macroafricaintel | Nigeria Decides 2019: Void votes & inconclusive state polls – something is not right

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Turnout was abysmally low in the 9th March governorship elections. Militarisation of the process and voter disillusionment on the back of the 23rd February presidential election have been blamed. That is apart from the typical disinterest associated with state elections owing to the overbearing influence of so-called political godfathers on the process.

It is somewhat bizarre how the states in which governorship elections were declared inconclusive, namely Kano, Sokoto, Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, and Plateau, either had the main opposition People’s Democractic Party (PDP) candidate in the lead, or the PDP candidate had a fighting chance at winning, or the states were strongholds of the PDP.

And almost consistently, the gubernatorial candidates who expressed satisfaction with now upcoming re-runs, were mostly from the All Progressives Congress (APC) party, while those who were displeased were mostly from the PDP.

In Adamawa, the PDP’s Ahmadu Fintiri, got 367,471 votes, while the APC’s Jibrila Bindow, the incumbent, got 334,995 votes. As the margin of 32,476 votes was less than cancelled votes of 40,988, the Adamawa election was declared inconclusive.

In Bauchi, the APC’s Mohammed Abubakar, the incumbent, garnered 465,453 votes, while the PDP’s Bala Mohammed got 469,512 votes. The poll was also declared inconclusive, as the 4,059 votes margin is lower than the number of cancelled votes.

In Sokoto, the PDP’s Aminu Tambuwal, the incumbent, got 489,558 votes, while the APC’s Ahmed Aliyu got 486,145 votes. With the margin of 3,413 votes between the pair less than cancelled votes of 75,403 votes, the Sokoto poll was also declared inconclusive.

In Benue, incumbent Samuel Ortom of the PDP secured 410,576 votes, while the APC’s Emmanuel Jime got 329,022 votes. Similarly, as the margin of 81,554 votes between the pair was lower than the 121,019 cancelled votes, the poll was declared inconclusive.

In Plateau, incumbent Simon Lalong of the APC got 583,255 votes against 538,326 votes for the PDP’s Jeremiah Useni. With cancelled votes of 49,377 more than the margin between the two of 44,929 votes, the poll was also declared inconclusive.

While the final collation at the state headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in each of the states followed the Commission’s guidelines in ruling as such, it is also noteworthy that the key variable in coming to these decisions is the number of cancelled votes; which is rules-based but discretionary, and typically done at the respective collation centres. And since the basis for cancellations is well-known, political actors could quite easily engineer events to make them happen.

Of course, a rebuttal by those who favour the ‘inconclusive’ decisions is that if the aggrieved parties were really that popular, they would have unassailable leads that void votes would hardly be able to change. As re-runs tend to favour incumbents, however, those who argue that some state interference was involved can hardly be blamed as well.

So while the opposition PDP has made a determination to protest the bizarre trend, it might be more important for it to put in greater resources and efforts towards winning the soon-to-be scheduled re-runs, which must take place within the statutory 21 days from 9th of March. In any case, if it has evidence of wrongdoing, the courts are also at the disposal of its candidates.

What is abundantly clear is that the quality of the 2019 elections would have been greatly enhanced had the amended electoral law been assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari. Now that he has won re-election, Mr Buhari should do the great service of, firstly, signing, before the end of the current legislative term, the amended electoral bill that was forwarded to him ahead of the 2019 polls.

Secondly, the insights garnered from the likely numerous election petition tribunals across the country should be incorporated into a second amendment to the signed amended electoral law, which should be assented to by the president during the upcoming legislative term but before the end of 2019.

In other words, political stakeholders should not now wait again until the 2023 elections are about, before making amendments to what is clearly a flawed electoral process.

The service required of the PDP is to go to the tribunal for all the elections it considers to be below par, with the primary intent of ensuring that the process becomes fairer; and thus only seeing potential wins of mandates for its aggrieved candidates as additional gains.

Jagaban redeems himself in Lagos
In Lagos, the ruling APC pulled its weight this second time around, with its gubernatorial candidate Babajide Sanwo-Olu getting 739,445 votes, beating the main opposition PDP candidate Jimi Agbaje, who garnered 206,141 votes.

In the presidential election, the APC secured 580,825 votes in Lagos, while the PDP got 448,015 votes. Clearly, the APC upped its game in the second vote. More importantly, Mr Agbaje was quick to congratulate Mr Sanwo-Olu for his victory; a good end to a good fight.

Also note how the sum of votes for the APC and PDP in Lagos for the two elections was virtually the same. In the presidential election, both parties’ sum of votes was 1,028,840, while in the governorship, it was 945,586; about 1 million in each case.

So clearly, some of the votes that went to the PDP in the presidential election moved to the APC in the governorship poll.

APC’s poor showing in the presidential poll in Lagos was clearly a wake-up call for the leaders of the party; who were perhaps getting a little complacent. A video recording of one of the post-mortem meetings of the party after the poll which I watched, showed party leader Bola Tinubu (‘Jagaban’) calling out the leaders of each of the key sections of the state, publicly applauding those who came through for the party in their areas of responsibility and deriding those who did not.

Thus, you did not have to be clairvoyant to know it was almost a do-or-die affair for the laggards in the Lagos APC to prove their worth. Thankfully, they did so in a non-violent manner. Because unlike the many reports of wanton violence across the country, there was relatively no violence in Lagos.

And the spirit of sportsmanship was clearly displayed by the main opposition PDP candidate, Jimi Agbaje, who called the victor, as soon as it became clear he had lost; that is, even before the official results were announced.

Game of thrones in Kano
Kano sprung a huge surprise. Or maybe not. For some reason, the PDP woke up from its slumber in the governorship election. The ruling APC candidate Abdullahi Ganduje got 987,819 votes, while the main opposition PDP candidate Abba Kabir-Yusuf got 1,014,474 votes.

The election was declared inconclusive because the 26,655 votes margin was less than the cancelled votes of 128,572. This is a far cry from what happened during the presidential election where the PDP secured 391,593 votes and APC garnered 1,464,768 votes. Note how the sum of the votes for both leading parties in both elections was about 2 million; albeit the tally was lower in the second vote.

So why the very wide margin in the presidential election and tighter one in the gubernatorial election? When the Kwankwasiyya political group led by former Kano state governor Rabiu Kwankwaso turned up en masse for the rally of PDP’s presidential flagbearer Atiku Abubukar on 10th February, some of the assumptions about the strenght of Mr Buhari’s followership in the state began to unravel a little bit.

Or so it seemed. Because Mr Buhari went on to prove the doubters wrong. It was thus logical to suppose the APC governorship candidate would similarly coast to victory quite easily. That has proved not to be quite the case as yet.

An objective interpretation could be that Kano state voters, Mr Kwankwaso’s followers at least, did not quite like Mr Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate, but turned up at his rally to honour their benefactor. It could also be that, that was the script sent down by Mr Kwankwaso to his followers in fact.

With likely no such dilemma for the governorship poll, Mr Kwankwaso was likely then able to pull his weight much more forcefully. Still, it could also be that the results were rigged in the presidential election. Proof of this or otherwise should be revealed at the presidential election tribunal, where Mr Abubakar is contesting the results.

Some have attempted to spin the close race in Kano and the clear PDP lead there as Mr Buhari’s doing, suggesting that when the president raised Mr Ganduje’s hand at his rally in Kano, he made a subtle remark in Hausa to suggest he did not wholeheartedly support the governor’s candidacy. That is nonsense.

Buhari, even as he has a cult following in Kano, needed Ganduje’s support. That is, even as he likely also put in place an ‘insurance’ policy in the person of the now widely applauded Kano state commissioner of police, Mohammed Wakil.

I do not agree with the suggestion in some quarters that the Kano police boss got instructions from Abuja to take some of the laudable steps he took recently; like taking into custody the deputy governor of the state, Nasiru Gawuna, for attempting to manipulate the results of the state election.

Instead, what I think happened is what is likely already well-known. If you want to keep a keen eye on a governor (or any public official for that matter), you send an honest cop (or official) to work with him or her. What Abuja was likely counting on, was that the police commissioner would live true to his reputation; and he did.

From the outset, the intuition was that PDP’s Abubakar would have a difficult time winning the hearts of voters in the Northwest. But with Sokoto’s governor Aminu Tambuwal and former Kano state governor Kwankwaso in his camp, some of these assumptions required a re-examination.

And with those sea of red caps of Kwankwasiyya adherents at Mr Abubakar’s February rally in Kano, any objectively minded person would have re-evaluated his or her assumptions. Based on the Kano state governorship results thus far, however, some firm and likely more reliable inferences can now be made.

The issue with Mr Abubakar in Kano and the Northwest at large was a moral one. Left with the choice between Abubakar and Buhari, Kano voters had no dilemma about who to choose. It was also one of the reasons why the APC camp was very jubilant when Mr Abubakar won the PDP presidential primaries.

Against a Tambuwal of Sokoto state, who was a frontrunner for the ticket back then, it might have been a different story. This is because, apart from being young and scandal-free, the argument of a potential eight years for the north in the state house in Abuja would have been hard to beat.

When the fanning of negative tribal sentiments against Mr Abubakar’s running mate, Peter Obi, who hails from the southeastern part of the country, by some northern religious leaders is also considered, it is not surprising the PDP aspirant had a poor showing in the region.

It raises the question then of whether Mr Kwankwaso backed Mr Abubakar wholeheartedly. No one can say for sure. But I doubt very much his followers got orders from him to vote Mr Abubakar no matter what. Because when it came to the elections that likely really mattered more to Mr Kwankwaso, the governorship, that is, his followers clearly delivered.

It is also clear Mr Ganduje has a solid following in Kano. Because despite the bribery scandal hanging around his neck and the formidable Kwankwasiyya opposition he faced, he still managed to compete neck-on-neck with the PDP candidate.

Quietude wins in Ogun
Ogun went to APC in the end. And quite easily; proof that turnount at rallies is not a reliable indicator of popularity. The APC candidate Dapo Abiodun got 241,670 votes, while Adekunle Akinlade of the Allied Peoples Movement (APM) got 222,153 votes.

The outgoing governor, Ibikunle Amosun, of the APC, who is now a senator-elect, backed the APM candidate. Of course, the APC would be wise to keep Mr Amosun within the fold. Because since the APM has already announced it would be going to the tribunal to contest the results, the APC could ask Mr Amosun to stop the court challenge in exchange for the APC lifting his suspension from the party.

Demystification of Okorocha in Imo
The main opposition PDP candidate, former deputy speaker of the federal House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha, won the day in Imo state, garnering 273,404 votes.

From the look of things, Mr Okorocha’s popularity was probably a little exaggerated. The candidate he backed, his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu of the Action Alliance (AA) got 190,364 votes. Hope Uzodinma, the candidate of the ruling APC, which is officially Mr Okorocha’s political party, got 96,458 votes.

But for the divisions in the APC in Imo state, all 286,822 votes, the sum of the votes garnered by Nwosu and Uzodinma, would have given the ruling APC party a clear win in the state.

And not only did hoodlums burn an INEC office in Imo state, it is alleged Mr Okorocha forced an INEC returning officer to declare him winner of the Imo West senatorship in the 23rd February elections. In response, INEC did not publish his name in the list of senators-elect to be issued certificates of return.

Would there be a re-run? And if there is one, would he be barred from participating? Or would the hitherto 2nd place candidate be declared winner instead? Time will tell.

War of the ‘Generals’ in Rivers
The security situation in Rivers that led to INEC cancelling the electoral process there is deplorable. This is because it was unnecessary and avoidable. With APC not officially on the ballot, it also looks bad for the ruling APC party in Abuja. Because without the military’s involvement, there probably would not have been as much tension as there was. And this is the assessment by most objective observers.

Ordinarily, the incumbent governor Nyesom Wike of the PDP would be expected to carry the day in Rivers; since the APC is not on the ballot owing to court orders. Undaunted, the APC put its weight behind African Action Congress candidate Biokpomabo Awara, who claims to be leading in the 7 of the 23 local government areas of the state for which results are already in the public domain; which reports put at 289,773 votes for Awara and 76,633 votes for the incumbent Wike of the PDP.

The key two actors, Rivers state governor Wike, and former governor Rotimi Amaechi, must accept responsibility for all that has happened. Irrespective of who started what, they are both to blame for the deplorable state of the electoral process in the state. My view.

Besides, the European Union (EU) observer mission’s report on the electoral process in Rivers is very instructive. “Observers, including EU observers, were denied access to collation centres in Rivers, apparently by military personnel. In Rivers, INEC…suspended until further notice the elections due to violence in polling units and collation centres, staff being taken hostage and election materials, including results sheets, seized or destroyed by unauthorised persons. There is no doubt that the electoral process there was severely compromised.” If this conclusion is also made of the entire 2019 electoral process, one would be justified.

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