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The fire next time

As you read this, and without prejudice to the “mopping up operations” by INEC, it should be safe to suggest that the 2023 generals, our…

As you read this, and without prejudice to the “mopping up operations” by INEC, it should be safe to suggest that the 2023 generals, our seventh from 1999, have been officially concluded. There were winners and there were losers – as indeed, there were bound to be. The latter cry foul and the former pop champagnes – evidence that no election satisfies everyone.

I know the conclusion of the elections is not the end of the power struggle among the power seekers. It is no brainer that the battle has now shifted from the polling booths to the bench where the distinguished members of that misnamed institution and the third arm of government will cast the final votes that will either seal the fortunes of the winners and losers or reverse the same on either the basis of facts or the interpretation arising therefrom. Their votes matter but they will elicit the same reactions from the winners and the losers – praises and curses in equal measure for the judiciary. You might call it matters imperfect – imperfect at the polling booths and imperfect at the bench. By the way, for the record, I do not see judges sitting on benches. I see them sitting on high-backed special chairs.

What is certain, and quite so at this point, is that the game of musical chairs is alive and well. It distributes fortunes and misfortunes. It also ensures the maintenance of the impermanence of power. Small man today, big man tomorrow; big man today, small and inconsequential man tomorrow.

The sirens will stop blaring for those the ballot paper has forced down to the level of the struggling masses on our congested streets and ill-maintained highways. Given their accumulated wealth, they will remain special ordinary Nigerians, still attended by underpaid policemen, for the rest of their lives. But wealth without power is the mortal fear of the powerful. The ballot paper is the potential game changer. It gives hope and courage to the despairing. Some current big men will wear a new name tag from May 29, as in former big men. And none will beat the path to their doors anymore. Anonymity is mentally and emotionally corrosive.

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There will be time enough for a critical post-mortem of the conduct of the 2023 general election. I attempt here a brief appraisal of the general elections. Whatever you may think about the conduct of the elections, it should not be too difficult for you to see that we gained some and we lost some yet again. It is a fair indication that outside the textbook character of revolution, things tend to happen agonisingly slowly in all human societies. Change is as much wanted as it is unwanted.

As I wrote elsewhere after the presidential and national assembly elections, the BVAS showed its great potential in revolutionising the conduct of our elections. We saw the clear hands of the new system in the results of those elections where the unbelievable happened. The people were allowed to exercise their power and with their ballot papers, they made the untouchables the touchables and brought some of those perched these past eight years on the mountain tops of political power all the way down into the valley.

This had never happened before in our elections, be they general or partial. Voter apathy largely resulted from the people’s belief that their votes did not matter because they did not count in the electoral victories of the powerful and the anointed. BVAS served notice that change may be slow in coming but when its time comes it cannot be stopped. The unbelievable happened because thanks to the new system, the people’s votes mattered because they counted.

Those ensconced in their private political kingdoms were forced to reckon with the fact that people’s power is not fiction. Political fortunes, no matter how long they may be enjoyed, are not cast in stone. The people’s right to institute the governments of their choice in accordance with the principles and the best practices in democracy cannot perish from the face of the earth. I borrowed that last bit from Abraham Lincoln’s famous definition of democracy.

The crescendo of excoriation of INEC and its chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, over the conduct of the elections, cannot change the fact that it was good enough that we shifted away from what used to be. Still, we would be untrue to our conscience not to admit that we still have a lot of work to do before the will of the people can prevail over the assumed right of our party leaders to bend the arc of political fortunes to their selfish will.

No one expected the afflictions of our elections to disappear even with BVAS and its promise of radical changes. We found thuggery was alive and well. Many young men were still induced by pittance to put their lives on the line in the service of men who hate to play by the rules. President Buhari warned before the elections that thugs would be met by bullets.

We heard of a few isolated cases of ballot snatchers who took on the bullets and lost. But in many cases, the thugs thought nothing of the president’s warning. They disrupted elections in some states in full view of the police and some other security agents whose duty was to prevent them. Video and still photographs of destroyed ballot boxes with ballot papers strewn everywhere must be accepted as evidence that the reign of the thugs and their paymasters is not about to end.

Despite the cash crunch ostensibly introduced to stop vote-buying there was some evidence that votes were sold by voters who needed the cash to survive. To borrow the banner headline of the Daily Trust of March 18: “Massive vote-buying as candidates battled to win.”

The cash crunch must have encouraged the vote-buying because a little cash in hand trumped the sanctity of the ballot paper. The police looked on as this went on. More ominous for our future elections is that the politicians managed to undermine the electronic transmission of results and took us all the way back to the manual transmission of the results with obvious consequences for free, fair and credible elections. The result is that in many cases, especially with the ruling party APC, the corrupted system forcibly snatched victory from the jaws of their looming losses.

In many instances, the security agents did not conduct themselves in a manner they should be proud of. Some of them made themselves willing tools in undermining the will of the electorate. They acted in cahoots with the political leaders. Their palms were suitably greased. It was ignoble.

The ballot paper could not quite change the game in all cases but make no mistake, the arc of truth bends only one way. The people showed the heightened level of their awareness and responsibilities as citizens in the general elections. The momentum generated by the presidential and national assembly elections was somehow watered daown in the second set of elections. Parties and governors heading for defeat were rescued by the last-minute corruption of the system. This may be Nigeria, the catch-all phrase that excuses our failures as a nation, but make no mistake, the BVAS revolution and people’s awareness will turn the phrase on its head sooner than later. Unwanted political leaders will end up in the people’s trash can. I make bold to borrow from James Baldwin to say, the fire next time.

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