Sunday, February 19, 2023 8:00 am
– A background of rumble and tumble
These are not ordinary times in Nigeria. A general election is just by the bend. Soothsayers are making brisk business, predicting largely contradictory outcomes of the polls. Amorphous political entities, masquerading as pollsters have also joined in the fray of rolling out unscientific forecasts. Wherever two or three are gathered, in homes, village squares or urban joints, the elections are sure to prop up in their discussions.
Perhaps, only the twin disasters of currency redesign and petroleum scarcity come close to the election in dominating public discourse. Indeed, there is hunger and anger in the land. The sentiments are accentuated by a controversial policy of currency conscription, decorated as currency swap by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.
The apex bank through its Governor, Godwin Emefiele, had in October last year announced plans to redesign high Naira denominations to curb inflation and vote buying, among others. The affected denominations are 200, 500 and 1,000. The bank set January 31 as the deadline for the final phase-out of the old notes. The policy has since been on a wobbling implementation with attendant hardship to citizens. The expiry date was later extended to February 10. Both old and new notes were scarce, just as currency racketeering became the fad.
To make living more miserable, the perennial petrol scarcity which has been a recurrent feature for the better part of two years, worsened as the elections draw close. A litre of Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, aka petrol, jumped from its stipulated 179 Naira to anywhere from N200 to 450 at Filling Stations, depending on location. The picture has been that of an emasculated people writhing in pain. Across the country, long queues of frustrated people took over essential service centres. They could be seen in banks, Automated Teller Machines, ATMs, Point of Sales, PoS, and fuel stations struggling for daily rations.
Worried by the gradual but steady drift to the public uprising and potential anarchy, some state actors rushed to the judiciary for its intervention. Governors Nasri El-Rufai, Yahaya Bello and Murtala Matawalle of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara States respectively obtained relief from the Supreme Court. The court granted a motion exparte allowing concurrent usage of the old and new currencies, pending the determination of the substantive suit. But commercial banks and traders continued to reject the old notes as legal tenders, escalating the economic trauma.
Despite the cacophony, politicians and their followers were junketing around the nation to provide more dissonate content, all in the name of scavenging for support. Barring any last-minute dislocation, Nigerians will go to the poll on Saturday, 25 February to elect a new President, 109 Senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the bicameral National Assembly.
Two weeks after, precisely Saturday 11 March, voters will return to the polls to elect 29 state Governors and 970 members of 36 Houses of Assembly. INEC conducts staggered off-cycle guber polls in seven States namely Kogi, Bayelsa, Edo, Ekiti, Osun, Anambra and Imo following various judicial pronouncements on previous polls in those places.
The upbeat in the political horizon is not out of character, as the first set of the general elections is just eight days away. The second tenure of President Muhammodu Buhari, a former military Head of State and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo comes to a close on 29 May. They first assumed office, in May 2015 and were reelected in 2019. Thus the President is statute barred from the poll, but his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC is a front-runner in the race.
Eighteen political parties are participating in the presidential polls. However, not more than four of the candidates count as sturdy. They are former Lagos Governor Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of APC, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of People’s Democratic Party, PDP, former Anambra Governor and rave among the youth demography, Peter Obi of Labour Party, LP and former Kano Governor, Dr Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso.
If not for the involvement of Obi and Kwakwanso, the election would have been a two-horse race between the candidate of the ruling party, Tinubu and the main opposition party challenger, Atiku. Their parties have dominated the national politics of the fifth and current republic since it started in 1999. While the PDP held sway for sixteen years, from 1999 – 2015, the APC has been in power for about eight years 2015 – to date. Either Obi or Kwakwanso is, however, positioned as the much-needed third force, in what an analyst described as a triangular dogfight.
Second roll names on the ballot include fiery journalist Omoyele Sowore of African Action Congress, AAC, Umeadi Peter of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Kolawole Abiola of Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha of Action Alliance, AA, Prof Christopher Inumolen of Accord Party and Abdulmalik Ado Ibrahim of Young People’s Party, YPP. The only female in the race is Ojei Princess Chichi of the Allied People’s Movement, APM.
– Convoluted campaigns
After the rancorous primaries, especially of the two major political parties in May and June, the parties struggled through a partly effectual reconciliation of aggrieved members. Incredibly, however, the ghosts of the primaries have been hunting the parties to date. The G-5 Governors, otherwise known as the Integrity Group, led by Rivers helmsman, Nyesom Wike, has continued to act as a thorn in the flesh of the PDP. A faceless but powerful Aso Rock Cabal is the albatross of the APC.
The animosity which dogged the selection of Running Mates did not help the healing process of the leading parties. Atiku settled for Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, while Tinubu picked former Borno Governor, Kashim Shettima. For Obi, it was the academic, Datti Ahmed, from Kaduna State, while a Christian Cleric from Edo State, Bishop Isaac Idahosa emerged as Kwakwanso’s joint ticket holder.
Putting together members of their campaign councils was a huge labour for most of the parties. The LP at the time had to receive Dr Doyin Okupe as campaign Director General, DG, following his conviction for corruption charges. He was replaced with veteran journalist, Akin Osuntokun. Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong is the DG of the APC PCC, while his colleague in Akwa Ibom, Udom Emmanuel heads PDP PCC.
The preambles concluded and in accordance with the INEC timetable, presidential campaigns started on September 28. The elections will close on the night of February 23. Governorship election campaigns opened on October 12 and will close on March 9.
The campaigns have since commenced, gathering momentum over time. The PDP launched in, Uyo, Akwa Ibom state capital on October, 10 while APC began its in Jos, the capital of Plateau State November 15.
For the major parties, the rallies were crowd pushers. The candidates took the rallies to each of the 36 states of the federation and Abuja. They were memorable opportunities to showcase dancing steps, campaign uniforms (Aso Ebi) and sometimes vulgarity. Musicians and Nollywood artistes were handy to glamorise the outings. But, loud as they were in mobilized attendance, they were usually lean on issues.
Although candidates sometimes spoke to the local sentiments of an audience, the campaigns were more of a jamboree, than the presentation of manifestos.
Some contestants avoided public debates and critical questioning of their plans. Addressing Town Hall meetings, with the audited audience was instead, preferred.
Aside from their written addresses, the candidates talked about their Campaign documents at the meetings. For Tinubu, a town hall meeting was usually a time to present the how of his 80-page blueprint. Atiku also usually presented details from his 74-page road map at such meetings.
Some candidates took a fancy to travelling abroad for meetings and sometimes consultations with Nigeria Nationals, abroad. Each of the frontline candidates also had a day at Chatham House.
Observers would not forget in a hurry the allegations and counter allegations of corruption, forgery, drug trafficking and nepotism that characterised the campaigns. It was a period of high drama.
– Preparedness of INEC
With barely 8 days to the polls, there is a growing feeling among the populace that the exercise might be shifted. Insecurity, cash crunch and degenerating economic situation are given as a basis for the apprehension. Recent adjustments in programs of the commission have also shown that the timetable is not iron cast.
A case in point is the accreditation of media men and election observers, which was postponed by about a week. Similarly, The News learnt that training of ad-hoc staff was also shifted twice, in a week. Some applicants had reported for the training at designated centres last Monday when they received information it has been rescheduled to Wednesday and later Weekend.
To forestall such, the commission Chairman, Prof. Mamoud Yakubu had severally embarked on advocacy visits to scurry support of critical stakeholders and agencies on a hitch-free electioneering process. Last week Tuesday, February 7, he consulted with CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele. He was accompanied by eleven Commissioners of the electoral regulator.
The INEC boss explained how the commission INEC is challenged by the Naira redesign and daily withdrawal limit policy of the CBN. He said there are several services the Commission must render with cash. Yakubu said most of the logistic services that would be needed in the elections, would be rendered by the unbanked, and heavily dependent on the availability of cash.
In response, Emefiele reiterated the CBN’s longstanding support for INEC, adding that it will continue to do so. He assured the Commission that the CBN would make whatever was needed available for INEC to pay for its logistics, emphasizing that the CBN placed a premium on the elections.
From the CBN, the INEC Chairman and his team proceeded to the Villa for a meeting with the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno. The Chief of Defence Staff and other service Chiefs were in attendance.
Mahmoud expressed concerns about sporadic attacks on INEC facilities in parts of the country, calling for enhanced security for staff and the safety of other resources before, during and after the polls.
Monguno was reassuring that security would not be a problem in the elections. He said the Federal Government would provide adequate security to make the elections credible.
The following day, Wednesday, February 8, Emefiele returned to the Presidential Palace, where he briefed Buhari and members of the Federal Executive Council on arrangements for the polls.
The electoral commission had also held several meetings with political parties, Civil Society Organisations and the inter-agency consultative Committee on election security to seek solutions to factors that could threaten the peaceful conduct of the polls.
Yakubu has been drumming it that the commission is ready and not contemplating postponement, let alone aborting the election, as envisaged by doubting Thomases. In January, at the presentation of the electronic copy of the 93,469,008 voter register to leaders of political parties in Abuja, Yakubu reaffirmed the set dates.
He said that more than ever before the commission was prepared for the general elections and had as of then, successfully implemented 11 out of the 14 activities on schedule for the exercise.
“Already, substantial quantities of sensitive and non-sensitive materials have been deployed to various locations across the country.
“The last batch of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) has been received while the ongoing configuration of the critical technology in readiness for elections will soon be completed. In the last two days, we commenced the airlifting of other sensitive materials to states across the country.
“Already, some of the materials for 17 States in three geo-political zones have been delivered. Furthermore, 13,868,441 Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) have been printed, and delivered to states and are being collected by citizens as new voters or by existing voters who applied for transfer or replacement of cards as provided by law.
He added that following the display of the voters’ register nationwide and the conclusion of claims and objections by citizens, a new national register of voters has been compiled.
“In short, at no time in the recent history of the commission has so much of the planning and implementation been accomplished 44 days ahead of a general election. Therefore, the commission is not contemplating any adjustment to the election timetable, let alone the postponement of the General Election.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on Saturday, February 25, 2023, while Governorship and State Assembly elections will hold two weeks later on Saturday, March 11, 2023.
“The repeated assurance by the security agencies for the adequate protection of our personnel, materials and processes also reinforces our determination to proceed. The 2023 General Election will hold as scheduled. Any report to the contrary is not the official position of the commission.”
– BVAS: A game changer?
Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) is an electronic device designed to read Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and authenticate voters – using the voters’ fingerprints and facial recognition, to prove that they are eligible to vote at a particular polling unit.
BVAS usage entails either scanning the barcode/QR code on the PVC/Voter’s register or entering the last six digits of the Voter Identity Number or typing in the last name of the voter by the Assistant Presiding Officer (APO 1) to verify and authenticate the vote.
The device was first used in the Isoko South Constituency 1 bye-election in Delta State on September 10, 2021. Since then it has successfully been deployed for Governorship polls in Anambra and Osun States in 2022.
The machine reduces rigging and multiple voting. Its deployment will complement the planned electronic upload of results on the INEC portal. That is not all. It does not also permit the use of an Incident Form.
According to the INEC Chairman:
“When the commission introduced BVAS last year, the compact device was intended to achieve two objectives. First is the verification of the genuineness of the PVCs and the fingerprint or facial authentication of voters during accreditation.
“Secondly, to replace the Z-pad for uploading the polling unit results to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in real-time on election day.”
BVAS also acts as the INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED) during voter registration. Its usage has also eliminated the use of incident forms during accreditation on an election day.
But BVAS are not error-proof. The fallout in the Osun State Governorship election last year in which cases of over-voting were alleged and proved at the tribunal is a valid response point. The election was annulled by the tribunal for over-voting despite the use of BVAS. The issue has cast a dark shadow on the reliability of the equipment.
Experts say the device requires a regular software update, to minimize failure. In addition, the availability or otherwise of internet service affects its performance. An undulating service is sure to result in abysmal failure, and vice versa.
Beyond this, an Information Technologist Olalekan Alabi called for proper training for the ad-hoc INEC staff who will operate the machines. “With adequate training, INEC can eliminate human error and reduce to the minimum shortcomings of the machine.
– A homesick President
As political parties, their candidates and the electoral umpire are putting finishing touches to preparations for the polls, President Buhari seemed in a hurry to vacate Aso Villa, the Nigerian seat of power. A nostalgic Buhari never lost an opportunity to mourn about how much he missed home and his modest livestock.
For instance, on Tuesday 20 December while receiving members of an Islamic group Jam’iyyatu Ansaridden (Attijaniyya), in the Villa, he told them he could not wait to return to Daura, his ancestral home in Katsina State, immediately after his tenure.
Garba Shehu his spokesperson recalled: “President Buhari, who thanked members of the group for their fervent prayers for his administration and the country, said he was looking forward to returning to Daura, his hometown in the next five months, at the end of his tenure.” The President may have since commenced packing his boxes.
Buhari ventilated his desire when he signed Executive Order No 14 of 2023 establishing a Transition Council on Thursday, February 9. A key feature of the Presidential Order is the institutionalization of a legal framework that would enable a seamless transition of power from one Presidential Administration to another.
Membership of the Council is Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, as Chairman, Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice as members.
Others are permanent secretaries from the ministries and offices responsible for defence, interior, budget and national planning, foreign affairs, information and culture, Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs.
The rest are the Permanent Secretaries, Cabinet Affairs, General Service Affairs, Economic and Political Affairs, Office of the SGF, State House, National Security Adviser, Chief of Defence Staff, Inspector-General of Police, Director General, National Intelligence Agency, Director General, State Security Services, Clerk of the National Assembly, Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and two representatives who are to be nominated by the president-elect after the general elections.
Mustapha said the order is on the facilitation and management of ‘Presidential Transitions’, which provides the legal framework for a seamless transition of power from one administration to another.
“Today marks another historic moment for our administration, as we yet again demonstrate our commitment to strengthening key governance institutions that support our democratic process.
According to him, the council is charged with the responsibility of facilitating and managing the 2023 Presidential Transition Programme, and facilitating the handing over process from the current president to the president-elect.
Other responsibilities included organising the security of the president-elect and the vice president-elect, including coordinating security briefings on the nation’s security matters, and post-elections among others.
The elections have generated grievous anxiety among Nigerians. Even though INEC has not looked back on its determination to bequeath free, fair and credible polls, people have pointed at security concerns that may jeopardise the process, in parts of the country.
The Independent People of Biafra, IPOB, whose leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu has been cooling behind DSS bars for years, is opposed to the polls. The group has issued several open threats against it. It’s a militant wing, Eastern Nigeria Network, ESN is believed to be behind the often disastrous attacks on INEC facilities in the southeast. Vehicles and other materials have been set on fire in the attacks.
Another security concern is the sporadic riots that broke in many states, in protest against cash and fuel scarcity. The riots have witnessed the loss of lives, and properties and disruptions to economic activities. Analysts suspected the riots were prompted by politicians, whose interests were hurt by the policy on currency change.
The Federal Government has also disclosed plans to shut down educational institutions, to protect the integrity of the polls. The National University Commission in a memo directed Vice Chancellors to close the schools for the elections. They are to go on holiday from Wednesday, 22 February to Tuesday, 14 March.
The closure is to prevent the students from being used for dirty jobs during the polls. A parent welcomed the school closure decision but expressed worries the polls might not hold.
“There is tension everywhere and riots in many cities across our country. This is why I commend the government for plans to close universities and other higher institutions for the elections. But, how are we sure the elections will not be postponed at the last minute? If that happens, what will happen to the thousands of students who may have travelled?” Joel Seruba, a parent in Lokoja, Kogi State capital commented.
– Tackling more landmines
INEC revved up preparations for the polls by first cleaning up the Register of Voters, RV and Polling Units, PU. It also conducted a trial of the Biomodal Voters Accreditation System, BVAS in specified units all over the country. The exercise was rated successful by stakeholders.
The Chairman of the agency recently announced that elections will not hold in 240 PUs, spread across 28 states. The decision was taken because the units had no registered voters. Yakubu disclosed that with the development, the number of PUs has reduced from 176,846 to 176,606.
Emboldened by the successes, INEC embarked on the distribution of materials to the 36 states and Abuja. National Commissioner and Chairman Voters Education Committee, Festus Okoye said the materials are in the custody of CBN offices in the states. Listen to him:
“The commission has tested the BVAS and carried out mock accreditation and they are fit for purpose in terms of hardware and software upgrades. The process of configuration of the BVAS has commenced and the commission is satisfied with the progress made so far. The BVAS is a sensitive election material and they are in safe locations under heavy security. The BVAS is the ultimate arbiter and game-changer, and Nigerians expect it to perform optimally. The BVAS is the albatross of election riggers and identity thieves and those with false identities should keep away from the polling units.
“The commission has printed and delivered the bulk of the sensitive materials meant for the conduct of national elections, in terms of result sheets and ballot papers. These materials have been deposited with the Central Bank of Nigeria, awaiting movement to the various local government offices of the commission. The commission has almost concluded the delivery of the non-sensitive materials and they are presently being batched in accordance with the Registration Areas. The training of various categories of ad hoc staff has commenced and the commission is satisfied with the progress made so far.”
The assurance and reassurances notwithstanding, anxieties of landmines around the elections continued to fester. Fears of military intervention through coup d’etat or some other forms of treasonable takeover of government have gained currency in recent times.
Former Aviation Minister Femi Fani-Kayode raised alarm in social media posts. Fani-Kayode who doubles as Director of Communication and New Media in APC Presidential Campaign Council via a series of comments in his verified media handle at the weekend alleged that PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, met secretly with some serving military generals. He said the meeting could be part of a plan to destabilize the country and pave the way for a coup d’etat.
“Is this meeting part of the wider agenda to disrupt the elections, destabilise the country, set us on fire, incite chaos and violence, provoke a coup d’etat and establish a new and unconstitutional order in our beloved country under the auspices of knowing that he has no chance of winning the election?
“Is Atiku now working with some cabal members, a handful of treacherous and unpatriotic technocrats at CBN and in the private sector and rogue elements in the ‘deep state’ to effect this demonic hidden agenda?” FFK posed.
The Nigerian Army denied the alleged secret meeting with Atiku and described it as “wicked and very malicious propaganda.” Similarly, the Department of State Services, DSS, launched an investigation, inviting Fani-Kayode to shed light on his claims.
The former Minister was grilled for six hours by detectives on Monday. He was asked to report back first on Wednesday and later every day in the office of the secret police. He told Journalists on his return from the DSS, that he should have exercised better discretion on the posts.
“Sometimes we need to be circumspect because the medium that issued that statement was faceless and of course when I say something on my Twitter handle, it is the whole world is listening and apparently what I said sent shock waves in a lot of places and some people were hurt. And I think it is regrettable, and it was a mistake. And I was the first to acknowledge that when things are not done in the right way.
“On the issue of circumspection, when you are at the war front, your decision gets jaundiced by the tugs of war. We are at the war front. Sometimes you say the wrong things or make the right pronouncements at the wrong time. We all make mistakes because no one is infallible. My intention was not to say that the APC PCC or our candidate believes a coup was in the offing.”
The coup d’etat narrative has been gaining popularity. Kano Governor Abubakar Ganduje and his River State counterpart, Nyesom Wike alluded to it in separate remarks last Thursday.
In a related development, El-Rufai has been consistent in his allegation that a certain cabal in the Presidency is working to put a spanner in the works of the election. He claimed the Buhari administration was working towards a military coup in Nigeria and that an army general had already been pegged down to lead an interim government when the tenure ends on May 31.
In an interview with Premium Times he alleged that a plan is afloat to subvert or topple a civilian-to-civilian transition after the next presidential election, he said: “It turned out that some of the wildest stories of conspiracy to derail the transition at best for APC to lose, preferably for the whole system to result in no election, leading to an interim arrangement began to rear their heads.”
The presidency has denied any nefarious motives behind the Naira redesign policy, insisting it was designed to curb money laundering and vote buying. Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant on Media to the President dismissed the allegations. In a statement on Friday
Let us clearly, specifically and emphatically state that there is absolutely no truth to the claim that President Muhammadu Buhari is working towards an interim government or even worse, the truncation of democracy- a democracy that he has helped to keep alive not only here at home, in West Africa but throughout the continent.
“The talk of the interim government and truncation of democracy is way off the mark. Those who peddle it stand to gain nothing- nothing at all -but the creation of panic and the incitement of the public against the federal government….
“Everybody is aware that there is a lot of pressure on everyone-all of us- the party, its elected officials, its candidates and law enforcement agencies following the way the currency swap has gone but the way to go is not to panic.”
Shehu urged everyone to join hands. He noted that panic sends people into overdrive. “Shouting helps no one because no one can listen. The solution to the problem is not in sending Nigerians into confusion.”
Yet, the questions on people’s minds are will the elections hold as scheduled? Will there be voters’ apathy? Who will be Nigeria’s next President?
Time will tell.
What do you think?