With 2019 general elections less than a year away, the August 11, 2018 federal constituency bye-elections in Bauchi, Katsina and Kogi states were used by the voting population as a referendum on recent happenings in the polity, especially the gale of defections, alignment and realignments across political parties and the ‘hide and seek’ politics in the national assembly. The bye-elections, conducted in the three states from three different geo-political zones in Nigeria was a strong message from the masses to the Nigerian political elites- ‘Do your thing using power and authority at your disposal; while we do our thing by the power of ballot box’.
The bye-elections brought some important political matters to public glare – majority of Nigerians see the recent gale of defections as purely motivated by personal interests rather than national. This means the majority of people who voted in the 11 August 2018 bye-election cast their votes for APC as sign of unconcern with defections regardless of who have defected to which party. To the most people, defections are seen as battle between the elites and Buhari. Naturally Nigerians are thrilled when political elites experience discomfort.
On another hand, the gale of defections has by default become a blessing for APC and its candidates in the bye-elections in Bauchi, Katsina and Kogi. The massive votes the APC candidates got during the bye-elections were not a reflection of their individual popularity or capacity to win by such figures, rather the votes were for Buhari. In fact, many people have vowed not to vote for parties but individuals; however recent political developments have unconsciously reignited the APC ‘Sak’ mantra in the north, which is purely a vote for Buhari against what the masses see as the gang up against Buhari by the elites.
The bye-election has given President Muhammadu Buhari a reassurance that his stronghold still has confidence on him, and at the same time, it has thrown a huge challenge to the president. It presents him a golden opportunity to consolidate his support base independently and also use public opinion as a guide to correct some mistakes in his administration. Buhari should double his efforts to tackle the real issues affecting the masses – high cost of living and insecurity. Politicians, in the APC who still feel sidelined in the scheme of things need to be considered- this can be achieved by collaborating with state governors.
Furthermore, the bulk of Buhari supporters in his stronghold are new generation, young educated northerners who always ask questions and cannot simply be shepherded by anyone but logical reasoning. Buhari should personally make sure these young ones are reached with employment and uplift their businesses and endeavors. Many people around the president have failed to make impact in reaching young people at grassroots. The Buhari government should create additional infrastructure development activities that will engage people, like massive housing projects in all the 36 states. This type of project will trigger huge jobs across board and also serve as a template for fighting poverty. A right step already taken in this direction is the Federal Government recent approval for Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to grant small loans and theTrader Moni initiatives.
On another hand, the bye elections also showed that there have been noticeable improvements in the conduct of elections in the country. We must commend the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The commission was able to stop cases of votes stuffing, rigging and other official election malpractices. Nigeria has had unsavoury electioneering situations in the past, like election results being announced while votes were still being collated, declaring the ruling party victorious with numbers exceeding the number of registered voters. All these are now impossible.
Though there are complaints of vote buying from all sides and this can be combated with improved voter education. However, this is an indication that, the Buhari administration has forced politicians back to their senses- that the voter is ultimate.
Zayyad I. Muhammad writes from Jimeta, Adamawa State,firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs atwww.zayyaddp.blogspot.com