Saturday, 6 June 2015

Post-2015 General Elections: Do Nigerians Now Have A Voice?

I was having a chat with some of my mates on the 30th of March 2015 as the Nigerian Presidential election results were being announced. I must point out that amongst us, there were the pro-Buharist and pro-Jonathans and as expected, there was a whole lot to disagree on. But one commonality was the expectation of violence...most of us had that sense of foreboding even when the results appeared to be heading Buhari's way. The thinking was that down South-south violence will emanate. 

However, I felt differently...I told them that if Buhari wins, there will be no violence because Nigeria's southerners would rarely get violent for political reasons. Yes, there may be pockets of agitations here and there...they will not tarry and will certainly not turn into a full-scale upheaval. I, however, said it wouldn't be so should Buhari lose the election as the Northerners would definitely agitate. Well, it happened as I envisaged... Asari Dokubo and other Southern elements who huffed, puffed and threatened fire and brimstone should Jonathan lose haven’t mustered a word since then. Now, where am I heading with this?

There is this overly optimistic feeling that Nigeria's electoral process has matured to the point where the citizens can decide the outcome of elections. It is very easy to cite as favourable instance the fact that the 2015 election was considerably free and fair and that a sitting President was voted out…fair enough. The sense of improvement is also backed up when one reflects on what elections used to be under Obasanjo ...a do or die affair. However, I am a bit sceptical about sharing in this optimism …not because I’m a pessimist but because I am a realist. I do really wish this to be our turning point and the change we crave for in our electoral process; but in my own opinion, for the electoral process to really change, the judiciary must change, our politicians must change, and the electorate too...and as we all know, none of these has changed. In fact, it is this same electoral process which got GEJ ousted that also got a despised man in the person of Theodore Orji of Abia state elected into the Nigerian Senate, his rascally son into the State House of Assembly and his crony as State Governor. As it concerns unseating the incumbent President (which many Nigerians have taken as sign of Citizen-power) - apart from the disaffection which GEJ's leadership brought - I do believe that three major factors came into play for this to happen; these were: a man, the former President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan; tribal underpinnings; and of course the threat of violence. I will discuss these three.

Goodluck Jonathan as a factor

If you may recall, the election that ushered us into the democratic era in 1999 from a Military dispensation was way better than those conducted by OBJ in 2003 and 2007. In 2011, GEJ oversaw an election which was dramatically better than any of those under OBJ...2015 even witnessed improvements. By all indications, if OBJ were in charge during the 2015 general elections, the outcome wouldn't have been the same.

GEJ –as a politician who was seeking re-election- had the power to remove Professor Attahiru Jega as the Chairman of INEC when there were talks of his being biased; he could have appointed someone who would dance to his tune…he didn’t. GEJ as President saw proof that kids were allowed to register and vote in the North yet he didn't pick on that as an excuse to change things in his favour. As the President he experienced accreditation problems with the card-readers, he could have picked on this as an excuse to change things…he didn’t. As the President, he got reports that a large number of people in the Southern region of the country where he expected to get a bulk of his votes from couldn’t get their voters' cards for reasons not of their own making…this was another opportunity to juggle things to his favour and he didn’t. Though I am not encouraging such, but GEJ had a number of “legitimate excuses” to tinker things in his favour…but why didn’t he? It may have been because he wanted to play fair, that's one. Two, he may have been confident of winning despite all. Three, he definitely was aware of the likelihood of violence if he made a wrong move and he kept repeating that his political ambition was not worth the blood of a single Nigerian. In my own opinion, what GEJ did was merely set a good example which other Politicians may or may not copy, he hasn't instituted a fundamentally different system from what we used to know. 

Violence as a factor

You may recall that before the election, there was massive movement away from the North by people who expected some sort of post-electoral violence as has been the norm in previous two elections following Buhari's loss. However, there wasn’t such movement away from the South which was GEJ’s political stronghold. In fact, In Nigeria, political violence seems to be the preserve of the North. Add this Northern culture of post-electoral violence to the fact that it has been in the news that the US predicted Nigeria breaking up by 2015; the facts that APC members have threatened to set up a parallel government if the outcome of the election goes contrary to their expectation; and the fact that the already existing Boko Haram insurgence had stretched the Nigerian Military and security apparatus to their very limit… all you have are the trappings of unrestricted-violence. I am not saying that this will solely be in the North, no ...but it would have started in the North with the South retaliating and maybe a civil war and ethnic bloodshed would have ensued. GEJ knew this and he chose not to take a risk by denying Buhari his victory despite the fact that it may be unmerited. Some may call this cowardice, but I do call it Wisdom because it is mere folly and stupidity to risk the lives of the people you are to govern just because you want to govern them. Take a look at Bashar Hafez al-Assad in Syria...killing his own people because they do not want him as President; even closer home is Burundi with Pierre Nkurunziza refusing the douse the on-going violence by opting out of a bid for an unconstitutional 3rd term in office as President.

Ethic sentiments as a factor

I must say that there were a couple of factors that determined who voted for or against GEJ and Buhari: a minority of Nigerians would have voted for these men because the genuinely liked them and believed that they would make a difference in Nigeria as President. A larger set of people voted one as a "lesser evil" over the other...some voted GEJ not because they felt he had something tangible to offer but because they feared the unknown as it concerned Buhari or because they didn't see Buhari doing better and vice versa. I dare say that the greatest majority voted on ethnic lines as has been the norm over the years.

Nigeria is made up many forms of divisions both abstract and concrete. We have divisions by religion (Christianity and Islam); by regions (North and South); by geopolitical zones (South-west, South-east, South-south, North-west, North-east, and North-central); by the about 250 ethnic groups though most Nigerians identify with or are seen to be more Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa which are the 3 dominant ethnic groups. Then there is the silent but dominant division by “ethnogeopolitical” zones consisting of the Hausa-Fulani North, Yoruba-Edo South-west, Igbo South-east and the Efik-Ibibio-Ijaw South-south. I must point out though that politically and otherwise, there isn't a solid line between the South-east and parts of the South-South.

The ethnogeopolitical zoning makes it easy for the North to unite under a massive political umbrella while the south is in diverse camps; it also could give a false sense of "majority" because the unified North has the capacity to outvote the diversified South on an issue and the result will still be seen as the “voice of the Nigerian majority cutting across ethic barriers”. To help check this is the electoral rule that states that to win a presidential election, the Candidate needs an overall majority and at least 25% of the votes in two-thirds of the states (24 states). Achieving this feat could theoretically be a given for an anointed Northern candidate who potentially has 19 states at his beck and call and will only need 25% of the votes cast in 6 other states + a clear majority to win. It is not this easy for another anointed candidate from one of the Southern sub-regions who may not be the anointed candidate for the other sub-regions.

The Northern might and unity was felt in the 2015 general elections as they massively voted for APC; the Southern diversity was also noticed as the South-western sub-region voted APC while the South-eastern and South-southern sub-regions voted PDP. In fact, I am convinced that for PDP to win the next presidential election, the following conditions must be met:
  1.  APC must fail woefully in the North and thus becomes despised as a regional party: If this happens, PDP must field an alternate anointed Northern candidate to rival Buhari.

  2. The Northern/south-western pally must go sour: If this happens, PDP must field a candidate from any region (Southern region most preferably) that will unite all of the Southern region.

  3. PDP must field someone mercurial enough to unite the South and divide votes in the North...but who could this be?
As unlikely as these may seem, in all of conditions, the North is still an important factor. So before you join the bandwagon of optimists and take your foot off the pedal in the demand for sustainable change ask yourself these:
  1. If GEJ was bent on remaining as President, was there any institution or system strong enough to stop him?

  2. If not for the threat of Northern violence and the knock-on effect it may have on other parts of Nigeria, would GEJ have given up this easily in the face of perceived electoral anomalies?

  3. Post-GEJ, is there a guarantee that persons in the mould of Obasanjo will not ensure that elections go their way?

  4.  Was the outcome of the election really an indication of the wishes of the majority or was it the result of strategic ethnic alliances that gave a false sense of "collective voice"?

  5. What has changed about the registration of fictitious elements and the underage voters? What has changed about ballot stuffing and snatching? What has changed about results manipulation? What has changed about the judicial system which is meant to deal with those involved in electoral malpractices? What has changed about Nigerian Politicians? What has changed about you the voter?
I am happy that Nigeria is at peace and I do wish President Muhammadu Buhari success as he presides over the affairs of Nigeria. However, in my own opinion and as it concerns elections...until winning and concession of defeat are solely outcomes of the ballot and not of threat of violence; until the disposition of the sitting president has no impact on elections; until ethnicity has little or no role to play or until a system is instituted to give equal weighting of votes across ethic barriers; until the electoral system is good enough to prevent, detect and nullify fraud from the point of voters’ registration to announcement of results; until the Judiciary is strong enough to speedily bring to book and punish electoral offenders; until our politicians and electorate ditch the do-or-die attitude and follow the good example which GEJ has set...nothing has changed, it isn't yet uhuru.

The Oracle has spoken!!

No comments :

Post a Comment