By Rotimi Fasan
THE Presidential and Nationals Assembly elections held on February 23 against the background of fears and speculations that they would again be postponed. They were to have held a week earlier before Mahmood Yakubu, the chair of the Independent National Electoral Commission, announced they had been postponed just a couple hours before the polls were to open.
The reason for the postponement was mainly logistical. Considering INEC had postponed the elections after it had dismissed fears that they would be postponed, it was understandable why Nigerians were tensed and would not take INEC’s words for it the second time around.
The only thing that would convince them that the elections had not again been postponed was if the polls actually opened on the rescheduled date and they were allowed the free exercise of their right to vote for the candidates of their choice. And after all said and done, after the tense anticipation, the polls did open to a slow start on the rescheduled date.
Even when initial reports indicated a high voter turnout, it’s becoming apparent, as I write this two days after the elections, that turnout had been lower than anticipated. The optimism that informed or greeted the earlier reports of high voter turnout must have been based on the fact that contrary to fears that the postponement would induce voter apathy, many Nigerians had reported early at their voting units to vote on the day of the rescheduled elections. That gave the impression that most were still galvanized and eager to vote. Which is not to say that Nigerians did badly given the general atmosphere that pervaded. Indeed, the faith demonstrated by Nigerians who went out to vote ought to be praised. It was heroic in certain places where going out to vote was tantamount to staring death in the face and daring it in its lair.
Yet, it would be denying the evidence of our own eyes to say anything other than that this latest elections would go down in history as perhaps the vilest in the political history of this country. Going by perception alone, it must hold the record for being the vilest election ever held within the boundaries of the country called Nigeria. It was in most cases a despicable exercise in self-flagellation. There is hardly anything redeeming about it, and there are very credible reasons for this.
First is the especially low grade quality of the debates that characterised the elections. This was perhaps due to the complete lack of ideological difference between the two leading parties that contested the elections, namely, the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. The reason for this is well known to Nigerians- the internal wrangling that saw members of one party parting ways with their associates to team up with opponents in the other party. The motivation for these movements across party lines was nothing other than the selfish fight over who gets what. There is nothing to distinguish between the ideological posturing of both the APC and the PDP beyond the rhetoric of anger being spewed by members of both parties.
With nothing to separate them ideologically, all members of the two parties have to share are nothing but gutter snippets, shameless propaganda and, above all, crude insults disguised as political debates. And their supporters wasted no time to follow the lead of their leaders. Thus ethnic, political and religious insults, all to the last one induced by primordial considerations, are hurled across the media with the virulence of age long personal hatred. The situation is not helped by the fact that the current circle of general elections is the most social media-driven in the history of Nigeria.
In an age of fake news and deliberate misinformation/disinformation, every Nigerian with a mobile phone is a journalist able to manufacture and disseminate their own brand of fake news. The power to make and disseminate information has never being this democratised. And most of what passes for news are the imaginative creations of hands hired and paid solely for that purpose- to make and spread fake news.
Campaigns for the elections started quite late into the electioneering period in spite of the fact that most of the politicians have spent the better part of the last four years engaged in one form or another of subtle campaigns. The APC, assured that the presidential election was for it to win for example, failed to make any serious attempt at campaigning. The PDP that chose its flag bearer rather late did not appear to know what next to do after that, leaving many of its supporters confused as to whether it really wanted to wrest power from the APC.
What cannot be denied though is that it took the entry of the PDP flag bearer, Atiku Abubakar, for the APC to realise that the election was not going to be about mindless screaming of Sai Baba down the paved roads of Abuja and nothing more. It realised that it was not going to win the election by simply claiming victory in its desultory fight against corruption and merely mounting up sound bites about the president’s life of integrity. But the PDP offered nothing better.
When the campaigns eventually took off, there was no way to get the leading contenders to a debate, one of them, Muhammadu Buhari, having decided he had no need for it. Nor would Atiku himself offer more than a political gesture in that direction. It was left to the underdogs to sell themselves at debate venues. Bucking any attempt to make them present coherent views of their touted manifestoes, members and leaders of both the APC and the PDP took to hurling insults at one another, retailing fear, rumour and wild gossips about their opponents.
No election has been more characterised by wild rumours and false claims. It is therefore not surprising that within hours of the polls opening and days after they were closed, all Nigerians have been treated to have been news of violence on a scale that beggars belief. All of this despite the peace accord signed and endorsed by the leading contenders in the elections.
Ballot snatching for which Buhari had threatened summary death to perpetrators, intimidation of opponents and burning of votes and INEC offices were rife. From Rivers, to Delta, Osun to Lagos, Akwa-Ibom to Cross River; Benue to Kogi, the casualty figures are rising. There have been careless and completely avoidable deaths. Fake news has taken a life of its own as unauthenticated election results are released on social media even as both the APC and the PDP claim victory for themselves and accuse one another of both real and imaginary crimes. We’ve never had it so bad!