By Ikechukwu Amaechi
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News Hour.com.ng – ON the eve of last Saturday’s re-runs and bye-elections, I had an interesting chat, or if you like debate, on WhatsApp with a prominent Nigerian, whose name I would rather keep under wraps.
A very successful businessman and extremely brilliant man, the septuagenarian who loves intellectual baiting and does not suffer fools gladly, reacted to my interview with the former governor of Anambra State and presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 elections, Mr Peter Obi, where he said that President Bola Tinubu deserves a place in the Guinness World Records, GWR, for causing Nigerians untold hardship.
Commenting on the interview which was republished last Friday due to popular demand, the man who has been my political sparring partner for years wrote: “Obi should thank his stars that he is not the one there.”
When I asked him if he was implying that Nigeria had become such a hopeless case that it does not matter who is at the helm, rather than blame Tinubu for his failures, he countered that “Tinubu has not failed.”
“At best, any objective assessment could be that he started off poorly, still in political mood as I see it, rather than governance mood, hence the avoidable errors. But that is understandable given that he was helped to win the election which I support rather than Atiku Abubakar winning to entrench baseless Northern sense of entitlement and impunity further.”
When I reminded him that Tinubu and Atiku were not the only presidential candidates in the 2023 elections, he retorted: “Only one of them – Atiku or Tinubu – had what it takes in reality to win. Obi is prominent only on social media but has no capacity to harvest the goodwill out there for him.”
“Do not fool yourself that Nigeria is a democracy,” he continued. “Most of the democracies have failed a long time ago and Nigeria never had the foundations for democracy.”
Of course, I disagreed with him reminding him that the same Peter Obi he is deriding garnered 6.1 million votes despite the shenanigans of the Prof Mahmoud Yakubu-led Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
What he said next was for me a reality check but I was not surprised.
“You miss the point I make,” he fired back. “Mind you, I voted for Obi as the right thing to do even though I know that he will never ‘win’ even if the 93 million plus registered voters voted for him because Nigeria is not a democracy. It is in fact a criminal enterprise. You are idealistic to hope for otherwise.
“That does not mean I support the criminal, failed state of Nigeria. No, I don’t as my vote shows but I understand reality as it is and will remain so if Nigerians remain divided and docile. That is the fact. Obi knows that he will not ‘win.’ Forget the rhetoric and grandstanding. Tinubu also knows that he did not win but has the capacity to grab it, which he did.
“I do not want to talk about Atiku as he and Kwankwaso were not supposed to run given agreements between the politicians. That is the fact. Elections are not won by grammar. They are won by all necessary means even in the U.S. and Europe. I can tell you for free that it is a useless system of selecting leaders.”
I was not surprised because after the 2023 elections, I came to the conclusion that the idea of free and fair elections in Nigeria had become an illusion and resolved never to vote again.
Some people thought that my decision was hasty. As incurable optimists, they posited that last year’s electoral heist was an aberration and things can only get better.
How anyone could possibly convince himself to believe such bunkum considering what happened in 2023 beggars belief. But I was convinced beyond any doubt that it can only get worse.
And the last elections in 80 Local Government Areas across 575 registration areas and 8,934 polling units spread across 26 states have proved me right.
According to INEC, as a result of deaths and resignations, bye-elections held for two senatorial, four House of Representatives and three state Houses of Assembly seats in nine states to replace Tinubu’s Chief of Staff, Femi Gbajabiamila; Minister of Interior, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo; Minister of Works, David Umahi; Minister of Police Affairs, Ibrahim Geidam; and Minister of State for Education, Tanko Sununu; who all resigned from the National Assembly to take up appointments in the Tinubu-led administration.
The bye-elections were also held to replace Isma’ila Maihanchi, a member-elect from Taraba State who died before the inauguration of the National Assembly, and Abdulkadir Danbuga from Sokoto State, who died in October 2023.
The re-run elections, which were as a result of court orders, held in one senatorial, 11 federal and 22 state constituencies.
As usual, Yakubu disclosed that 4,904,627 million voters registered before the elections while 4,613,291 million permanent voter cards were collected.
Then, there was the usual government bluff. Two days before the elections, the Inspector-General of Police, Olukayode Egbetokun, ordered the restriction of all forms of vehicular movement on roads, waterways, airspaces, and other forms of transportation from 12 a.m. to 6 p.m. in all the 26 states.
I waited to see if there will be any difference from last year’s exercise. But nothing changed. INEC officials were as brazen as ever. Despite the Court of Appeal judgment which said that all parties shall contest in the re-run elections, the umpire omitted the logo of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, on ballot papers in Plateau State.
Supporters of the PDP who got a whiff of INEC’s chicanery to exclude their candidates, Senator Simon Mwadkwon for Plateau North and Musa Agah for Jos North/Bassa Federal Constituency, from recontesting the elections they had earlier won staged a protest at the INEC headquarters in Jos on Wednesday.
INEC didn’t budge. Instead, the Department of State Services, DSS, ominously warned troublemakers to desist or face the wrath of the Nigerian state.
Then on the day of election, it was confusion everywhere – late arrival of electoral materials, disappearance of INEC officials, hoodlums on the loose. Déjà vu!
In Enugu State, the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Dr. Chukwuemeka Chukwu, was accused of withholding sensitive election materials, including collation (form EC8D) and result (form EC8E) sheets, and provided fake materials. When confronted, the REC had the audacity of telling aggrieved Labour Party members to accept his poisoned chalice on the promise that he would sign and countersign the fake materials.
When journalists asked him how the result sheets got missing, Chukwu just stopped talking and left the scene. How could the REC claim, with a bold face that the original result sheets had been lost without explaining what happened?
Despite the Police deployment of 2,000 operatives, the bye-election for Ikono/Ini Federal Constituency in Akwa Ibom State was marred by late arrival of materials, outright diversion of ballot materials, violence and abduction of electoral officials, with some persons feared dead, while others sustained varying degrees of injury.
In Kunchi/Tsanyawa State Constituency, Kano State, election was suspended in all ten polling units due to invasion, vandalisation, and disruption by thugs.
These were not isolated cases. Politicians in collusion with security and INEC officials will do everything to be announced winners knowing full well that the courts have become extortion centres.
Understandably, there was voter apathy. Many Nigerians have come to the realisation that it is not worth their while voting in elections. But what amazes me is the few who still queue under the harsh elements to vote knowing full well that their votes do not count in determining who wins elections in Nigeria.
The danger in trooping out willy-nilly to vote during elections knowing full well that the votes will not count is that such folly unwittingly validates INEC’s shoddy handling of elecctions and the people’s mandates. Such acts are unhelpful to the cause of democracy. In a country where the judiciary dispenses electoral injustice, until Nigerians begin to take deliberate actions such as election boycott, neither INEC nor the rogue politicians will do what is right