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Farewell, Hero of 2023 General Elections

By Odoh Diego Okenyodo

When things go our way, all was fair. This is not just a phenomenon with Nigerians but with many people in different parts of the world. We tend to agree that everything went well if it favours us. For example, we will say after an exam that we passed but if the result went south, we’ll say, “They gave me an F.” We can even say, “They failed me,” in Nigerian parlance.

Thinking about the way elections have been conducted in Nigeria and the dictatorial ways that have characterised them in the past, it’s not very easy for me to discuss the current elections as it has been for many commentators. I’ve been mostly silent because I have watched actively from the sidelines.

I’ve been involved in monitoring elections right from 2003 as a journalist; in 2007 as an activist under the aegis of the Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE Nigeria); in 2011 and 2015 as a roving monitor under various NGO platforms. In 2019, I led a team of broadcasters to monitor from the Civil Society Situation Rooms at Transcorp Hilton, where we broadcast live on the Human Rights Radio. This year’s election could be said to be my least active field monitoring, but who could be said to be inactive in the 2023, given the live, on-demand reporting and opinionating that happened in this round?

In previous elections, you almost foreclosed any sense of a free or fair contest. It was always an uphill task as either the incumbent President was bent on returning (just like Obasanjo seeking reelection in 2003, or seeking a third term in 2007), or the Presidents were bent on imposing someone. The latter was the case with Obasanjo in 2007 when, having found in 2006 that his third term bid failed, he needed to impose someone he could manipulate. The ailing and laconic Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was his victim.

In 2011, Goodluck Jonathan, then the Acting President who had just been made President through the Doctrine of Necessity following the death of his principal, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was an incumbent who was interested in retaking (or, more appropriately, keeping) the reins of power. Needless to say, the election held in so charged an atmosphere that thousands had to pay the price when the then General Muhammadu Buhari lost that election. It was a show of the poorest statesmanship and poorest leadership in our history.

By 2015, so many goofs later, Nigerians wanted Jonathan out at all costs. In fact, it seemed that, as was the case in 2007 when Nigerians just wanted OBJ out after the failed 3rd term bid, Buhari got elected on the wave of “ABJ–Anyone But Jonathan”. That election was also charged. Permanent voters card came in very late. The military waded in with security scares that forced INEC to postpone the elections. Everyone perceived that all was being done by Jonathan to regain lost grounds and steal victory.

All attempts to get reelected failed, and for the first time in Africa, a sitting President bought airtime for his phone and called the challenger to concede defeat. With just one call, Goodluck attained the highest level of statesmanship ever. (How unfair this world can be: I have made more calls than that and I am yet to get so famous.) Long before making this historic call, he had proclaimed during the electioneering that his ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian. By this, he was casting our minds to the killings that happened unabated when his main challenger in the 2011 elections lost. So, keeping to his promise by conceding defeat when he had the military and other governmental instruments of coercion on his side, and with former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Peter Godsday Orubebe, whining on national television about elections not being fair, GEJ deserves all the accolades he got and keeps getting for being a man of peace.

And, fast forward to 2019. Muhammadu Buhari was in the race to succeed himself. He bent all the rules, coerced INEC into shifting election dates just on the eve of the polls due to security concerns, and used very crude means to declare himself President through Mahmoud Yakubu, a professor of history who did not seem to have a sense of history and the lessons it carried. He didn’t remember Prof Humphrey Nwosu, who refused to announce the results that IBB cancelled in 1993, 30 years ago now.

It is against all this, then come 2023 General Elections, the template was glaring. Buhari, who had promised to make the economy better, reduce insecurity, and provide employment, had delivered all in the opposite direction. We were sure he would like to protect ‘his legacy’ by bringing in the man whom everyone knew was waiting in the wings to succeed him, Tinubu, or at least endorse Tinubu’s protégé, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. In some quarters, those who had read the recent history that I chronicled above were sure Buhari would not even leave his legacy to chance but attempt the OBJ route of seeking a 3rd term in office against the constitution.

Analysts did not see Buhari even doing anything to change the electoral system he had twice benefitted from. There was a choir of voices asking him to accent to a new electoral bill meant to amend the Electoral Act made in 2010 which supported all the flaws in the process of electing Nigerian leaders. The persons waiting in the wings loved the law as it was and did not want their voices contributing to upsetting the cart. One day, they hoped, the National Assembly led by Senate President Ahmed Lawan, would not be so inebriated as to append their signatures to the Electoral Act amendment bill, neither would PMB accent to the bill. He had turned it down many times before, so why wouldn’t he? Between the uphill task of getting legislators to allow the introduction of advanced electronic technology into the electoral process alongside other critical amendments, and the fact that the President never really liked some kinds of changes (though that was what he campaigned to give Nigerians) tt was foolproof that the Electoral Act (2010) could never be amended before the 2023 elections.

Then, boom, Buhari did it! They kowtowed to pressure and signed the Electoral Act amendment into law, and suddenly got to task to remove some portions that they passed in error without reading the progressive nature of what they were signing. Some said that was a coup by the legislative aides who collectively were supposed to advise their principals before telling them to sign. The proponents of that theory said the aides, who were getting interested in political offices but saw no way out, since they would never have the money to see themselves through the heavily monetised process of electioneering, thought that they should allow the groundbreaking amendments in the new Act come into effect. If only Prof Mahmoud Yakubu’s history could help, I would have asked if we had a precedent to this in Nigeria’s electoral history.

Anyway, Buhari did not only let the new law come into effect, but he started empowering INEC, the electoral umpire to buy the technologies needed to reduce the impact of money in the political process. He made pronouncements to that effect. He said he would retire certain groups of politicians who thought money was all it took to become leaders. He kept tightening the noose, policies upon policies, pronouncements upon pronouncements. He was like some kind of political Pol Pot or something like that, working with high precision, not minding whose cow was … (never mind my metaphors; that one isn’t good!) Let’s stick to the cliché, “Never minding whose ox was gored.”

He introduced the Naira redesign as an afterthought again, and reduced the capacity to withdraw monies from the bank or even deposit the large stashes of cash he knew was in many houses outside of the Central Bank vaults. He knew what he was talking about as the politicians who were targeted spoke vociferously about it, saliva foaming in their mouths about the people who were suffering from the policy. They never talked about the people’s sufferings from their own misgovernance. Hospitals were in bad shape and they all were flying like birds to London, Paris, Hamburg and every European city to recharge their unhealthy bodies. People were suffering fuel scarcity for years but they never minded, since they, their families and cronies could get free fuel anytime they wanted.

Back in Naija, the policies Buhari promulgated got so dire that the politicians, especially Governors in his own party, the ruling party, went to court against his government. This had never happened. As President, Buhari’s own party Presidential candidate openly went to war with him. Before the party primaries, rumour was rife that he never wanted Tinubu to win. They showed how Ahmed Lawan came into the ring with the support of the Party Chairman of the APC, who was supposed to be Buhari’s interlocutor, in a sense. Tinubu won the primaries against the incumbent Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and other big wigs.

As the rift continued in the ruling party and President continued his rhetoric about retiring moneybag politicians, he stuck to his guns about the new Naira policy which Nigerians were dying from, literally. The actions further emboldened the opposition who tacitly and sometimes openly support him.

I could go on and on about why, for good reasons and for bad reasons, Buhari should be known as the hero of the 2023 elections. Many would disagree with my choice, which might have been hard for me, as it would be for you too. I considered Peter Obi, not for making so much political inroad at short notice, but for simply openly running a campaign based on not giving any monetary inducement to anybody, be they voters, support groups, security agencies, media or other relevant institutions. He ran a campaign based on issues and his much-avowed integrity. I shall write about this someday because it is very important that Nigerians do not let this slide.

However, Obi’s inroad was only possible partly because INEC, backed by the President, kept assuring that the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) would be the only way people could make a choice of who to represent them. The assurance was backed by releases of registration figures, and the testing of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), a devise that allowed transmission of results straight from the polling unit, thus reducing the chances of ballot box snatching and other frauds.

It is for this reason that Buhari leads as the hero of the 2023 general elections. Even if he has not yet punished those who tampered with the transmission of Presidential election results on the BVAS to the IREV portal when the technology transmitted the results for other elections held same day, for his courage to introduce such groundbreaking technology into our leadership selection process, I have no reservation whatsoever to say history will eventually forgive his shortcomings as 8 years have done to his predecessor. I do hope, from his Daura farm (whether in Nigeria or Niger Republic), that he leaves us an honest memoir that can let us into his mind as an accidental hero.

For trolls, I am available on Twitter @TheOkenyodo.

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