Nigeria’s sixth round of national elections since the transition from military to civilian rule in 1999 will hold in February/March, 2019. Whatever the outcome of the elections- arguably, the most competitive (presidential) election in twenty years- the political horizon appears stormy and the voters may have been ambushed by the familiar rhetoric of electoral promises by contenders. After each election cycle, as observed over the years, the futility of the rigorous campaign rallies and other forms of incoherent conversations between the politicians and the people often manifests in absence of genuine social contract. Now 15 days before the general election, the threats to democracy are so vivid and undeniable that voters’ dilemma in choosing a lesser evil from the list of candidates is not even premised on informed opinion.
The political season also graciously bestows on everyone, with minimal knowledge of ‘copy and paste’, a duty of news purveyor and analyst just as politicians and their supporters are perilously enmeshed in online warfare through the production, consumption, and dissemination of fabricated political content.
For many Nigerians, besides the manufacturing of falsehoods disguised as news material, the social media platforms have literally become both the campaign ground and polling booth for national elections. Needless to say that a significant number of them do not exercise their franchise on Election Day.
SCENARIOS I propose here three scenarios- one of which will likely reflect the outcome of the election:
The Best-Case-Scenario: There is a free, fair and credible election devoid of manipulation, violence and logistic inadequacies. Eligible voters cast their votes in a conducive environment, witnessed by election observers and party agents. Over seventy percent of registered voters turn out to vote. INEC declares one of the 73 presidential candidates as duly elected, meeting all requirements. Other candidates congratulate him/her in the spirit of sportsmanship.
The Worst-Case-Scenario: The election witnesses a large scale of rigging evident in destruction of ballot boxes and falsification of results; violence during polling and collation of votes; Killings and intimidation among others. Low turn-out characterises every polling unit, recording less than thirty percent. Declaration of results by INEC (by announcing a winner) ignites further violence across the country as political parties display different conflicting results favourable to them. Recourse to litigation is considered a futile exercise in such circumstance just as the international community bemoans the charade. The country is engulfed in anarchy…and the military strikes to save the situation!
The Reality-Case-Scenario: Voting takes place across all the 774 LGAs though with some irregularities in administrative procedure- late arrival of voting materials, inexperienced ad hoc staff- underage voting and vote trading. In a few polling units, there are reports of ballot snatching and violence. The social media is bombarded with different results by interested parties. Two days after, INEC announces one of the two dominant parties’ presidential candidates (Abubakar Atiku of PDP and Muhammadu Buhari of APC) as the winner of the election, in a keen contest that records 47-50 percent margin. The remaining three percent is shared among the other 71 parties that field candidates. A mixture of joy and sadness rent the air depending on the stronghold of the “winner” and the “loser”. Other smaller political parties naturally go into momentary stillness while a few align with the winner. The second runner-up vows to “vehemently” challenge the result in court. But the country still wobbles on the path of puzzling democratic experiment!
Last Line: Apart from strengthening democratic institutions, Nigerian politicians and voters alike deserve holistic (education/economic) empowerment.