Just like what happened in 2015, Nigeria’s political landscape was awash with many surprising victories and losses following the 2019 general elections. But the point of departure was how the contenders reacted to the outcome.
The response after the presidential and other elections, this time around, differed significantly from the scenario in 2015 when a sitting president, Goodluck Jonathan, conceded defeat even before the result of the election was announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The presidential election conducted on February 23, left thick dust behind despite the fact that it was a straight battle between two heavy weight political gladiators from the North.
Even though 73 political parties fielded candidates for the apex seat, the candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari, and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, were the two contenders who made the contest lively and fascinating.
Both Atiku and Buhari are northerners, Muslims and Fulani by tribe.
In more advanced democracies like the US, the practice of congratulating winner of presidential election has been noticeable for decades; for instance, former US First Lady and presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, congratulated candidate of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, who won the 2016 US presidential election.
“Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead,” Clinton said in a concession speech in New York.
What Mrs. Clinton did was exactly what ex- President Goodluck Jonathan did earlier in 2015, the first of such feat in Nigeria’s political history.
However, one of the striking features of the 2019 presidential contest in Nigeria was that when INEC declared Buhari winner of the poll; Atiku, on the other hand, kicked against the result, alleging massive rigging and other irregularities.
In 2015, Jonathan called Buhari to congratulate him and conceded defeat when it was glaring that he will not win the poll. More surprising was that he made the overtures when the results of the elections were still being announced by INEC.
The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria does not provide that losers must congratulate winners of elections but Jonathan, a political bigwig from the South, was the first Nigerian incumbent president to be defeated in an election and perhaps, the first Nigerian president to call the winner of an election he contested to concede defeat.
This year’s contest witnessed a twist as Atiku declined to put a phone call to the winner or congratulate him but instead, initiated the process of challenging the outcome of the election.
Buhari was declared winner by INEC having polled 15,191,847 votes, winning in 19 states, to defeat 72 other candidates including Atiku, who scored 11, 255,978 votes winning 17 states and the FCT, to occupy the second position.
Atiku, in a statement by his media office shortly after the declaration of the result, rejected the outcome of the poll and announced his decision to proceed to court to seek redress.
He said he is a democrat but that he didn’t congratulate Buhari because the election was allegedly rigged in Buhari’s favour.
The former Vice President said if he had lost in a free and fair election, he would have called Buhari to congratulate him and also contributed his quota to ensuring the unity and progress of the nation.
“With regards to the presidential elections that took place on February 23, 2019, it is clear that there were manifest and premeditated malpractices in many states which negate the results announced.
“One obvious red flag is the statistical impossibility of states ravaged by the war on terror generating much higher voter turnouts than peaceful states. The suppressed votes in my strongholds are so apparent and amateurish, that I am ashamed as a Nigerian that such could be allowed to happen.
“How can total votes in Akwa-Ibom, for instance, be 50% less than what they were in 2015?
“Another glaring anomaly is the disruption of voting in strongholds of the Peoples Democratic Party in Lagos, Akwa-Ibom, Rivers and diverse other states, with the authorities doing little or nothing and in some cases facilitating these unfortunate situations.
“The militarization of the electoral process is a disservice to our democracy and a throwback to the jackboot era of military dictatorship. In some areas of the country, such as, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Imo states, troops deployed for the elections turned their guns on the very citizens they were meant to protect. This is condemnable and should not be associated with our electoral process in the future.
“I am a democrat and there are democratic avenues available to present the truth to the nation and the watching world. Already, many international observers have given their verdicts, which corroborate our observations. I am sure more will come in the coming hours and days.
“However, in my democratic struggles for the past three decades, I have never seen our democracy so debased as it was on Saturday, February 23, 2019. 2007 was a challenge, but President Yar’Adua was remorseful. In 2019, it is sad to see those who trampled on democracy thumping their noses down on the Nigerian people.
“Consequently, I hereby reject the result of the February 23, 2019 sham election and will be challenging it in court,” he said.
But there are a few instances where some losers in this year’s elections congratulated their opponents who won.
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, had congratulated the winners who emerged from the February 23, Presidential and National Assembly elections.
Saraki lost his bid to return to the Senate the third time. He was defeated by the candidate of the APC, Ibrahim Oloriegbe.
In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, after the announcement of results, Saraki said despite the reported inadequacies of the elections in his home state of Kwara he wished the candidates who emerged victorious the best of luck.
Similarly, Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State congratulated the governor-elect on the platform of the PDP in the state, Mr. Seyi Makinde.
The governor in a congratulatory message to Makinde through his Special Adviser on Communication and Strategy, Mr. Bolaji Tunji, said, “While congratulating you and wishing you a successful tenure, I enjoin you to focus on the sustained development of our state in the areas of peace, security, as well as safety of lives and property that the state has enjoyed in the last eight years.”
Ajimobi’s action showed that the culture of losers congratulating winners of elections was gradually being enshrined in the South West.
For instance, the governorship candidate of the APC in Ekiti State, Governor Kayode Fayemi who lost to his PDP counterpart, Ayo Fayose in the 2014 election congratulated the governor-elect in a broadcast to the people of the state in Ado-Ekiti, describing Fayose’s victory as the people’s wish.
“I have just spoken with my brother, Mr. Peter Ayo Fayose, congratulating him on his victory. In a few hours from now, I will be meeting with the governor-elect to discuss the future of our dear state and how we can work together to institute a smooth transition programme,” he had said.
However, the governorship candidates of various political parties had refused to put phone calls or in a statement congratulate their opponents who won in various states of the federation in this year’s elections.
The PDP governorship candidate in Kaduna State, Isa Ashiru rejected the outcome of the governorship election in the state which placed the APC candidate, Governors Nasir El-Rufai as winner of the poll.
He argued that he had substantial evidence to show that the election was manipulated and called for outright cancellation of the results.
The PDP governorship candidate in Borno State, Muhammed Imam, and his party also refused to congratulate candidate of the APC Zulum, who was declared winner by INEC Returning Officer in the state, Prof. Alhassan Gani.
The Ogun State governorship candidate of the Allied Peoples Movement (APM), Adekunle Akinlade, also rejected the outcome of the election.
The APGA governorship candidate in Zamfara State, Alhaji Sani Abdullahi Shinkafi said after due consultation and review of the results declared by INEC that the party had decided to head to the tribunal to challenge the election results.
The APC and its governorship candidates in Cross River and Delta states also rejected results of the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections announced by the INEC which saw Governors Ben Ayade and Ifeanyi Okowa retaining their seats on the PDP platform.
The APC and its governorship candidate in Abia State also rejected the result of the governorship election. The state governor and candidate of the PDP, Okezie Ikpeazu, was announced winner of the election.
Candidate of the APC in Ebonyi State, Senator Sonni Ogbuoji, said he would contest the outcome of the poll at the tribunal. INEC had declared candidate of the PDP, Governor Dave Umahi winner of the poll.
In Akwa Ibom State where candidate of the PDP, Governor Emmanuel Udom was declared winner, the APC and its candidate refused to congratulate the winner but described the outcome as a sham and fictitious.
The governorship candidate of the APC in Enugu State, Senator Ayogu Eze, also rejected the results announced by the INEC in the state, alleging that manipulation and rigging characterized the poll.
According to the result announced by INEC, the APC candidate polled 10,423, while the candidate of the PDP and governor of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi got 449,935 and was declared winner.
Pundits say it will take time for candidates in Nigerian elections to have confidence in the INEC and the electoral process because of the long standing tradition of rigging, manipulation, vote buying and militarisation of elections in the country.
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