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2023: Will the bitterness end now?

I confess I struggled with what to write this week. It is not for a lack of topic, I promise. The election has been top…

I confess I struggled with what to write this week. It is not for a lack of topic, I promise. The election has been top of the news for the last few days, or months before this weekend. Emotions have been high; they still are and perhaps now is not the time to analyse what happened. It is hard to have any meaningful engagement when emotions are strumming as they are now.

I have largely refrained from commenting too much on the campaigns, not because I don’t have an opinion about it but because I felt the campaigns were flavoured by an unhealthy dose of sentiments that are abrasive to our national unity, corrosive to personal friendships, and acidic to the social fibre of the nation and often blinding to reason.

There simply was too much anger invested in these campaigns, too much hatred that clouded logic. I simply couldn’t wait for the bile to spill over and for a deeply divided country to start healing.

Results have been announced. To be honest, it is no surprise that Bola Ahmed Tinubu was declared the winner. Anyone who objectively, and I mean really objectively, looked at the scenario and the political reality of the country would know that Tinubu was the front-runner and the election was his to lose. He did slip up on the trail. Concerns over his health and gaffes on the campaign trail cost him some support and some of his political choices cost him the loss of certain demographics. It was a calculated gamble he took, one that eventually paid off for him.

Perhaps his biggest burden and dilemma was the burden of Buhari’s woeful legacy that he could not publicly denounce and cannot dissociate himself from. These aside, objectively, he had always been the most likely to win it. And he has.

For the reasons mentioned above, and others not mentioned, Tinubu was there for the taking but his rivals failed to capitalize.

As much as the opposition will grumble, they paved the way for Tinubu’s victory. Unlike in 2015 when the opposition rallied and formed alliances to oust the incumbent, this time, they went solo, like Solomon to his harem. Every candidate for himself and God for all. Kwankwaso and Peter Obi would not ally, Nyesom Wike would not let go of Atiku’s collar. And all of them refused to band together. Ironic that the symbol of the APC is the broom because the most fitting descriptor for what happened to the opposition is that story of those individual broomsticks that are all too easily snapped.

Are the elections free and fair? Has any election in this country been? Yes, there is evidence of irregularities all over the country and supporters of all the major candidates can be held responsible for these. Children with voters’ card, north and south, east and west have been caught on videos some of them posing proudly in voters’ queues they have no business being on. That stunningly baffling explanation by the Kano State Commissioner of Police is one thing that makes no sense whatsoever. That man should be called to order and re-educated about his job if he is not found complicit in justifying a crime and looking away. And a lot of police officers compromised their duties in these elections.

The one major fault with these elections is INEC itself. Many Nigerians had confidence in the commission and a lot of that confidence came from the technology the commission advertised as a game changer and the promises it made of hitch-free and fair elections. The commission buttered these promises with the BVAS and the IREV. Results will be transmitted directly from the polling units to the INEC portal where Nigerians could see them instantly. It sounded too good to be true, honestly. And it was. Not because the technology is not available. It is the 21st century after all and with any kind of smartphone, anyone could transmit whatever kind of data instantly. With the billions budgeted and expended for these elections, the very least one would expect is a barely functional technology for this important national assignment. Yet, at the defining moment, there was not a tech glitch but a collapse. Results had to be taken to Abuja and read out in a long Telemundo show that has become our result collation as if it was 1984.

INEC did the greatest damage to some voters’ confidence in these elections, or in the transmission of results. Or in giving people reasons to doubt the process. But I suppose that is inevitable. Even in instances where results are incontestable, someone will always find something to complain about.

We have to do better. The violence at polls, ballot snatching and burning which have become a national character must be rooted out. This is a task for INEC, the security personnel and most crucially, the average Nigerian and the average Nigerian political thug must stop lending themselves to these acts of criminality.

Whatever the case, if there are contestations, they should be addressed by the law. Violence has not got Nigeria anywhere in the past. It will not be any different now.

But this is not the time for analysis. Emotions are still raw for those whose candidates did not win the elections. So, the onus falls on those whose candidates won to be considerate in their celebrations, even if the campaigns had been acrimonious and spiteful.

I am glad the president-elect has set the tone by acknowledging his opponents, or his brothers as he called them, and also acknowledged their grievances in both his acceptance speech and his speech at the collation centre. His supporters must be careful not to stoke the embers or sprinkle salt in raw wounds.

While for some it might be inconceivable to accept the incoming government as their government, it is a reality that will come to pass. I hope that by his decisions and appointments in the next few weeks (and God I pray he doesn’t go to sleep for the next eight months as Mr Buhari did in 2015) the president-elect will recognise the groups that feel excluded by the winning ticket. Nigeria is a diverse country and it is only fair and reasonable for that diversity to be embraced and reflected.

This is a time for healing and restoring faith in the country. It is a long journey but it must start now, with the right words, the right gestures and the right conversations. It must also involve a constitutional outlet for the release of certain angst or the safety valve theory in freedom of expression discourses. If complaints are made to the courts, it will be mandatory for the courts to do justice and for this justice to be seen to be done.

Beyond that, Nigerians who have concerns that Tinubu is not in the right frame of mind and body to discharge the duties of a president will need assurances that he can. We can’t afford an ill president, but we have ended up with one. Nothing says he can’t recover his health and vigour and for the sake of the country, I hope he does. Nigerians need to know that it will be okay in the end. It is only fair to have those expectations.

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