By Ikechukwu Amaechi
In the early hours of Wednesday, March 1, 2023, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, declared the result of the presidential election which held on Saturday, February 25.
Rather than jubilation, a pall of silence descended on the nation because many believe that their electoral will, freely expressed, has been subverted by suborned INEC officials. As the reality of what had happened dawned on all, many were speechless, others simply wore long faces, not believing that fellow citizens could execute such an unconscionable electoral heist.
Thirty years ago, precisely on June 12, 1993, I voted for the first time in my life in a presidential election. Of course, that wasn’t when I attained the voting age. I was already a graduate and staff of Guardian Newspapers Limited. But I was a minor, electorally speaking, when the 1983 elections took place and, therefore, couldn’t vote.
I still remember the excitement in the air on that fateful day. Nigerians trooped out in their numbers to exercise their inalienable right, which democracy affords them, to decide who superintends over the affairs of their country.
The enthusiasm of 30 years ago could only be rivalled by the zest on Saturday when patriotism beckoned on Nigerians to, once again, exercise their civic duty of electing their leaders.
Just like in 1993, expectations were high. Many were at their patriotic best, helping INEC officials in any way they could. Where there were no ink pads, they provided. They delivered ink, markers and other materials which INEC officials needed at the polling units but didn’t have despite the fact that the Commission collected well over N305b of the nation’s scarce resources from the Federal Government, not to talk of the unquantifiable help from international development agencies, to conduct the election.
In places where the election dragged into the night, Nigerians provided their personal generators to ensure there was light. Where that was not available, people used the headlights of their cars to illuminate the polling centres. The zeal of the youths was overwhelming. The Gen Z, those starry-eyed young men and women, born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, most of whom were voting for the first time, lit up the atmosphere with their democratic fervour. Being a generation seen as confident users of new technology, their passion was buoyed by the unequivocal promise by INEC that the elections would be the most technologically driven, ever, in Nigeria.
Last Saturday, the average Nigerian “big man” who would rather stay back home and watch cable television on election days, came out to vote. Teenagers that hitherto would convert empty streets to football arenas went to the polling booths to cast their ballots. Youths abandoned the ongoing Big Brother Titans, the reality television show, to queue up at voting centres for hours on end. In fact, in some places in Abuja, they spent more than 24 hours, to ensure that they voted.
But after all these sacrifices, the result Mahmoud Yakubu announced was grossly at variance with the votes cast by the electorate and duly counted and recorded at the polling booths. INEC whimsically aborted the beautiful democratic dream of the electorate. That is callous.
Just as many were deflated after the General Ibrahim Babangida-led junta annulled the June 12, 1993 election, Nigerians have once again been let down by those whose duty it is to uphold the sanctity of the ballot. They have been handed a poisoned chalice.
For too long, I had hoped that Nigeria would ultimately get it right despite the serial disappointments from leaders who continue to treat the citizens most contemptuously.
But this electoral heist, the worst since the return of democracy in 1999, is the axiomatic last straw that broke the camel’s back. Many Nigerian politicians are not prepared for democracy and trooping out every four years in the name of elections is tantamount to legitimising their shenanigans. The ballot I cast on February 25, 2023, will be the last time I will ever do so in this country.
Now, those who have been declared winners will gloat that this is sour grapes. It is not. As Usman Dan Fodio, the progenitor of the Sokoto Caliphate, once said: “Conscience is an open wound, only the truth can heal it.” The retort from those who have benefitted from this evil will be that politics is not a morality game. Maybe! And it need not be in the same way that football, for instance, is not a game of morality. But politics, like football, is a game governed by rules. Victory must be secured within the parameters of the established rules.
A wanton violation of the rules of the game as it is the case in the February 25 presidential election detracts from the credibility of the exercise. If the integrity of the electoral process is compromised, an illegitimate government is delivered. This election has been fundamentally tainted and Nigeria is worse for it.
There has been a gross violation of the 2022 Electoral Act and the INEC chairman, apparently, has taken Nigerians for granted. This country deserves better.
Sometime in November 2022, a story made the rounds that the Commission had jettisoned the idea of uploading polling unit results in real time.
An apparently flustered Mahmoud Yakubu was forced to react to the “rumour.”
While addressing a group that came to seek assurance on the polls, he said: “Let me seize this opportunity to respond to a story emanating from a section of the media that the Commission has decided to jettison the uploading of polling unit level results in real time on Election Day. It should please be disregarded as fake news.
“The commission will upload polling unit level results and citizens will have access to those results in real time. This innovation was introduced by the Commission. The Commission cannot turn around and undermine itself. So, this technology has come to stay. We will upload polling unit results from the polling units.
“Citizens will have the right to view these results. After all, who are we serving? The citizens! How can we deprive citizens from access to the results of the process conducted by them at the level of polling units? So, I welcome you to the Commission. I want to assure you and reassure you that the 2023 general election is going to be our best ever elections. We are committed that votes cast by Nigerians will determine the outcome of the elections. Nothing more, nothing less!”
Yakubu reneged on this vow. Many of those who voted on Saturday did so because of the promise that the polling unit results will be uploaded real time and Nigerians will have unrestricted access. That didn’t happen.
When some of the political parties complained at the Collation Centre, Mahmoud Yakubu pleaded for time to complete the collation, after which their complaints will be addressed before announcing the results. But that was another promise he never intended to keep. And he didn’t. How a man could lie so impulsively, without any qualms of conscience, beggars belief.
What happened on Saturday was not mere technical glitches as some people are claiming. Prof Mahmoud Yakubu deliberately dropped the ball and presided over the worst election since 1999. In doing this, he not only brazenly violated the 2022 Electoral Act and the INEC guidelines but also reneged on the promise he made to the world at the Chatham House in London on January 17, 2023 that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Results Viewing (IReV) portal will be used in voter accreditation and result viewing during the election to ensure credibility and transparency.
The inability to upload the polling unit results in real time and the resort to manual collation was a deliberate ploy to achieve a sinister, predetermined goal. That was why the INEC chairman ignored all entreaties to halt the process and address the fundamental issues of flawed process and breach of the Electoral Act.
The question concentrating many minds is: now that INEC chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, has done his worst, what next?
People have mockingly asked those dissatisfied with the result to seek redress in court. Of course, those so inclined will. But when I hear that admonition, I chuckle because it reminds me of the East African proverb which says, “Whenever a thief encourages you to go to court, just know that his elder brother is the judge.”
It is a tragedy that in Nigeria’s so-called democracy, the two least trusted institutions are the Supreme Court and INEC.
Prof Mahmoud Yakubu will go down in history as the man who conducted Nigeria’s worst election. It is a self-inflicted injury. After the no-server fiasco of 2019, he had an opportunity to redeem himself but he chose not to. History will be harsh to him.
But I pity President Muhammadu Buhari who told the entire world that he wants to bequeath to Nigerians a legacy of free, fair and credible elections. He has blown that opportunity. He will now proceed to Daura on May 29, after eight years of misadventure in Aso Rock, bereft of any legacy. What a tragedy!
But the tragedy that is Buhari’s presidency does not bother me right now. It is a disaster foretold and, therefore, didn’t come as a surprise.
I am worried about Ndigbo. I don’t want this election to be about them because it is not. We have a Nigerian problem on our hands right now, not Igbo problem. Granted, Peter Obi, is Igbo but he didn’t contest the presidency as an Igbo candidate but candidate of the Labour Party (LP), one of the 18 political parties in the race. Labour Party membership is pan-Nigerian and Ndigbo should avoid the temptation of being lured into a battle with anyone or ethnic nationality.
Igbo detractors wanted to do that before the elections. They failed. There is no rift between Ndigbo and Yoruba. Labour Party shellacked the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos. That couldn’t have been possible without the Yoruba. APC high priests lost elections in their polling booths.
Labour Party won in Plateau State where the APC Presidential Campaign Director General, Simon Lalong, is the sitting governor. The party carried the day in Nasarawa, the home state of APC National Chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu. Labour Party won in Delta. The governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, is the Vice Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). These spectacular victories prove the pan-Nigerian stature of the Labour Party.
Majority of the Obidients, a movement which actually started in Lagos are non-Igbo. The most fervent disciples are from Edo State and not Anambra, Obi’s home state. Long before any Igbo made any contribution to the Labour Party, many Nigerians from diverse ethnic groups had donated houses and cars.
While some Igbo elders were unsure of what to do with the Obi phenomenon, Yoruba elders, including Chief Ayo Adebanjo and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, endorsed him. Yoruba youths including Folarin Falana (Falz), the musician son of human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, and popular skit maker, Adebowale Adedayo – Mr. Macaroni, are the real force behind Obi. They are Yoruba, not Igbo.
Ndigbo will be unfair to other Nigerians, particularly the Yoruba, who have championed this cause of a new, transcendental Nigeria under an Obi presidency if they descend into the arena of ethnic baiting because that is what the malcontents want – to drive a wedge between them and other Nigerians who believe that a new Nigeria built on the foundation of fairness, equity and competence is possible.
That said, it behoves the government to protect Ndigbo and their businesses wherever they live, particularly Lagos. It will be a crime against humanity if Ndigbo are killed or maimed in any part of Nigeria and their businesses destroyed because of their electoral preferences, a freedom which the Constitution guarantees them. President Buhari, the man in search of a legacy, is obligated to do just that.