By Law Mefor
Nigeria is yet again on the threshold of history. This historic time is different and filled with omens. Since the return of the country to the current democratic dispensation, elections have been marred by irregularities. Rigging and all other forms of manipulation have been the norm.
The 2023 general election promises to be way different for several reasons. The introduction of BVAS and the vow of President Muhammadu Buhari and INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu to hold a free, fair, and acceptable election are the real factors making the 2023 general election uniquely different and exciting.
Buhari has within and outside Nigeria promised to allow the election to be free and fair so that Nigerians will be able to elect whosoever they want. President’s reassuring and alluring words: “People (i.e. Nigerians) should vote whoever they want, in whatever party. We shall not allow anyone to use money and thugs to intimidate the people.” This is indeed very noble and patriotic. Since 1999, each president had been partisan and had lent the weight of his presidency to egg the outcome to a predetermined end. Because he was seeking reelection, a certain president told a shocked nation that his election was do-or-die. Luckily, Buhari is not seeking re-election.
If Buhari pulls this stunt off, Nigerians are likely to forgive his poor governance, which has produced the worst poverty record in the nation’s annals, escalated insecurity, and worsened corruption. His sins will be forgiven and his name probably written in gold for allowing Nigerians to vote their choice for president for once. But the question is: can Pres Muhammadu Buhari hold out and not succumb to emotional blackmail? His party and its candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu desperately need Buhari’s help. Not really to campaign for the party’s candidate or for his party to retain power since there are not many positive legacies to campaign with.
Buhari/APC’s achievements in the last seven and half years have been summed up as colossal failures on almost all fronts. Though it was argued that things were bad when APC took over in 2015, the Buhari presidency has certainly made things worse. Fuel pump price, exchange rate, unemployment, spiraling inflation, ungoverned space in Nigeria that has grown to a national scale with bandits gaining terrorism status, herdsmen on a rampage and free rein, impunity and corruption now institutionalised, and many more. These all bear terrible marks of mismanagement and poor governance for which no Nigerian except those feeding fat off it, will thank Buhari and the APC. The ruling party’s abysmal performance has made the PDP’s 16 years in power a golden era regardless of PDP’s shortcomings.
Yet, in the face of these debilitating conditions which officially earned Nigeria a well-deserved cap as the world’s poverty capital, Tinubu could muster the courage to say he would start from where Buhari stops. This promise by Tinubu is nothing but an existential threat.
Buhari realizing that he has nothing much to bequeath Nigerians as enduring legacies has decided to bequeath the best election ever. This is doable if indeed the president is sincere. He is well-known to be ambivalent and may not go the whole hug, especially when the cry of his party and candidate rises loud enough and starts causing him sleepless nights.
The APC and its candidate can tell the president after all you are the main architect why APC is seen as a disaster by Nigerians. What is more, there is a more sinister reason the APC is desperate to retain power and may blackmail the president out of his desire to allow a free and fair election. There are indications that corruption under Buhari has reached obscene and bestial levels and the perpetrators need to remain in power to keep a lid on the can of worms that is likely to convulse the polity if allowed to spill.
Also, Tinubu while insisting and screaming “Emi lokan” (it is my turn) to muzzle his way to clinch the APC presidential ticket, denied President Buhari the opportunity to choose his successor and Tinubu wasn’t Buhari’s choice otherwise the national chairman of the APC Senator Abdullahi Adamu wouldn’t have announced the Senate president Ahmad Lawan as the APC consensus candidate. This is one plausible reason Buhari may not go out of his way to make Tinubu president though he may not try to stop him. Tinubu should win if he can on his own. That’s the implication of Buhari’s insistence on a free and fair election in 2023.
But Buhari may be torn between the two ends – to hold a free and fair election in which his party stands a very poor chance, and the need to give his party a push to win. This is a hard decision, which only Buhari will take, and if he has taken that decision already, to keep his fidelity to it. The President is at crossroads and the path he takes will make all the difference.
Nigerians have to pray for President Muhammadu Buhari to keep faith in his promise of a free election in 2023. He needs the grace of God now more than ever before to perform his patriotic duty as the president of the most populous black nation on earth. Otherwise, he may pander to the desperation and appeal of his party to bend the rules and allow them to use extraordinary measures to retain power at the centre.
Nigerians ought to pray also for Prof Mahmood Yakubu the Nigerian academic and current chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), who appears also determined to organize a free and credible election. He and his Commission have been under immense pressure to jettison Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and revert to the old manual ways that allowed the politicians to use incidence forms to write results and rig elections.
Prof Yakubu has to be strengthened by Nigerians to remain firm in his resolve.
The Electoral Act allows INEC to determine the machines to deploy for accreditation and transfer of results. INEC has chosen BVAS, which is a remarkably better electronic device than the smart card reader used in past elections. Abdullahi Adamu, APC’s national chairman recently said in a public forum that Nigeria is not yet mature for electronic voting. That red flag has gone largely unchallenged and the import is also lost on Nigerians.
Many INEC top officials may be corrupt and ready to collude with politicians to taint the election outcomes. Reports on past elections, even reports produced by INEC itself, since 1999, have indicted some INEC officials. The point being made is that the integrity of INEC goes beyond one man called Prof Yakubu. If his top officials, including Commissioners, are not on the page with him, his desire to hold free, fair, and credible elections may remain an empty dream.
The 2023 general election is a project that must not fail. If it does, it may have very dystopic and cataclysmic consequences. The two men to spearhead its success are President Muhammadu Buhari and Prof Mahmood Yakubu. Both men need prayers to stand firm and to provide leadership and astuteness to resist pressure.
Furthermore, the Inspector General of Police has to back up the two men who providence has placed in the positions of president of Nigeria and INEC chairman respectively. IGP has a very unique role since the police are the mother agency of the nation’s security architecture. Election security, therefore, rests on the Police while other security agencies play only ancillary roles.
The IGP has to prevail over police commissioners in the states to key into the determination of the president and INEC chairman. Both men cannot succeed if the commissioners of police in the states treat this election as business as usual. Let them insist on the free election for once… lest the 2023 general election falls short of acceptable stands yet again.
Dr Law Mefor, a forensic/social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought and can be reached via 09130335723 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @DrLawMefor.