When the People’s Democratic Party was in power for 16 years, from 1999 to 2015, many Nigerians, especially members of the opposition, complained of the party’s haughtiness, highhandedness and fixation with victory. PDP was accused of seeing election as a “do-or-die affair.”
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), was a member of the opposition then. The President-elect, Senator Bola Tinubu, whose election in February has been condemned as lacking in transparency and not following the rules of the Independent National Electoral Commission, was also a member of the opposition. As opposition members, Buhari and Tinubu regularly condemned the PDP as lacking in democratic ethics and regularly flouting the rule of law. Buhari and Tinubu constantly projected themselves and the political parties as the better alternative to the PDP in terms of vision and democratic ethos.
Between 2003 and 2007 when Tinubu was in his second term, he was the only governor of the Alliance for Democracy (which later morphed into Action Congress and then Action Congress of Nigeria), having lost five of his colleagues to the PDP in 2003. He was, therefore, like an orphan in the political terrain of Nigeria, and got the sympathies of most Nigerians, including those not resident in Lagos.
In 2003 when Tinubu added extra 37 local government areas (which were later tagged local council development areas) to the existing 20 LGAs, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration chose to seize the monthly allocations to the Lagos State LGAs. Tinubu took the case to court and eventually got a judgment from the Supreme Court ordering the Obasanjo administration to release the funds to Lagos State.
Obasanjo made himself a court above the Supreme Court and decided not to release the funds. He was roundly condemned as a dictator wearing the garb of a democrat. It was obvious that Obasanjo had not purged himself of his military past.
Tinubu seized every opportunity to take pot shots at Obasanjo as a despot, painting a picture of how he and his party were true democrats who would institute an exemplary brand of leadership if given the opportunity. He also had a political past to boast of. He was a member of the National Democratic Coalition, established to fight against the military following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
Eventually, he was elected the governor of Lagos State in 1999 and ran two tenures of four years each. Since 2007, he has been the “political father” of his Action Congress of Nigeria, which in 1993 merged with the Congress for Progressive Change and the All Nigeria Peoples Party to form the All Progressives Congress, which became the ruling party in 2015.
Like Tinubu, Buhari had been in the opposition until 2015. Even though he had ruled Nigeria as a military dictator between December 31, 1983 and August 27, 1985, he joined politics and ran for president in 2003. At every opportunity, he assured the public that he was a reformed democrat. Even though his popularity was mainly in the North of Nigeria, he complained that the election was rigged against him after it was announced that he lost the election.
In 2007 he ran again and complained again of rigging. In 2011 he ran under the banner of the party he formed called Congress for Progressive Change. He lost and his supporters unleashed violence on people in some northern states in Nigeria, causing the deaths of many and destruction of property. In 2015, he ran again under the APC and beat the incumbent president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP. Instructively, Jonathan did not use thugs or influence the electoral body to win that election. The APC won because Jonathan acted in a statesmanlike way.
In 2015, following the manner Jonathan approached the election, continuously stating that his ambition was not worth the life of any Nigerian, urging nobody to rig the election on his behalf, giving INEC the free hand to conduct the election and announce results, conceding defeat even while the whole results were not in, refusing to go to court, and handing over smoothly to Buhari, Nigeria was praised as maturing in democracy.
Curiously, after many years of offering themselves as democrats who would bring an exemplary brand of politics into Nigeria, Buhari as president and Tinubu as president-elect have pushed down the quality of democracy in Nigeria, making Nigeria the butt of jokes. And they have been brazen about not allowing the electoral process to be clean. The same people who complained about the PDP and its attempts not to allow the wishes of the people or the court to stand have become worse than those they criticised.
In addition to the violence perpetrated under the watch of Buhari, he has not only disobeyed different judgements of the Supreme Court, he has even done what no civilian president has ever done by removing a sitting Chief Justice of the Federation, the head of the legislature: one of the three arms of government that should be independent of one another. Furthermore, INEC, which was praised in 2015 as setting the pace in the conduct of elections as an independent body, has become like an appendage of the government.
However, whatever happened in the past has been dimmed by what happened at the 2023 elections. In the February 25 presidential election, INEC was accused of breaking its rule to transmit results electronically from all polling units to its server. INEC ended up announcing results from result sheets that were clearly mutilated despite the complaints of opposition parties, and hurriedly declared the candidate of the ruling APC the winner of the election. The election was also marred by violence: thugs attacked voters in different places, destroyed votes and chased away voters and electoral officials.
At the governorship election held over the weekend, what happened at the presidential election became child’s play. Before the election, an unprecedented ethnic campaign held sway, especially in Lagos. Even the spokesman for the Tinubu Campaign Organisation made a threatening tweet in which he said among other things: “Let 2023 be the last time of Igbo interference in Lagos politics. Let there be no repeat in 2027.” By interference, Onanuga was referring to the fact that many non-indigenes in Lagos did not vote for Tinubu in Lagos during the presidential election, leading to his party not winning Lagos for the first time since 1999. To him and those who think like him, for a resident of Lagos not to vote for Tinubu or Tinubu’s candidate in Lagos is a crime.
It was not surprising that on the governorship election day, guns, machetes, bottles and clubs were used on voters. Interestingly, the attackers were supporters of the APC in Lagos. Thugs screened people and allowed them to vote based on their ethnic group. If there were repeated firm words from the APC leadership against such violence, such violence would not have occurred.
Despite the inciting comments made by people like Onanuga, there was no report that Tinubu reprimanded them or sacked them or that they were arrested by the police or even warned. This has emboldened more people to say or do whatever they like because they know there is no consequence for that.
Violence seems to have been normalised by the APC as part of our democracy. Sadly, it is coming from people who were victims of political highhandedness. With the official endorsement given to thuggery, ethnic baiting and suppression of the opposition, Nigeria is going into a dangerous phase of its existence. But there is still enough time to step back from this dangerous path.
- Twitter: @BrandAzuka