Beyond our election gasps


Sonala Olumhense

Now, we wait.

We wait for the results of yesterday’s state elections.  For results that promise to alter Nigeria’s political landscape for the next generation.  Last week, governors seeking a second term were suddenly in retail campaign mode, showing up in places where they had never bothered to go, and speaking to the man in the street.  It is doubtful that any of them got some sleep last night.

So now we wait.

Remember that on February 25, some outgoing governors who were seeking to transit to the Senate were rebuffed at the polls.  Such governors usually line up their successors, in a bid to hold on to power even after they have left the building.  This week, we will find out what voters had to say about that age-old trick yesterday.

Of particular interest to me are the Houses of Assembly.  For two decades, one of two tricks has been deployed to enable the governor to do as he pleases: either his party packed the House with its members, or he would intimidate or buy off the loyalty of each one of them.

In that regard, there could be governors this week who find that they have sailed too far into the water but with no way of returning safely to shore.  Some will find that they can no longer simply be manipulators of men and money, but also must rule.  We wait.

Some of yesterday’s contests will go to court.  That is the system, and I celebrate it

So we wait.

The presidential contest, amateurishly bungled by the electoral commission and desperately rigged in location after location, is already in court, with two of the larger political parties challenging the process.  The declared winner, Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC, last week accepted this course of events.

“This is inherent to the democratic process,” he said in a statement in which he described his election as ‘fair and credible,’ and that he defended the right of the aggrieved to exercise the legal rights Nigerian law allows them.

But he also interestingly observed that there have been times in Nigerian history “when our governing institutions created more questions than they answered.”

On that point, he said that the arc of our political history gives him confidence that Nigerians can overcome that past. “We have walked through the thick of the night to emerge into the light of brighter days to come. There is no good reason to retreat into the darkness of years past.”

Fascinating reflection, given that his party has for eight years made Nigeria a jungle, and Nigerian citizenship a source of dismay and regret.  In January 2019, with every soul on earth clearly able to see how much of a catastrophe his government had been, Buhari infamously proclaimed that he had fulfilled the campaign promises he made in 2015.

Worse still, he returned two months ago and repeated the baseless claim that he has humbled insecurity, revived the economy and combatted corruption.

In what country did Buhari fight insecurity?  In a report last week, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) cited the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for north-east Nigeria, which was launched in Yola last month.  It seeks $1.3bn to provide critical lifesaving assistance to six million people.

“This is an increase of 500,000 people from the 5.5 million people identified for assistance in 2022,” the agency said. “Of the $1.3bn required, $631m is urgently needed for an emergency response to the 2.4 million people in acute need. Through the Humanitarian Response Plan, 120 operational partners will work in support of government efforts to save lives, protect the most vulnerable and help affected people live safely and with dignity.”

OCHA further reported that over 30 civilians were killed on March 8 and several others injured in an attack by an armed group in Mukdolo village in the Ngala Local Government Area of Borno State.

Of the economy, the agency said, “Throughout Nigeria, people are grappling with the challenges of growing economic hardship, characterised by spiking inflation, cash and fuel shortages. The naira crisis, triggered by the currency redesign, has led to cash scarcity, which is likely to persist in the coming months.”

And of course, Buhari has been so successful in combating corruption that in his government, corruption-related court orders are ignored, nepotism is a badge of honour, and persons of questionable character are first in line for political office.

Awaiting his “turn” last week, Tinubu conceded as important, such parties as Labour, which he dismissed last year as “mushroom,” warning the youth that they would “labour in vain.”

“What must concern us is not the growth of parties but the regrowth of old prejudices and bigotries such as ethnicity, creed and place of origin,” he said. “As a nation and as individuals imbued with the love of God and of our fellow man, we are better than this. At some point, we must decide whether we shall be enticed by the ills of the past or shall we more bravely and nobly be encouraged by the eminent prospect of a brighter future.”

He made those remarks as Lagos, his coveted personal project, was swept up in ethnic tension orchestrated by people who claim that they own Lagos and that only Tinubu’s own governorship candidate be voted for.  Tinubu, who has owned Lagos far more by crook than by hook for two decades, had a wonderful opportunity to be “better than this,” but he could not summon what he preached.

Why?  Because the trouble with Nigeria is the same as the old trouble with Nigeria: the duplicity of the political elite.  Ahead of that governorship election last week, MC Oluomo, a frontline Tinubu loyalist, publicly threatened the Igbo in Lagos, part of the pattern of intimidation of non-Yoruba in the state.

Nigerians did not hear anyone say “we are better than this” to Oluomo and his ilk.  As a result, Tinubu confirms the point that we are not “better than this.”

And so, we wait. Because there have indeed been “times in our past when our governing institutions created more questions than they answered.”

Times when powerful and ruthless individuals substituted themselves for entire institutions and placed themselves above the law. Times when they refused to let institutions work.  Times when they forgot that other individuals are imbued with the love of God and that they are supposed to love their fellow man.  Times when they insisted that only their purposes and desires matter, not those of other people.  Times when they forgot that there is a right and a wrong and that others may be in the right and they in the wrong.

So now we wait.  We wait to see whether, in the 2023 presidential election, the so-called Independent National Electoral Commission is “better than this” and dependent or dependable.  We wait to see what happens when we open the bowels of the animal to see whether it is an electoral body or a casino.

We wait.


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