Very late last Tuesday night, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria’s electoral umpire, announced General Muhammadu Buhari of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) as the winner of the Saturday, March 28, 2015 presidential election. The incumbent president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had, on Tuesday evening, called the winner and congratulated him on his victory even before the conclusion of the collation of the election results, when it became clear that General Buhari would carry the day.
It is recalled that one of the cardinal promises of President Jonathan when he first assumed office as president in 2010 was to enhance and deepen the democratic process by conducting free and fair elections and that his political ambition is “not worth the blood of any Nigerian.” The conduct of last Saturday’s presidential election was therefore another demonstration of his avowed commitment to free and fair polls. This is the first time in the history of elections in Nigeria when a political party is handing over power to another political party at the federal level.
In the First Republic, the nation had a coalition government because no party had won a clear majority in the parliament. The coalition eventually collapsed and this was followed by a military takeover on January 15, 1966. In 1983, during the Second Republic, the nation witnessed a collaboration of two political parties, but this, again, collapsed. The elections were so massively rigged that losers found it difficult to congratulate winners, and post-election violence was widespread.
The subsequent election of 1983 was hotly contested and massively rigged as well, and the end result was another military takeover, incidentally by the new president-elect. Since the current Republic began in 1999, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had held sway and coasted home to victory easily in all the pre-2015 elections because it was the only big party with sufficient national spread. All the elections conducted before President Jonathan came on board used to be “do-or-die” elections, in which it was anathema for the ruling party to lose. This was particularly the case during the Olusegun Obasanjo regime (1999-2007) in the current Republic when he himself said the 2007 election was a “do-or-die.”
All along, there had been a lot of apprehension about the 2015 presidential election because two major political parties were up against each other. There was palpable tension and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has, in fact, reported the death of about 110 people before and during the elections. There were challenges of varying magnitude before and during the presidential elections, making Nigeria the focus of global attention. The United Nations, the UK and the US governments at different times expressed deep concern about the situation and counselled Nigerian leaders. The US Secretary of State, Mr John Kerry visited Nigeria where he held talks with the two main candidates in the election while the UN Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki Moon, expressed the global body’s apprehension about the elections. However, the elections turned out to be a resounding success; free and fair with minimal violence just as President Jonathan had promised.
We commend the INEC for doing everything it could to enhance the credibility of the elections and Nigeria’s democratic credentials. Nigerians also played their part as patriotic citizens, making numerous trips to their registration units to collect their PVCs and standing on the queues for hours to get accredited and cast their ballots, even waiting patiently to know the results. At the end of it all, a winner emerged, with the incumbent president for the first time in the history of the country losing out to the opposition challenger. President Jonathan’s phone call to General Buhari, congratulating him, was a most commendable action. By accepting defeat magnanimously, he doused tension and created a peaceful atmosphere which is quite uncommon after major elections in Nigeria. By that he lived up to his promise that he would always deliver on a credible election. He elevated Nigeria and by extension Africa, to a higher pedestal in the comity of democratic nations. He made March 28, 2015 a day all Nigerians will always be proud of. The real significance of this election is that all stakeholders, including Buhari, Jonathan, INEC, the security agencies and all Nigerians are winners.
We note too, the assurance from the winner, General Buhari that he would not hound those he defeated on assumption of duty.
It is to the timeless vision of the English bard, William Shakespeare, that the world owes the truism that “all the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” The nature of everyone’s performance, we aver, is, however, symbolic, with positive or dire implications for the advancement of the human enterprise. To President Jonathan, Nigeria’s third president in the Fourth Republic, Africa and indeed the entire democratic globe should now proudly owe the maxim: “My ambition is not worth the blood of anybody.”The statement was not fortuitous; it was the product of hard history. Ahead of the 2011 presidential poll which he won by a wide margin, Jonathan had been confronted with threats and inciting utterances from both sides of the political divide. As it turned out, the 2011 general election was adjudged by both local and international observers as being free and fair, and a landmark in the nation’s democratic history. Remarkably, however, the subsequent elections conducted under Jonathan’s watch, namely the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states, saw candidates of the opposition parties, for the first time in the history of the country, easily routing the ruling party in a highly credible process during which a massive security apparatus, perceived in some quarters as a threat, was put in place to safeguard voters. President Jonathan on both occasions congratulated the winners though they were opposition party candidates.
The key challenge to take away from the Jonathan legacy however relates to local government elections conducted by state governments, which have sadly still remained a do-or-die affair, with the ruling party winning by 100 per cent almost in all cases. We recommend that the in-coming government should sustain this legacy because it is only when the kind of election held last Saturday is replicated at the state and local government levels that democracy can be consolidated in the country.
Politicians should learn that elections are not free and fair only when they have won. During the Ekiti governorship election last year, former Governor Kayode Fayemi was celebrated nationwide when he called and congratulated Mr Ayodele Fayose on his election, only to bow to party pressure and later claim that he had not conceded defeat. We dare say that President Jonathan has set a worthy example which politicians would do well to emulate.