Some good things happened in the presidential and National Assembly elections of last weekend.
There was the resounding defeat of Bukola Saraki, the ruthless Kwara State politician and Senate President who last year defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to return to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) he had abandoned for the APC four years ago.
Also soundly crushed in his bid to return to the Senate was another unprincipled politician and former Akwa Ibom governor, Godswill Akpabio. The former Senate Minority Leader had taken the alternative route, defecting from the PDP to the APC last year.
These two champions of consumption politics, two men who had enslaved their states to themselves on their way to the Senate, and who earn a king’s ransom each month from those states and the National Assembly, deserve the embarrassment served up by their constituents.
Another piece of good news was the demystification of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who disappeared from Nigeria within hours of the presidential election being decided.
Clearly, Obasanjo was trying to put some distance between himself and the political stench for which he was responsible, having sold out the promise of a ‘third force’ in Nigeria’s politics for the low-hanging fruit of an Atiku Abubakar presidency.
Following 20 years of being out of power (1979-1999), Obasanjo had dominated or inserted himself into Nigerian politics for another 20 (1999-2019) during which he bought and sold as he pleased.
But on February 23, his reign of terror ended, as he failed to sell Abubakar to Nigerians. No longer will Obasanjo determine who comes and who goes, who lives and who dies, or who reigns and on whose parade it rains.
The pick of the bad news was that President Muhammadu Buhari won re-election, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
But the election’s principal loser, Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP, disagrees, citing “manifest and premeditated” malpractices across the country, and affirming he will challenge the election in court.
I agree with Mr. Abubakar. This is strange to say, as it is the PDP that invented election-rigging in Nigeria in its modern form.
Indeed, Abubakar was a prime beneficiary of that party’s outrageous election-manipulation in 1999 and 2003. It is also on record that Obasanjo, who last year emerged Abubakar’s principal supporter, manipulated the party’s primaries to hand the 2007 tickets to Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, and to ensure their victory.
Ahead of the election, however, all the elements-except performance and credibility-appeared poised to hand Buhari the four new fingers he was throwing in the air alongside the party’s broom symbol.
Among those elements, sadly, were INEC itself, which despite four years to build on the giant strides made in 2015 in advancing the country’s voting processes, turned in embarrassing lapses that may have been designed to benefit the incumbent.
Another was the army, which Buhari put into play in a game in which it legally has no place, with army chief and Buhari loyalist Tukur Buratai happy to play along.
And then there was the international community, which in the end demonstrated a deeper interest in peace and stability in Nigeria than justice. It is curious that few international observers thought that long lines of children lining up to vote meant anything-including child abuse-or that there was so much more determination to vote in the conflict-ravaged northeast than in relatively peaceful states.
In the end, it would have been harrowing to have to address Abubakar as President, given a corruption-reputation has been unable to shake. I believe that that image, and the specter of the PDP, worked against him.
But it is no less embarrassing that APC needed the PDP’s black book to win an election it received on a golden platter just four years ago.
Although the party of the government talked a good game, as it often does, when the moment arrived its officials and agents had no compunction deploying intimidation, voter suppression, vote-buying, underage-voting or violence. There are various reports, including videos, of security personnel, INEC personnel and party agents manipulating ballots and voters.
On violating the letter and spirit of the law, it was also interesting to observe Buhari’s deployment of the Ministry of Information into a partisan campaign tool. It obviously worked, as sundry onlookers, including those observing from afar, still see Buhari as an energetic democrat and an anti-corruption champion.
And while I support Abubakar’s right to seek justice in the courts, this is not to suggest that the PDP has emptied itself of the rigging spirit. While the party in power has the motive and the means to out-rig anyone else, there is evidence that wherever it can, the PDP remains as guilty as APC in trying to bend the rules.
Nonetheless, in the end, and I am sure Abubakar knows this full well, the party which already holds power will “win” in court. One of the reasons for this is that until election season, few Nigerians are invested in advocating justice and the rule of law.
For most of Buhari’s first term some of us repeatedly drew attention to Buhari’s aversion to the rule of law, and to his flouting of court orders. Few parties and politicians took any notice, partly because Nigerians like to stay on the right side of power. And then there are those who are afraid to attract attention to their sordid records.
Besides, Abubakar is a businessman. There is nothing to suggest he has the stomach or stamina for a long war in the courts. I foresee his resort to the law to be short-lived.
Which leaves Nigerians for the next four years at the mercy of the mafia.
Some people call it a cabal, but the group so powerful in the presidency it appears to have taken control from Buhari, according to a widely-known complaint by his wife, Aisha, is more dangerous than a mere cabal. It is a mafia.
This is why Buhari’s repainting of his old promises means nothing. He has not demonstrated any inclination he knows what it would take to get Nigeria off the ground, having spent four years mouthing clichés.
If Nigerians returned him to office, it is not because Buhari has shown the leadership they expected of him, but mainly because the main opposition chose a candidate who reminded them of what they were trying to avoid. The nationwide voter-apathy confirms growing disillusionment with him.
He returns to lead the nation with the highest population of the extreme poor, increased unemployment, high inflation and uncontrolled population. Add to that an international reputation as a man whose party is led by corrupt figures he won’t touch.
And in case you missed it, last August Buhari warned that things would get worse, saying at the Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, the rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest.
Last week, Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, extended the warning. “The right to free speech must be subordinated and subjugated to the right to national security,” he said.
National security. Free speech. Decree 4.