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2023 elections as another missed opportunity

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Nigeria again missed another opportunity to conduct credible and acceptable elections with allegations of malfeasance trailing the just concluded general elections, ONYEKACHI EZE writes

Songstress, Simisola Ogunleye-Kosoko, simply known as Simi, summarised vividly what happened on March 18, the day Nigerians supposed to have freely elected their governors and members of House of Assembly through the ballot. Simi on Monday, two days after the ‘elections,’ took to her Twitter handle to describe the budget for the conduct of the polls as huge waste. The songstress had twitted: “300 billion naira budget for this joke of an election. @inecnigeria you might have as well given them back the money to fix some hospitals and schools and just used finger to point at the people you wanted to select.— Simi (@SympLySimi) March 20, 2023” The 2023 general elections will go down in history as one that will witness avalanche of election petitions.

This is further underscored by the fact that the common sayings among Nigerians now is: “Go to court!” Former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, (NHRC), and law lecturer, Prof Chidi Odinkalu, captured the recourse to the law courts as against the wish of the people, more succinctly when he wrote, “As Nigerian judges get set to begin voting.” Already, the Labour Party (LP), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and two other political parties have filed petitions at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, challenging the declaration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner of February 25 presidential election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

A lot more is expected from the March 18 governorship election, which has witnessed so much disputed figures, allegations of over voting and non-use of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), in its conduct. Odinkalu, stated that whereas democracy may be about choices and decisions by citizens in theory, as practised in Nigeria, however, citizens are mostly spectators. In every election, Nigeria’s judges have the final votes. “Every election cycle in Nigeria has three seasons. The campaign season belongs to the parties, the politicians, and godfathers.

This is followed by the voting season, during which the security agencies, thugs, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) hold sway. Thereafter, matters shift to the courts for the dispute resolution season, which belongs to the lawyers (mostly Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs) and judges. All three are separate but interdependent.” Taking a cue from history, he said: “Of 1,490 seats contested federally and in the states in 2019 (excluding the CT Area Council ballots), the courts decided 805 (54.02 per cent). This is higher than just over 45 per cent recorded in 2015 and 51 per cent recorded in 2011 but lower than the high of 86.35 per cent from the nadir of 2007. So, by 2019, Mahmood Yakubu’s INEC had bled all the confidence that Attahiru Jega, his predecessor, had built in the electoral process. In 2023, he shamelessly pulverized what was left of it.”

The last election received very low scores from both domestic and foreign observers in all ramifications. The European Union (EU), in its post-election report, said the March 18 governorship and state House of Assembly elections were fraught with massive voter apathy, multiple incidents of thuggery, intimidation, vote-buying and interruption of polling in various locations, resulting in the death of 21 people killed across the country. Chief Observer of the EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Nigeria Barry Andrews, who presented the second preliminary statement on the 2023 general elections, said Nigerians have a great appetite for democracy and were keen to engage in various civic activities, but regretted that their expectations were not met during the presidential and National Assembly polls.

“Many Nigerians were so disappointed with the electoral process of the February 25; then on Saturday (March 18), they decided to stay at home. The voter apathy that we witnessed is, in part, a clear consequence of failures by political elites, added also by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). “Overall, on election day, multiple incidents of thuggery and intimidation interrupted polling in various locations, primarily across the south, but also in states in the central and northern areas. “There were reportedly some 21 fatalities. In polling units in several states, violent incidents targeted voters, INEC personnel, citizen observers and journalists,” Andrews stated.

Also, the British High Commission said though there was improvement in logistics by INEC during the gubernatorial elections, compared to the presidential election, it expressed concern over “the use of inflammatory ethno-religious language by some public and political figures.” The UK Minister of State for Development and Africa Andrew Mitchell, a member of parliament (MP), had earlier said the British government is collating information to take action against individuals who engaged in or incite electoral violence and other anti-democratic behaviours. This includes preventing them from obtaining UK visas or imposing sanctions under the country’s human rights sanctions regime.

The minister of state described the just concluded general elections as “not only important to Nigeria and Nigerians, but to Africa and the world as a whole. As a long-term partner, the UK is committed to strengthening the ties between our countries and peoples, including by supporting democratic development.” The governorship election was conducted in 28 states, but as at March 22, results were still being expected in some states. Two states – Adamawa and Kebbi were declared inconclusive, while collation was suspended in another two states – Enugu and Abia until March 22 after a review by INEC management in Abuja.

The 2023 general elections was the first set of elections in Nigeria, INEC, the nation’s electoral umpire, promised to be technology driven, through the use of BVAS, to accredit voters, and transmission of results electronically, from the polling unit level direct to INEC Result Viewing (IRev) portal, in real time. The purpose of electronic transmission of results is part of the measures to ensure the sanctity of the electoral process and timely declaration of election results. But the EU EOM in its report, noted that at the time of the declaration of presidential results, on February 28 and March 1, only one quarter of result forms were visible.

This was against the promise by INEC to Nigerians. However, during the governorship polls, there was an improvement. The EU observers stated that by midday March 19, a day after the elections, between 62 and 97 percent of result forms for the gubernatorial races were uploaded and displayed for public scrutiny, depending on the states. Nigerians, and indeed, the international community were disappointed by INEC’s failure to transmit the results of the presidential poll, as promised. This dampened the moral of the electorate, leading to voter apathy witnessed during the governorship and House of Assembly elections.

Blomberg said fewer than three out of 10 people who registered and collected their permanent voter’s cards (PVCs), voted during the presidential election. And out of over 87 million registered voters who collected their PVCs, the American based Cable News Network (CNN) said only about 10 percent elected Tinubu as president on February 25. On the whole, about 24 million Nigerians voted in the presidential and National Assembly elections. Far less than this number voted on March 18 governorship and House of Assembly elections.

In most states, including the much hyped presidential election, those declared winners were rather cautious in celebrating their victories. The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), a domestic election observer, is predicting that the scale of violence witnessed in the elections would lead to a wave of postelection litigations, a situation, it feared, that could result in courts determining the legality of the election mandates secured. “This has the added effect of seeing courts have a role in determining ‘elected’ officials, further undermining voters’ sense that their vote is valued and has an impact on the outcome of an election process,” the centre warned. The British government advised any party or individual who wishes to challenge the process or outcome of the elections to do so peacefully and through the appropriate legal channels, and assured that it “will be observing the course of legal challenges made.” This last general elections exposed dangerously, Nigeria’s religious and ethnic fault lines, both at presidential and governorship contests. Former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Chief Olabode George, said playing ethnic card played during the governorship election in Lagos State, was a desecration of the nation’s democracy, describing it as a disgrace, despicable and dishonourable. “This is no longer democracy. What happened on Saturday, March 18 in Lagos State was utter lunacy, a complete sham perpetrated by demented souls. “Our forefathers who founded Lagos, the Aworis and others, will be angry in their graves at those power-hungry fellows who turned everything upside down in their quest to retain power at all cost,” George regretted. Religious leaders also openly took sides, both in their mode of worship and their utterances. Even traditional worshippers were not left out. The Oro festival, an ancient Yoruba feast that keeps females and non-natives indoors, was declared in Lagos a night before the March 18 governorship election. George said Oro is done in rural areas, and in the night, “but in Lagos, we saw some ‘Oro’ worshippers (whether) fake or real, invoking spiritual insults on other Nigerians in broad daylight. This is a bastardisation of our culture and tradition.” Before these general elections, Nigeria was moving towards two-party system. The good thing about it however, is that the two dominant parties – the APC and the PDP, have been challenged and weakened by emerging political parties. During the presidential election, their hitherto, strong areas were dismembered by the Labour Party and the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP). Whereas APC and PDP won 12 states each, the LP secured victory in 11 states and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), while NNPP won in one state. The composition of the 10th National Assembly will also witness the presence of lawmakers from many political parties – the LP, the NNPP and other political parties, won an appreciable number of seats both in the Senate and the House of Assembly. And at the state level, the PDP, which controlled most of the states in the South East since 1999, managed to win only one state. There also upset in Kano State where the NNPP dethroned the APC. The party equally controlled the state Assembly, and has majority of members of National Assembly from Kano State. Labour Party also has a majority of National Assembly members from the South East, as well won seats in Abuja, Kaduna and in other states. The CDD said the voting pattern witnessed during the election, “would provide momentum to agitators for more party platform alternatives to the dominant APC and PDP.” According to the centre, “the success of candidates who have left the parties and were able to gain political influence could encourage more splintering and eventual balkanisation of the major parties. The performance of elected governors and officials during the coming term will play a part in maintaining this momentum.” Indeed, the days where elected government officials take the people for a ride may become a thing of the past. Many heavy weight politicians who took their re-election for granted, were roundly defeated, and probably retired from politics by political starters. Those who won their elections ‘sweated’ to do so, and will definitely do everything possible to retain the favour of the electorate in future elections.

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