The road to May 29

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By Tolu Ogunlesi

Few things are more emblematic of the exasperating complexity of Nigeria’s politics than the recent postponement of the elections. This is my attempt at a summary of the situation: the PDP, alarmed by the unprecedented momentum of the APC, wanted the elections postponed, to give it time to perhaps do some catching-up. The APC, clearly owning the momentum – as seen from the turnout at its rallies –was dead set against a postponement, and was willing to overlook all imperfections within the electoral process. INEC, on its part, insisted that it was ready for the elections. We have now come to realize that it was not being truthful. There were about four million Nigerians for whom it had not made PVCs available. It hadn’t tested the card-readers, hadn’t adequately trained staff and observers.

By its lack of preparedness INEC clearly played into the hands of those who wanted the elections postponed. The question I have not been able to answer is this: why did the elements within the PDP, who wanted a postponement, choose to eventually settle on the security situation in the northeast, and not on the provable failings of INEC? Were they trying to protect the reputation of INEC, and Professor Jega?

My guess is that the use of the military option was needed to force INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega to postpone the elections. Without that he would have insisted on going ahead; considering that right until the end he kept insisting that INEC was ready. Jega’s insistence on holding the elections probably forced them into playing the security card, as it was the only thing that could tie Jega’s hands.

In all of this the winner might actually be Mr Jega, for ensuring that very little of the blame for the postponement fell on him and INEC. He brilliantly managed to get the NSA and the service chiefs to take the blame. In this I find evidence of the (underrated?) political astuteness of Jega. Let’s not forget that this was a man who, as ASUU President between 1988 and 1994, acquired invaluable experience dealing with our “Maradona” President, Ibrahim Babangida. Jega it was who, amid the endless cat-and-mouse game ASUU played with the Babangida regime, succeeded in squeezing out of Babangida the landmark ASUU agreement of 1992. You underestimate such a man at your own peril.

Now the PDP has shifted gear, and is focusing its efforts on questioning the decision to use PVCs. The argument is that the card-readers with which the PVCs will be verified have never been used in Nigeria, and that it is risky to experiment with them in the all-important presidential election. It’s a strange argument, and to me it seems driven more by panic, than by anything else. In the face of the sort of transparency that the card-reader promises, the PDP seems ill at ease. It would rather the use of the Temporary Voters Cards (TVCs), which, in the absence of biometric verification, are more susceptible to manipulation.

Which brings us to the matter of an Interim National Government. It is a stupid idea, which will under no circumstances ever become less stupid. We’ve been there before, of course – Ibrahim Babangida handed over power to the Ernest Shonekan-led Interim National Government in August 1993, only for the ING to be saddled with a lawsuit challenging its legality. Shortly after the court ruled that it was illegal, Sani Abacha stepped in, and seized power.

Let’s look at how an ING might play out. Who will take responsibility for setting it up. Will it take members from all the thirteen or fourteen political parties that currently have presidential candidates? Will it endeavour to balance the number of members from the two main parties? Will there be a single head, or a co-leadership arrangement? Where will it find constitutional justification? What will happen at state level – will we go ahead with state governorship elections, so that the states have elected officials while the central government makes do with an assembled contraption.

It is as heartwarming to hear the president say that the May 29 handover date is sacrosanct, as it is depressing to hear his aides and associates constantly vow that General Buhari can/will never be the President of Nigeria.

It is really disturbing when you find ruling party officials vowing that an opposition party candidate can/will never become president? What exactly do they mean? Do they mean he’s unelectable, that Nigerians will never elect him? Or do they mean that even if Nigerians elect him, he will not be sworn in? Do they plan to assassinate him? Scuttle the elections? The last time a cabal vowed that a man would not become President of Nigeria, June 12 happened. It’s why I worry about the declarations that Buhari will not become President. President Jonathan and Alhaji Adamu Muazu ought to do a better job calling their reckless-talking party members to order.

INEC also has a lot of work to do convincing us that it is able to conduct elections that are free of controversy. The postponement has given it a chance to ensure that all 68 million PVCs are produced and available for collection. No doubt not everyone will collect their cards, there are Nigerians who are not excited enough about the choices facing us to consider voting. INEC should also commence testing of the card readers as soon as possible. It must not give in to pressure from the PDP to jettison the use of the machines, or to allow TVCs for voting.

I think by now we should be taking it for granted that the rescheduled elections will take place, and that only two possible outcomes will be acceptable to us. One is that President Jonathan wins a second term; the other is that General Buhari wins. There might be a recourse to an election petition tribunal, if the losing party feels it has been cheated, but there will never be any justification for post-election chaos of any kind.

President Jonathan would do well to rise above the pressures of hardliners who would like to make his second-term presidency a do-or-die affair, or who would like to encourage him to do all he can, in the event of a loss, to avoid handing over power.

If President Jonathan loses, the truth will be that it was a self-inflicted outcome. There have been several failings, and missed opportunities (which this column has touched on again and again). Too many people on his team have acted like they were planted there by the opposition, with a mandate to embarrass and undermine him. So far they have mostly gotten away with their conduct.

If he wins, it will mostly be in spite of all the goodwill his government has squandered in five years. He should see a re-election as a chance to redeem himself. He will have to realise that while good luck can bring you to power it will not help you make the best of it. He will of course be faced with two choices: to spend his second term fighting and punishing real and imagined enemies, or to spend it correcting the many mistakes of the first term, and dismantling the paranoia that has plagued his government since the beginning.

If Buhari loses, it will not be because he hasn’t tried his best. If he wins, it will be because he truly deserves it, and because enough Nigerians genuinely believe that he is the man able to offer us the best. He will also deserve plenty of sympathy from us, considering the dire state of the economy he will be inheriting: a budgetary crisis, depleted foreign reserves, a wildly volatile naira. Like Barack Obama, Buhari is likely to soon realise that the sweetest part of presidential politics may very well be the period before, not after, a deserved victory.

 

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