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Nigeria’s Election 2019 and “the day after”

By Godknows Igali, PhD

After everything, Nigeria’s “Day of Great Expectation” in the words of ace writer, Charles Dickson comes up on February 23, 2019. For this, about 72.7 million eligible voters will gather in 176,000 Polling Units across the country to elect a President and members of the country’s National Assembly. This comes two weeks ahead of similar elections for majority of the Governors of the country’s 36 states and Legislatures at that level. 
But more than any other elections in the past, the 2019 polls mean different things to virtually all key stakeholders. For example, for leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the seeming despair for victory at the elections, is hinged on the need to consolidate on what they claim are past four years of achievements. Conversely, the assertiveness with which the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) has pursued the electoral contest finds meaning in regaining power which it lost four years ago after boasts of being invincible. The PDP, which also insist to be Africa’s biggest political movement as well as  many Nigerians also argue that the years of APC’s governance have only inflicted the country with negative indicators. But for leaders of other smaller political parties, and at least over 60 of them are on the Presidential ballot form, this election is an opportunity to wrest power out of the hands of   the establishment political order represented by the APC and PDP. They argue that both are tainted with corruption, old-style ideas and lacking inclusiveness of younger generations in the scheme of things. Yet, many sections of the country see the elections, especially the Presidential ballot as a “referendum on the question of restructuring” the Nigerian polity. 
The campaigns have therefore been very incisive, fervid and at times anything but desperate. Beyond the hostile pitch and large-scale resort to hard language and communication, the entire process has created fear and even panic within the population. Not surprising, many Nigerians have retired to their places of nativity till the coast is clear. The atmosphere therefore remains ominous, foreboding what will happen when the results get finally announced.  

This atmosphere easily brings to recollection, the date November 20, 1983, when the American television film, “The Day After” hit the screens with hundreds of millions all over the world spellbound by its unique combination of technology and effect. That motion picture still maintains a record as “the highest-rated television film in history”.  But more than that was its captivating and distinctly compelling message and undertone of the before-during-and-after scenarios of a supposed hostile situation leading to a nuclear war. It retold the policies that were being needlessly and unguardedly pursued during the ill-famed “Cold War” years by the Soviet Bloc led by Russia and its arch rivals the West under the command of the United States.

In that movie, there were incalculable waste of monetary resources, human efforts and time, all negatively deployed to unproductive ends by both sides. Between the two ideological blocs, intemperate and wrathful dispositions, wickedly and fiendly mindsets and unbridled elevation of personal ego by leadership and what they considered as national pride, were the order. As the storms gathered, defiant voices of hostile communication dominated radio and television. Hearsays, exaggerated narratives, half-truths, threats and propaganda became the norm. Caution, moderation, middle grounds, and forbearance were considered as expressions of weakness and undue appeasement.

In that story, much more than the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki both of which were destroyed during Second World War, all places affected, by the crisis depicted in the film became total wastelands. 
But, but, but, after all the angered nerves and seeming move to Armageddon, the same leaders declared ceasefire. They now had to clean up, build and rebuild all the damage and mess. 

This great drama series directed by Nicholas Meyer merely depicted in the most poignant manner a typical course of human action that repeats itself in the most animalistic manner. The world is replete with crises and wars because of such predilections. The First and Second World Wars (1914-1919 and 1939-1945) left human carnages of over 16 million and 60 million lives respectively. Africa lost about 10 million people to wars and conflicts between 1990 and 2000. The war in the Balkans in the 1990s resulted in the death of over 140,000 human lives and the displacement of 4 million people. The Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) of 30 months took a toll of over 2 million lives, while Rwanda’s Civil War led to the genocide of 800 thousand, mostlly, ethnic Tutsis in just  100 days of killing orgy. 

Of all these conflict scenes, one that is increasingly more prevalent  are Post Election Crises, especially on the African continent. A few examples will suffice. 

Despite its hitherto political stability and peace, relative to neighbors such as Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda, the   2007-2008, East Africa’s power house, Kenyan Post Election Crises resulted in 1,000 deaths. Previously, the country had experienced similar incidents in 1992 and 1997 which ended in skirmishes. Electoral violence have also occurred in other places such as Zimbabwe in 2005 and in 2008 while the Democratic Republic of Congo suffered similar fate in 2006 and 2011. Up North Africa, Tunisia and Egypt were also not left out during the 2011-2012 period. In all these instances, bloodletting of innocent citizens, championed by political elites was pervasive and unrestrained.

In another case Cote d’Ivoire, the world’s largest producer of Cocoa which had been considered a bastion of peace and economic stability in West Africa, went through Civil war in 2010-2012 following inconclusive elections. It left carnage of over 1 million lives and took the country several years behind. Similarly In 2015, Guinea, the first country in French West Africa to attain independence in 1958 and had enjoyed relative peace found itself on the precipe as a result of corrupted  elections. The same also happened in Uganda in 2016.

Most studies and available literature show that crises and violence often occur at virtually all stages of the electoral cycle.
During the electioneering campaigns, the tendency to use offensive language, incitements and hate speech inexorably create the background for latter escalations. In many instances, political actors in veiled and couched languages incite followers to insist on victory and victory alone. Even with the innovations of international and local pre-election mediation efforts, hate speech and incitements continue to prowl the African electoral landscape. 

Similarly, actual voting and rendition of results in most of the cases in Africa have shown a great disinterest by key actors, even the highest political office holders to allow the actual outcome to be free and fair. Most often, there are covert and at times open interference at various stages. In this process, both electoral bureaucracy and law enforcement officials are brought under great burden and compromised to do the wrong thing.
The ultimate stage is the post election altercation which occurs in most cases. In 2011, post election violence despite ongoing judicial process in Nigeria claimed a record of 1,000 lives, including many Youth Corpers. However, despite all predictions and prognosis of the “mother of all conflicts”, respite came the way of the Nigeria when a unilateral action by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 saved the day. Dr. Jonathan who had consistently disproved the “do-and-die” politics, unilaterally and unconditionally  conceded defeat rather prematurely; once he saw that the numbers were not adding up. On the continent? Yes. This unique and outstanding effort was shortly followed by immediate past Ghanian President, Dr. John Mahama who in 2016 followed suit to accept electoral outcome early. In other cases as recently occurred in Cameroon and DRC, the outcomes were challenged in court and amicably resolved. The resort to acrimonious legal battles by loosing sides has, unfortunately, been the record also in Nigeria in 1979, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011. 
Against this background, the question is what should Nigerian and African political elite remind themselves or rather, ourselves  during these periodic carnivals of elections? Even closely, what should we take home in the next few days.

Primarily is the need to remind ourselves that elections will come and go within the stipulated times. After four years, which by the way, passes as a fleeting moment, new elections would become due. For example, despite all the melodrama, President Jonathan’s exit after the much tensed elections in 2015 is just like yesterday. No wonder, some countries have 5 or 6 yearly tenures. Indeed the 2023 Nigerian General Elections are just by the corner and already beckoning. No election is an end by itself and must be treated as such by all.

Relatively, is the fact that all key contenders, high and low in this general elections, need to remind themselves that this is just a game with clear rules. So like all competitive sporting events only one victor can emerge at the end of the day. Come to think of it, it’s even better for those pursuing political objectives in our polity, as the habit of moving from one camp to opposing camps, with unabashed moral or spiritual liberality has become part of our reality. Like Wole Soyinka’s mystical ‘Abiku’, they come and go! For example, almost every major leader in the APC was once a member of another political party, especially the PDP. In like manner, some of the most visible faces in the PDP of today, jumped ship from the APC, just months ago but in the recent actually started their original political careers in the former. So why the desperately aggressive and bellicose appetite in insisting on victory at all cost when a player can move to the other end tomorrow?

Of equal importance is the fact, that political leaders driving this 2019 electoral exercise must show greater ingenuity in working together. In modern political practice, the options of consensus, coalitions, alliances, governments of national unity  and the like are common. In most developed countries, the philosophy of the winner takes it all has become an anachronism  The mood is always the search of alliances and broad coalition. Almost all of Europe, Canada, Israel and South Africa, the likelihood of a single party taking all the reins of governance after elections are narrow as some forms of cross-party deals help to stabilize post electoral peace.  Even in Nigeria’s  own political history, President Shehu Shagari in 1979 stretched out his hands of friendship to the opposition, which first President of the country, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe accepted. They went on to form a Government of National Unity and helped the polity at the time, even though its was an American type  Presidential system. If we cast our minds back a little, this was also the  approach of our Founding Fathers during the First Republic. Then Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa governed through a motley of coalitions. Many other countries with variants of non parliamentary systems like Nigeria are still doing same.

Let us also not forget, as we approach the D-Day, whether we like it or not, the rest of the world is watching. No nation of the world now lives   in autarky. Today, we all live in a globalized world that is closely connected by information and communication technology. We are now a global village and so all countries depend on one another for almost everything. That is why every country is interested in what happens in all others. Certainly the panoply of claims of protecting  “sovereignty” when suitable can no longer be pleaded by leaders in covering their atrocious conducts during elections and other key political events. It is common knowledge even to first year students of international relations or legal studies that Customary international law has developed amply  enough to establish a corpus of “crimes against humanity” with various international tribunals in place to deal with such matters. The erstwhile tribunal on Yugoslav indicted 161 persons, including a former Head of State, Goran Hadzic. Similarly, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Laurent Gbagbo were all before the Hague on post election violence matters. Indeed, from the time of the Nuremburg Trials which started in 1945-46 after the Second World War, individual law enforcement persons known to have committed atrocities can now be held liable for their actions, even if obeying superior orders which in common human reasoning appear untenable. From Bosnia to Sudan, DRC, to Cote d’Ivoire many world leaders and their officials now have to account or are on the run.

Above all, after the months of absurdity and near insanity, the country must continue. If there is a resort to violence and crises, these by end of the day, would still be resolved amicably. Thereafter, all surviving  contestants, winners and losers, warlords and belligerents still have to clean up and continue to live together one way or the other. We will continue to go to same places of business, same markets, travel in same aircrafts or same buses, attend same hospitals, and go to same places of worship, etc. As a matter of fact, our children will continue to attend same schools, eat in same restaurants, maybe, even inter-marry and raise offspring. 
So, as we go to the elections and anxiously await the results, let us remember that there is a Day After; as God seems not to have made up his mind yet to end the world!

Dr. Igali is a Diplomat and retired Federal Permanent Secretary

This Article is Fact-Checked. See Policy.
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