‘Nigerians should vote for whoever they like, from whichever political party. Nobody will be allowed to mobilise resources and thugs to intimidate people in any constituency…’ – President Muhammadu Buhari. The above statement was made by the Nigerian leader while addressing the media moments after meeting the newly- crowned British Monarch, King Charles III, at the Buckingham Palace in London on November 9, 2022 – roughly three months before the elections actually took place.
It was also one of the latest in the many such pronouncements made by the nation’s number one citizen in the run-up to the polls, leaving many to believe that perhaps, this time around, his words will be backed up by action. Before the trip to the UK late last year, at a meeting with members of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), led by the Chairman, Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on August 30, he vowed that his administration will not create the room for money bags to use any form of intimidation, whether materially, morally or physically in the general election.
He said the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), will continue to bequeath strong political institutions that reflect their choices, through non-interference in elections. And that under his leadership, APC will continue to respect Nigerians by ensuring that their votes count and the people’s voice matter in choosing political leaders at different levels. Accordingly, he noted: “I want Nigerians to know that we respect them, and for us to show that we will allow them to vote who they want.” For the 2023 elections, President Buhari in a statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina, said the government will also ensure that Nigerians do not get intimidated, or humiliated by those in positions, or the more privileged. “We will not allow anyone to use personal resources or their influence to intimidate other Nigerians.
We will not allow intimidation materially, morally or physically. This is the kind of leadership that can emerge and consolidate our nation. “In six months, Nigerians will appreciate the government of APC that we are sincere and we respect them,” he noted. A few months later, on October 1 to be precise, the president again promised transparent elections. Speaking in his last Independence Day anniversary broadcast, he said he has resolved to bequeath a sustainable democratic culture to the country, noting that it was the reason for signing the 2022 Electoral Act. He stated that his experience at previous polls (where he thrice failed to win the presidential ticket) explained his determination to improve the process. “It is for this reason that I have resolved to bequeath a sustainable democratic culture, which will remain lasting. The signing of the Electoral Act 2021 as amended with landmark provisions further assures us of a more transparent and inclusive Electoral Process.
“Having witnessed at close quarters, the pains, anguish and disappointment of being a victim of an unfair electoral process, the pursuit of an electoral system and processes that guarantee the election of leaders by citizens remains the guiding light as I prepare to wind down our administration,” the president said. Then roughly six weeks later he followed up by insisting that there was no going back on the planned redesign of the N1, 000, N500, and N200 bank notes, because it was a way of checking the influence of money in our politics.
In an interview after meeting his Royal Majesty, King Charles III, in Buckingham Palace, Buhari said politicians won’t be allowed to mobilise resources and thugs to intimidate voters in the 2023 general elections. According to him, the naira redesign policy announced by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, on October 26, 2022 had come to stay. His words: “No going back. My aim is to make sure that Nigerians believe that we respect them as an administration. So, Nigerians should vote for whoever they like from whichever political party. Nobody will be allowed to mobilise resources and thugs to intimidate people in any constituency. That is what I want to go down in Nigerian history as a leader.”
Predictably, even some of the president’s top appointees were not left out in assuring the people that the polls would be safe for them to exercise their civic responsibility. Five days before the Presidential/National Assembly polls, a security meeting presided over by the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Lucky Irabor, and attended by all service chiefs – the Inspector-General of Police, the Director-General of the Department of State Services and representative of the INEC chairman was held after which the green light was given to the elections.
“Looking at the security for the elections and as you know, the police are the lead agency for elections’ security, we havecompared notes and assessed the entire situation and we are good to go. “By and large, we are good to go and I like to use this opportunity to assure Nigerians that on the security front, we are good to go on all fronts,” Irabor had said. Sadly, we are witnesses to one of the most violent-prone elections in the history of the nation. From virtually all corners of the country were harrowing reports of intimidation and even physical attacks on voters and stealing of ballot boxes.
Twenty-seven people lost their lives simply because they wanted to vote for people of their choice. Contrary to the pre-election promises and assurances, this is one election that will go down in history as one of the worst ever conducted in the country. Even the attempt to curb the influence of money failed woefully as the new notes that ordinary Nigerians could not lay their hands on were available to the politicians to induce voters. While we cannot place all the blame on the election umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); however, the Prof Mahmood Yakubu-led body cannot be totally exonerated because the Commission dropped the ball in many ways. The failure of the BVAS during the presidential election is totally suspicious. How did they conduct three elections when the device failed to upload results to the IREV in only one of the three? Instead, their failure to do so and other hitches has left them wide open to all sorts of insinuations concerning their competence or even the impartiality of the Commission. However, at the end of the day, we only have ourselves to blame as many of us were actually complicit in allowing ourselves to be used as thugs to truncate the free will of others or bowing to the ethnic card played up by the politicians in getting the voters to do their bidding. Well, the elections have come and gone, and we will all have to live with the consequences of our actions or inaction for the next four years.