If Mahmood Yakubu is given to introspection, he should be asking himself what went wrong with the 2019 elections.
The free, fair and credible polls the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman promised Nigerians did not happen on February 23 and March 9.
Yakubu got all the money he needed and one week extension to boot.
But what did Nigerians get in return? A fundamentally flawed exercise with dubious outcomes.
As John Campbell, former United States ambassador to Nigeria, and the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations noted, “Nigeria’s latest presidential election cycle has been bad news for democracy in Africa’s most populous country and across the continent.”
Many agree with him.
Campbell, coauthor of the 2018 book Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know,insisted that “February’s presidential election does not inspire confidence in the democratic trajectory of Africa’s most populous country.”
The Situation Room, an umbrella organisation of Nigeria’s civil society groups, agreed with Campbell, saying the 2019 elections marked “a step back from the 2015 general election,” and urged that “actions should be taken to identify what has gone wrong and what can be corrected.”
Campbell concluded that “the poor quality of this election cycle and the low and declining number of voters do not inspire confidence, and some Nigerians have begun to question whether democracy is right for their country.”
Those who claim to be more patriotic than others may rise up in self-righteous indignation against such portrayal. But as lawyers would say, res ipsa loquitur, the facts of the 2019 elections speak for themselves and the odour is not the scent of roses.
With a historically low turnout, particularly for the governorship ballot, unprecedented militarisation, unparalleled violence, intimidation of voters, snatching and burning of ballot papers and boxes, waste of human lives, the jury is still out on if any other election since 1999 can compete with those of 2019 in Nigeria’s hall of electoral infamy.
But the consequence of such malfeasance was predictable.
Almost two weeks after the vote, the fate of seven states – Kano, Sokoto, Bauchi, Benue, Plateau, Adamawa and Rivers – still hangs in the balance with inconclusive polls.
Instructively, with the exception of Plateau State where the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC) Governor, Simon Lalong, was leading his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) challenger, Jeremiah Useni, with 583,255 to 538,326 votes, the PDP was leading in Kano, Bauchi and Adamawa, states touted as APC strongholds which also returned humungous votes for President Muhammadu Buhari.
Why did the governors who pulled off that incredible feat not do the same for themselves in the election on March 9?
The PDP was also leading in both Sokoto and Benue before the INEC waded in with its own electoral doctrine of necessity.
The case of Rivers is even more bizarre. Given the fact that the APC had no candidates, election there ought to have been a cake walk. Yet, Rivers was turned into a war theatre, where rivers of blood flowed, literally.
But I am most disappointed in Buhari because of his endorsement of this charade called elections.
Chastising governors owing civil servants arrears of salaries in October 2017, Buhari wondered aloud: “How can anyone go to bed and sleep soundly when workers have not been paid their salaries for months?”
I have found myself asking the same question. How can a president who promised free, fair and credible elections go to bed and sleep soundly in the face of this disastrous outing?
Why is it that anything Buhari touches turns to ashes in the mouth? How can he, the primary beneficiary of a world-acclaimed credible polls in 2015, superintend over what may go down in history as Nigeria’s worst election only four years after?
It is sad but true to character that Buhari, a self-acclaimed man of integrity, is not fazed by the sad turn of democratic events in the country.
But as Campbell rightly observed, the 2019 elections is bad news for Nigeria’s democracy and the implication of the malfeasance will be huge and far-reaching.
One can wager a bet that these elections may well attract the highest number of litigations. Voter apathy will get worse and the implication of Nigerians losing confidence in the ballot box is better imagined.
Nigeria is not making significant democratic progress.
Despite the shutting down of the entire country on election day, closing of borders and deployment of the military, the electoral processes are getting worse, not better.
Votes cast at polling booths account for only about 20 per cent of what determines success.
The most important variable in the election value chain for Nigerian politicians is the ability to compromise security agencies and INEC officials. They deploy huge resources in buying the loyalty or co-operation of electoral officials and military officers.
Politicians wait for the INEC to appoint Returning Officers and then move in.
A friend of mine, a university lecturer, narrated how his phone started ringing unceasingly immediately he was appointed a Returning Officer until he declined the offer.
When the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state called to know the reason, the man told him the process lacked integrity.
The admonition was: Please, protect your votes.
But because the institutions of state with responsibility to deliver free and credible polls failed woefully in discharging that responsibility, most politicians resorted to self-help.
To protect their votes and “victory”, politicians pay security agents and thugs to disrupt voting and collation of results where they lose and protect same where they win.
Results announced at polling booths are changed at ward and local government collation centres.
A lady who was a local observer broke down in tears when she saw the results of the elections she observed. Figures manufactured at collation centres were poles apart from what she recorded at polling booths.
Vote buying has become the new normal and the practice cuts across board. Large sums of money are shared by the political gladiators according to the number of polling units in a ward. It was sheer bazaar.
The most frightening phenomenon is the loss of confidence in the ballot box and the apathy that significantly marred the governorship election.
It can only get worse.
Most people insist that it is not worth their while going out to vote knowing their votes will neither be counted nor count.
Loss of confidence in the ballot box is a precursor to self-help. That is the surest route to the Hobbesian state of nature where life is brutish, short and nasty as it is in Rivers State today.
On his inauguration as president on May 29, 2007, Umaru Yar’Adua declared that the election which brought him to power was a sham, and vowed to reform the electoral process.
He delivered on the promise on August 28, 2007 with the inauguration of a 21-member Electoral Reform Panel, led by Justice Muhammed Uwais.
That is the hallmark of statesmanship.
But expecting Buhari, the man of integrity, to do the same is like waiting for Godot. Yet for all intents and purposes, the 2007 elections represent by far the electoral will of Nigerians than the 2019 edition.
Nigeria deserves a lot more and better from Buhari.