General elections to transit from this administration to another began last Saturday with those of presidential and National Assembly candidates. Details of their outcomes are trickling in. The president-elect is anxiously being awaited locally and around the world. There are 18 political parties on the ballot for the contest. But political pundits narrowed it to a four-person horse race among the leading candidates: that of the All Progressives Congress (APC); Labour Party (LP); New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP); and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). A total of 109 seats in the Senate and 360 in the House of Representatives, were equally contested for.
Regrettably, polling continued in 141 units in Bayelsa State on Sunday, following security breaches that made it impossible to be carried out on Saturday. The INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, said this in an update on the conduct of the exercise, while also reporting some glitches in Lagos, Imo, Anambra, Borno, Abia, Edo States, among others, subjected to thorough scrutiny for action.
Experiences from Saturday’s elections revealed that much have not changed in INEC’s logistical nightmares. Electoral officials and voting materials arrived at some centres as late as between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., forcing the exercise to spill over to Sunday. Lagos and Abia States were among the areas affected.
Very disturbing has been voter intimidation in some parts of Rivers, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Gombe, Edo, Lagos, Ogun and Taraba States, where armed thugs invaded polling units and snatched ballot boxes, burnt them, or threw thumb-printed ballot papers into the gutter. These electoral bandits were not acting alone, as reported by a number of media organisations. Law enforcement agencies would be doing good to nab the suspects, as governorship and state assembly polls come up on 11 March. Even more, is the growing anxiety and suspicion that presidential election results are about to be tampered with. The fear is fuelled by INEC’s failure to upload results directly from polling units onto the INEC Result Viewing Portal, IreV, right from BVAS machines without delay. INEC responded almost 24 hours after polling concerns about the limited functionality of the portal triggered the belief among many Nigerians and two of the political parties, to allege that there is a plot to manipulate the figures.
However, INEC denied this. In a statement on Sunday, signed by Festus Okoye, the Commission’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, it said, “The problem is totally due to technical hitches related to scaling up the IReV from managing off-season, State elections, to one for managing nationwide general elections.” It then assured the public that all the polling units’ result copies issued to political parties are safe. At this point, except proof to the contrary emerges, we need to give INEC the benefit of the doubt.
The road to this juncture in the transition process has been strewn with thistles and ramparts. Though, similar extenuating circumstances had affected some previous elections but none had barriers as gargantuan as the recently concluded ones. Nigerians are hungry and angry: there is no money in their pockets, due to the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) redesigning of the naira policy, which compelled everyone to deposit their N200, N500 and N1000 currency denominations in banks for exchange with new notes. However, this swap is yet to occur. The general feeling of a CBN finagle has driven youths to violent protests, smashing banks and property of innocent victims. Fuel scarcity and its astronomical costs when made available and most epileptic electricity supply have pushed citizens under the bus. The asphyxiations are unbearable, deprecatory and emblematic of the denouement in Buhari’s failure to govern well.
The new president-elect, therefore, has his job well cut out. However, every new administration ignites optimism that things will soon get better, with the heavy load of promises made during campaigns. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case since 1999. Tokenisms dwarf expectations. A reversal of the landscape from 29 May means the leadership has to take the bull by the horns.
Nigeria is in dire need of a seismic change – a radical or revolutionary departure from the status quo. Corruption, mismanagement and lack of vision over the years have hauled 133 million Nigerians into a seeming cul-de-sac of multi-dimensional poverty, according to a report late last year released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and its foreign partners. Pulling them out of this is a big task.
Promises to restore security, rescue the economy from the cliff, fight corruption and fix the totally broken educational system were made during electioneering by candidates, without demonstrating templates for action. Now is the time for Nigerians to demand for a template that can take us forward, as we are mired in a deepening and downward socio-economic anarchical spiral.
The starting point of the revival is in getting the right team; a cabinet of round pegs in round holes. Sadly, the exercise is usually a playground for hijackers of power, ethnic and religious interests, cronyism and compensation to allies who ensured victory. As a former president, Olusegun Obasanjo once confessed, he did not know too well some of those who served as ministers in his first four years. In the case of the incumbent, President Buhari, a cabal sprung up that pulled all the strings, forcing the First Lady, Aisha Buhari to lament: “The president does not know 45 out of 50, for example, of the people he appointed.” That was in 2016. Any president committed to service delivery must critically consider the track-record of appointees and national interest should triumph over selfish or primordial fixities.
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Increasingly, insecurity remains the biggest nightmare across the country, epitomised in the heinous activities of non-state actors, who are seemingly uncontainable. In 48 hours to Saturday’s election, the Labour Party’s senatorial candidate in Enugu State, Mr Oyibo Chukwu was shot dead along with five occupants in his car, while returning from a rally, and all of them were burnt. The murder is an odious reminder of the killing field the South-East has become since the recrudescence of the separatist agitation for the realisation of the independent state of Biafra. A former governor of Imo State, Ikedi Ohakim escaped assassination, but his four police orderlies did not. So were Senator Ifeanyi Ubah and his four unlucky police guards.
Recurrent kidnappings of farmers in the North-Central, North-East and North-West have driven them out of their farmland, sparking a national food crisis/inflation. As of April 2022, 1.8 million people were still in Internally Displaced Persons camps in Maiduguri, arising from Boko Haram’s soulless killings. Thousands sent home from disbanded IDP enclaves are in deeper destitution, finding it difficult to meet their basic needs of shelter and food. More than 100,000 people have been killed by the Islamist insurgency, which has spanned over a decade. Foreign investors have been scared away as a result, with telling consequences on the economy.
Apparently, the North-East, North-West and South-East zones have become Nigeria’s triangle of evil, where bloodbath has become a normal way of life. To break this cycle, new strategic thinking and policies should be embraced. Repeatedly, multi-layered policing, amid obvious failures of a centralised system, beckons. The solution does not lie in increasing the number of police personnel to work under the same discredited template. Lessons should be learnt from the disbandment of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in 2020 over extra-judicial killings. The goons redeployed to other departments are continuing their barbaric acts there.
A nation stuck in the morass of insurgency, which has claimed thousands of lives cannot be duplicitous in its counter-insurgency strategy, as the Buhari regime has demonstrated. About 400 terrorism financiers, whom other nations helped it to uncover, billed for prosecution since February 2022, are still being shielded. Doing so and still expecting an end to the ongoing mass murder by gunmen is an oxymoron that must end.
The looting of the public treasury, still brazenly carried out, continues to matter. The new response to it or lack of it by the new leadership, will draw public attention. A N11.34 trillion deficit is inbuilt in the 2023 national budget because of stolen oil revenues or those that remain unrecovered by appropriate agencies. Only recently, the Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), said the controversial fuel subsidy has reached N400 billion per month. This is even as some of those in the Buhari government have faulted the algorithm that led to previous monthly fuel consumption costs.
Service delivery will continue to elude the country with a bureaucracy that has perfected the act of public corruption, subversion of policies and budget-padding. Where a very senior official who should be preserving the integrity of the fiscal template of governance steals up to N109 billion until nemesis caught up with him, the office deserves a thorough shake-up.
Victory sometimes ends up as tragedy, if not well managed, as General Godwin Alaba-Isama, captured in his Nigerian civil war memoir, The Tragedy of Victory. In an election weaponised by religion, ethnicity, regionalism and muckraking, its winner has a lot of healing to do by stretching out a hand of fellowship to other contestants. In fact, the election was like no other before. It sundered Nigerians deeply. Nation-building should not be taken for granted, whilst elite consensus and the spike in political consciousness this election has evinced should drive our fractious union into a better political entity.
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