Who Benefited From The Election Postponement? - by Uche Igwe

When the postponement of the general election earlier scheduled for February 14 and 28 was announced last February, the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, struggled to give reasons for its action. 

It cited security reasons resulting from the advice of the military that they could not guarantee security in certain parts of the country during the elections. Many other Nigerians insisted that INEC itself might not have been logistically prepared for the elections. There were clearly supporters and dissenters to the decision within the political class along party lines.

From the events that followed in the past few weeks, it has become crystal clear that the postponement had nothing to do with the reasons offered by INEC. The ruling Peoples Democratic Party was not prepared for the elections and could not stand the defeat that was staring it in the face. Many of the party’s senior members had confirmed that they just wanted an opportunity to improve their electoral chances. Nigerians must give it to the PDP, it attempted to benefit from the postponement. 

Many activities were clearly connected to that agenda. The new military offensive against the Boko Haram insurgents, the President’s visit to soldiers and civilians in Bama and Biu, the aggressive media visibility including the campaign of calumny against notable opposition leaders, the nationwide outreach to religious leaders, the visit to traditional rulers in the South-West and the alleged push for the anti-corruption agency to investigate opposition leaders were all segments of a well-rehearsed agenda to make Nigerians see the PDP in a better light and hopefully win them over.

From all the opinion polls that were conducted before February 14, the opposition All Progressives Congress was clearly on the lead and would have won the presidential election but for the postponement. However, many analysts argue that the party has not done much since after the postponement beyond the appearance of its presidential candidate at the Chatham House, London and a town hall meeting in Lagos. Although the Chatham House event sent a clear positive signal to the world, observers insist that the opposition party needed to do more especially against the background of calculated efforts to tarnish its image and erode its support base. Many leaders of the party have argued that they do not want to join issues with the PDP. While that may be true and understandable, the APC has not done much of constructive policy communication expected of a party that is waiting to form a government.

While the intensity of the PDP led efforts must be acknowledged, one is not sure whether its objectives were achieved. Did the image of the ruling party get any better before Nigerians? Has this plethora of efforts potentially or actually contributed to any shift in the electoral fortunes of the PDP? It is the position of this writer that the reverse might be the case. The PDP has unwittingly painted President Goodluck Jonathan as a very desperate politician who is afraid of defeat and who is willing to either have his way or scuttle the entire electoral process. For instance, many Nigerians were very unhappy to see the picture of the President sitting helplessly with Obas pointing their walking sticks at him. Were they praying for him? Was it necessary or helpful to put out such a picture in the public domain?

I reckon that someone like the spokesperson for President Jonathan’s campaign, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, is working hard to either impress his boss or improve his electoral chances. But many see his barrage of negative comments and demeaning outbursts as very unnecessary and in fact hurtful to the President’s image. I also feel the same way for the wife of the President, Dame Patience Jonathan, and the Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose. For the First Lady, I suspect that she means well for her husband. She is visibly worried about the possible outcome of the election and labouring to make sure that things go in their favour. However, her public eruptions are worsening the President’s chances instead. Media reports now indicate that the International Criminal Court has started investigating her and this may lead to disastrous consequences in the likely event of defeat on March 28. For Fayose, his wild but largely unsubstantiated accusations against Buhari wasted opportunities that he would have used to positively market President Jonathan in the South-West. The comments of the Enugu Catholic Priest, Rev. Ejike Mbaka, also dealt a heavy blow to the President’s support base.

With a few days to the election, very little seems to have changed in terms of the expected outcome. It appears that a majority of voters in Nigeria had made up their mind before the postponement. Many voters in the South-South and South-East still remain in support of President Jonathan. Although they neither believe that he is a competent politician nor that he will win his election, however, they do not want to be seen as the ones who stopped their “brother”. So, the reasons for their support are purely sentimental. Among other supporters of the President are some conservative Christians who have fallen to the negative propaganda spread by the PDP that Buhari is planning to “Islamise” Nigeria and grant amnesty to Boko Haram insurgents when elected into office. Really? Although Buhari has repeatedly distanced himself from this allegation, he may still need to come clearer on this if he hopes to sway some of these voters.

In the last two days, the campaign is now shifting from the level of preparedness of INEC and the campaign against the use of card readers to the allegations of partiality of the electoral umpire, Prof. Attahiru Jega. Demonstrations against Jega have already held in Enugu and Lagos organised by the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra and Oodua People’s Congress respectively. The protesters were seen brandishing lethal weapons publicly under the full glare of security agencies. Who armed them? Who are those sponsoring them? What is the implication of these arms in the hands of non-state actors beyond the elections? Is it a new chapter in an unfolding agenda? Who wants hostility? Who wants acrimony?

Beyond the outcome of the elections, the prevailing political climate has clearly shown a climate of instability. The implication is that there has been enormous capital flight from Nigeria. Investor confidence has reduced and the reputation of the profile of political corruption in Nigeria has worsened. Inexplicable shortfall in the national revenue made manifest in the inability of some states to meet their current financial responsibilities. This has led to tethering hardship among the Nigerian public which is clearly avoidable. Some of the injuries inflicted on the economy as a result of politics may be difficult to heal. The move to postpone the elections further will catapult the country into a needless constitutional crisis that will truncate the electoral process. That will be unimaginable and unconscionable. There is a need for our political class to ponder about what will advance our national interest beyond the bitter divides of partisanship. Whatever could not be achieved by both parties so far may not be achieved again. President Jonathan should take leadership as a statesman in encouraging INEC to go ahead with the planned elections. Whatever will be the outcome should be accepted by all parties with equanimity. After all, our country is bigger (and must be seen to be bigger) than any individual or political party.