With elections now over and newly-elected leaders about to take office, it is safe to say, given the rancorous, indecorous campaigns, Nigeria won in an election in which its people, for the higher sake of their country, simply voted for change. The main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) recorded an impressive performance with its presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari defeating incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In the April 11 governorship and House of Assembly elections, the APC also floored the PDP, retaining all of its states and taking over a few others from the PDP, according to results released so far. Beyond the victory of one candidate and his party, and despite incidents of violence, the vote bore a semblance of fairness and a reflection of the people’s free will. Now is the time to move on.
Nigerians must all come together and move forward because this has been one election campaign during which we have ridiculed our leaders, contenders, and ourselves before the world. At times, it appeared as if the international community were the electorate that needed to be wooed by politicians who trash-talked each other in a campaign unprecedented by the fury of hate speech and insults. The campaigns were odiously bereft of serious ideas and acidic, full of character assassination, frivolities and vitriolic personal abuses. Huge sums were expended on the campaigns and observers believe that they must have ranked among the most monetized in the electoral history of Nigeria. Undoubtedly, the 2015 elections will go down in history as the election that exacerbated Nigeria’s image problem through needless volubility and harmful grandiloquence.
The world has taken in those messages – and the world has reinforced its negative perception of Nigeria. Diplomats accredited to Nigeria certainly had a field day, simply compiling, and dispatching to their home governments, the worst about Nigeria and Nigerian politicians who vilified each other through statements, caricatures, advertisements and articles. So, out there in the world, we have compounded a mountain of problems for the country, and particularly so, for the new President. And if the world is celebrating the conduct of the elections, it was not for lack of trying by detractors and mischief-makers who did their best to foment trouble and abort the process.
Whilst politics may be a dirty game, it is controlled by rational actors, and for a nation desirous of positive change, it is pertinent that Nigerians learn some inconvenient truths about political behavior. The unruly and irresponsible conduct of PDP chieftain and former Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Elder Godsday Orubebe, who, in a public display of untamed anger before live global TV, accused INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, of bias against the ruling party, was a discourteous and shameful act of political brigandage. Apart from being a self-demeaning exercise, Orubebe’s action was clearly intended to precipitate a crisis, had Jega engaged him in a shouting match. It is remarkable, therefore, that the right attribute of the nation triumphed over its ugliness, as Jega deflated the imminent crisis with a masterful display of decency and magisterial comportment that remains a lesson on how statesmen and those aspiring to public offices should comport themselves.
As has often been stated, there is nothing wrong with Nigeria that cannot be corrected by what is right with Nigeria. While elections are routinized in advanced democracies, it is a do-or-die affair in Nigeria, because the accepted norm is that incumbents don’t lose elections. But if anything, the outcome of the 2015 general elections showed Nigeria’s capacity for self-renewal and the people’s desire to stay united in the pursuit of justice in a prosperous nation. The election defied all doomsday predictions and was evidence, if at all any were needed, that deeply rooted in the Nigerian character; is the love of country over and above the pursuit of power.
Jonathan’s prompt response to his loss by conceding victory and congratulating Buhari was a singular act of grace, which did more to strengthen the nation’s democracy than all his actions in six years in office. Saving his best for last, Jonathan made the best case for his legacy and revealed a side of him that is truly totally committed to the Nigerian project and for which he has inscribed his name in gold in Nigerian history. By graciously admitting defeat, Jonathan, who had consistently maintained that his ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian, gave himself, his country and Africa a new prism through which leadership would henceforth be viewed.
But the governorship and state assembly elections recorded a disturbing number of violent incidents. While INEC declared the elections in Imo inconclusive, observers are calling for outright cancellation of the elections in Rivers. A statement by INEC on the April 11 polls noted that while many “parts of the country remained relatively peaceful during the elections, some states, however, recorded a significant number of violent incidents, the most affected being Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Ebonyi and Ondo States. INEC’s records show that there were 66 reports of violent incidents targeted at polling units, the Commission’s officials, voters and election materials. These were in Rivers State (16 incidents), Ondo (8), Cross River and Ebonyi (6 each), Akwa Ibom (5) Bayelsa (4), Lagos and Kaduna (3 each), Jigawa, Enugu, Ekiti and Osun (2 each), Katsina, Plateau, Kogi, Abia, Imo, Kano and Ogun (1 each). The Commission is investigating these incidents and will do everything in its powers to bring the culprits to justice.”
Of course, there will be winners and losers and those dissatisfied with the outcome will seek redress in the courts. This is where the integrity of the judiciary, specifically members of the election tribunals, will be tested. The assurance by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, that the judiciary “will not be swayed or distracted from the course of justice in any election matter that is brought before the justice system” was timely admonition to political adventurers, who may seek to abuse the court process with unnecessary and protracted litigation. Sacrificing the larger interest of society on the altar of personal ambition is certainly not in the national interest.
The 2015 elections were a victory for Nigerians who trooped out in millions to exercise their franchise. There are no winners and losers; Nigeria is the winner. With lessons learnt and a better case made to voters, the losers could be winners at the next election. That is the majesty of democracy; a majesty which Jonathan’s conduct and Buhari’s magnanimity as captured in his acceptance speech have done so much to edify. Of course, the bile and vitriol and the infusion of primordial sentiments of ethnicity and religion into the electioneering campaigns should never be allowed to happen again. Nigeria as a country is bigger than any person or group’s political agenda. The 2015 election reiterates this fact.
Nigerians have indicated their desire to stand together, to strengthen the democratic system, and to forge ahead. Indeed, the nation is rising and spirits are high. Now, the politicians – both winners and losers – have the clear and direct obligation to support the national restoration that has begun to edify and enhance the collective well being of a one, united and indivisible Nigerian nation.