They have run the race – the big race for the ultimate political trophy in our country, the presidency. It has been gruelling for the front runners: Ahmed Bola Tinubu (APC), Atiku Abubakar (PDP) and Peter Obi (LP). And with dirt never far from politics, dirt and mud and character assassination were tossed about with the intent to sink political opponents in the slush of competitiveness. Only one of them will breast the tape tomorrow as our next president.
Atiku is in the race for the record fifth time. Will he be fifth time lucky? Tinubu is a wily politician with tentacles all over the country. He, like the late Moshood Abiola before him, has used his considerable wealth to make friends. It is pay back for his generosity. As I have written here and elsewhere, Obi represents a possibly new phenomenon in our national politics. History has records of men like him who helped to change the direction of their national politics and development. I am sure that each man is genuine in his intention to rescue our country and point it towards the direction of our collective dreams for a nation that has repeatedly forfeited its legitimate leadership role on the African continent.
Now, by law, the campaigns have ended. The legitimate and the hired crowds of supporters have thinned out, leaving each presidential candidate to nurse his own anxieties. Posters that adorn every imaginable space everywhere in the land will now serve a new, useful purpose as wrappings for the women who fry yams and akara by the roadside in our towns and cities. They have served their primary purpose of promoting the candidates and their plethora of slogans and promises consistent with the tradition of elective political office seekers. It is the way of politics; it is the way of the world.
As you read this, each presidential candidate knows that his political fate is now in the hands of the ordinary man, the very ordinary man without a face and without a name; an ordinary man who ordinarily does not matter but yet in the quest for political power, he is the man in whose shrine the powerful and the rich and the influential are forced to worship. Tinubu, Abubakar and Obi are wealthy men who have held the country by the ears each in his own way in our national politics. Familiar names, familiar, familiar voices.
Each man has had some limited contact with the ordinary man and perhaps watched him pick up the crumbs to survive. Indeed, each of the presidential candidates seeks the presidency to ostensibly better the lot of the ordinary man. For him, he will build roads, health facilities, schools, provide light, put food, not crumbs, on his rickety table and give him a new country with opportunities for his children. Political promises are not cast in stone. They are tied to the apron strings of the wind.
Democracy has decreed that none of the front runners for president can become president without the thumbs up of the ordinary man. Each of them must reckon with the decision of the ordinary man tomorrow; a man who, in the nature of human demographics, is not even fit to tie or untie their shoelaces. With his ballot paper, this man is the only man permitted by the law to unlock the gates to Aso Rock for the man of his choice and shut it in the faces of the other political office seekers.
Democracy in developing nations such as ours, is the tyranny of the uninformed ordinary man. We have to live with whatever he decides tomorrow. He may decide rightly or wrongly but the law permits him to decide freely and fairly. He does not know what the man he chooses stands for; he has no way of assessing his capacity and his suitability for the elective office he seeks. He only knows that the law confers on him the right to choose rather than decide on his next set of political masters. His decision has been mis-dubbed verdict 2023.
These are anxious times for the candidates; and they are equally anxious times for the rest of the country as well as the international community. We are all on tenterhooks as we wait to go to the polls tomorrow where, for better, for worse, we will choose one man out of the those who have been called and crown him as our next president. If heads are not broken in the process, the rest of the world will heave a huge sigh of relief.
Our elections have always been sources of local and international anxieties – and for good reasons. The 2023 general elections are no exception. We have not raised the tenor of our national political discourse beyond attempts to mine our fault lines. It is still the politics of sloganeering garnished with refurbished old promises that have remained unfulfilled from one election season to another and from one set of politicians to another. It is the way of our national politics.
We have never got it right. In 2007, foreign and local election observers told the world in clear terms that the conduct of the elections that year, the second civilian-to-civilian transition since our return to civil rule in 1999, was so poor that it did not even meet regional standards. It was a painful slap on our face as a nation. But to be fair, we have made some incremental improvements in our general election since then. Much of the abuses inherent in the system has been incrementally taken care of but the nature of political competition makes it difficult for a political system to cruise on the placid seas of fairness and justice all of the time.
Foreign observers are here to monitor how we do it; more importantly, they are here to see if there are significant improvements in how we use the ballot paper to legitimately give elective offices to the deserving. What will be their verdict in 2023? Their opinions matter.
Our elections have always been characterised by rigging before and during our elections, major or minor. We have always quite remarkably managed to disappoint those who expect our country to be a beacon to the black race and thus yielded our right as the leader of the African continent to lesser nations less endowed with natural and human resources. With our hearts in our mouths, some of us watched as the processes leading to the current 2023 general elections were buffeted by the gales of unregenerated political minds traditionally used to mining our fault lines of religion and ethnicity. Fears that the elections might eventually be marred by them were genuine and gave the professional doomsayers good reasons to make their dark predictions on the current and the future of our democracy.
But you must give it to us, the ordinary Nigerians. We are masters of the game and political brinkmanship. We always manage to pull the country from the brink of looming disasters. Whatever the pundits will eventually say, my take is that the 2023 general elections will be different in almost every particular. They will be fairer, more legitimate, and even freer, all things being equal. If ever there were legitimate hopes for improved democratic elections in our country, the 2023 general elections pack that promise, thanks to Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman and his team.
He has fought hard against the odds mounted by the politicians to remove the glaring obstacles to free, fair, and credible elections. I do not think he will count himself among the intimate friends of our politicians because they do not see his radical sanitation of our elections as a friendly act. Now they cannot rig as freely and as boldly as they used to do.
Yakubu has plugged the gaping holes that made rigging more or less inevitable. He closed the gate on ballot box snatching; he has pulled the plug on physical transmission of election results where some of the most grievous sins in our electoral system were committed against the people and the nation. The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) frightens the politicians. I can hear the gnashing of teeth in the political kingdom.
No electoral system in developed and developing countries is immune to abuse by the power seekers. The best that anyone can do is to make it difficult for those abuses to remain blatant. Yakubu has done what no one in that office before him has done. The rest is left to the electorate. Its verdict will be its verdict on Yakubu’s achievements too. The future of our country is in the hands of the ordinary man, aka common man. Whatever he decides tomorrow represents our collective decision.