Simon Kolawole: Here’s what to expect after the presidential election

by Simon Kolawole


election poseters…the election will come and go and Nigeria will not go to war. There will certainly be protests and demonstrations, no matter who wins. That is why we are Nigerians: we hardly accept that we have been fairly beaten.

Here we go again: another presidential election is upon us. The season of fear. The season of war and rumours of war. We’ve been lectured that this is not just another election; this is THE election. According to some foreign “Nigeria experts”, it is the election that will lead to the end of our beloved country as we currently know it. Nigeria is about to disintegrate, they say. Even if these exaggerations have been taken too far, I have to admit that this is probably the most tension-soaked presidential election in Nigeria’s history. The hot air being generated by the combatants is rapidly depleting the ozone layer and causing significant climate change in the political sphere.

My gut feeling, though, is that the election will come and go and Nigeria will not go to war. There will certainly be protests and demonstrations, no matter who wins. That is why we are Nigerians: we hardly accept that we have been fairly beaten. There will always be conspiracy theories and allegations of real and imagined manipulation. That is one sure thing we should expect after March 28. The signals are there already: some people have “discovered” plans to rig in favour of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or the All Progressives Congress (APC). So expect a lot of accusations and counter-accusations — and more hot air.

Let’s start with the PDP. If the APC should win this election, there can only be one scapegoat: Professor Attahiru Jega, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). From celebrating Jega as the poster boy of President Goodluck Jonathan’s commitment to credible elections as recently as August 2014, the PDP now treats the INEC chairman with absolute suspicion. The PDP that showed off Jega as a fair-minded referee, despite overseeing the ruling party’s defeats in Edo, Anambra, Ondo and Osun governorship polls, is suddenly casting him as a northerner working vigorously to install Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, a fellow northerner, as president. Nigeria!

The biggest complaint from the PDP guys will be that Jega took advantage of the free hand given to him by Jonathan to manipulate the electoral process in favour of the APC. Trouble started with the creation of additional polling units which allegedly favoured opposition’s strongholds. Then came the issue of collection of the permanent voter cards (PVCs) which the ruling party believes heavily favoured APC-controlled areas. They questioned the high figures in war zones and the low figures in many states in the south-east and south-south. There is also the raging battle over the use of smart card readers for voter accreditation. You see, the PDP has readymade excuses if it fails to win.

As for the APC guys, what can I say? An election is only free and fair when they win. When they don’t win, it is because of PDP’s rigging machinery. That one is settled. Their complaints will start from APC’s “advantage” in opinion polls and on the social media. The recent Israeli election is not a good reminder, though. Much like the APC, the opposition Zionist Union was favoured by opinion polls, social media and the US government. But the results showed otherwise. Likud party still retained its majority. The Zionist Union accepted defeat. Of course, Nigeria is not like Israel in terms of transparency of elections, but I’m just saying…

APC is likely to complain about everything — deployment of soldiers, “jamming” of smart card readers and “stomach infrastructure” — but they are unlikely to complain about Jega. Incredibly, Jega is now the darling of APC. On November 27, 2013 while delivering the annual lecture of the Freelance and Independent Broadcasters Association of Nigeria (FIBAN), in Abeokuta, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, APC spokesman, specifically said Jega was not competent to conduct the 2015 polls. He spoke after his party lost in Anambra. But in 2015, he says Jega must not be removed. He even discovered plans by the PDP to deposit huge sums in Jega’s account to set up him. Nigeria!

In fact, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC, now part of APC) alleged in 2011 that Jega installed a software on INEC computers that was deducting a certain percentage of Buhari’s votes. This was one of the grounds it pleaded in its litigation. Isn’t it very interesting that Jega’s biggest admirers are now to be found in APC? What changed? Also, isn’t it amusing that the PDP no longer celebrates Jega? What changed? I am praying fervently that one day, I will begin to trust Nigerian politicians. It is so difficult for me. I have seen through them —whether they are in APGA, APC, PDP or whichever party. I am never deceived by their public posturing. It is all politics!

Meanwhile, I will make one more prediction and then I will be done: do not expect any presidential candidate to congratulate the other for winning the March 28 election. It has happened only once in our history. In 1993, when the results of the June 12 election came in and Bashorun MKO Abiola, candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) had clearly won, Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa, who flew the flag of the National Republican Convention (NRC), promptly congratulated him. It was very unNigerian. And because it was unNigerian, Tofa had to withdraw his congratulations as NRC started making the claim that it actually won the election. Now that is very Nigerian.

Dr. Kayode Fayemi was also unNigerian last year. After Mr. Ayo Fayose was declared winner of the Ekiti governorship election, Fayemi congratulated him! I was close to tears. In Nigeria? What is happening to us? But the day after, we broke the story at TheCable that APC was heading for the tribunal. A top APC member, who is now a governorship candidate, called me and said: “Simon, you guys got your story wrong.” But APC soon headed for the tribunal. Fayemi was castigated for being “hasty” in making a concession. Sadly, recent allegations on the role soldiers played in the election, published by Sahara Reporters, have now put a big question mark on that poll’s credibility.

Nonetheless, it is very rare for a Nigerian to accept defeat. But in my dreams, I see Jonathan — if he loses — picking up the phone and congratulating Buhari. “Congratulations, General, for a well-deserved victory,” he says. “I am ready to work with you to ensure a smooth transition. I pray that your tenure will bring prosperity to Nigerians.” Dr. Reuben Abati, presidential spokesman, promptly issues a statement congratulating the APC for its victory. “Nigerians have spoken and the president respects their wishes,” he writes. “This election will remain a landmark not just in our history but in the annals of African politics for its credibility and novelty.”

And in my dreams, I see Buhari — if he loses — congratulating Jonathan. “I fully accept the outcome and congratulate you. I sincerely hope that you will use your second term to heal national wounds and tackle corruption and insecurity squarely. Accept the assurance of my best wishes,” Buhari tells Jonathan on phone. Mohammed, the APC spokesman, immediately issues a statement congratulating the PDP, maintaining that only a battle has been lost but the war is still on. “We fought a good fight, but while we have lost the battle, be sure that in 2019 you will have no hiding place. Nigerians want real change not promises of change,” Mohammed says.

Fellow Nigerians, pardon my stupidity. It is just that I’m obsessed with unNigerian dreams. I will wake up to reality to one day, I promise.

In the 1959 general election which ushered Nigeria into Independence, there were 9 million registered voters. The country had a population of 36 million then. Some 7.6 million turned out to vote at 25,000 polling units across the federation. Contrast with 2015: Nigeria now has a projected population of 170 million and 68 million registered voters. Voting will take place on Saturday at approximately 120,000 polling units all over Nigeria. Remarkably, there were 73.5 million registered voters four years ago, so this year’s figure is 5 million lower — apparently because of the biometric verification that effectively eliminated double registration. Technology.

The 79.9% turn-out in the 1959 elections remains the highest, percentage wise. We don’t know why. Perhaps, it was because Nigerians were excited by Independence. There was massive awareness. There was real competition for votes among the parties. The second largest turn-out was in 2003 when 69% of the 60.8 million registered voters turned out in an election that gave President Obasanjo his second term after “defeating” Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. However, that election was generously rigged, with the figures merely written in most Southern states. There was a new style of rigging via “Form EC 8A” (the result sheets). Innovative.

Guess the election that witnessed the lowest turn-out? 1964? 1979? 1993? Yes, in that order. From the height of 79.9% in 1959, the 1964 poll hit rock bottom with 33%. The election was boycotted by a coalition of opposition parties demanding postponement. The boycott was total in the east and partial in the west, where violence eventually broke out. In 1979, only 34% of the 48.6 million registered voters turned up despite the landmark return to democracy after 13 years of military rule. The third lowest, ironically, was in the famous June 12, 1993 poll when only 36% voted. Dwindling.

You are hereby forgiven for thinking only the presidential election will hold on March 28. Actually, we would also be electing 109 senators and 360 members of House of Representatives. In 1959, there were 312 parliamentary seats. The Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) won 134, mostly in the north; the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) 81, mostly in the east; and Action Group (AG) 73, mostly in the west. Interestingly, NCNC scored the highest number of popular votes (2.59m), followed by AG (1.99m) and NPC (1.92m) — but the distribution of constituencies gave the north more seats in the parliament. Territorial.


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