In the early hours of Wednesday, March 1, 2023, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, declared the result of the presidential election which held on Saturday, February 25. Rather than jubilation, a pall of silence descended on the nation because many believe that their electoral will, freely expressed, had been subverted by suborned officials.
As the reality of what had happened dawned on them, many were speechless, others simply wore long faces, not believing that fellow citizens could execute such an unconscionable electoral heist. Thirty years ago, precisely on June 12, 1993, I voted for the first time in my life in a presidential election. Of course, that wasn’t when I attained the voting age. I was already a graduate and staff of Guardian Newspapers Limited. But I was a minor, electorally speaking, when the 1983 elections took place and, therefore, had no franchise to vote.
I still remember the excitement in the air on that fateful day. Nigerians trooped out in their numbers to exercise their inalienable right, which democracy affords them, to decide who superintends over the affairs of their country. The enthusiasm of 30 years ago could only be rivalled by the zest on Saturday when patriotism beckoned on Nigerians to, once again, exercise their civic duty of electing their leaders. Just like in 1993, Nigerians had looked up to this election with great hope. Many were at their patriotic best, helping INEC officials in any way they could. Where there was no ink pad, they provided. They provided ink, markers and other materials despite the fact that INEC collected well over N305 billion of the nation’s scarce resources from the Federal Government, not to talk of the unquantifiable help from international development agencies, to conduct the election.
In places where the election dragged into the night, Nigerians provided their personal generators to ensure there was light. Where that was not available, people used the headlights of their cars to illuminate the polling centres. The zeal of the youths was overwhelming. The Gen Z, those starry-eyed young men and women, born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, most of whom were voting for the first time, lit up the atmosphere with their democratic fervour.
Being a generation seen as confident users of new technology, their passion was buoyed by the unequivocal promise by INEC that the elections would be the most technologically driven, ever, in Nigeria.
Last Saturday, the average Nigerian “big man” who would rather stay back home and watch cable television on election days, came out to vote. Teenagers that hitherto would convert empty streets to football arenas went to the polling booths to cast their ballots. Youths abandoned the ongoing Big Brother Titans, the reality television show, to queue up at voting centres for hours on end. In fact, in some places in Abuja, they spent more than 24 hours, to ensure that they voted.
But after all these sacrifices, the result Yakubu announced was grossly at variance with the votes cast by the electorate and duly counted and recorded at the polling booths. And just as many were deflated after the General Ibrahim Babangida-led junta annulled the June 12, 1993 election, Nigerians have once again been let down by those whose duty it is to uphold the sanctity of the ballot. They have been handed a poisoned chalice. For too long, I had hoped that Nigeria would ultimately get it right despite the serial disappointments from leaders who continue to treat the citizens most contemptuously. But this electoral heist, the worst since the return of democracy in 1999, is the axiomatic last straw that broke the camel’s back. Nigerian politicians are not prepared for democracy and trooping out every four years in the name of elections is tantamount to legitimising their shenanigans. The ballot I cast on February 25, 2023, will be the last time I will ever do so in this country.
Now, those who have been declared winners will gloat that this is sour grapes. It is not. As Usman Dan Fodio, the progenitor of the Sokoto Caliphate, once said: “Conscience is an open wound, only the truth can heal it.” The retort from those who have benefitted from this unconscionable heist will be that politics is not a morality game. Maybe! And it need not be in the same way that football, for instance, is not a game of morality. But politics, like football, is a game governed by rules. Victory must be secured within the parameters of those established rules. A wanton violation of the rules of the game as it is the case in the February 25 presidential election detracts from the credibility of the exercise. Without the credibility of the poll, any government that emerges will suffer legitimacy crisis. Nigeria will be worse for it.
This election is in gross violation of the 2022 Electoral Act and promises made by the INEC chairman, who, apparently, took Nigerians for granted. This country deserves better. Sometime in November 2022, a story made the rounds that INEC had jettisoned the idea of uploading polling unit results in real time. An apparently flustered Yakubu was forced to react to the “rumour”. While addressing a group that came to seek assurance on the 2023 polls, the INEC chairman said: “Let me seize this opportunity to respond to a story emanating from a section of the media that the Commission has decided to jettison the uploading of polling unit level results in real time on Election Day. It should please be disregarded as fake news. The commission will upload polling units’ level results and citizens will have access to those results in real time. This innovation was introduced by the Commission. The Commission cannot turn around and undermine itself. So, this technology has come to stay. We will upload polling units’ results from the polling units. Citizens will have the right to view these results. After all, who are we serving? The citizens! How can we deprive citizens from access to the results of the process conducted by them at the level of polling units? So, I welcome you to the Commission. I want to assure you and reassure you that the 2023 general election is going to be our best-ever elections. We are committed that votes cast by Nigerians will determine the outcome of the elections. Nothing more, nothing less!”
Yakubu reneged on this solemn vow. Many of those that voted on Saturday did so because of the promise that the polling unit results will be uploaded real time and Nigerians will have unrestricted access. That didn’t happen. When some of the political parties complained at the Collation Centre, Yakubu pleaded for time to complete the collation, after which their complaints will be addressed before announcing the results. But that was another promise he never intended to keep. And he didn’t. How a man could lie so unconscionably, without any qualms of conscience, beggars belief. The question concentrating many minds is: now that INEC chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, has done his worst, what next?
People have mockingly asked those dissatisfied with the result to seek redress in court. Of course, those so inclined will. But when I hear that admonition, I chuckle because it reminds me of the East African proverb which says: “Whenever a thief encourages you to go to court, just know that his elder brother is the judge.” It is a tragedy that in Nigeria’s so-called democracy, the two least trusted institutions are the Supreme Court and INEC.
Prof Mahmoud Yakubu will go down in history as the man who conducted Nigeria’s worst election. It is a self-inflicted injury. After the no-server fiasco of 2019, he had an opportunity to redeem himself but he chose not do. History will be harsh to him. But I pity President Muhammadu Buhari who told the entire world that he wants to bequeath to Nigerians a legacy of free, fair and credible elections. He has blown that opportunity. He will now proceed to Daura on May 29, after eight years of misadventure in Aso Rock, bereft of any legacy. What a tragedy!