In some other lands and climes, elections are held on weekdays, in which people cast their votes, and proceed to the office, or other places of endeavor.
But here, we must first die many times before our death, when elections approach. Many are the doomsday scenarios painted, that we do not know whether to stay in the country, or show a clean pair of heels. To japa, as the new lingo has it.
The 2023 presidential and National Assembly election was not different. Some young mothers were already conceiving how they would strap their babies to their backs, and make a dash for it, when trouble flares. To where, specifically, I asked one of them. To nowhere, she responded. “I’ll just start running.” Lol.
Many were also the family heads who had started planning where they would seek refuge with their ‘entourage’ when the bubble bursts. But elections are not war, and should not be.
But do you blame Nigerians? No, you shouldn’t. History has shown us that one election is progressively worse than the other in the country. Well, till President Muhammadu Buhari came in 2015.
I was already here, but too young to remember the elections that led to ‘Operation Wet e’ (douse with petrol and set ablaze) in the mid-60s, which caused severe unrest in the Western part of the country, and eventually culminated in seizure of power by the military, and dovetailed into the Civil War.
The next was the 1979 election. I was a young adult, and recall the sabre-rattling, the allegations of sharp practices and stealing of votes, pockets of violence, and loss of lives in some areas.
If that was bad, 1983 was worse. Sorrow, tears and blood. Riots, killings, civil unrest. Again, it contributed a long way to the takeover of power by the military in December of that year.
What of June 12, 1993? The mother of it all. Peaceful build up, calm polls, but how did it end? In a fiasco. The winner, Basorun MKO Abiola couldn’t assume office, as the ‘owners’ of the country annulled the election, and foisted an Interim National Government (ING) on us. It ended in another military adventurism.
How about 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2011? Rumors of war. Tears. Bloodshed. Panic, higgledy-piggledy. Why? Because we were holding elections. Should it happen that way?
But Muhammadu Buhari won the very pulsating race for power in 2015, and since then, our elections began to improve. Off-season polls didn’t have to be won by the party in power, through hook or crook. Let the people choose whoever they wanted, and we saw it in bold relief in Ondo, Kogi, Bayelsa, Anambra, Osun, Ekiti, and many other places. The mantra of President Buhari is; “let us respect our people, and let them choose whoever they want, across the party lines. Yes, I want my party to win, but then, our candidates must work for victory.”
It was against that backdrop that the 2023 elections held. Wherever and whenever he had the opportunity, locally, internationally, even at United Nations General Assembly, the greatest platform in the world, President Buhari said it. “I will leave the legacy of free, fair credible elections for Nigeria.” In other words, it won’t be a do or die affair, as we had once been told by a retreating President.
Even some of his party men and women began to suspect the President. Are you for us or against us? What is this dogged commitment to free, fair, credible polls, when we want to hold on to power for as long as possible? But the man was not fazed. He held onto his grounds, stuck to his guns. Even some economic policies, like the currency swap, which seemed to be hurting the people and reducing the chances of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for a possible return, President Buhari stuck to, knowing it was good for the country, and a veritable way to clean up our elections.
The first phase of the 2023 elections has been held, to elect a new President, and National Assembly members. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been declared winner, and issued with Certificate of Return. Was it a perfect election? Not so. Electronic transmission of results failed, due to technical glitches, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had to resort to manual collation. Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union tyrant had been credited with saying: “Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.” Hmmmm. The Devil comes in during collation. Very serious. Did such happen in last Saturday’s election? We wait to see, depending on evidences that will be brought forward by those challenging the declared result.
But one thing is definite about President Buhari. He would never be part of any mago-mago or wuruwuru. Just give him unimpeachable evidence of underhand dealings, and he throws you away like a bad habit.
The President’s first loyalty is to the country. Unflinching. Unassailable. Despite being a loyal party man, and committed to the candidate of his party, whom he went round the country campaigning for, he told Nigerians several times: vote for the candidate of your choice across the parties. That’s the heart of a father, a man beyond partisan considerations, as a democratically elected President.
To prove cynics and septics wrong, the man displayed his ballot paper last Saturday, after voting for APC candidates. Some lawyers have criticized the action, saying it runs contrary to electoral laws. But we know why the President did it. To shut the mouths of conspiracy theorists, who had been trying to establish that he was against the candidate of his party.
There are contentions about the declared results. Yes, it is part of good electoral practices that those who have issues should be listened to. Even the President himself challenged election results up to Supreme Court three times. When he was ruled out the third time, he said “God dey.” And God eventually showed up. The Almighty is still at work in Nigeria.
President Buhari has provided a level playing field for all contestants in the election. Any other contrary thing was not at his instance or instigation. Couldn’t have been. He remains the authentic Nigerian hero, a stickler for integrity, accountability and rectitude.
*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity