Interim what? There’s president-elect!

By Soyombo Opeyemi

In the 1964 general election, some six decades ago, the political stakes were even higher than the 2023 elections. We tend to use words loosely in the present-day Nigeria than in the past, more as a result of lack of information than frustration. For instance, it is utterly ludicrous to describe the 2023 pres­idential poll as “the worst election” in the annals of Nigeria.

Now that the political temperature that nearly attained the boiling point during the 2023 polls appears to be re­ceding in degrees, dispassionate anal­ysis may then be properly digested.

In the run-up to the 1964 general election, there was disaffection all over the country. The Opposition, Action Group (AG), had been ren­dered horse-de-combat by the sitting government of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), led by the Sardau­na of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello and the Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, with about two dozens of his principal associ­ates, was already serving a prison term on trump-up charges of treason­able felony against the NPC-led Fed­eral Government. Oppression and repression of minorities, especially in the Northern Region reached the peak. Discontent as a result of the 1963 manipulated census simmered in the Eastern and Mid-West Regions. (Another census is in the offing again, 60 years after! More on this in the weeks ahead…)

The antagonist parties were the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) and Nigerian National Alli­ance (NNA). The National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), led by the Premier of the Eastern Region, Dr Michael Okpara, allied with the Action Group, led by its leader in the Western Region and an Awo associ­ate, Alhaji D.S. Adegbenro, NEPU and UMBC to form UPGA.

As for the NNA, which was formed in reaction to UPGA two months lat­er, the parties that went into alliance were the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), the Nigerian National Demo­cratic Party (NNDP), headed by the putative Premier of the Western Re­gion, Chief Ladoke Akintola, MDC and NDC. Thus the state was set for a titanic general election between UPGA and NNA.

Suddenly, hell was let loose by the party in power. The NNA unleashed brutal waves of arbitrary arrest, detention, wrongful imprisonment and kidnapping of UPGA candidates, leading to death in some instances. By 21st December, nine days to the gener­al election, the seats of 78 candidates of the ruling NNA were declared unopposed by the Federal Electoral Commission! Sounds Surreal!

How was this possible? Some elec­toral officials, dancing to the tune of NNA, simply disappeared from their duty posts and precluded UPGA can­didates from filing their nomination papers. It was the height of electoral fraud ever visited on the young inde­pendent Nigeria! The collusion of the electoral body with the NNA was to lead to a row between the President and Prime Minister. Being unable to stomach the open and brazen elec­toral heist by the NNA, a day to the general election, some conscientious members of the Commission re­signed in protest but the Commission went ahead with the polls on 30th De­cember. Lagos largely boycotted the polls; in fact, the poll took place only in one ward. There was no election at all in the Eastern and Mid-West Nigeria. Yet the Federal Electoral Commission declared the incumbent government (NNA) victorious!

Those who wish to talk about “the worst election” had better return to their history books.

If the 1964 general election was so badly manipulated, then what about the 1983 elections?! National interest was not to be found in the dictionary of FEDECO. The voter register was badly doctored with fictitious names such that some governors could not find their names. The population of the electorate in the NPN stronghold states suddenly increased from about 40% to 130% within a space of four years (1979-1983)! It was a mockery of democracy and representative gov­ernment.

Then “the worst election”, if it could qualify to be adjudged an elec­tion by any standard, happened in 2003 under the watch of the then Pres­ident Olusegun Obasanjo. Those who did not contest elections in 2003 found their names announced as winners. Victorious names were substituted with those defeated. While voting was going on in some constituencies, results of those places were already being announced by INEC. A whole local council’s votes were recorded as cast for only the PDP without any for the opposition (this infamy was later defended by a governor in an interview with the BBC!). Some governors won over 100% of votes cast in some constituencies… Can anyone old enough to understand the true meaning of adult suffrage ever believe there was anything call election in 2003? “The worst election” in the annals of Nigeria was in 2003. The facts speak for themselves.

Enter Maurice Iwu! The fraud of 14th and 21st April, 2007 was of such hue, shade and magnitude that de­serves a place in the Guinness Book of Records. Besides replicating all past electoral malpractices in a great­er dimension, Iwu introduced other novel styles. Sample: INEC literally turned itself into a court of law, dis­qualifying candidates with venom and recklessness, some within two days, 24 hours or 12 hours to the elec­tions! In brazen defiance of Section 45 (2) of Electoral Act, 2006, ballot papers purportedly used for 2007 presiden­tial election were neither serialized nor bound in booklets. INEC simply allocated figures that suited its fancy to Yar’Adua of PDP (24,784,227) and Buhari of ANPP (6,607,409)!

In sharp contrast, the 2023 presi­dential poll was a major departure from the fraud and brazen manipu­lation that characterised many past presidential elections in the country.

Amid fuel scarcity and acute short­age of the redesigned currency, the much-anticipated February 25, 2023 presidential election held in Nigeria with 18 candidates participating. Four days after the keenly-contested election, the chairman of the Inde­pendent National Electoral Commis­sion (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, declared Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) the winner of the exercise.

According to Yakubu, the APC candidate polled 8,794,726 votes to de­feat fellow contenders. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of Peo­ples Democratic Party (PDP) polled 6,984,520 votes. Peter Obi of the La­bour Party garnered 6,101,533 votes to come third while Rabiu Kwankwaso, the candidate of the New Nigeria Peo­ple’s Party (NNPP), secured 1,496,687 votes.

Each of the three leading candi­dates won 12 states each while Rabiu Kwankwaso won only in Kano State. Tinubu of APC won in Zamfara, Jiga­wa, Kwara, Borno, Benue, Rivers, Ek­iti, Ondo, Kogi, Ogun, Oyo and Niger States. Atiku of PDP defeated other candidates in Yobe, Sokoto, Taraba, Osun, Akwa Ibom, Adamawa, Kadu­na, Bayelsa, Kebbi, Bauchi, Gombe and Katsina States. Peter Obi won in Lagos, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Anam­bra, Abia, Delta, Edo, FCT, Plateau, Nasarawa and Cross River States.

The results of the presidential poll should have elicited congratulatory messages among all the leading can­didates and their supporters, having done well across the country. The pockets of irregularities and violence seem to have constituted a fly in the ointment. However, when compared to the past presidential elections in the country, as highlighted above, the glitches witnessed in the 25 February, 2023 election pale completely into in­significance. Therefore, it is ridicu­lous for some disgruntled elements to go as far as calling for an Interim Government! Interim what? When there is a president-elect that must constitutionally be sworn in on May 29, 2023!

The results of the 2023 presidential poll reflect the strengths of the candi­dates and their parties. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, we saw a government in power, for all practi­cal purposes, that was not interested in the party that would succeed it, hence ensured a level-playing field for all the parties and contenders. That, it may be argued, stands to the credit of the Buhari administration.

Despite the last-minute policy choices of the APC-led federal govern­ment, if Tinubu had won Lagos by two million clear votes, far ahead of other candidates, it would have been argued, justifiably and convincingly, that Lagos was his base. Alas, he lost the state to another party. Therefore, no candidate or party, Labour in par­ticular, should exaggerate its perfor­mance, electability or acceptability at the 25 February, 2023 presidential poll. The outcome does not even warrant any party approaching the court for any judicial intervention.

Once it was evident that the APC Northern governors would not be­tray Tinubu at the last minute, like their counterparts did to Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 presidential elec­tion, and given the protracted fissures within the main opposition, the PDP, the victory of Tinubu was well-as­sured. Therefore, it’s not surprising that APC met the 25% threshold in 29 states, far ahead of the other parties.
~This article was first published by Daily Independent 

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