OPINION: When The ‘Popular’ Vote is Unpopular

OPINION When The ‘Popular Vote is Unpopular min 1

A ‘victory’ standing on sinking sand?

Six months ago, Nigeria held its 10th presidential election. None of the elections preceding this was free of contestation. The outcomes were disputed and legally battled up to the Supreme Court level in that the final decision on the officially backed winner and the subsequent swearing into office of candidates were not only made at the ballot boxes but also at the jury box.

To many, the election was a battle between two forces: on the one hand, the youths yearning for a brighter future, and on the other hand, the deeply entrenched corrupt old system that has been feeding off the backs of the commonwealth of the nation, seeking to reinforce or tighten their grips on power. But through the ballots, their beloved and one of the leading presidential hopefuls, the youth, have sent out their message with one voice: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! The message was so forceful that the acclaimed godfather of Nigeria’s southwest politics was defeated in his stronghold state, Lagos.

The economic anguish—mainly the rising cost of living and insecurity that clouded the last eight years—has propelled many Nigerians to take an active part in the 2023 elections. With unabashed defiance, the voters triumphed over the obstacles on the paths to the polling stations and voted, but sadly, their votes were not counted. They were repressed and counted out. Many Nigerian voters and local and international observers have defined the polls as the most fraudulent elections of all time. For example, in its 94-page report, the EU Election Observer Mission stated,

“The 2023 general elections did not ensure a well-run, transparent, and inclusive democratic process as assured by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Public confidence and trust in INEC were severely damaged during the presidential poll and were not restored in state-level elections, leading civil society to call for an independent audit of the entire process. Abuse of incumbency by various political officeholders distorted the playing field, and widespread vote-buying detracted from the appropriate conduct of the elections. Incidents of organized violence shortly before and on election days in several states created an environment deterring voter participation.”

Their repudiation of the outcome is predicated on the fact that the conduct of the elections was not consistent with the legislatively supported electoral guidelines and that the electoral body, INEC, the military, and the ruling party have colluded in pilfering votes and victories. Nationally, the mood of the people is not blissfully in tandem with the announcement of the election results, as the streets were (and still are) destitute of joys and jubilations that were often preceded by the conduct of robust presidential elections. The bottom line is that the declared ‘winner’ has yet to win the warmth of the majority of the voters.

Why is this ‘victory’ on trial?

Regarding the electoral guidelines, Nigeria is yet to adopt the use of electronic voting, but the latest Electoral Act mandates the electronic transmission of results from the polling units to the database of the electoral commission and subsequently the national collation center, where the winner will be announced by the chief returning officer, the INEC chairman. The Electoral Act was well received by both the local and international communities because it will improve transparency in choosing leaders and consequently deepen the largest democracy on the African continent.

The BVAS, or bimodal voter accreditation system, is to the electoral process at polling booths what an invigilator is to the conduct of an academic examination in a hall or a college setting, where answer scripts (or booklets) will no longer be trusted if no invigilator is present throughout the exam. Similarly, election results are severely called into question in the absence of BVAS live-transmitting results from polling stations to collation centers. Because the non-transmission of the results in real-time is equivalent to the dismantling of the guardrails erected to protect the voting process from corruption, fraud, and manipulation,

Statistically and historically, is it practically impossible for a candidate to win Nigeria’s presidential elections without winning the triple-K states (Kano, Katsina, and Kaduna) and Lagos, plus losing in 25 (out of 36) states and the federal capital? The announced results seem to have offset this oddity. At this juncture, it should be noted that the three leading candidates, according to the questionable results, won 12 states each, with wins spread across at least four of the six subregional zones.

But will justice roll on like a river?

The election was contested by 18 candidates, but only three clinched roughly 90 per cent of the total valid votes. The other two candidates with more than two-thirds of the total valid votes have vowed to reclaim their mandates through the courts. But “will justice roll on like a river?”

The Supreme Court as a legal institution is under question because the chief justice responsible for appointing members of the presidential election tribunal is being accused of cozying up to the ruling party and its presidential candidate. This skepticism is fuelled by recent judicial antecedents of the Supreme Court: e.g., the transfer of mandate from Machina to Lawal and from Ekpoudom to Akpabio. Both judgments were in favor of the party in power. There is nothing wrong with the scale of justice swinging in this direction, provided the verdicts are impartial, consistent with the Constitution, and rooted in unvarnished evidence.

Antecedents play a role in some of the public’s mistrust of the judicial system. Previous executive actions have shown that the judiciary arm of the government is not utterly independent of the executive branch of government in that, through presidential powers, the chief justice of the federation was once booted out of office on ‘allegations’ of corruption. In stable democracies, justices are removed from office by at least two-thirds of the members of Congress, the legislative branch of government. Nonetheless, there seems to be a ray of hope on the horizon.

The two leading legal challengers in the presidential polls have had successful legal histories throughout their political careers. Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, then vice president of Nigeria, won 11 legal battles against the then-sitting president and his boss. Also, Peter Obi of the Labour Party repossessed two stolen electoral mandates as the governor of the richest state in the southeast region of Nigeria. Nonetheless, they seem to express shaky trust in the current judicial system.

A victory standing on sinking sand?

A government by the people will benefit from the goodwill of the people. Tellingly, a blissful marriage is a two-way street. The bride is in love with the groom, and the groom is also in love with the bride. But chaos sets in and reigns in a union where the bride is foisted on the groom or the groom is imposed on the bride. Similarly, a leadership not established by the absolute will of the people will struggle to govern the people, even if it promises the people streets of gold, because the government, given the process by which it was vaulted to power, has failed to win the affection of the people as their wishes were subverted. Subsequently, the government becomes unpopular among the citizens, ultimately sowing and breeding the seed of rebellion among the governed.

The wounds inflicted by injustice can only be healed through one means: returning to the people their legitimate mandate. Those fighting for and looking forward to a new and better Nigeria believe that the destiny of the nation is superior to the desperate and ill-driven ambition of any politician and that one man cannot hold to ransom a country of more than a quarter of a billion people. Nigeria must be freed from the iron clasp of those holding back its progress.

Finally, when a victory is on trial, it is expected to be tried by the judicial branch of the government. But when the judiciary is also on trial, who will try it? As Mr. Mindset (a political consultant and Twitter Space Host) will always say: “Keep your eyes on the Judiciary”

Zuhumnan Dapel