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Nigeria’s Buhari missed a chance to reform elections

Adedayo Ademuwagun
By Adedayo Ademuwagun
Country risk analyst at Songhai Advisory

Posted on Thursday, 21 March 2019 13:59, updated on Friday, 22 March 2019 19:45

While President Buhari was voting in Daura in the north, violence was kicking off in Rivers State. Bayo Omoboriowo/ Nigeria Presidency/Handout via Reuters

Nigeria’s recent state governorship polls do not reflect well on the nation. Of the 29 governorship polls held on 9 March, seven were suspended or declared inconclusive due to violence and other disruptions.

Of the states that produced a result, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) won 13 of them, while the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) won nine.

The disruptions erode progress made since 2007, when the then president, Umaru Yar’Adua, initiated electoral reform. This improved the operational process and made it possible for the opposition to defeat the incumbent in the 2015 presidential election – the first time in the country’s history.

Where we stand now:

The gubernatorial polls will be rerun on 23 March in parts of the states where votes were canceled due to violence and manipulation. The states affected are Adamawa, Benue, Kano, Plateau and Sokoto, all in the north. Vote counting has resumed in Bauchi and Rivers this week.

For states where gubernatorial polls have been concluded, the results signify that each of the two top parties retain power in the geopolitical zones that they presently control. APC will run five out of six states in the South West, while PDP will run five out of six states in the South South.

•      The implication is that political conditions will remain fairly constant at the centre and at the regional levels.

In Rivers, the commission has confirmed that soldiers and armed thugs indeed invaded collation centres to disrupt the process.

The Rivers State back story: The Supreme Court disqualified the APC from the poll because the party’s gubernatorial candidates had sued each other and the court had ruled that their primary election was badly conducted. Political godfather Rotimi Amaechi had wanted to evict his foe, the current governor Nyesom Wike, but now his candidate won’t even be on the ballot.

Amaechi picked an unknown candidate of an unknown party, Biokpomabo Awara of the African Allied Congress (AAC), and used his federal might to back this person. Federal might in Nigeria refers to the use of federal security/regulatory bodies against an opponent. Accordingly, soldiers attacked in opposition areas to scuttle the poll and manipulate results, as INEC has confirmed.

•      The result was that when the commission began counting the votes last week, a previously unknown candidate began to score higher than the sitting governor.

Didn’t we fix this?

In 2018 President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent to a reform bill that would have improved the electoral process and minimised the electoral commission’s exposure to physical damage by authorising it to transmit results electronically. That didn’t happen, allowing the commission’s staff and facilities to be targeted by soldiers and thugs in a way that sabotaged the delivery and collation of ballots.

What to watch: Politicians already have begun preparing for the 2023 general elections, when the south will lead the next central government per the unwritten principle of ‘zoning’ in the country.

•      The principle states that power at the centre alternates between the north and south after two presidential tenures.

Bottom line: Controlling a state governorship grants a political party access to that state’s treasury and some physical control of voting areas. Therefore, both top parties will try to protect their strongholds in order to preserve this advantage ahead of the next general elections.

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