By; SAYO AKINTOLA
Nigeria is the cynosure of the world’s eyes today as she takes a bold step in electing who will be her president for the next four years. Without mincing words, it’s either we get it right today or we forget about it completely. One thing is however, crystal clear; today’s presidential election will go down in history as the most fiercely contested between two major candidates.
Unlike in the previous elections where candidate of the ruling party would be shouting of landslide victory, no one is sure of where the pendulum will swing in absolute terms in the next 48 hours. The two major candidates have traversed the length and breadth of the country to showcase what they have in stock for Nigerians if voted into power. The media industry has been enriched both in terms of revenue and contents. Artisans have been empowered except in many states across board where civil servants are being owed between three and five- month salaries.
Nigerians are expected to troop out en-mass today to elect the next Nigerian president, Senators and members of the House of Representatives.
As early as 7 am, eligible voters are expected to be at their polling units for accreditation through the card reader to clear voters for the voting proper.
Fourteen political parties and presidential candidates of these parties are gunning for Nigeria’s coveted number one seat and leading the pack are incumbent President Jonathan of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP and General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Ab initio, the presidential and national assembly elections were meant to hold on February 14, 2015 but just a week before they were originally due, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced a six-week postponement.
The security question triggered of by the activities of Boko Haram Islamists in the north-east put security at the centre of the election campaigns and both parties clashed over how to handle the insurgency in Nigeria. INEC was also appeared not ready as many Nigerians were yet to collect their permanent voters cards.
In the past, elections have been marred by violence and allegations of vote-rigging and since parties began campaigning in mid-November, both the ruling and opposition camps have reported violent attacks against their supporters. Severally, there were reported clashes between rival supporters of both parties leaving blood and tears in the trail.
In today’s election, security forces are also coming out en-masse to closely observe the voting process to avoid violence and blood-letting.
Indeed, anxiety is high today. The country has a fragmented political class.
The economic situation is uncertain, oil prices are falling and the naira has been devalued. Stomach infrastructure is a new vocabulary in the political dictionary.
With these prevailing circumstances, many are expressing nostalgia for the 2015 elections.
However, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has promised a clean ballot. All 14 candidates have signed an agreement binding them to credible and non-violent elections. Official campaigning ended two days before polling day.
The ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP’s candidates are President Goodluck Jonathan and his vice, Namadi Sambo, while the main opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, has Muhammadu Buhari and Yemi Osinbajo as presidential and vice presidential candidates.
Others are Oluremi Sonaiya and Saidu Bobboi for Kowa Party; Ambrose Albert and Haruna Shaba for Hope Democratic Party; Ganiyu Galadima and Balarabe Ahmed of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, ACPN; Rafiu Salau and Clinton Cliff Akuchie for Alliance for Democracy, AD and Godson Okoye and Haruna Adamu, for United Democratic Party, UDP.
Others are Nani Ibrahim Ahmad and Obianuju Murphy-Uzohue of African Democratic Congress, Martin Onovo and Ibrahim Mohammed of National Conscience Party, NCP, Tunde Anifowoshe-Kelani and Paul Ishaka Ofomile of Action Alliance and Chekwas Okorie and Bello Umar of United Progressive Party.
The Labour Party, LP, and the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, have already adopted the PDP candidate, Goodluck Jonathan as their candidate as well.
Of all the candidates, only Messrs. Jonathan and Buhari were candidates in the last election in 2011.
To win in the first round, a candidate needs more than 50% of the national vote and at least 25% of the votes in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states.
For the first time, Permanent Voters’ Cards are being used in Nigeria. The INEC said more than 80% of eligible voters have obtained their bio metric PVCs. The unresolved issue is the huge number of registered voters who could not obtain their PVCs for today’s crucial elections. The number is put at 12 million compared to over 58 million that collected. Given the militarization of the electoral process, coupled with the fear of political thugs from all sides, it’s expected that many of those with PVCs might not be inclined to come out to vote.
At the end of the day we may end up having less than 50 per cent of the eligible voters determining who becomes the president.
Polls, according to INEC, are expected to commence at 0800 local time (0700GMT). All voters must be present at their designated polling station by 1300 local time (1200GMT) at the latest to be allowed to cast their ballot. Polls will close when the last person in the queue has voted.
The Nigeria Police said over 360,000 police officers and sniffer dogs will be deployed at strategic areas.
The presence of international and local observers has also been approved by INEC to monitor the elections, although the European Union says its observers will not be deployed in the north-east due to security concerns.
The national Assembly amended the electoral law on January 15 to allow an estimated one million displaced people by the insurgency to cast their votes. Over the years, governance under civilian rule had been dominated by the predominately Muslim north until 1999 when President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Southern Christian broke the jinx at the onset of the fourth republic. Ever since, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has remained in power with Jonathan breaking the power sharing principle after Yar’Adua’s demise.
In 2011, Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari were the main candidates for the election. Buhari won all of the predominately Muslim states while Jonathan won the rest (with one exception). For years, Nigeria’s voting process has been dominated by allegations and counter allegations of rigging.
But voting has gotten better with more polling stations open on time and supplied with ballots than ever before.
Once again, today’s presidential election pits incumbent Jonathan against a familiar foe, General Muhammadu Buhari. But with the fractured political parties and INEC’s new e-voting pattern, election rigging should be more difficult.
Fourteen presidential candidates are recognised by the Independent Electoral Commission as bonafide contestants in the election but only Goodluck Jonathan and Gen Buhari have a realistic chance of winning.
Incumbent President Goodluck Azikiwe Ebele Jonathan is seeking a second four-year term but his party, the Peoples Democratic Party,PDP, is currently facing the toughest challenge since the civilian rule was restored in 1999 in the person of Gen Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Jonathan’s strength in today’s election is expected from the predominantly Christian South. He enjoyed cult-like followership in the South-south region where he comes until avoidable differences between his wife, Patience and the incumbent governors of Rivers, and his home State, Bayelsa put his total chances into jeopardy in the region.
The battle with some former PDP governors owing to what they described as injustice by the Bamanga Tukur-led National Executive Council marked the beginning of today’s problem for Jonathan. Political analysts are of the opinion that under whatever guise, Jonathan would have done everything humanly possible to dissuade both governors Rotimi Amaechi and Rabiu Kwankaso of Rivers and Kano states respectively.
It was argued that over-bearing influence of some supposed friends of the president also did a big blow to his second-term calculation. For instance, Governor Godswill Akpabio’s unencumbered influence on the president and wife which was diverted to personal aggrandizement culminated in the fragmentation of the Jonathan’s support base in the state. The tactical defection of a former governor, Obong Victor Attah and Dan Etiebet, a former Minister, to APC, on account of Akpabio’s highhandedness and faulted leadership style further strengthened APC’s chances in Akwa Ibom state. The state that was predominantly PDP enclave is now routing for the APC governorship candidate in protest against Akpabio’s political arrogance and rascally disposition to erstwhile leaders of the ruling party in the state whom he described as ‘expired politicians’. A yoruba adage implies; whoever dares question your ability, to him you demonstrate the stuff you are made of.
The story is not different in Oyo State where an unpopular candidate was imposed on the leaders of the party in the state. Tesilim Folarin who was Senate leader until 2011 was undoubtedly the Senate president Dabid Mark’s preferred candidate over and above former governor, Adebayo Alao-Akala and the youthful but popular Seyi Makinde. The crisis culminated in the defection of both Akala and Makinde to Labour Party and SDP respectively, a step that further weakened PDP and by extension chances of the president in the pace-setter state.
Without any doubt, given the kind of supporters that thronged Akala’s rallies in Ogbomosho and Ibadan on Monday and Thursday few months after he defected to a relatively unknown party in the state, Jonathan and his strategists would be wishing things done undone.
If not for the clout of Bode George in Lagos PDP, Musiliu Obanikoro who was the candidate of David Mark would have become the PDP governorship candidate in Lagos State with his apparent political garbage. Such a step would killed PDP in Lagos State, and South west irrespective of the amount of money dolled out the monarchs in that part of the country.
Investigation by the Street Journal revealed that David Mark was actually putting machinery of former senators in the various states as governors so that come 2019, they’d be inclined to support him in his bid to be president of Nigeria under the platform of PDP. Sources close to the seat of power confided in our correspondent that this explains the mutual trust between he president and the Senate president.
Both Kano and Rivers States boast of voters that equal the expected number of total votes from the rest of South south states. The president’s experience in some PDP controlled states in the northern parts of the country speaks volumes of his acceptance rate in the zones.
The president’s romance with ex-militants is seen as a reward for criminality. Niger-Delta ex-militants have been empowered through multi-billion naira contracts that agencies of government would ordinarily do for the country at far less cost. The OPC that had hitherto been quiet and law abiding in its activities over the years suddenly became vociferous when its national leaders were given juicy contracts worth billions of naira to protect NNPC pipelines.
However, his government has been fiercely criticized for its failure to combat Boko Haram in the north-east until recently when the combined forces from Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad made a headway in tackling the insurgents and recovering most of the towns in the North East occupied by the terrorists.
The way Boko Haram issue was handled coupled with the unresolved kidnapping of over 200 Chibok school girls has been the president Jonathan’s albatross in the northern part of the country. But the six-week extension for the election has ended up doing an immeasurable damage control for the president. And this enabled him to provide the military with the necessary wherewithal coupled with the support of neighbouring countries to rout the Boko Haram insurgents to their hideout.
The six weeks grace was also used by the president’s media strategists to review their tactics; and pushed to the public beautiful commercials that enunciate the achievements of the president. The election postponement has tremendously bridged the wide popularity gap between Jonathan and Buhari. There’s no doubt that Buhari would have won by a wide margin if election had held on February 14. But the exercise would have been marred by unsolvable crisis owing to the logistic problems INEC would have faced in conducting the election. It was apparent that Jega was not adequately prepared for the election. But he feared he could be removed by the president since his terminal leave would have commenced before now.
General Buhari of the All Progressive Congress, APC, who appears to be a serial contestant has lost the last three elections but he has a great followership this time around with even some sections of the media predicting he could win this time. The former military leader has described the PDP’s 16-year rule as “a disaster for the country and its citizens”.
In his base in the Muslim-dominated North, General Buhari is perceived to be extremely popular.
Due to the trending security issue, Gen Buhari has made security a priority during his presidential election campaign, promising to crush Boko Haram within months.
General Buhari had publicly denounced Boko Haram repeatedly, branding them “bigots masquerading as Muslims.”
Last year July, he reportedly survived an attack on his convoy allegedly carried out by the group.
While the Nigerian military and their African neighbours continue to battle Boko Haram, the fears that elections mighty not hold in the North east are now completely out of the picture as election are scheduled to hold in every state across Nigeria today.
Political observers and supporters of Gen Buhari are also optimistic that he will do well in the south-west especially in the commercial capital Lagos. However, former Niger Delta militants in the oil-rich south are routing for Jonathan and threatened violence if General Buhari wins.
However, the results of 2015 are not fore-ordained, unlike they had been in previous elections. There are question marks on several issues including holding elections in the war-torn cities of the North East and how the over one million internally displaced persons in those cities can vote. How would Nigerian refugees in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger vote?
Political parties have penchant for rejecting elections and that means that no matter which candidate is declared the winner, there would still be grounds for the loser to reject the results. However, the success or otherwise of the INEC’s card readers across the federation will determine the credibility of the exercise. Hence, all eyes are on Jega today. He either gets it right or ruin his reputation for life in Nigeria.