© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
ANALYSIS: Fears, calculations and uncertainties —the moments before Feb. 16
LIKE in 2015, Nigerians are approaching another critical moment in the life of their country — they will in less than 100 hours file out to elect a president for another four-year term.
In 2015, the defeat of the incumbent then by a newly formed party, All Progressive Congress Party (APC), through an alliance of other parties, opened a new chapter in Nigeria’s political history, particularly, when the former President Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat after what appeared to have taken Nigeria to the precipice.
A few days to February 16, the nation is enveloped in an election fever — the success or otherwise of the polls holds a lot for the future of Africa’s biggest democracy.
The choices are clear —though there are other options — the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari and his close contender, Atiku Abubakar of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are favoured for victory than any other candidate.
Nigerians and indeed, the international community are keenly focused on a tight contest between Buhari —who is rounding off his first term of four-year—amidst allegation of not-too satisfactory performance, and Atiku, a former vice president, whose credibility and integrity are being questioned by many of his critics. Buhari had contested presidential election three times without success before 2015.
Nonetheless, both the President and Atiku are currently touring the nation, campaigning and celebrating amisdt mammoth crowds. The campaigns, however, are marked by fear, anxiety, uncertainty as parties churn out propaganda as messages.
Since 1999, elections in Nigeria have been characterised by violence, rigging, ballot snatching, ballot stuffing, vote buying, ethnic-religious clashes and results manipulation. The 2019 election is not different. To many Nigerians, Ekiti and Osun state governorship elections, conducted by the APC-led government in 2018, were the signposts to the outcome of the February 16 elections.
In his New Year message to Nigeria on January 1, President Buhari promised to conduct a free and fair election. He said Nigeria’s democracy was steadily improving as people better understand the democratic tenets.
On many occasions, he reiterated his desire to leave a legacy of free and credible elections.
“Let me reiterate my commitment to free and fair elections. If there is one legacy I want to leave, it is the enthronement of democracy as a system of government. And for democracy to be enthroned, elections must be free and fair,” he said while inaugurating his party’s presidential campaign council.
But there are palpable fears among the electorate about the commitment of president Buhari administration to conduct a credible, free and fair election.
The fears are well placed — two incidents of fire outbreak at offices of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Abia and Plateau states, are what many Nigerians have been referring to as deliberate plan by the government to rig the election. The two fire incidents took place within a week.
The INEC office at Isialangwa South Local Government Area of Abia State was reportedly set ablaze by yet to be identified aggrieved persons.
In Plateau State, INEC office at in Qua’an Pan Local Government area of the state went up on flames on Sunday, February 10 due to negligence by a drunk security guard. That was just about seven days to the election. Politicians and political parties are already trading blames and pointing accusing fingers aftermath of the fire incidents. Oppositions are the most vociferous, they believe the ruling party was scheming to rig the polls by all means.
After the two fire incidents, INEC released the figures of the items damaged. It said while 2,979 PVCs were burnt in Abia, the fire incident in Plateau affected 5,987 uncollected PVCs, 380 voting cubicles, 755 ballot boxes, 14 generators, election forms, and official stamps.
The Commission in a statement said it would reprint all the PVCs burnt in its office in Plateau state. It also said it has reprinted all the ones burnt in its office in Isiala Ngwa south local government area in Abia State and delivered them for collection.
Despite this, not a few Nigerians are doubting the sincerity of the electoral commission to be impartial in the conduct of the election.
This is not the only fear being expressed by electorate ahead of the polls —every stakeholder wants INEC to maintain its independence and neutrality, before, during and after the conduct of the elections.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) in a recent statement called on INEC to rise up to its duties and responsibilities to ensure that “we have peaceful, free, fair and credible elections.”
The PDP also recently alleged that INEC has been taking directives from the presidency and the ruling party on how to manipulate the electoral process at various levels. The party is unsettled —alleging that the electoral body has hatched plans to rig the February 16 elections for President Buhari and APC.
INEC sparked controversy early in January when it deployed Amina Zakari, as head of its collation centre for the forthcoming presidential election. The opposition rejected the appointment, arguing that Zakari is a blood relation of president Buhari and that she had shown bias in past elections
However, as the clock ticks towards February 16, INEC has continued to express its readiness to conduct a credible, free and fair polls. Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairman has said that the Commission is ready for the conduct of the forthcoming general election.
“All heavy items for the election are being procured; additional ballot boxes, voting cubicles, replacement of card readers, and Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) have also been delivered to states for collection by the electorate.
“We have concluded and published the guidelines for the general election.
“We have finalised the manual for election which will be used for training of various staff. We are recruiting and we will soon start the training of ad hoc staff for the election. We are good to go for general election,’’ he said.
Unlike 2015, INEC has adhered to its time-table for the 2019 elections. The Commission postponed the 2015 elections by six weeks to March 28 from initial February 14.
In the opinion of some analysts, both President Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar are going to the polls head-to-head. To them, it is dicey to predict an outright winner of the election between the two despite the incumbency factor that many other pundits say may count in favour of the president at the polls.
This will be the fifth presidential election since 1999 when the military left the scene. The odds seem not to favour the president on one hand, and also against his opponent on the other hand.
The same issues that dominated campaign ahead of 2015 elections — unemployment, the Boko Haram insurgency, corruption, poverty, and poor economic policies and which made a significant impact on the outcome of the election are still the focal points of opposition against the president.
President Buhari won the 2015 polls with a total of 15,424,921 votes against Goodluck Jonathan’s 12,853,162 votes. The margin was 2,571,759. Opinions are divided as to whether the president can poll as much as he did in 2015 based on issues in the campaign, that is, his not-too-impressive handling of the war against corruption, economy, poverty eradication and allegation of favouritism and clannishness against him.
While some believe that he would have an easy win against Atiku, others contend that the exit of those who worked for him in 2015, like the Senate President Bukola Saraki, Rabiu Kwakwanso, Aminu Tambuwal among others has given his close rival an edge over him. This looks like a well-placed argument — Buhari defeated Jonathan in 2015 after an alliance was formed and with the inputs of aggrieved members of PDP who left the party. Is the history about to repeat itself?
Those who share this view believe that the APC and indeed, Buhari’s stronghold such as Kano, Sokoto, Katsina and even the Southwest are under serious threats if massive crowds that greeted Atiku’s campaign in those places were anything to rely on.
Others were quick to also point at the choice of Peter Obi as Atiku’s running as a good game plan to deliver the South East to the opposition. In 2015, Buhari got 198,000 votes from the Southeast and there was no vice presidential candidate from that region back then, both Yemi Osinbajo and Namadi Sambo were from South West and North West respectively.
Whichever way it goes, politics is a game of number, some analysts believe that the president still has an edge as its army of followers in the North are still with him, but the handling of the insurgency, farmers, herders clashes and, of late, the armed bandits may have affected his scorecard.
Nobody knows what the outcome of the February 16 will be, but what it is apparent as the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) rightly puts it is that “Nigeria’s future depends on the success or otherwise of the presidential election.
There is an air of uncertainty everywhere about the elections but there is optimism that it would end well like the 2015 elections.
More than any other time after the civil war and June 12 crisis, the 2015 elections were preceded by anxiety and uncertainty so much so that there were mass exoduses of Nigerians from their places of residence to their states of origin. There were deep-seated feelings that the results of the elections were going to lead to another war.
As for 2019, there are uncertainties about who will be the winner and there are also uncertainties about the security of lives and properties during and after the elections. Though, the country appears calmer compared to 2015.
Despite assurances from INEC, Federal Government and the Military about adequate security, elections may not hold in many towns and villages ravaged by insurgents and armed bandits.
Already, a report by Wall Street Journal said the activities of a terrorist group, Islamic State’s West Africa Province, an affiliate of ISIS, could affect the general elections.
The Wall Street Journal said ISWAP, which is working closely with its leaders in Niger and Chad, had been fortified with the return of fighters, who trained in Libya and the Middle East.
The report agrees with a recent statement by the United States Government.
The US, citing intelligence, claimed ISWAP was planning to attack security forces, infrastructure and public places in Nigeria during the general elections.
The WSJ report said in contrast to Boko Haram and its killing of civilians, ISWAP’s estimated 5,000 men focus attacks on security forces and non-governmental organisations, following tactical advice from Syria.
But to douse people’s anxiety, the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai says Nigerian military would break the unholy alliance between the Boko Haram terrorists and ISWAP.
Buratai said, “I am glad to note that we are making strides against the Islamic State West Africa or ISWA in our bid to unhinge the unholy union between them and remnants of the Boko Haram terrorists.
“It is, therefore, imperative that we maintain the momentum while motivating our officers and men through an efficient and responsive career planning process.’’
Needless to say, that all these flurry of events and statements mirror the fears and uncertainties that characterised the 2019 Nigerian general elections.