With the 2019 general elections less than a year away, the August 11, 2018, by-elections in Bauchi, Katsina and Kogi states were used by the voting population as a referendum on recent happenings in the polity, especially the gale of defections, alignment and realignments across political parties and the ‘hide and seek’ politics in the National Assembly. The by-elections conducted in the three states were a strong message from the masses to the Nigerian political elite: ‘Do as you wish using power and authority at your disposal; while we do our thing by the power of the ballot box’.
The by-elections brought some important political matters to public glare – majority of Nigerians see the recent gale of defections as purely motivated by personal interests rather than national. This means the majority of people who voted in the August 11, 2018, by-elections cast their votes for the APC, regardless of who has defected and to which party. To most people, the defections are being perceived as battle between the elite and Buhari. Naturally, Nigerians are thrilled when political elite experience some discomfort.
On another hand, the gale of defections by default became a blessing for the APC and its candidates in the by-elections in Bauchi, Katsina and Kogi. The massive votes the APC candidates got during the by-elections were not a reflection of their individual popularity or capacity to win by such figures, rather the votes were for Buhari. In fact, many people have vowed not to vote for parties but individuals; however recent political developments have unconsciously reignited the APC ‘Sak’ mantra in the north, which is purely a vote for Buhari against what the masses see as the gang up against the president by the elite.
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The by-election has given President Muhammadu Buhari reassurance that his stronghold still has confidence in him, and at the same time, it has thrown a huge challenge to the president. It presents him a golden opportunity to consolidate his support base independently and also use public opinion as a guide to correct some mistakes in his administration. President Buhari should double his efforts to tackle the real issues affecting the masses – high cost of living and insecurity. Politicians, in the APC who still feel sidelined in the scheme of things need to be considered- this can be achieved by collaborating with state governors.
Furthermore, the bulk of Buhari’s supporters are young educated northerners, he should endeavour to touch their lives through provision of employment and business opportunities. Many people around the president have failed to reach young people at grassroots. The Buhari government should create additional infrastructure development activities that will engage people, like massive housing projects in all the 36 states. This type of project will trigger jobs across board and also serve as a template for fighting poverty. A right step already taken in this direction is the Federal Government recent approval for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to grant loans to boost small businesses.
The by-elections also showed that there have been noticeable improvements in the conduct of elections in the country. We must commend the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The commission has been able to stop cases of votes stuffing, rigging and other election malpractices. Nigeria has had unsavoury electioneering situations in the past, like election results being announced while votes were still being collated, declaring the ruling party victorious with numbers exceeding the number of registered voters. All these are now impossible.
Though there are complaints of vote buying from all sides but this can be combated with improved voter education.
Zayyad I. Muhammad wrote from Jimeta, Adamawa State and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org