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The Nigerian elections that I witnessed

Bola Tinubu Bola Tinubu

The Nigerian Presidential election was held and was fairly won by the candidate of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The elections were the first to spilt votes across three parties, a departure from the two party model to which we have become accustomed.

Despite lapses noted by various observer bodies, most international as well as domestic groups found the election to be a credible and accurate reflection of the will of the electorate. As with all democratic nations, we shall continue to strive to perfect our electoral processes. Yes, this election had its imperfections but to the extent that we should obviate what was in fact the most logical and predictable result. Was the ruling party with political leaders, structure and attestants of performance in many states, including landmark programs and projects not supposed to score votes?

In fact there was only one region in the country that did not yield victory in any of its states to anyone but a candidate from that region. Many have picked on this to further suggest the prevalence of ethnicity in our politics. Yet, in the South West the presidential candidate of the APC lost his own state, a reflection of tolerance , diversity of opinion and ethnicity. Yet, a campaign of discrediting and delegitimizing the outcome of an election has been drummed up by those who have developed an attitude of ‘me or ruins’ towards politics.

Technology reduced the level of malpractice such as ballot box stealing and multiple voting by individuals. Violence was held to a low level. No question, Nigeria has to continue refining its electoral processes. However, it is simply unfair for the international media to ridicule this election simply because the outcome did not fit the narrative the media had constructed. Nigeria should not be made to suffer because of the media’s lack of knowledge about it.

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In all of these, some of our statesmen, a segment of both the International and National media are mute about giving credit to one man to whom it is due. That person is President Muhammadu Buhari whose commitment to democracy, steadfastness, doggedness and overall boldness made the elections possible. This is against the backdrop of predictions by notable leaders that there will be no elections due to insecurity. President Buhari has an answer for them. He ensured maximum security for the elections. He resisted pressures to postpone or cancel the elections. He locked his doors against merchants of interim government and daresay 3rd term beguilers. President Buhari’s lofty place in the history of Democracy in Nigeria is secured.

President Buhari’s achievements in infrastructural development and social welfare in the past 8 years remain unequalled by any previous government safe the immediate post war era.

Now back to the elections proper. As an international journalist of nearly three decades of which the larger part of my professional career was in Nigeria, I have witnessed many elections, many coups, annulments and violent ethnic, religious and political disruptions.

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Our politics is a complex mix of party, ethnic, religious and regional factors. Yet, ideology and class identification play larger roles than generally appreciated. This multilayered situation does not lend itself to quick, simplistic portraits. Our trends cannot be accurately contextualized in a way that conforms to western political themes often inapplicable to Nigeria’s internal dynamics. Preceding the election, western media was flush with accounts depicting the Labor Party candidate Peter Obi in a commanding lead and extolling him as the most reformed minded among the stable of contestants. Experienced observers knew both points to be inaccurate.

The true surprise concerning Obi is not that he lost but that he did as well as he did. Tinubu’s victory might have shocked and deflated many western journalists. It did not shock western pollsters who have been gauging Nigerian political sentiment for over a decade. A month before the election, Tinubu campaign pollsters forecasted a Tinubu lead among likely voters of roughly 10 percent over both Obi and Atiku. They also measured Tinubu’s support at roughly 37 percent. A few states registered as surprises on election day, particularly Tinubu’s loss of his populous home state of Lagos. Still, the polling was accurate in the main. Other respected surveys corrected indicated that Tinubu would come in first.

Clearly, Peter Obi was popular in parts of the country. Yet he never enjoyed a likely path to victory. Winning the Nigerian presidency requires more than a candidate getting the highest vote total, which he did not in any event. The winner must also attain 25 percent of the votes in at least 25 of Nigeria’s 36 states and its federal capital, Abuja. Due to the oft combative religious and ethnic lean of his campaign, as well as his poor name recognition in major parts of the north, Obi had little chance of gaining 25 percent in the majority of Nigeria’s 19 northern states. Without being competitive in the north, Obi could not win the majority of votes nationwide. He had lost the race the moment he entered it as a regional and religious champion. Asiwaju took the other route deemphasizing religion by choosing a Muslim vice and focusing on specific issues.

Portraying Obi’s candidacy as one of meaningful reform also was the offspring of imprecise analysis. Obi’s candidacy lit the imagination of many young voters. This had more to do with social media accumulation of angst following the End SARS riots which continued inexplicably after the demand of ending SARS was acceded to by Mr President. There are those who say this was part of a grand plan, considering the false narratives that still attend that issue till today. It is instructive that the arrow heads are seen as major feature for Mr Obis movement.

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A businessman and majority shareholder in Fidelity bank, Peter Obi was a state governor for 8 years, with different views on his tenure highlighted by MASSOP violence, allegations of warehousing state funds in a bank in which he had interests rather than spending on developmental needs of the state. In 2019, he was the vice presidential candidate of Atiku, the conservative PDP’s candidate over the past two elections. As such, Obi is a charter member of the right-leaning segment of the political establishment. Obi’s reformism was solely limited to political style and capitalizing on discontent.

Regarding substantive policy ideas, Tinubu was the more reform-minded candidate. The NESG engagement exposed this starkly.

A product of the progressive politics of southwest Nigeria, Tinubu was the only left-leaning candidate in this race. After the incumbent government’s demonetization policy came into full force, Tinubu publicly complained about the resultant economic harm. Both Obi and Atiku lauded the measure until public opinion forced them toward more ambiguous positions.

Tinubu, in fact, is Nigeria’s most progressive major politician and its first left-of-center president elect. To state that Tinubu reeks of the political establishment yet describe Obi as a breath of fresh air is to miss something essential in Nigerian politics.

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A coterie of retired generals and their allies in the financial sector form the core of the establishment. Search as you might, you will not find Tinubu among this group. You will find Obi and Atiku.

In other countries, years spent in electoral politics are never used as the measure of whether a candidate is chained to the status quo. This seems to be the decisive measure used by the international media in Nigeria. Tinubu is certainly a veteran political figure. More accurately, he is a veteran of opposition politics. A cerebral and compassionate politician forged in the crucible of Democratic struggle.
How did the media miss the fact that some influential and their moneyed network oppose Tinubu? They supported the staunchly conservative Atiku or the fairly conservative Obi. They had no stomach for the progressive former Lagos governor. One former general and military head of state publicly explained that he supported Obi because the latter could be “pulled by the ear,” meaning he could control Obi. No former general could say this about the independent-minded Tinubu. Even if a general had uttered such a thing, no one would believe it.

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Obi had his captive audience. A mixture of young people thirsty for a new order and justifiably so, and his ethnic followers.

Atiku’s trump card was that of ethnic and regional chauvinism in the North. Whether their campaign strategies caused their electoral limitations or their electoral limitations shaped their strategies may be matters of permanent debate.

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However, the election can be distilled to the single observation. Atiku’s appeal was limited to the three political zones of the north. Obi’s appeal to two of the three southern zones and a few other states. Tinubu carried or was highly competitive in four zones, the three northern ones and his southwestern base. In a profound way, this election confirmed the northern-southwestern electoral base as the base of our party, the APC and the prime reason for its national electoral success.

Tinubu’s campaign, cognizant of ethnic and religious sentiment and crosscurrents, treated these issues more discretely than the other campaigns. Tinubu’s progressive appeal was dismissed by foreign journalists but not by a large number of poor and rural voters hoping for stronger government assistance to accelerate economic development.

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Overall, Nigeria’s democracy is on course, no matter what the naysayers and jingoists say. They have piled on. The tribe of individuals and groups who want to pull the house down simply because it does not bear the color they want. The most recent election that produced Bola Ahmed Tinubu as President-Elect is on sound footing and one of Nigeria’s freest and fairest.

Washington Post newspapers in its editorial of March 20, 2023, after recognizing the short comings, noticing the rights of other contestants to go to court, the paper rose above the noise and misdirected agitations and settles the debate over the outcome of the Presidential election declaratively with a home run thus: “… this proved to be Nigeria’s most competitive election since democracy was restored in 1999…”

Dare is a former Harvard University Neiman Fellow (2001) and former International Journalist served as Chief of the Hausa Service of the Voice of America in Washington DC. He was chief of staff to Bola Ahmed Tinubu and currently serves as the Minister of Youth and Sports of Nigeria.



Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.
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