This time last Sunday 26th February 2023, Nigerians were monitoring their radio and televisions sets and the social media for results of the Presidential and National Assembly elections, because apart from some polling approved by the Independent National Election Commission in a few states for Sunday, all polls had been cast the previous day.
The people did not have to wait for too long though because INEC declared Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress as winner of the election and president-elect early Wednesday morning, the 1st day of March.
The declaration has of course attracted different reactions – supporters of APC have been jubilant while the opposition parties and losers say INEC was wrong to make such declaration, with claims that the election was flawed and not free, fair or credible. The long and short of this is that once more, we are having the courts decide once again, who our leaders should be, instead of having the democratic process go smoothly so that the people will know and feel that their votes counted and there was no doubt about their choice.
INEC has done its own, as much as they could and wanted to. The aggrieved parties have said they will do theirs by going to the election tribunal and eventually the Supreme Court, from all indications.
Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party has said yesterday that he won the election. Peter Obi of Labour Party says he has proof that votes by his supporters were suppressed and he is the lawful winner.
The declared winner says they should join him in the task to make the country a better place and as the declared winner he has all the rights and privileges to take over the rein of leadership come May 29th.
As Fela Anikulapo-Kuti sang years ago in his album, ‘Stalemate’ – Oro di hun! Oro pési je o!Oro di hun! Everything is at a stalemate.
There are many questions though. How long will it take the courts to decide on the appeals of the two sides? Will the tribunal hearings run together or separately – side by side? Will there be same judges or separate panels of judges? There are definitely interesting times ahead.
Before now, we usually have the runner-up challenging presidential election results. But then we have mostly run almost like a two-party state in this Republic with either PDP or APC. Even in the previous one, it was more of two leading parties too. This time, however, there are three parties with three candidates insisting they won the election.
Congratulatory messages from different parts of the world to the declared winner. This is normal. No country will unnecessarily withhold a congratulatory message on elections in a foreign nation except unless there is something seriously wrong. The major observer groups from Europe, North America, the Commonwealth, African and ECOWAS have announced their preliminary reports where they all acknowledge flaws and several wrong processes during the election but they have mostly called for better performance next time. None has said there was no election or it should be cancelled out rightly.
The United States government, in a statement by State Department spokesperson Ned Price, went as far as congratulating the people of Nigeria, President-elect Tinubu, and all political leaders following INEC’s declaration of the results, saying, “This competitive election represents a new period for Nigerian politics and democracy. Each of the top three candidates was the leading vote-getter in 12 states, a remarkable first in Nigeria’s modern political era, reflecting the diversity of views that characterized the campaign and the wishes of Nigeria’s voters. We understand that many Nigerians and some of the parties have expressed frustration about the manner in which the process was conducted and the shortcomings of technical elements that were used for the first time in a presidential election cycle. Nigerians are clearly within their rights to have such concerns and should have high expectations for their electoral processes. We join other international observers in urging INEC to improve in the areas that need the most attention ahead of the March 11 gubernatorial elections”.
Yes, the Governorship and State Assemblies election due this Saturday 11th of March could be the barometer to show if the performance of the three major parties in the presidential was a fluke or not. There should of course be much focus on it now, although the way the presidential election result was announced seems to have made campaigns by the parties and candidates to slow down. Between now and midnight on Thursday when campaigns should end officially, there are expectations of more advertising on radio, tv and social media by those concerned, apart from rallies and town hall meetings to convince voters.
As the US said, INEC must out in place strategies to ensure better procedures on Saturday. The much touted BVAS was a failure during the presidential election, especially with accreditation and upload of polling results. While INEC has promised to make BVAS perform better this time around, the human factor must be taken into consideration in our environment where parties are likely to try and influence INEC staff and sabotage the technology engaged in the process.
The promised security of the police and military cannot be said to have been fulfilled two Saturdays ago when thuggery was the order of the day in many parts of the country and many voters did not have a good polling experience.
I was one of those who believed in all the promises made by INEC, police and military that they will ensure free, fair and credible election. But I dare say my voting experience is better forgotten. I have voted in all previous elections. This time I was ready. I have relocated from where I registered and acquired both the temporary and permanent voter’s cards. I always ensure I relocate close to my voting area and polling booth and this we did on the day before so that we will have no excuse because of the movement restriction imposed by the Inspector General of Police. In previous elections, restriction of movement was usually from 6am on election ay so we could still move from 5am and be at location before the regulation comes into effect. But this time, restriction was from midnight which means we had to leave 12 hours before and be at location before temporary curfew takes off.
This we did. But in the end our votes did not count because of lack of security to prevent the attack by thugs. How did it happen?
Counting of presidential votes had been concluded with scores announced on the spot and the officials were counting House of Reps when we noticed that the female Asst. Polling Officer III kept making calls and telling whoever she was on to, ‘Êmabò, Êmabò’ several times. ‘Emabo’ is Yoruba for ‘Come’ or ‘Start coming’. Suddenly a gold coloured Lexus car drove down and three men with baseball bats descended on the scene, smashing the ballot boxes and throwing the ballot papers all over and went away with the equipment. Everyone ran helter skelter. The female polling officer was heard earlier in the morning when we went to vote, telling people to vote for a particular party, even while voters where on the queue. She had a face mask on as if she did not want o be recognised, especially if her photograph was taken. When we were running away, we all forgot about videoing or using cameras to shoot the scene, even from far off. My wife went in a different direction. I went somewhere else.
The polling station was peaceful when we went to vote in the morning and still peaceful when we went back for counting, only to suddenly explode. In the morning there was only one slightly built policeman who looked like he was moving from unit to unit and of course they are not expected to be armed. But in the afternoon, no policeman. No soldier.
Days after the election, I accessed the INEC portal and downloaded what they claim are results for our polling booth. We had only concluded counting the presidential ballots and were counting House of Reps when the thugs struck yet they have figures for both positions. The presidential figures are of course different from the ones we got on the day. That was Presidential and National Assembly election. And these infractions may basically form the reason why the losing parties are now going to court to challenge the results and declaration.
As the governorship polls come up this Saturday 11th of March, we hope the new promises by INEC and the security agencies will be actualized. Otherwise, the judiciary will be flooded with more petitions and suits that will bog down the running of government and possibly affect the work of any new government at both federal and state levels. There are those who say it has never happened that the result of the presidential election is overturned and so it will not be different this time. But it has happened several times with state governors, even after swearing-in and appointing their teams.
Let us hope for a quick determination of the various petitions so that the business of state can be steered by the new leaders efficiently. A stalemate that will make the election results become a “matter that defeats any reasonable progress or answer and become discombobulated”, according to my friend, should be avoided.