By OBINNA EZUGWU
Nigerians, by many accounts, have endured tough six years under the President Muhammadu Buhari led All Progressive Congress (APC) government, and ahead the 2023 elections, many are taking to social media to mobilize, particularly young people, to register to vote. But with the controversy over electoral amendment bill, many say it appears that Buhari and his APC have other plans, and are determined to retain in power for a long haul, irrespective of how the people feel, or how they want to vote.
“There is no doubt, with what is happening, that the APC is planning to rig the election in 2023, to retain power irrespective of how Nigerians feel,” said Chief Abia Onyike, spokesperson for Alaigbo Development Foundation. “But my take is that they won’t be able to the because the APC is not united. Who are they going to rig the election in favour of?”
“The Nigerian people want a situation where the electoral process can be more open and more democratic. The people in the national assembly who are agents of the hegemonic forces in Nigeria, are trying to block the passage of the electoral bill which has provided for electronic transmission of results. But they will one day regret their actions.”
It was Yusuf Gagdi, lawmaker representing Pankshin/Kanke/Kanam federal constituency of Plateau State in the House of Representatives that first made it as a trifling remark in February; that his party will remain in power for 100 years.
Gagdi who had gone to revalidate his membership of the party in his Gum-Gagdi, Kanam local government, had argued, tongue in cheek, that the APC had performed credibly well and Nigerians will still vote overwhelmingly for it in the 2023 general election and beyond; and that, “In fact, it is not just about the next general elections, but the party will remain in power for the next hundred years.”
The party’s caretaker committee chairman, Mai Mala Buni, governor of Yobe State, was more moderate in his projection. While inaugurating the Badaru Abubakar – Jigawa State governor – led 65-man Strategy and Contact Committee of the party in March in Abuja, he said the party plans to rule Nigeria for another 32 years.
“Our vision is to provide a wheel that will drive the party to go beyond 6th, 7th and even 8th term of office to effectively implement the party manifesto, improve the lives of Nigerians and, to remain Nigeria’s leading political party,” he had said.
Political party chiefs are no strangers to outrageous projections. At the height of its rule in 2008, former People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chairman, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor boasted that the party will rule Nigeria for 60 years.
“Some time ago, I used to read in the newspapers that the umbrella of the PDP is torn. Each time I read that, I would laugh and then say to myself that the umbrella is still strong and very intact and ready to accommodate more people,” Ogbulafor had said in the infamous Vanguard interview that triggered a storm. “The PDP is a party for all and it is set to rule Nigeria for the next 60 years. I don’t care if Nigeria becomes a one-party state. We can do it and the PDP can contain all.”
The party, of course, lost power in 2015, seven years later, and Ogbulafor would subsequently explain that he made the claim because the party had it all at the time.
“When I was PDP chairman, there was peace, and I brought in four non-PDP states: Abia, Imo, Sokoto and Bauchi,” noted years later. “28 states were under me; 28 PDP governors and a good number of National Assembly members and that was why I said PDP would be in office for 60 years.”
The table has since turned. The PDP is today, an opposition party gasping for breath, and the APC which brought its reign to an end is plotting to achieve what it could not, and working actively, it would seem, towards actualising the objective, as the country marches into another election cycle in less than two years.
President Buhari has shown himself to be a fan of longevity. When the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), the ruling party in China, formed on July 1, 1921, marked its 100-year anniversary fortnight ago, he released a long statement, effusively praising the party’s accomplishments in its century long existence, and particularly under its current leader, Xi Jinping, the party’s 68-year-old erstwhile General Secretary who became paramount ruler in 2012 and president of the Republic in 2013.
“Guided by Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, the CPC, with General Secretary Xi Jinping at the core, has led the Chinese people to realise remarkable economic and social progress,” Buhari had said. “China has achieved the first centenary goal of building a moderately prosperous society, and has already embarked on a new journey to fully build a modern socialist country, which is the second centenary goal.”
The Nigerian president would go on to promise his Chinese counterpart – who presides over a party that took power in the world’s most populous country four years before his birth in 1953, defeating the then ruling Nationalists to establish the People’s Republic of China becoming the only party in the country – that, “Nigeria is ready to work with China, to enhance bilateral relations, to deepen cooperation in all pragmatic sectors, as well as to promote exchanges between the two ruling parties, so as to lift the Nigeria-China Strategic Partnership to higher level.”
Perhaps the president and his party are nursing similar ambition. Events of the past few days have rattled many. Last week, for instance, it emerged that the senate, in new Electoral Act Amendment Bill, introduced total ban of electronic transmission of votes, a key aspect of the amendment in the electoral process canvassed by Nigerians with a view to checking fraud often associated with collation of votes.
The recommendation which has since triggered hot debate in the polity, is part of a 121-page document to be laid before the Red Chamber at plenary by Kabir Gaya, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The draft bill allowed for “voluntary” electronic voting by secret ballot but ruled out electronic transmission of the votes cast at the poling units, a key sticking point that has rattled many observers.
It is contained on Page 25 of the document and subtitled procedure at election under Section 50 (2) of bill which states: “Voting at an election under this bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Commission (INEC) which may include electronic voting provided that the Commission shall not transmit results of election by electronic means.”
Clauses 50 and 88 in the draft bill which increased money a presidential candidate could spend on an election campaign from N5 billion to N15 billion; governorship candidates from N1 billion to N5 billion; senatorial candidates from N100 million to N1.5 billion and House of Reps candidate from N70 million to N500 million, has also been a source of concern to many.
Electronic transmission of results was the major source of controversy in the electoral system in the 2019 presidential election. The opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, had maintained that by results transmitted electronically, they won the presidential election. But the APC and the electoral body insisted that no votes were transmitted electronically, as there was no law permitting the process. In the end, the Supreme Court upheld Buhari’s victory at the polls.
Prior to the election, an electoral act amendment bill passed by the Abubakar Bukola Saraki led senate, presented to Buhari, which had provided for electronic voting and electronic transmission of results, was sat on by the president who claimed that the election had become too close at the time and that signing the bill into law could distort the process.
The president’s refusal to assent to the bill, eventually provided the loophole that allowed for what many believed was the manipulation of the 2019 polls. And with the attempt to remove electronic transmission of vote in the new bill, even as the passage continues to be delayed rather unnecessarily, many observers say the APC and Buhari may be plotting to retain power by the same token in 2023.
“Buhari, with all due respect, “is not setting his priorities right,” said Mr. Ezekiel Nya-Etok, DG, Nigeria First Project on Channels TV. “This bill was first presented before 2019 election, but he did not sign it. Now they are planning to change it, they can’t change it.
“It is through the transmission of results that the worst electoral frauds are committed in the system, but if you have electronic transmission of results, there will no longer be a question of fake results or announcing results under duress. People will have confidence in the system.”
At the House of Representatives plenary on Tuesday, Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, in response to a point of order raised by Rep Ugonna Ozurigbo who had said his constituents were worried about the move to remove electronic transmission from the amended act, dismissed the reports, stressing that the House was yet to receive the report from its committee on electoral act amendment, but not many are convinced, even as the silence of Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan in the face of the brewing controversies has not gone unnoticed.
“The speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, should know that his integrity is on the line,” noted Nya-Etok. “I’m also surprised that Ahmad Lawan has kept silence on this issue. His silence is deafening.”
For Aare Oladotun Hassan, president of Igbimọ Apapo Yoruba Lagbaye, Yoruba Council Worldwide, move is unfortunate but not entirely surprising, as according to him, Nigerian politicians are always seeking ways to manipulate the electoral process.
“Politicians will always look for loopholes to manipulate election,” he said. “It has always been the system in Nigeria. Apart from the presidential election of 2019, we also saw what the inability to transmit results electronically caused in Osun State governorship election.
“Be that as it may, there is need for more advocacy. And I hope that as civil society keeps piling pressure on the legislatureS to do the right thing, and pass electoral bill that will accommodate some of these issues and reduce, as much as possible, loopholes in the electoral system.”
The controversy over electronic transmission of results, is however, only one of a number of developments that have jolted political watchers as the country prepares for the all important 2023 polls. The decision of President Buhari to nominate Delta State born Lauretta Onochie, the overly partisan social media aide to the president as INEC commissioner, has only helped to fuel suspicion that the president is not ready to allow for free and fair polls.
Onochie who achieved a bit of notoriety for using uncouth language to defend his principal on social media, a known member of the ruling party, however, told the senate during her screening on Thursday, that she was no longer a member of the party, having not revalidated her membership since 2019. But she was promoting the party up until last year, and his defence has therefore refused to fly.
“Lauretta is outrightly undeserving of being a commissioner in INEC,” argued Shehu Sani, activist and former senator representing Kaduna central district. “Her presence in the electoral body will undoubtedly question its credibility and independence. Her denial before the screening committee is baseless. She is a partisan agent of the ruling party, period.”
Her nomination, like the controversy of electronic transmission, for observers, are all pointers to the idea that the Buhari government has no intention of even pretending to want credibility of the electoral process, a sign that Nigerians may not have much say, after all, in 2023.
“There is no reason why electronic transmission cannot be allowed, except for the purpose of manipulating the system. Nigerians deserve an electoral system that is transparent. We saw how the electronic transmission of results in the Edo and Ondo state elections, gave credibility to the process,” said Mr. Yunusa Tanko, former presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party. “Buhari also appointed one of his aides as commissioner in INEC, polluting the entire system.”
The ruling party is also wooing key opposition figures into its fold, in perhaps another move aimed at strengthening its base in anticipation of the 2023 contest, and is making a huge success of it. It has indeed, had its ego boosted by the wave of defections into it, from the PDP, a development the President Buhari interprets as a mark his party’s popularity. Only a fortnight ago, Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle defected from the PDP to APC, along with virtually all lawmakers from the state, including senators and members of the House of Reps.
While receiving Matawalle into the APC early last week, Buhari said the party was becoming more popular, “because of its impressive performance record and commitment to good governance.” Many will disagree. Regardless he will hope to take this ‘popularity’ to 2023.
Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, started the wave of defections in November 2020, followed by Ben Ayade of Cross River State in May. Many lawmakers from Nasarawa to Delta, including Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, Delta North, have jumped into the ruling party’s boat.
The Zamfara governor’s defection, brought the total number of PDP governors who have joined the ruling party to three, and there are still speculations that more governors will join the fray, a development that has somewhat raised concerns about the country becoming a one party state, not minding the discontent the masses feel.
In an article, ‘Speaking to PDP in the language it understands,’ last week Thursday, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, argued that in the light of the defections, the PDP may become empty before the 2023 elections.
“The opposition Peoples Democratic Party is being spoken to in the language it understands. And it is screaming blue murder,” Adesina wrote. “PDP is being ravaged and savaged politically, and if care is not taken, the Party could become an empty shell before 2023. The vessel is leaking, and taking in water massively. It may have to scream ‘May Day’, ‘May Day’ soon, and evacuate.”
The PDP that had 16 governors after the victory of Godwin Obaseki in Edo governorship election in September, three shy of APC’s 19, suddenly see its total reduce to 13, and APC’s swell to 22. There is aura of confidence within the presidency, and the ruling party’s camp. But for some observers, the defections don’t mean anything tangible.
“I don’t think that we should have any fear of Nigeria becoming a one-party state. It is the fear of the unknown, and the skeletons in some of the politicians’ cupboards that is making them to defect to the APC,” argued Aare Hassan. “You know, the point is that political parties in Nigeria are not founded on ideology, but self and parochial interest. So the defections have no ideological basis. The calculation is ahead of 2023 and, it is not a reflection of the general feeling of Nigerians towards the ruling party.”
Hassan predicts divisions even within the APC, going into 2023, as according to him, those who don’t get what they looking for, will seek other alternatives. But notes that there real cause for worry, with respect to the credibility of the polls going into the election.
“My take is that before 2023 that, there will be further alliances and realliances. Even those who have defected to the APC, may also have course to look for another place political platform if they don’t eventually get what they are looking for.”
Onyike toes the same line of argument, insisting, too that the fear of Nigeria becoming one party state is unfounded.
“I don’t think Nigeria can become a one-party state. The governors who are the defecting to the APC are failed politicians. And they are not reading the political thermometer correctly, because the APC is a dying political party and no amount of defections from other political parties into it can salvage the situation,” he said.
“It is a party that will crumble suddenly. You will witness how it will happen. It is a party that has no conscience; a party that has created political disunity, even within his own ranks. It is a party that has tried to destroy his spirit the unity and oneness in Nigeria; a party that has destroyed the judicial foundation upon which Nigeria is governed, a political party that brought a president that it cannot control and that party is watching helplessly as a country degenerate into something that looks like a civil war; insecurity lawlessness.”
For Onyike, a former commissioner for information in Ebonyi State, the real question should indeed be whether, given the unfolding security situation, the country will survive till 2023.
“The Nigerian political class is bereft of ideas. They act like people who have no conscience. And that is why they are acting with impunity. The country is seriously threatened and some people are even of the view that we may not be able to hold on till 2023. But in spite of the situation, some people are concerned about elections. We see series of struggles by self-determination groups calling for secession, and you have a situation where insecurity has engulfed the entire nation, even Abuja is being surrounded. Despite all these people are talking about elections.
“But it is normal with politicians. Even before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the political leadership in the old Soviet Union were still talking about elections. But in 1991 the Union disintegrated into 15 independent states that are now existing on their own.”
Onyike insists, however, that even if the polls will hold, the APC will not be able to manipulate, because its members are not themselves united.
“They will not be able to rig the election because they are not hnited. Who are they going to rig the election in favour of? What is it that will be the uniting factor in APC; that will make them to come together to rig elections? There are lots of contradictions that they must resolve first before they think about going into the election in 2023. You see politics is not as easy as people think.
“The governors who are defecting from the PDP to the APC are people who have lost their conscience. They want to run away from the EFCC. The governor of Ebonyi state is also running a highly corrupt and oppressive administration, he also wants to run away from the EFCC. He has for instance, set up a university of medical sciences named after him. A university that was built with N3.5 billion phones public funds, now he wants to convert it to his private university and he is already fixing the fees at N5 million, claiming that it is going to be the best medical university in Nigeria.
“Today, governors that are defecting are mostly people who have no value, nobody will listen to them in 2023 the Nigerian people will chart their own course.”