The second phase of voting in the 2019 general elections has come and gone. The first phase 2 weeks ago had presidential elections and elections into seats at the National Assembly, which saw widespread voter apathy and numerous disruptions across many states that led to loss of lives and re-runs in some places. Last Saturday, the gubernatorial and State House of Assembly elections had even lower turnouts, more violence and altogether tougher contests in many places.
Like the surprising upsets at the National Assembly elections, the state gubernatorial elections produced big shockers that tell different tales, depending on the location. Of the many interesting outcomes, Kwara state was, again, amongst the most surprising. The gubernatorial election in the state further confirmed the deflation of the political power of heavyweight politician, Bukola Saraki, the outgoing senate president and former governor of the state.
Saraki’s anointed People’s Democratic Party, PDP, candidate, Razak Atunwa, was roundly defeated in the contest by Abdulrahman Adulrazaq of the All Progressives Congress, APC. With the “O to ge” movement (which translates to “enough is enough) that swept Saraki aside in Kwara, the APC leadership completed its promise before the election to deal Saraki a humiliating defeat in the state. Saraki’s O tun ya campaign for the senate was initially rejected at the ballot on February 23rd by the people of his constituency. “O tun ya” roughly means “ready (to go) again”.
In Lagos, opponents of the APC and its candidate, Babajide Sanwoolu, tried, and failed, to deploy an O to ge movement against the APC in Lagos State. Jimi Agbaje, the perennial opponent to the APC and its predecessors in Lagos, was defeated once again, by a wide margin, to no surprises. Agbaje, who has little political presence outside election periods in Lagos, may be more suited to adopt the O to ge catch phrase for himself by putting his Lagos gubernatorial ambition to rest. His repeated candidature and defeat shows the poor structure and reach of other political parties in Lagos and his lack of capacity to mount a winning challenge in the state.
Some states produced some interesting contests, in relation to past political trends in those areas. Oyo state, for instance, has been known for its political intrigues, especially during the time of the late Lamidi Adedibu who gave new meaning to power brokering in the politics of the state. A not-so-surprising result there saw Bayo Adelabu of the APC losing to Seyi Makinde of the PDP, despite the efforts of outgoing governor Abiola Ajimobi. Like Saraki, Ajimobi had been rejected by people of his own constituency in his bid for the senate on February 23rd. Having led a crass, authoritarian administration, Ajimobi has robbed the APC of its hold in the state, which was evident during President Buhari’s visit on the campaign trail.
The South-South and South-East appear to have retained their PDP leanings, according to results released as at the time of writing. However, parts of the North continue to show thought provoking political flexibility that may suggest the existence of more complex and competitive political machinery in those states, despite the low levels of education, or, some may say, precisely because of it. The close contests in Sokoto, Adamawa, Bauchi have led to declaration of inconclusive elections in those states. Plateau is the only other state where elections have been declared inconclusive as at the time of writing. The cancelled votes in those states exceed the difference between the two leading political parties. In Kano, the contest seems to be very keenly contested too, going by the results already announced. It is especially interesting, following the controversy surrounding Governor Abdullahi Ganduje and suspicions of corruption generated by the now popular “Gandollars” videos. The winds of O to ge threaten to blow towards Kano as it stands.
One of the most concerning things in the 2019 elections have been the disruptions, violence and death. The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room has recorded a total of 58 deaths during the 2019 elections, and these include the deaths of at least two soldiers and another likely election related death of one lawmaker from Oyo State, Temitope Olatoye of the Action Democratic Party, ADP, at a collation center in Lagelu Local Government Area of Oyo State. The multiple reports of security agents, including military men, partaking in the disruptions and allegedly aiding the snatching of ballot boxes is also disconcerting. In Oyo state, collation materials were burnt, and INEC had to rely on duplicates.
Even more serious, especially for the election umpire, INEC, is the report that it handed over at least two of its personnel in Imo state to the police, after they apparently confessed to announcing and collating results from places where they earlier admitted elections did not hold. Ballot boxes were reportedly snatched in those areas. Announcement of Imo state’s results was suspended as a result of the confusion and disruption arising from the exercise in the state. The narrative that is emerging is not encouraging, especially when the disruptions across the different states were effected surgically, so that the prevalence is not extensive enough to lead to cancellation of elections, but impactful enough to discourage voting in strategic places, as was the allegation in parts of Lagos.
The hands that are driving the election violence and pockets of disruption are obviously mindful of electoral laws and have perfected the art of keeping the disruptions just under the threshold of cancellation. The story in the South-South is very troubling, as the elections have been reportedly fully militarized, according to reports coming out from voters and members of the press in that area. The notorious Rivers state has, again, exhibited its notoriety, leading to the suspension of voting in the state.
The O to ge refrain has been used in reference to breaking political chokeholds in certain parts of the country. O to ge should rather be used by all Nigerians to say enough is enough to electoral violence and the politics of intimidation that have played out in the country over the years. Many say 2015 was a step forward, but 2019 is looking like two steps backwards for the exercise of elections in Nigeria. INEC has also displayed a surprising lack of preparation, where voting materials were not better protected in some parts of the country, while other parts are over- militarised to the extent that people say soldiers were guarding thugs snatching ballots papers and boxes.
In addition, the lack of attention to the welfare of ad-hoc staff of INEC is disgraceful. Many had to sleep out in the open in the absence of any provisions for their accommodation or even any form of comfort, down to water for baths. It explains, in part, the voter apathy, the propensity of officials and voters to compromise, and the quality of leaders that emerge from the process. There are many things that can be said for the elections, but while we keep fighting for freeness and fairness, there are many other factors in the margins that affect the integrity of the process and any results that emerge from it.
The picture is dire, on the whole, despite the appearance of peacefulness of the elections in many parts. As for the politicians, whether they have been victims of O to ge, or they are fortunate to echo the counter phrase coined by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu for the APC in Lagos, “O to pe” (praiseworthy), they should be aware that the voting trends in this country are shifting, and the electorate is evolving, even in the most unlikely places in Nigeria. If our politicians are still caught up with the style of politics that has been practiced for too long in Nigeria, without any willingness to evolve, O to ge may soon become a nationwide refrain.
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