By Azuka Onwuka
One naive statement some Nigerians make is:
“Jonathan failed us and we voted him out; come 2019 if Buhari fails us, we will vote him out.”
Really? Can President Muhammadu Buhari be voted out if he decides to run in 2019? Let us look at some issues that will help us gauge if this is possible.
In 2003, there were serious accusations against Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who was then President, that the elections did not reflect the wishes of the people. For example, in 1999 the Peoples Democratic Party lost elections in all the six states of the South-West. It was seen as a rejection of Obasanjo by his Yoruba kinsmen. He was ridiculed by many because of that.
By 2003, without any obvious rise in the PDP’s popularity, the party suddenly won five of the six South-West states. Lagos escaped because of the smartness of the governor of the state then, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Given the high level of electoral malpractice in that election, that victory was seen as questionable and unbelievable. In many other states, there were complaints of electoral fraud. But the one that was eventually upturned by the court was the victory of the PDP in Anambra, where the party’s candidate, Dr Chris Ngige, who came fourth, was declared the winner of the election instead of Mr Peter Obi, who won the election. Curiously too, Obasanjo that was not popular in the South-East was even declared to have defeated Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, in his home state, Anambra. It looked bizarre. But most people were not surprised, for Nigerian incumbents were not known to allow themselves to be declared losers while in office.
If the 2003 election was bad, the election of 2007 was terrible. Having lost the bid to have a change of the constitution to allow him a third term in office, Obasanjo chose the then governor of Katsina State, Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, the younger brother of his erstwhile deputy, Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, as the presidential candidate of the PDP. He also chose Dr Goodluck Jonathan, who was then the governor of Bayelsa State, as Yar’Adua’s running mate. The PDP’s convention where the presidential candidate would be “elected” was a fait accompli, with the EFCC breathing down the neck of anybody who opposed Obasanjo’s decision.
While the Independent National Electoral Commission was accused of thwarting the electoral decision of the people on a large scale in 2003, in 2007, INEC did not even bother to provide electoral materials for many voters. That was also the year the voter register had names like Mike Tyson and Michael Jackson. Election observers called for the election to be cancelled.
Yet, Yar’Adua was inaugurated as president on May 29, 2007. Like in 2003, the 2007 presidential election was challenged in court but was lost. But states like Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun got their results (which all favoured the PDP) upturned. As President, Yar’Adua even acknowledged that the election that brought him in was not “clean”.
With the death of Yar’Adua in office in 2010, Jonathan became the President and supervised the 2011 election. The election was not fantastic, but one thing most people acknowledged was that it was a departure from the electoral trend from 1999. One thing that gave credence to that was that those who emerged as winners across the federation were acknowledged as the favourites of the electorate. Even bigwigs of the PDP, lost election, including the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Dimeji Bankole, and daughter of Obasanjo, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo.
In addition, the PDP lost the control of some states. In the South-West, for example, the PDP lost all the six states as it did in 1999. There was renewed hope and belief in the electoral system.
The introduction of technology in the electoral system to stop multiple registration and voting made the electoral process even better. Before the election, the opposition was confident that it would vote out the incumbent President Jonathan.
When that happened, Jonathan called his opponent, Buhari, and congratulated him for his victory. It was unprecedented in Nigeria and most African countries. The fear that had mounted over the fate of Nigeria as a result of the election dissipated.
If Jonathan had tampered with the result and was declared winner, it could have caused some crisis in the nation. But if it was a president that preferred power over lives of the people, the military and the police would have been drafted to shoot at demonstrators and quell any post-election riots. The people would have felt bitter and helpless, but the President who stole their mandate would have continued in office for four years.
Since assuming power, has Buhari shown that he would congratulate an opponent if defeated? State elections were held in Kogi, Bayelsa, Rivers and Edo. In an election that was treated like a war with many casualties, the PDP (as the national opposition party) snatched victory from the jaws of the tiger in Bayelsa and Rivers (seemingly because the governors of both states were of the PDP). Curiously, Buhari did not congratulate the PDP candidates who won in those states, but he did that in states won by his party, the APC. The quality of the elections too has not shown any improvement or even parity with the 2015 election.
In addition, the way Buhari’s government has reacted to demonstrators is a sign of how he will react in 2019 if he is announced as the winner and people hit the streets in protest. For example, for protesting against the detention of their leaders, members of the Indigenous People of Biafra were shot at. Amnesty International’s report said that most of the IPOB casualties were shot at the back, a confirmation that they were fleeing from the security agents when they were shot at. Some of them were even shot inside a secondary school in Aba where they were praying for the release of their leader, while some were shot at within church premises where they had gathered to mark the anniversary of the declaration of the Republic of Biafra in 1967.
Similarly, members of the Shiite movement were also shot at on the way and later in their homes for allegedly blocking the way of the Chief of Army Staff. At least, 347 Shiites were confirmed to have been shot dead and buried. Since December 2015, the leader of the Shiites, Sheik Ibrahim El Zakzaky, has not been seen after he was brutalised by the army and taken away. He is believed to be in detention. Contrary to the provisions of the constitution that citizens cannot be detained indefinitely without being charged to court or being specially ordered to be kept in detention by a court, Zakzaky has not been charged or released or ordered to be detained by a court for security reasons.
The way Buhari made appointments into INEC and the security agencies also shows that he does not want to take any chances about the future.
Therefore, it is naïve for people to say that they will vote Buhari out in 2019 if he fails to live up to expectations. If Buhari decides to run for the 2019 election, nothing can make him not to be declared the winner. And in 2023, whoever he chooses as the candidate of the APC will be declared the winner of the party primaries as well as the presidential election. He will not risk allowing an opponent to succeed him.
Like Obasanjo, Buhari is a retired army general and former military head of state. African generals do not accept defeat from civilians. African presidents do not accept to be defeated. That Jonathan did it was an aberration rather than the norm.
Buhari cannot allow himself to be voted out. If he chooses to have two terms, nobody can stop him. And whoever he chooses to succeed him when he is done will succeed him.
That is the reality. Anybody who thinks otherwise is living in denial
Onwuka is a Public Affairs Analyst.