Monday, May 29

Leadership Decline and 2019 Presidential Election

Rejecting the result of the 2019 presidential election, Alh. Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the PDP, declared that “in my democratic struggles for the past three decades, I have never seen our democracy so debased as it was on Saturday, February 23, 2019. 2007 was a challenge, but President Yar’Adua was remorseful. In 2019, it is sad to see those who trampled on democracy thumping their noses down on the Nigerian people.”

As students of history, politics and leadership, one cannot but ask the question; are we really talking about the same 2019 Nigerian presidential election? If it is, could Alh. Atiku’s claim really be a fair assessment of the election? This is hardly the case. For instance, YIAGA Africa, one of the civil society networks that monitored the election, noted that “overall number of cancelled ballots could not have changed the election outcome and should not call into question the accuracy of the results.”

YIAGA statement highlighted some of the imperfection of the election, which include problems resulting in cancellations of some of the results. News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that voided votes constituted about 4.5%, which is higher than what was recorded in 2015 (2.8%) and 2011 (1.7%). Perhaps, with reference to voided votes, Alh. Atiku’s claim could have some weight. However, sincerity require some exceptional acknowledgement.

It is true that following the postponement of the election by one week, most Nigerians were disappointed. It is also true that on the rescheduled date of February 23, there were reported incidences of smart card reader failure across the country, late commencement of elections in some polling units, inadequate logistical equipment and cases of lack of understanding of processes by some few ad hoc staff, which affected the elections. Combinations of all of these would have accounted for possible reasons for high records of cancelled votes.

However, comparative to previous elections in the recent history of Nigeria, may be since second republic, the February 23, 2019 elections is about the best organized election in the country. Interim reports of various election observer groups acknowledge this fact, which notably include, the African Union Election Observer Mission, ECOWAS Mission, YIAGA Africa Statement, CDD Election Analysis Centre Final Election-Day Report, among others, as well as Amb. W. Stuart Symington (US Ambassador to Nigeria) Statement, which commends INEC and the security agencies for their dedication and professionalism and appreciates the effort of political parties for their commitment and demonstration of maturity during the 2019 election.

Without doubt, substantial progress was recorded as compared to previous elections. INEC did a good job and, in many respects, it can be argued that the conduct of the February 23 election is an excellent compensation for the disappointment of February 16 postponement. INEC should be commended for ensuring a very successful elections with all the challenges especially following the rescheduling of election dates.

If this is the reality, what could have informed the assertion by Alh. Atiku that the conduct of the February 23 election debased our democracy? Such an assertion is most unfortunate. Is it that we forgot our electoral history when for instance almost all election results in the country were written in Wadata Plaza (PDP Headquarters between 2003 and 2007). And there were instances when after writing the results in Wadata Plaza, announcement of the result has to done in Abuja. Recall Prof. Jubril Aminu’s so-called election victory as a Senator representing Adamawa Central in 2003. And also recall how for instance, INEC returned 98% votes from Rivers State in favor of PDP in 2007.

Somehow, it would appear that Alh. Atiku and many PDP supporters were relating with the conduct of the 2019 elections and the results using their own standards. If that were to apply, how manage APC lost some of the constituencies that would have been automatic? For example, how would it have been possible for the Vice President to lose in his polling unit? Or, how could INEC pronounce APC to have lost in Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District, where the “uncommon defector”, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, was the candidate? Could Sen. George Akume have lost Benue North West Senatorial seat, if APC had written the results? Had Sen. Akpabio or Sen. Akume won, they would have been in contention for leadership position in the 9th Senate.

At another level, if APC had written the results of the election, could we have had such a balanced result from virtually all parts of the country, reflecting virtually all expectations? Couldn’t have APC awarded itself the usual above 90% in many of the states, on account of which the gap between APC and PDP will be exceedingly high? All these realities only suggest that perhaps the PDP didn’t prepare for the 2019 electoral contest. It builds its electoral projections around some assumed weaknesses of APC. Based on the assumed weaknesses, it projected that President Muhammadu Buhari will be unable to campaign in all parts of the country due to exaggerated health challenges. This assumption completely failed as President Buhari campaigned in all the 36 states and FCT, while PDP’s Alh. Atiku is only able to campaign in 19 states.

Relatedly is also the convenient conclusion that Nigerians are disappointed with President Buhari’s APC government, on account of which they will not vote for APC. It is true that Nigerians may be dissatisfied about many policies and appointments of President Buhari. But could that have meant loss of electoral votes? Or could that have been an advantage in favor of PDP? Somehow, all PDP leaders, Alh. Atiku inclusive, became overconfident and engaged the 2019 Presidential contest almost as if it was a workover for APC. And on account of such a mentality, reckless statements were made without weighing the electoral damages such statements would have cost the PDP. Take for example the statement by Alh. Atiku that he will sell the NNPC no matter what; and “I will enrich my friends”; etc. How have these statements helped his campaign? Or how many votes has he gained or lost?

Partly because the PDP and its candidate, Alh. Atiku approached the whole campaign for the 2019 election based on estimated weaknesses of the APC and President Buhari accounted for the assertion – it is sad to see those who trampled on democracy thumping their noses down on the Nigerian people. Alh. Atiku could only make such an assertion in reference to President Buhari’s military background and not the conduct or management of the February 23, 2019 election. Somehow, it reflected a statement made by Mr. Clement Nwankwo, Convener of Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room while appearing on Channels TV Sunrise program of Tuesday, February 26, 2019.

Mr. Nwankwo, as spokesperson of the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room conducted himself in manners that suggests he was more or less acting as PDP agent who because the results of the election were not going the way of PDP then INEC must be discredited. It could cheaply be assumed that Mr. Nwankwo had more than a coincidental relationship with PDP especially given that he (Mr. Nwankwo) was a member of PDP, who in 2006 aspired to contest in the 2007 elections for one of the Imo State House of Representative seats and lost on the PDP platform. It is important however to recognize that Mr. Nwankwo is a refutable civil society leader who may be faced with similar declining leadership challenges.

Somehow, largely because PDP did not prepare for contest, the attitude of both its leadership and supporters to the February 23 elections was to amplify every problem, including the ones that are imagined. Almost from the afternoon of February 23, many PDP leaders and their supporters have written off the election even before the business of collation commences. There were reports of strong lobbies by civil society apologists of PDP to influence observer reports and get the international community to condemn the conduct of the election. It is possible that Alh. Atiku’s statement rejecting the results of the election could have been written even before the election based on the estimated weaknesses of APC.

The worrisome part in all these is that at a time when leadership is required to inject some elements of rationality and moderate followership, it appears our PDP leaders are submitting themselves to the sentimental anger and whimsical reasoning of their followers. Difficult leadership moments require exceptional, not bandwagon, or as Fela of blessed memory would put it, follow-follow initiatives. Imagine South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggles had Mandela narrowed his initiatives to be directed by the anger of black South Africans. Perhaps the words of Michelle Obama, former first lady of the United States of America, in her Memoir, Becoming, when she argued “decline can be a hard thing to measure, especially when you’re in the midst of it” elegantly highlight the unfortunate reality that PDP and its leadership are on a decline that portend some serious national risks.

It is a risk because instead of providing leadership to pull the country away from its anger, it is precisely propelled by the anger of its members. In which case then were the management of our country, Nigeria, to be given to PDP, animosity, hate and intolerance could become official state policy. This is a big risk which could lead to increasing conflict, violence and the high possibility for high loss of lives. It is a possibility that no one, except perhaps sadists, want to imagine.

What should be done to ensure that APC didn’t take the PDP route of decline? This question become fundamental given that it took years of systematic erosion of democratic values within PDP to debase (to use Alh. Atiku’s terminology) its leadership to be propelled by the anger of its members. Authoritarian values, which required absolute loyalties from members, coupled with complete erosion of internal democratic practices with the party, which made leaders to recklessly impose candidates, as well as proceed to muscle INEC to return such candidates as winners of so-called elections, were the catalyzing factors.

Given how our leaders in APC somehow mishandle processes of candidates’ selection in some states in the buildup to the February 23 election, especially with reference to candidates for National Assembly elections, it is important to sound a note of caution. For instance, in some of our states, on accounts of managing dynamics in the National Assembly arising from pressure to halt the threat of mass defection of APC representatives, the issue of automatic tickets led to imposing some candidates. This has in some cases led to court cases.

APC leadership need to review the results of the February 23 elections so as to evaluate the possible impact of such a decision. More importantly, APC leaders need to find democratic solutions to the challenge of protecting elected representatives. On the whole, our APC leaders must avoid complacency to produce leaders who focuses and nurture the diversity of our talents; who seeks to direct the anger and frustration of our people to provide the resilient energy to foster a national vision of a country of our dream with abundant opportunities and leadership that walk the vision of our generation and that of future generations. This is what President Buhari’s victory means to majority of APC members. It is the aspiration of what should define APC’s politics in the next four years. Congratulation PMB! Congratulation Nigeria! Victory is for all Nigerians!!!

Salihu Moh. Lukman, is a development economist, political organiser, public policy and economic development commentator and the Director General of the Progressive Governor’s Forum. Copyright © Salihu Moh. Lukman

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