by Simon Kolawole
Since I have been old enough to follow presidential elections in Nigeria, I have to admit that I have never experienced the kind of gloomy mood that hit some sections of the country after the declaration of Presidential Muhammadu Buhari as the winner of the February 23 poll. In the past, there would be spontaneous outbursts, demonstrations and riots by the aggrieved. This time around, the atmosphere was more like a funeral in certain places. Many looked severely bereaved. A friend of mine, an entrepreneur, was so distraught that he sent me a chat after the announcement of the final result: “Simon, where do we go from here?” I joked in response: “Canada.”
In my opinion, there were generally two categories of people that backed Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the presidential election. In one category are those who genuinely believe his presidency would be better for business in particular and Nigeria as a whole. They are convinced that Atiku has a better grasp of the economy, is more pan-Nigerian in outlook and can assemble a winning team — compared to Buhari. In the second category are those who feel persecuted and marginalised by Buhari and would be too glad to see his back. It is not so much that they all passionately believe in Atiku, just that Buhari is bad news to them 24/7.
I can identify two of the strongest responses to the outcome of the election in the pro-Atiku camp. One is that the poll was rigged. They maintain that if everything had run normally, Atiku would have won. Their grievances are well known: they think that the votes for Buhari were inflated in some northern states, that the security agencies terrorised Atiku’s supporters in some parts of the south and that state institutions worked actively for Buhari’s re-election. I would conclude that a good number of Atiku’s supporters are of the opinion that the election was rigged. Atiku himself has headed to the election petitions tribunal to challenge the outcome.
Some prominent Nigerians have asked Atiku not to go to court. The former vice-president has even been derided by some APC supporters on the social media for daring to challenge the outcome of the election. I take it that people are simply playing politics. We know how many opposition candidates became governors via court judgments when PDP was in power from 1999 to 2015, and I think it is most unfair to mock Atiku for choosing to exercise his democratic and constitutional right. As to whether or not he can win his case, why not wait for the courts to decide? Why pre-empt? It appears many of us still do not have the temperament for democracy in Nigeria.
The second strongest post-election response from the Pro-Atiku camp, which has been picked up and amplified by the international media, is that the results were reflective of the social strata and tendencies in the country. Infographs have been designed along this line of thinking: that the educated voted for Atiku and the uneducated preferred Buhari; that the lovers of prosperity chose Atiku and the lovers of poverty trooped out for Buhari; that earners of higher income were in love with Atiku and the wretched of the earth stood firmly by Buhari. I have seen maps being circulated to support this thinking. Many foreign journalists and analysts have bought fully into it. Any student of statistics will tell you a guiding principle: that correlation is not the same thing as causation.
If PDP wins the 11 states in the south-east and south-south, it may have nothing to do with the levels of education, poverty, violence or income. It may just be that the PDP is still very strong in those states. It may have more to do with their political leanings and traditional voting patterns rather than an addiction to university degrees. I don’t know. I can’t say. But just sitting down in our living rooms and drawing conclusions from election data without a proper survey of the voters themselves might turn out to be unhelpful.
In the first place, you have to choose one argument. You have to either argue that Atiku won the election but it was rigged or that voters made the wrong choices by not preferring prosperity, which Atiku is said to represent, to poverty, of which Buhari is meant to be the poster boy — in the opinion of these analysts. If you believe the election was rigged, how can you go ahead to say Buhari won because the uneducated, unenlightened and wretched Nigerians voted for him? That would be contradictory. Also, you cannot argue that the wretched re-elected Buhari and still maintain that the election was rigged. You just have to pick one line of argument.
If we are to go by the educated vs uneducated parameter used by some analysts in their post-election commentaries, then we will end up confused. In the south-west, for instance, APC won four of the six states. Should we conclude that the majority of the south-westerners are illiterates and poverty-lovers for voting APC? In 2015, five south-west states voted APC. In 2011, five south-west states voted for PDP. Should we say south-westerners were educated and prosperity-loving in 2011 but became illiterates in 2015 and 2019? In states such as Benue and Oyo where votes were almost evenly split between PDP and APC, how do we separate the literate from the illiterate?
Correlation is definitely not causation. In 2011, the south-east gave 4,985,246 votes to PDP. The figure dropped to 2,464,906 in 2015 (when the PDP controlled all the instruments of power, including the security agencies). In 2019, the tally for PDP further dropped to 1,693,485. I do not want to believe the south-east has been falling in love with poverty and illiteracy since 2011. There may be another reason the voter turn-out has been dropping. Between 2011 and 2015, PDP lost a total of 2,520,340 votes in the south-east in the presidential election — even with a sitting PDP government at Aso Rock. We need to be more sophisticated in our thinking.
I am beginning to come to the conclusion that we only have some respect for democracy in Nigeria when the outcome of an election conforms to our bias. I remember when President Buhari lost to President Jonathan in 2011, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), which did not have any presence beyond the core northern states, kept insisting they won. In fact, CPC said there was a bug in INEC computers that was deducting Buhari’s votes. CPC questioned the results from the south-east and south-south, where Jonathan scored 97% of total votes cast. The reverse is now the case: PDP is questioning the results from the north-west and north-east.
What is the conclusion of the matter? Those who believe the 2019 presidential poll was rigged should stick to their position and support Atiku in his litigation. Nobody should say “it is a waste of time”. No litigation is ever a waste of time. Some improvements we have witnessed in our electoral system were influenced by previous legal experiences. For instance, the principle of “substantial compliance” came into being in 1979 when Chief Obafemi Awolowo mounted a legal challenge against Alhaji Shehu Shagari. It is relied upon by the courts till today. There is a reason our laws provide for post-election petitions. Atiku should be supported to exercise his options.
Those who cast the election as a battle between literacy and illiteracy should also stick to their story. They are inevitably saying the election was not rigged. They are only saying the outcome was reflective of the preference of the majority of voters, whom they consider to be illiterates and lovers of poverty. That means 15.1 million illiterates re-elected Buhari while 11.2 million professors voted for Atiku. This narrative is condescending, no doubt, and reinforces inherited prejudices and biases against certain sections of the country — but at least it represents the mindset of some analysts. My only problem with that is the abuse and misuse of statistics that readily comes with such a mindset.
However, when the emotions of the presidential election have cooled, I would advise the protagonists and antagonists to take a second look at the figures both retrospectively and introspectively. The APC should ask itself: is this really an endorsement of our performance or a mere benefit of the cult followership that Buhari enjoys in some parts of the country? Could we have turned out this performance if Buhari was not our presidential candidate? Should we gloat or keep our feet on the ground, knowing the enormous tasks ahead? Are there expectations from Nigerians tied to this victory? What do we owe to the millions who re-elected us into office?
The PDP, as the biggest opposition party, should also ask itself the critical questions: what did we not get right? Where did the rain begin to beat us? Did we overrate our chances? Was it just the incumbency factor that worked against us? Why has the voting trend for us in the south-east been on a downward spiral? How did we descend from the height of having 24 governors at some point in Nigeria’s history to having just 13 today? What did we do wrong? How can we rebuild faith with Nigerians? No doubt, we need a very strong opposition party in Nigeria. It is in the interest of our democracy. Going forward, therefore, the protagonists and antagonists need self-appraisal.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
From indications, voter turnout for Saturday’s governorship and house of assembly elections was lower than we saw in the February 23 presidential poll. Why? There would be many reasons. I think one of them is the sequence of elections. If I had my way, we would do state elections first and the presidential election last. That is a way of building momentum and generating interest in the elections. But I understand the politics of it all: if governors secure their own positions first, they may not work hard for the president two weeks later! That is why election sequence has always been a battle from the days of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Anti-climax.
Does anybody still remember when the All Progressives Congress (APC) used to kick against the deployment of soldiers for elections? The defence of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) then was that the deployment was necessary to secure the peace and avoid bloodshed. An APC lawmaker even went to court and won. Students of history should find it amusing that with APC now in control, the militarisation of elections has continued. There is always a reason to justify it: to safeguard lives and property and prevent violence, you know the rest. Give the average Nigerian politician state power and he is likely to use it the same way. It is the same difference. #APCPDP.
Many of us have simplistic theories on why Nigeria remains backward in the comity of nations but we don’t need to be too hard on ourselves: it is just that we are not like any other people on earth. It is only in Nigeria that candidates of political parties are determined by the courts. The moment our politicians and lawyers figured out how they could use and abuse the laws of the land, it has become fashionable for them to engage the courts to play the role of political parties by determining who is a candidate and who is not. The courts are supposed to serve the cause of justice, we cannot deny that, but why must our own case in Nigeria be always upside down? Mystery.
Election times can be very stressful and even life-threatening in Nigeria, but many people are making lemonade from the lemon. In affluent neighbourhoods, people set up canopies, play music and do barbeque while waiting to be accredited and while voting goes on. But you have to do a thumbs-up to the lively woman in Enugu, said to be a teacher, who came with a pillow and a mat to her polling unit during the presidential and national assembly elections. On Saturday, she turned up again for the governorship and house of assembly polls with more than a mat and a pillow: she brought Whot for a game of cards with fellow voters. Life is too short. Have fun. Chill.