On the verge of history By Waheed Odusile

Election 010

 

After all said and done, Nigerians went to the polls on March 28, to elect their next President and Commander –In-Chief, as well as members of the National Assembly. And the election went smoothly in most parts of the country save in Rivers State where violence took centre stage.

Apart from the violence that characterized the exercise in Rivers State, there were doubts as to whether voting actually took place as the two major parties have different positions on the issue. While the ruling party at the centre, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) wants the world to believe that elections took place in Rivers State on March 28, the All Progressives Congress, the party in power in the state insists that no voting took place.

The election umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has however gone ahead to declare the PDP winner amidst the dispute, suggesting that the body was satisfied that voting actually took place. But time will tell whether this INEC decision will stand. Apart from Rivers State, the election was also disputed in Akwa Ibom State where the APC is also crying foul.

Not a few Nigerians are worried as to the credibility of the March 28 election considering the calls for cancellation of the exercise in these two states. Rivers and Akwa Ibom states are traditionally the stronghold of the PDP in the south/south region where the party usually gets millions of votes, always large enough to tilt the balance of victory in its favour. But with the caliber of people leading the opposition APC in the two states, the PDP is not expected to have a clean sweep as usual. So, if the PDP is claiming near 99 per cent victory in these two states, then something must be wrong somewhere, especially against the backdrop of the opposition’s insistence that there were massive irregularities in the course of the exercise.

I don’t intend to dwell much on the Rivers and Akwa Ibom issues for now as I don’t want what happened or did not happen there to remove from the fact that Nigerians last Saturday proved the doubters wrong about our ability to conduct ourselves in an orderly and peaceful manner when it comes to general elections.

In a replay of what happened across the country during the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Nigerians, last Saturday trooped out in their millions to the various polling units to cast their votes for the candidate of their choice. In most places, there were no police men or any other security personnel around and yet the crowd of electorate comported themselves very well.

Where I voted, it was a friendly atmosphere throughout as voters supporting different parties/candidates mixed freely and discussed as friends, even sharing drinks while awaiting the exercise to commence.  This was a far cry from what was expected judging by what was in the media and what the politicians were saying during their campaigns in the run up to the elections. The hate campaigns being churned out by politicians before the election were enough to cause concern and fuel the fear of violence on elections day.

But Nigerians put the politicians to shame by their largely peaceful conduct at the polls and this calls for commendation. By their conduct last Saturday Nigerians have proven to the world, especially our politicians that left alone, we can organize ourselves without their meddlesomeness. I’ve often said it that too much government interference in our lives is the cause of most of the problems plaguing us as a nation. Without government interference or instigation by politicians, Nigerians generally relate well with each other, but when these people come between them and then the issue of ethnicity and religion come to the fore.

In the run up to these elections, President Goodluck Jonathan will go down on record as one leader who used religion and ethnicity to divide Nigerians just to gain advantage over his opponent. In the South west, especially in Lagos, he used ethnicity to rally the non-indigenes, especially the Igbos to his side. This no doubt has sown mistrust in the minds of the indigenes against the non-indigenes, and the only harvest that could come out of this is further polarization, which will not augur well for peaceful co-existence between these two great ethnic groups.

During his campaigns, Jonathan presented himself as a candidate of the Christians almost to the total exclusion of the Muslims among his supporters. He also promoted himself as a candidate of the south fighting against the north. These are dangerous paths to tread and I wonder how he intends to rectify the damage his campaigns have caused to our fragile unity if he scales the hurdle and returns as president and commander in chief. Did I hear you say Amen or God forbid?

If Jonathan returns, it would be a herculean task for him to repair this damage. It would be better for him and the country not to return so that we can start on a very clean slate. The economy is in bad shape; our unity is shaking, and confidence in government badly eroded. We need another leader to restore these things. These are just my thoughts and things could end up that way or the status quo remains and Jonathan returns. This presidential election is so dicey that the result could go either way, but whichever way it goes, kudos must go to the Nigerian electorate who defied all the odds to cast their votes last Saturday. We are gradually coming of age. How great it would be if we can chase a sitting government out of power through our votes; that would be history in this country and a right signal to the rest of Africa that power resides with the people. But will the power that be allow that to happen here? I doubt. But can it be done? Yes.

Regardless of who comes out top in this presidential contest, the next president of Nigeria come May 29 has his work already cut out. How he goes about it would be a function of his understanding of the situation. If he comes in as an ethnic champion, then we are doomed. What is required of our next president is to think as a Nigeria and do everything in the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerians. And his choice of men and women to join his cabinet will tell us a lot about the direction he intends to take us. The way the Senate handles the screening of his ministerial nominees would also tell us the kind of National Assembly to expect in the next four years, post May 29, 2015.

However, to set the next administration on a sound footing, INEC must deal with the issues concerning the conduct of the elections in Rivers and Akwa Ibom States with clear head and in the best interest of our democracy.

NATION