The 2023 general elections have ended, but the ripples generated by the polls are yet to clear. Rather, the polity is heating up as the May 29 handover date draws near. The dramatis personae are up in arms, and have vowed to bring the roof down. Tension is high in the land as the political warlords continue stoking fire. Though the elections have been won and lost, Nigerians are yet to move on, as both the losers and the victorious are still in the battle trenches, prolonging the ‘war’. Some are of the opinion that the election results were manipulated to favour certain candidates, and are bent on throwing away the baby with the bath water.
Nigeria is more divided than we were during the civil war. Ethnic tension is high in several states in the country. Social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, have been turned into ‘war zones’, where friendship and camaraderie, built over the years, have been torn to shreds.
The other day, the Department of State Security Services (DSS), raised an alarm that some politicians were planning to foist an interim government on the nation come May 29. With rumours that some prominent politicians are behind the plot, the duty of the secret police is not to raise such an alarm, but to nip such a plan in the bud and get those behind it arrested.
The recently leaked audio conversation between Peter Obi, candidate of the Labour Party in the February 25 presidential election, and Pastor David Oyedepo, the General Overseer of the Living Faith Church Worldwide, where Obi was quoted as describing the 2023 presidential election as a religious war and soliciting for the assistance of the Pastor has also exposed the religious sentiment that came with the polls. While the APC felt that only a Muslim-Muslim ticket could fetch it the Presidency, the Labour Party latched onto the anger of the Christian community to canvass for votes among Christians across the country. The result is bedlam.
Already, the Federal Government has accused Obi, and his Vice-Presidential candidate, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed of stoking ethnic and religious tension in the land, but the duo have categorically rejected the allegations. Obi has also alleged that there have been several calls on him to leave the country as there are plans to get him arrested. The Federal Government had earlier accused him of treason by instigating the masses against the government while his deputy, Baba-Ahmed threatened that Nigeria would cease to exist if the May 29 handover is carried out.
In spite of the fact that Obi came third in the election, he told whoever cared to listen that he won the election. His lawyers are already before the court to prove their case. In the same vein, Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has also challenged the outcome of the election in court. The PDP also went ahead to organise a series of protests in Abuja and some states to call the attention of the international community to what it described as the unbridled manipulation of the electoral process and results by the APC.
Election in Nigeria is known to be a ‘do-or-die’ affair, but the last general elections have been turned into a ‘war’, with quite a number of Nigerians set to live with the scars of the poll for the rest of their lives. There is the iconic photograph of a lady, Efidi Bina Jennifer, who was on election day, on Dipo Olubi Street, Surulere, Lagos, to cast her vote, when thugs stabbed her twice in the face. She was taken to the hospital for treatment but returned to cast her vote with the upper and lower parts of her left eye in plasters, her face dripping blood and her T-shirt soaked in blood. The thugs might have thought they were victorious over the ballot box, but she showed that the human will can withstand bayonets. She demonstrated that evil can only win if the victims succumb.
These elections have also transformed the country from a two-party system to a tripod, with the Labour Party emerging as an uncontested third leg. However, whether this genetic engineering would survive or is sustainable is a different matter. Perhaps, this explains why there is so much tension. The three leading candidates in the country represent the three major ethnic groups in the country. The candidate of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is a Yoruba man from the southwest. Atiku is from the North, while Obi is from the East. This tribal sentiment was on display in the voting patterns but Tinubu was able to nick the victory due to his alliance with the North. He was the facilitator of the electoral victory that brought President Muhammadu Buhari to power in 2015, and re-election in 2019, and there was the need for the North to honour a gentleman agreement between them. This fact was very much in play, as many of the APC Northern governors, led by Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State and Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano stood firmly with the president-elect when the going was tough.
It is not so much an issue of who won the elections at various levels, but the insistence of the electorate that their votes must count. A new momentum has been unleashed in the country, the sustenance of which is more important than individual victories. The disappointment of many Nigerians was that the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System, BVAS machine which INEC promised to use for the real-time uploading of election results was a letdown when it mattered most. For that, INEC is complicit.
Already, President Muhammadu Buhari has also recognised what is going on in the country as he stated that the 2023 elections have proven the growing strength of democracy, especially the sophistication of the Nigerian voters when it comes to the choices of their leaders.
Speaking when he received the newly-installed Emir of Dutse, the Jigawa State Capital, Alhaji Muhammad Hamim Nuhu Sunusi at the State House in Abuja, Buhari said that the stunning outcome of 10 governors failing to make it to the Senate meant that there is no longer a guaranteed route to power and the voter is truly the king when it comes to elections.
“It is a testament to the maturity of our democracy and to the amazing sophistication of the voter. What shocked me was that the ordinary citizen, who is usually underrated, has made the point of his political understanding of things. The assumption is always that you are governor for eight years and you go to the Senate to crown your political career. No one should underrate the Nigerian voter anymore. Politics will be more difficult, henceforth,” the President said.
It is not only the politics of who gets what that will be more difficult, but Nigerians, especially the youth, are determined to correct the several ills that have befallen our democratic space for a very long time. Elected leaders will be held more accountable going forward, and many, who have no business near the corridors of power would be forced out of the system. But until the Northern youths decide to deal with parasitic Northern leaders that have held them down for too long; until their counterparts in the South-West and South-East do the same, the political divide will persist and politicians will continue to exploit the divisions to perpetuate poverty and underdevelopment of their people and our country.
For now, we need to douse the tension pervading the land and one way to do that is for the President-elect, to again, reach out to both Atiku and Obi and see how to incorporate their ideas and ideals into his government. Forming a sort of government of national unity where the three leading political parties would be represented is the way to go. Leaders want to serve, and the interests of the country should be of utmost importance to them. It is when we have a united country that we can begin to talk about national development.
I do not see Nigeria surviving another civil war. The human casualties and the suffering will be felt the world over. It is time for men and women of goodwill to start working toward healing the nation. Those who perpetrate electoral violence should be identified and brought to justice. It is when we punish electoral offenders that we would be seen to have begun the process of cleansing our democratic space. Again, the candidates that have filed cases before the court should believe in the process and not continue to discredit and deride it.
Those supporting Peter Obi due to ethnic and tribal sentiments should ask our brothers from the North what have they achieved from the eight-year rule of President Buhari. The North has been the worst for it, as kidnapping, banditry as well as the activities of the Boko Haram sect has set back the North by several years. Many northerners can no longer farm as kidnappers are on the prowl. Many northern youths are no longer attending school for fear of being kidnapped, while thousands of others are now in the South to eke out a living as either Okada riders or menial workers. The President was seen as a messiah that would take care of the talakawas; the poor masses, but shockingly, he is leaving office with many of those poor Northerners still reeling in abject poverty.
May God heal our land.
See you next week.