SPECIAL FEATURES: March 9 Polls: Will our Votes Count?

SPECIAL FEATURES: March 9 Polls: Will our Votes Count?

The Presidential and National Assembly election was originally fixed for February 16 by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.

There are 91 registered political parties contesting in the 2019 general election. However, 73 out of the number presented candidates for the Presidential elections.

Nigerians counted down to February 16 with excitement, minds made up as to whom they would vote for. Right from the outset, it was clear that the battle was between the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress, APC, seeking re-election and Atiku Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

The campaigns were rigorous and vigorous with both parties traversing the length and breadth of the country canvassing for votes and soliciting for support. As the candidates traversed the country, their supporters and loyalists engaged each other on social media.

Many travelled out of station to where they had registered to cast their votes, but alas, it was not to be.

On February 16, Nigerians woke up to the rude shock of hearing that four hours to the commencement of voting, INEC had postponed the election by one week, citing “logistics challenges” as reason for the postponement. February 23, became the new all important date for Nigerian and the entire world.

Nigerians were enraged, but what could they do. Spirits were dampened and many lost faith in the whole process. Still many remained determined.

On the February 23, many left their homes very early to their polling units. The electoral body had said accreditation and voting would begin by 8 a.m. Yet, in spite of the one week postponement to “sort out logistics challenges,” the election was marred by logistics challenges and myriad of other electoral malpractices, harassment and killing of voters.

Across the country, it was a sad tale. Reports have it that between 23 and 50 persons were killed during and after the election.

Tomorrow, March 9, is the Governorship and States Assembly election; what lessons could be learnt from the previous polls to make tomorrow’s process better? How did people see the February 23 election?

Mr. Fabian Ezeh, a Civil Engineer, said; “It was a sad charade of an election. Innocent people who wanted to have a say in who led them were harassed and killed by the security agents meant to protect them. Thugs had a field day and the security operatives couldn’t do anything.

“In all honesty, I think this last election is the worst we have had in a long time. The electoral body, INEC, has been at its most incompetent state too, I must say.

“It was bad enough that it had the election postponed by one week for logistics reasons, but the outing on the February 23 left nothing to be desired. Across the country, officials of the Commission and their materials arrived late such that in some places voting was said to have been delayed till afternoon.

“There were also reports of Card Readers malfunctioning. So many things that should not have happened did happen and that simply shows that we still have a long way to go.”

Can anything be done to change the story for the governorship and state assembly election?

Ezeh said; “If after four years and one week, INEC didn’t get it right, what magic can they perform within two weeks? I do not expect anything different tomorrow, in fact, I think tomorrow will be worse because the elections are closer home.

“The politicians have not changed, INEC has not changed so, why should anything else change? However, if INEC can manage to get materials to polling units on time, that would spare the voters the trouble of spending hours in the sun, except those who choose to stay to defend their vote.”

Mr. Ezeh ended his comments on a note of advice to the INEC. “Start now too prepare for the next round of elections, tell yourselves the truth about this failed outing when you meet to evaluate and punish officials who compromised.”

Mr. Afolayan Adebiyi, an administrator, said: “The last Presidential election provided a good opportunity for the two contending forces in our political equation to sell themselves. Ideologically, there is not much to differentiate the two major parties; even the smaller parties fared no better. No one has a clear socio-economic and political ideology on how to tackle the myriads of problems besetting the country.

“The two major parties were desperate to grab power at the center. Therefore, they gave it their all, at least.

“Money played a major role in the final outcome of the election. Dr. Oby Ezekwezili who could have provided a fresh insight into issues, recoiled few weeks to the elections; she backed out. The young and vibrant candidates, Kingsley Moghalu, Omoyele Sowore and Fela Durotoye could not muster enough financial muscle to compete. They all fell by the way.

“The two front line parties: APC and PDP all engaged in malpractices. Direct manipulation of figures, I will say no, but electoral malpractices. Violence that rocked parts of the country, particularly, Rivers, Lagos was largely uncalled for. That was part of the malpractices.

“The two candidates, President Buhari and Alhaji Atiku proved themselves on areas of their electoral strength and popularity. The North largely voted Buhari because they trust him to protect their interest, more than Atiku. The West was confused by various factors. One, all the popular prophets predicting death and defeat for Buhari reside in this region, and they control large flocks of congregations. Second, many of Buhari’s policies negatively impacted on them and their businesses. And thirdly, the promise of restructuring by Atiku largely swayed a lot of voters to his side. So the result was almost a 50-50 in the region.

“But expectedly, the South-East and South-South gave PDP and Atiku their all, casting all their eggs in one basket. How reasonable politically, that is, will be seen in the coming days in office sharing calculations.

“The three regions in the North played the all in all game with Buhari and luckily he won so they can at least heave a long sigh of relief.

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“The loss suffered by Saraki in Kwara is a shocker. No one expected that. So also is that of Ajumobi in Oyo state. Akpabio too in Akwa Ibom, though the election is said to be inconclusive. But a lot of men of timber and caliber fell.”

Mr. Adebiyi, however believes that the governorship contest will present, an interesting scenario. “One can see Plateau, Benue, Kaduna, Kwara, Akwa Ibom, and Ogun states as hot spots. The battle in these states shall be intense and the margin shall be very low between the winners and losers.

“Again, PDP run the risks of loosing many states to post presidential election depression. Many of their sympathizers may not come out after watching the party loose the presidency. The party itself has been in a state of rude shock since the conclusion of the presidential election. This may certainly affect the fortunes of its members nationwide.

“Military will still be deployed massively; inducements of voters or vote buying expected across the country and more, many godfathers will become more desperate since this is all about them and locality. After all, all politics is local,” he said.

In summary Mr. Adebiyi does not see anything being done differently tomorrow.

For Mr. Dominik Umosen, the February 23 though “controversial,” threw up some big surprises in terms of those who won and lost elections. The same he said should be expected from the governorship and State Assembly elections.

He made reference to videos of soldiers running away with ballot boxes in the North and under-aged children voting as affirmation of “the hypocrisy of the anti-corruption war by the administration.”

He challenged INEC “to grow beyond allegations of manipulation and under-aged voting,” if elections must be taken seriously in the country.

Given the experiences from the Presidential/NASS election and the outcome of the result, is the enthusiasm to vote still high?

Joseph, an auto mechanic said there was no point. Hear him, “The last one we suffered and voted, did our going out make any difference? They already know who they want to win and that person will win. That day, I will rest.”

Mrs. Blessing Emeka, who sells fruits, also spoke along the same line with Joseph. In her case however, she did not participate in the Presidential elections. Asked why, she said; “What’s the point of wasting my time? Even before the election, everybody knew who would win. It is the same with the governorship election of Saturday.”

She posed a question and also proffered an answer; “Do you think it is possible for any other party apart from APC to win in Lagos? That is not possible. So no matter who you vote for, the winner they want will still be announced.”

Asked who she was referring to as ‘they,’ Mrs. Emeka said, “It’s you people (journalists) that will know. Are you not the ones that tell us what is happening?

Indeed the events and after event of February 23 have dampened the zeal many had leading up to the elections.

One thing that stands out clearly from the thoughts of many is that votes still do not count in the country’s elections.

The big poser, therefore, is; when will the votes of Nigerians begin to count in an election?

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