When tomorrow comes – Thisday

The key pivotal events witnessed in 2018 will likely shape the 2019 national election, making it not only a politically intriguing one, but also entertaining

Heightened Insecurity Ahead

In assessing Nigeria in 2018, key pivotal events point to a frightening new year. Being an election year, one thing is a constant in 2019, which begins from tomorrow. Nigerians are sure to witness a heightened insecurity across the country.

As it is with the months preceding national elections, there are already pockets of violence in the form of terrorism, armed robbery, kidnapping, including intimidation of citizens by security operatives.

The Boko Haram terrorist group, claimed by the federal government on several occasions to have been “technically defeated”, are ambushing, killing soldiers, taking over their bases, and hoisting flags.

This renewed attacks has prompted the Governor of Borno (one of the most attacked states by Boko Haram in the Northeast region), Kashim Shettima, to call for an emergency security meeting of all the stakeholders.

Several news sources are awash with reports of Boko Haram attacks on military locations in the Northeast, especially in parts of Borno state. Even the Nigerian army on December 26, owned up to an attack by the Boko Haram insurgents on one of its formation at Baga, Borno.

According to the army in a Twitter post, “Gallant Troops of 7 Brigade, Baga are currently engaging and neutralising Boko Haram terrorists who attempted to infiltrate their location in Baga. Details later.”

Although the army said that the insurgents were “neutralised” during the attack, even claiming they were in pursuit of the insurgents, several news sources disputed that claim, reporting that on the contrary, the insurgents had overran the military base and taken control of the town.

Just as is being insinuated in several quarters, the Nigerian army thinks the heightened insecurity is due to the upcoming 2019 national election, and is conducting a nationwide Operation Python Dance to checkmate it.

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, during the operation’s flag-off ceremony in Maiduguri, capital of Borno, said the exercise was necessitated by the increasing security threats such as “terrorism, militancy, kidnapping and banditry”, and claims that “dissident groups and criminal elements could cash in on the situation to perpetrate large-scale violence before, during and after the 2019 general elections.”

According to Buratai, the exercise would last from January 1 to February 28, 2019, covering the periods of the 2019 presidential and national assembly elections. That of the governorship and state assembly would take place on March 2, according to the election timetable.

One would expect that the measures being put in place by the army would alleviate the fears of Nigerians. Not so. With the daily disappearance of soldiers during attacks by Boko Haram, and now the abscondment of 167 police officers that were to be deployed against the group, it appears the masses are fast losing faith in the security agencies to protect them.

Miyetti Allah’s #StandWithBuhari

Sometime in August, one Garus Gololo who is the Benue State coordinator for the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), an umbrella body for the Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria, asked Senate President Bukola Saraki to resign, “or we will force him out.”

Distancing the association from the comment made by Gololo, MACBAN in a statement signed by its secretary, Othman Ngelzarma, said the group was “non-partisan”, and “with no interest in the political terrain…”

Fast forward to four months after, the same MACBAN that categorically stated that it was non-partisan and had no interest in politics, during the association’s 5th General Meeting with over 2000 attending members, endorsed President Muhammadu Buhari for reelection.

This time, guess who spoke on behalf of the group? The National President, one Muhammadu Kirowa. According to Kirowa, the association’s decision was because, “no administration had looked into our plight the way President Buhari has done since the inception of the association.”

Speaking earlier at the same meeting, Ngelzarma, who had signed the August statement promising that MACBAN was non-partisan, had also pledged the group’s continuous loyalty and support for Buhari.

Making spurious claim of having “over 20 million members” in Nigeria, MACBAN said those in attendance were representatives from Nigeria’s 774 local governments, and their view was to support Buhari.

Observers consider it a disturbing trend that an association whose marauding members have been accused of raiding Middle Belt villages in the North-central part of the country, killing and raping girls and women, and who the Global Terrorism Index ranks as the fourth deadliest terror group in the world, can come out openly to endorse Buhari.

For the many atrocities committed by members of MACBAN, the federal government has excused and handled them with kid gloves. People fear that to retain a government biased towards their interests, MACBAN would deploy all of its arsenal to ensure that Buhari was elected again.

2019 and the role of money

Right from picking a party form, to lobbying party stakeholders to emerge the candidate up until the campaign period and the actual Election Day, money has always played major role during elections in Nigeria. Several observers believe that the 2019 will not be an exception.

Judging from the alleged vote buying witnessed during the 2018 Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, there are concerns the 2019 elections would be worse, with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), trying to outspend each other in soliciting for the people’s vote.

The APC-led federal government has been accused of using the anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to go after opposition fund, and pave the way for it to be the only party with enough fund to buy votes and win the elections.…

In making this allegation, critics of the ruling government reference the EFCC’s plan to monitor campaign funds donated to political parties for the 2019 elections as well as donors’ identities.

Critics say the EFCC is biased in its fight against corruption, shielding members of the APC from prosecution. They cite instances like the filing of fraud charges against the Akwa Ibom governor, Emmanuel Udom, while leaving his Kano state counterpart, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, caught on video taking bribe money from state contractors.

They also accuse the APC of using dubious means of raising fund for Buhari’s reelection, citing the donation of N1.77 billion given to Buhari by the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) and the Fertilisers Producers and Suppliers Association of Nigeria (FEPSAN).

Also, critics of the APC have accused it of using its Trader Moni scheme, one of the government’s initiative under the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP), for vote buying. They say the timing of the distribution of the money to traders and the fact that vice-president Yemi Osinbajo goes about distributing it himself was suspicious.

Atiku vs Buhari: To debate or not?

Buhari has been advised by his party members not to participate in the January 19, 2019 debate being organised by the Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG) in partnership with the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON), with one of the president’s appointee, Prof. Itse Sagay, selling the idea his deputy, Osinbajo, can debate in his place.

Sagay who is Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), told the media that the vice-president can represent the President “if that is what the government wants”, and since the debate was not about eloquence but “what the various parties have to offer.”

Participating parties for the debate according to the NEDG are the APC’s Buhari; PDP’s Atiku Abubakar; the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Oby Ezekwesili; Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN), Fela Durotoye, and Young Progressives Party (YPP), Kingsley Moghalu.

Out of these five candidates, Buhari is the only one that appears reluctant to debate. When a similar debate was organised by Channels Television, Arise TV and the Newspapers Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) in 2015, his party also refused him from debating.

The APC’s defense then was that some Nigerian media organisations were at the time compromised, and could not vouch for the independence of some of the organisers of that year’s debate. Now the ruling party does not have any defense except that Osinbajo can represent Buhari.

Ever since the NEDG released the date for the debate, and was suspected that Buhari would decline, high ranking members of the opposition PDP have been on the offensive, taunting the president to debate.

The National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, has challenged Buhari to debate Atiku. “We challenge President Buhari to come out and debate and tell the people what he wants to do… Let him debate on issues with our candidate. Let him come out and debate.”

Secondus who accused Buhari of playing politics of “intimidation and arm-twisting”, said the PDP had “the best candidate in the country today”, and won’t accept a situation that Buhari would debate by proxy. “If you want to rule Nigeria, come out and tell the people what you intend to do.”

The PDP candidate himself has said he is “ready to debate Muhammadu Buhari”. Shortly after watching the vice-presidential debate of December 14, Atiku Tweeted: “I watched with pride as Peter Obi laid out our vision to get Nigeria working again, I can’t wait for the presidential debate.”

Critics of Buhari accuse the president of being incompetent and that his party, the APC, knows that he would be disgraced by the more vibrant and knowledgeable candidates of the PDP, ACPN, ANN and YPP. They say the APC is worried Buhari might embarrass the party if allowed to debate.

Do Youths have the ace?

The 2019 general elections has been promoted in several quarters as the biggest opportunity for Nigerian youths to assert themselves in the polity. With the country having one of the most youthful populations, said to be, between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of the country’s population, all the political parties have made attempts to woo this critical segment. Already, President Buhari advertises the Not-too-Young-To-Run law as one of the achievements of his administration. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the main opposition, PDP has promised Nigerian youths that 60 per cent of the composition of the federal executive council under his administration will comprise youths. He said specifically that the Ministry of Youth Development will be run by an individual under 30 years of age. The campaign for increased participation of youths in the election can be said to have yielded positive fruits. The enthusiasm by youths is not only visible in the attempt to run for public office. A good majority of Nigerian youths are said to have been enraged by the purported reference to them as ‘lazy’ by Buhari and have been awakened to get their PVC to teach the president a bitter lesson. According to the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, during INEC’s Campus Outreach at University of Lagos, Nigerian youths had a major role to play in determining the outcome of 2019 general election as they constituted the bulk of electoral officials and voters. Yakubu said: “We have about 120,000 polling units nationwide, each polling unit is manned by minimum of four ad-hoc staff and majority of which are youths serving their father land. We registered 9.7 million new voter’s majority of which are young people. These youths also constitute the bulk of voters during election. So Nigeria youths need to take it upon themselves to register, vote and make necessary changes that they all desire.”

Participation by other political parties:

While there have been arguments for and against the propriety of having 91 registered political parties, the fielding of candidates by these parties for the Presidential and National Assembly elections has provided a pointer to the spread, and possibly the strength of these partisan groups. From the ‘Summary of Submission of Form CF002 for Presidential and National Assembly Elections’ issued by INEC, the Peoples Trust, PT, which has Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim as its presidential candidate leads the pack of newly registered parties with a strong presence, by presenting 194 candidates. The breakdown shows that the party has one presidential candidate and one candidate for the office of the vice president. There are 52 senatorial candidates and 140 aspirants for the House of Representatives respectively running on its platform. Following the PT closely are the Justice Must Prevail Party (JMPP), 182, Mega Party of Nigeria (MPN) 176, the Action Democratic Party (ADP), 136, the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), 115 and the Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD), 106. At the bottom of the ladder are the New Generation Party (NGP) and the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) that both have one contender each for the House of Representatives. The Modern Democratic Party (MDP) and the Youth Party (YP) have two nominees each for the House of Representatives. Four of the 89 political parties vying for various offices only have candidates for the position of president and vice president. They are the People’s Coalition Party (PCP), We The Peoples of Nigeria (WTPN), AUN and the Reform and Advance Party (RAP). Other parties whose total number of candidates for the 2019 presidential and national assembly elections in are in the single digit bracket are the Save Nigeria Congress (SNC) which is fielding five candidates, the Change Nigeria Party (CNP) with seven contenders and the Liberation Movement (LM), presenting nine runners.

A major cause of concern within the political parties is the rancorous primary elections conducted by some of the 91 political parties in Nigeria which led to about 698 litigations against INEC. Though INEC is not the cause of the problem, the commission was joined in the suits because it monitored the conduct of party primaries. There is also the threat by 75 political parties under the auspices of the Inter-party Advisory Council (IPAC) to boycott the 2019 general elections if the new amendment in the electoral act is not assented to. However, the political parties are already further divided with the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), comprising over 40 groups queuing behind the presidential candidate of the PDP. On the flip side, political groups like the United Peoples Party (UPP) and the Allied Peoples Movement (APM) have pitched their tent with Buhari, by adopting him as their presidential candidate.

Can INEC be trusted to deliver a free and fair election?

The INEC is trapped in a seeming paradoxical situation from which it cannot escape. At different times, the two leading political parties, the APC and the PDP have accused it favouring the other (or planning to do so). As things stand, no one is sure if the commission has been given all or some of the over N180 billion it requested for the conduct of the elections. Apart from suspicion of complicity in the alleged plans by the ruling APC to rig the elections, there are genuine concerns that the commission may have been deliberately starved of funds to stop it from an excellent delivery of its mandate. But those who strongly criticise INEC for alleged plans to help the APC rig the elections in its favour point to what they describe as the commission’s openly partisan role in the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states, in which the candidates of the PDP lost to the APC under controversial circumstances. As things stand the PDP has largely succeeded in creating a situation that if the APC eventually wins (particularly the presidential) election, its allegation that the ruling party’s victory was obtained fraudulently will be widely accepted.

Interest of foreign organisations in the Nigerian elections

As the seventh largest population in the world, a leader on the African continent with a growing economy (even if challenged), an active and very enterprising youths, the potential of Nigeria is not lost on the rest of the world. The country has been on the threshold of a major breakthrough for many years. The advanced economies of the world know the importance of having a seamless and rancour free political transition in Nigeria, at least to maintain civil stability on the continent. Every major global organization is interested in monitoring events leading to Nigeria’s national elections and the actual voting process itself. In order to deepen democratic institutions in the country and increase education of the populace, these bodies have trained different actors on the Nigerian political turf and continue to engage in activities that will ensure a peaceful and credible electoral process in the country.

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