ANALYSIS: 2019 Polls: Uniqueness, Intrigues And FlawsFeatured, Latest News, News Saturday, February 23rd, 2019
By Tajudeen Balogun, Head, African Examiner, Nigeria Bureau
(AFRICAN EXAMINER) – Finally, the 2019 general elections are here. Expectedly, Nigerians have come out in their numbers to vote for candidates of their choice. The first leg of the rescheduled polls is the Presidential and National Assembly (NASS) elections.
With a total of 84, 004, 084 registered voters, out of which 72, 775, 502 Permanent Voters’ Cards PVCs collected, Nigerians will make verdict through their votes, in 119, 973 polling units, in 774 Local Government areas across the country. The registered political parties are 91, although, about 79 are fielding candidates for the Presidential contest. However, as we speak, the number of parties contesting for (Presidential poll) has dwindled, as either candidates or parties themselves have withdrawn from the race and pitch tents with other political parties. Interestingly, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has confirmed that it is engaging a total of 400,000 corps members for this tasking National assignment.
After the last weekend disappointment, no doubt, Nigerians are delighted that the exercise is now underway. However, before the country gets to the present level of the polls, there were so many issues that shaped the process. Very importantly, those memorable events have been added to the history of Nigeria electoral process, thus will be from time to time become reference points in the future. Here is a review of some of the remarkable occasions and dimensions of the ongoing exercise.
Electioneering Campaign: The Conventional and New Media Influence Angle
One unique aspect of the current polls is that the Presidential contest seriously dominated the campaigns. While the campaign lasted, it was as if the only election to be conducted is that for the office of President. Perhaps, what accounted for this is the fact that the party which has ruled the country for 16 years, the (PDP) – is now in opposition, thus fighting with every resource in its kitty to bounce back to power. Also, its choice of Presidential candidate – a former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar is another huge factor that made the Presidential poll overshadowed others.
Far ahead of the lift of ban on electioneering campaign by the INEC, political debates have dominated both the conventional and social media. The two platforms were effectively used to promote and diminish the characters of the two front line Presidential candidates – President Muhammadu Buhari, candidate of the ruling APC and Atiku, the flag bearer of the opposition, PDP. While the APC nailed on the integrity of Mr. President, with the catching slogan: #TheNext Level, the PDP relied on the fact that its candidate was in charge of the country’s economy as the VP in the first term administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. And to flow with this, his campaign rallying slogan was: #Let Make Nigeria Working Again.
While the campaigns lasted, some mass media were perceived to be partisan in their programme contents and packaging. Repeatedly, Nigerians watched on their screens with dismay, the footages with the offensive captions castigating that candidate of a political party ran away from a Presidential debate.
The new media campaign seemed to be more interesting. So many issues generating from the political circle and the conventional mass media are brought up and supporters from the major political parties joined in the discussions. For instance, an interview granted by Atiku sometime last year in a private television station – where he admitted that the PDP lavished the sum of $16b on power, without result, yet, no one was punished trend so much on different platforms of social media. Another point of attraction was the repeated incident of collapse podium in the PDP rallies. The ruling party’s supporters attacked; challenging that if the opposition failed to mount a strong podium for its campaigns, how come it claimed to have the magic wand to fix Nigeria’s economy?
PDP supporters on the other hand, mocked the APC when President Buhari in about two States, announced candidates of NASS as Governorship polls. They attacked that the mistake was an indication of failing health of Mr. President. Also, at two occasions (Imo and Ogun States), the President told the party supporters to vote for candidates of their choice. The directive which was contrary to the APC National Chairman, Comrade Adam Oshiomhole automatically made the PDP to conclude and describe the APC as a party of confusion.
The debates and conversations on the social media were timely, revealing, controversial, startling, invasive, yet, interesting. So, the question is: did the campaigns on the two media really change anything? Not really, I believe. However, the significant point about the new media war (in particular) is that it exposed Nigerians to more information and more importantly, made the spread of information faster and easier. Also, it deepened the inclination each follower had for the candidate of his/her choice as well as their party. In order words, with or without the influence of the conventional and new media, many Nigerians before today, have decided on who they will give their mandate.
Polical Parties Congresses; Primaries And Court Cases
The ruling APC suffered many setbacks at the end of its congresses and primaries. The situation was largely due to dissolution of Chief John Odigie-Oyegun-led National Executive Council of the party in 2018. Ahead of the congresses, many of the APC State chapters have been fictionalized. This challenge unfortunately, lingered till the party primaries which held later in 2018. The effect of this was stalemate, accusations and counter as well as the court cases. The situation was so bad to the extent that the Rivers State APC (headed by the Minister of Transport, Rt Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi) will not be fielding candidates for NASS, Governorship and State House of Assembly elections. Zamfara State was up till yesterday (Friday, February 22) was in the similar mess. But the State eventually got a court relief and the INEC has confirmed that the APC candidates would be fielded in the elections.
The PDP equally suffered from the same experience. For instance, there have been conflicting court rulings on who is the right Governorship candidate for its Ogun State chapter. The battle has remained between two Federal Lawmakers – Senator Buruji Kashamu and Hon. Ladi Adebutu. The stalemate has further ditched the winning chances of the PDP in the State.The court cases delayed INEC in its task. While addressing a stakeholders meeting last Saturday in Abuja, after the postponement of the polls, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahamud Yakubu confirmed that among the reasons for logistics challenge the commission was facing was that the body had been sued or joined in over ‘’640 court cases arising from the nomination of candidates’’.
Defection And Political Realignment
Ahead of the electioneering campaigns and when they reached peak, rash of defections hit the political parties. Besides the 2018 defection of three APC Governors (back to PDP), the opposition’s Presidential Campaign Organization recently received heavy blow with its Director Generals in Gombe and Yobe States cross carpeting to the ruling APC. While the case of Gombe happened around late last year, Yobe’s saga took place just last week Thursday. In late January, a former Minister of Education and the Presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, withdrew from the Presidential contest. Although, INEC rejected her withdrawal, citing constitution infraction, still, the BBOG activist called the bluff of the electoral body, describing its position as inconsequential to her decision. Dr. Ezekwesili’s reason of backing out was to team up with other oppositions to counter and defeat the candidate of the APC and PDP. Not over yet, the former Minister’s exit from ACPN raised some dust, as she was accused of financial impropriety, by the Leadership of her opposition party. Ezekwesili denied the allegation and described it as an attempt to blackmail her. Similarly, Eunice Atuejide, the Presidential candidate of the National Interest Party (NIP) backed out and drummed support for Atiku this week. The incumbent President and his party appeared to benefit most from the defection and realignment, as 12 different Presidential candidates withdrew and declared their support for him. As defection is a common trend in the Nigerian democratic system, more defection and shift are still expected before the general elections come to an end. In fact, it will not be surprising to hear that candidates are announcing withdrawal on the day of election.
The Presidential Debates
There were so many of them while the campaigns were in top gear. But of note among them was the one organized in collaboration with the NTA and anchored by a veteran broadcaster, Kadaria Ahmed. The version was captioned The Candidates. It featured the Presidential candidates with their running mates. As expected, the APC and PDP editions attracted much attention and enjoyed more viewer ship. Summarily, the show somewhat turned out to be a brief dull moment for the APC as Mr. President was found wanting in almost all aspects of the interview. Yet, his VP Prof Yemi Osinbajo was smart, although, not to outshine his boss, but rather to give the impression that their ticket was joint, so, the credit and knocks will be shared by both of them in the end. Really, the VP was on top of his scheme; he shielded his boss and saved the day. As for his rival – Atiku and his running mate, Mr. Peter Obi, obviously they had a good show – as the articulation of points (convincing or not) did not really desert them. But again, the question has been asked and debate made at different fora that does the Presidential Debate really a determinant factor in today’s poll? My assessment and conclusion is NO! The reason is that the the position of many voting public is that: debate or no debate, people know the direction they are going, so, nothing whatsoever will deter them. Another flavor in The Candidates debate was the allegation that the anchor person, Kadiria, was biased, hard and rude to Atiku and his running mate. The journalist was later reported to have alarmed that she received death threat after the Atiku/Obi edition of the programme. Isn’t that shocking to hear?
Electoral Misconduct (Vote Buying and Ballot Box Snatching)
Election dereliction is still known with our democracy. Notably among them are: ballot box snatching and stuffing as well as vote buying. The culture, despite the wide political education by various stakeholders has not subsided. Since last year, up till Friday (eve of the polls), incident of PVCs being exchanged with cash still enjoyed mentioning in the mass media and all public fora. As a way of checking this vicious political culture, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has threatened to arrest the suspects and prosecute them. Vote buying is very prominent on the day of polls as we are having today. PVCs are being sold as high as N10, 000 and as low as N500, so also is the cash distribution at the various polling units. The ballot box snatching and stuffing is more disturbing as it most of the time, consumes innocent lives. Obviously due to the intelligent reports he received from the Election Monitoring Body (EMB) that among the factors that necessitated the shift of the polls last weekend was ‘monetization’ of the exercise, President Buhari on Monday, at the National Caucus meeting of the APC, ordered the security to deal ruthlessly with ballot box snatchers. The opposition amazingly, kicked against the order, forcing many to ask who then is the instigator of election rigging? More dreadful was the call by the first opposition candidate to the Military to disobey Mr President’s order. The question again is: to what extent will the EFCC be able to make good its threat? Also, to what extent will the Military and other security operatives manning the polls shall be able to execute the task before them creditably, professionally and fairly? Also very important is that will the incidents of vote buying and ballot box snatching be witnessed in today’s polls despite the Presidential order and the EFCC’s threat? We will have to wait and watch as events unfold from this morning till later in the day, when votes are expected to be cast, counted and announced at different polling units across the country for the answer.
The Peace Accord
This initiative as headed by the former Head of State Gen (retd) AbduSalami Abubakar is very commendable. However, this year’s peace accord exercise took another dimension, as it was done twice. The first was strictly witnessed by the local organizers, while the second was graced by many international stakeholders, including the immediate past President of Liberia, Ms John Sirleaf among others.
The International Influence
Perhaps as it has never happened before in the history of polls in Nigeria, the level of involvement of international stakeholders in this Presidential poll is unprecedented and very worrisome. The INEC Chairman last weekend alarmed that there were some moves by some elements to sabotage the elections. President Buhari also on Wednesday raised the alarm on the disturbing rate at which FOREX were flooding the country. Again, an activist tweeted overnight (Saturday), that the availability of FOREX has forced dollar to crash to all low – N185/dollar! Among the speculated sources of the hard currencies are France and Iran. The monies are being released by these countries to the Nigerian politicians believed to be in alliance with them over certain deals with sinister motives.
Finally, as the first leg of the 2019 general elections are underway, the Nigerians and the entire world are watching from this morning till Monday, when the final and official results (from States) are collated and announced by the INEC.
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