Nigeria Decides 2019: Pre-election note

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Concerns about potential heavy-handedness by the security services have likely been doused by the speech of President Muhammadu Buhari on the eve of the delayed 2019 elections now scheduled for the 23rd of February, a week later than initially planned.

Mr Buhari had remarked that he had ordered the police and the army to be “ruthless” with ballot-box snatchers and the like. There was tremendous outrage in the aftermath.

While he did not exactly say security personnel should shoot-to-kill electoral offenders, it was implied as such. The major concern was that the president might have inadvertently given the police and the army a long leash or no leash at all.

Irrespective of whether that was indeed the president’s intent, it is abundantly clear now he took note of the feedback. How so? His election-eve speech was designed to convey a softening of the pedal of sorts. He did not wear the full traditional attire, for instance, choosing to forgo the robe (similar to not wearing a jacket).

He also started his speech in an endearing manner. Typically, presidential speeches in these parts start with the phrase “Fellow Nigerians”. This time around, the president started his speech with the phrase “Dear Nigerians”. The drafters must have hoped these subtle changes would be noted. And on time, too. Well, they were.

Of course, the president’s true intent cannot be totally deemed to be objective. Since he is seeking re-election, he has little choice but to try to win over as many voters as possible. Still, the move was a welcome one. And it is likely to have the intended effect of putting voters at ease.

I followed the presidential campaigns closely. Based on my observations, the presidential election would likely be close. No one can say for sure which of the two leading candidates, Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), would win.

One esteemed analyst I asked says the winner between the pair would likely be determined by the courts in the end. There are those who probably reckon this conclusion has been reached by the leading candidates as well.

Most analysts, the ones I have discussed with, at least, are not particular about which of the two leading candidates wins. They see them as more of the same. And that is true to some extent. But they do care that the process be credible.

So, what is the probability that the elections would be free and fair? I think they will be. The presidential election, at least. The ones that concern one are for a number of states. Ogun state bears watching. Imo state too. Kano state as well.

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