosed sources. In last week’s election, I was authoritatively informed dollar was distributed among them, where naira was distributed it was transferred to the account of a senior officer among the lecturers in trust for subsequent distribution to other colleague collation officers. Soon as the money dropped in the account according to my source, the lecturer just switched off his phone. In engaging INEC senior ad hoc staff for the 2023 elections, because he’s from the university, Professor Yakubu discriminated against polytechnic and college of education lecturers, invariably suggesting university lecturers are more trustworthy or more honest. By its nature this reasoning in logic suffers from what is called genetic fallacy, meaning the other set of lecturers must not be trustworthy or honest because of the institutions they come from. Professor Yakubu knows this very well because he’s a student of history and philosophy.

Trust at points of collation is something that INEC must think twice about and re-strategize, because as it stands now the long time it took last week’s collation process to the point of announcing results for senatorial and representative position appeared to be suspicious. That the university lecturers could be compromised means that the integrity of the process smeared.

On the side of security agents, there were signs that the Police and other agencies improved professionally in the discharge of their responsibilities. I personally have witnessed where police officers stopped some party agents from following married women to the polling booth to ‘guide’ them on how to vote. At many instances the maintained neutral ground in dealing with party agents or resolving misunderstanding among voters. This is highly commendable! If the Police keeps improving in this direction, we’re on track to the dream Nigeria.


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