By Evaristus Bassey
I read the fact check on the Plateau boy that was said to have killed himself after the announcement of the presidential election results because he felt there was no hope for Nigeria in the next twenty years as Obi did not win, and the verdict was that it was fake news since the picture may have been in circulation since 2016. I was glad that nobody committed suicide because of the elections, because Nigeria is not worth the blood of any citizen. Nevertheless whether it happened or not, the disappointment that many Nigerian youths experienced was at the level of a suicide. Nigerian youths had invested so much hope and enthusiasm in the process. More than ten million new permanent voter cards were collected, and most of the new voters were youths. From Calabar to Kabba, from Lagos to Lokoja, to Bauchi, Benue and every part of Nigeria people made the PVC a symbol of freedom. The declaration of Mr. Peter Obi as presidential candidate of the Labour Party sealed it all, as many, including the elderly saw in him a new way for Nigeria. What INEC did with the presidential elections eventually, with the distorting of the process regarding uploads to the results viewing portal (iREV), was akin to a crime against humanity. Now we have a president-elect whom many Nigerians are questioning his legitimacy.
Despite this huge setback, Nigerians should not lose sight of the gains from this major loss. The first gain is that Nigerians are now more focused on who holds the ticket. There were many Nigerians who ignored their party’s candidate and voted for someone they felt was a better candidate. This happened a lot with the presidential elections, where many APC and PDP members voted for Obi especially down south. At the governorships, many ignored their party candidates too. For instance in Cross River, even some PDP members preferred a smooth zoning process and voted for the APC candidate who was from the Southern Senatorial candidate instead of their PDP candidate who was from the central senatorial district.
Ethnic sentiments too did not play a major role in this election, except as a tool by politicians. The ordinary Nigerian did not care for the ethnicity of the contender but his antecedents, the message he brought, and what his candidature meant for the common good. For this reason, many northerners voted for Obi, and many northerners too ignored Atiku and Kwankwaso and voted for Tinubu. In Cross River State, the guber candidate of the PDP lost in his own local government and other places he was expected to win because the people overlooked ethnic sentiments and stood for the Back to South agenda. In Lagos the ethnic slurs were done by politicians and their paid agents, after all the major candidates were all Yoruba. It was actually an anti-progressive pogrom because once you were against the ruling party, you were seen as anti-Yoruba and dealt with. However the Igbos stood out as a target of hate by agents of the politicians.
The 2023 elections have also proven that when there is massive turnout, the degree of manipulation is limited. Lagos APC used threats of violence to scare voters but where there was large turnout, it was not possible to change the results right there except at the collation magic centre. In Cross River, the major parties had their agents everywhere and it was a keen contest. Where the people stayed back and defended their mandate, like in Kano, and Abia the Returning Officer had no choice than to announce the actual winner. In states like Kaduna and Nasarawa, where the opposition likely won but it was awarded to the ruling party, the returning officers may have been closet party members or they may have been intimidated to go against their will. But generally, the guber elections went well in many states. The president lost his state to PDP, the attempt to use a female candidate to hoodwink the electorate did not work in Adamawa, and the Obidient movement couldn’t outperform the PDP in Plateau. The ruling party won overwhelmingly in Benue despite the attempt by the sitting governor to cast it locally as a party of terrorists. As a matter of fact, many well-meaning Benue citizens believe that some of the killings attributed to Fulani herdsmen were organized by the state government to promote a narrative that would secure them in power. The resentment against the governor was so great that when he endorsed Peter Obi at the presidential elections, it became a reason to not vote for Obi.
A future gain might be the redemption of the judiciary. The judiciary will redeem itself through redemption of the electoral process. We know that the long term redemption of the electoral process lies with the legislature, where the electoral act will have to be reviewed and collation automated. It will of course be a running, as those who win elections by manipulating the process far outnumber those who win straight. In the short term however, the judiciary will have to redeem its image with the numerous election petitions that would be filed. The corruption of the judiciary is not just about monetary corruption but includes corruption due to the influence of ideology. Judges might be tempted to overlook glaring evidence so that a particular agenda would be sustained. In Kaduna State for instance, where El-Rufai would want to maintain the narrative of a Muslim-Muslim ticket being benign, it would be quite a challenge to win a case even if there is hard core evidence. But the judiciary will have to forego any religious ideology and face the fact of justice.
The judiciary will have to act as the sanitizer in an environment where people have normalized abuse of due process. People trounce due process during elections and tell you to go to court with the confidence that they will or have already bought their way. This sanitization should be most effectively done at state levels where locals have a stake and should act as a lesson against future attempts at rigging. The presidential election tribunal will also be a hotbed for the redemption of the image of the judiciary as the whole world will be paying attention.
The judiciary has long been the most stable of the three arms of government. Now that it has become like a plaything in the hands of the other two arms, especially the executive, it is time now for the judiciary to show its worth as the oldest and most stable arm, having been unaffected by the numerous military coups which redefined Nigeria’s political landscape. The verdicts of the various tribunals will give assurance to the ordinary Nigerian that all hope is not lost.