The 2019 General Elections: Nigeria’s Last Polls as a UNITARY State? – An Editorial
The controversy that surrounds the INEC-scheduled 2019 general elections is unprecedented. The powers that be have used the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to assert that, despite the usual headaches of governance and nation building, all is well with Nigeria and all scheduled national routine must be allowed to proceed as when due. A viewpoint posits that the incumbent Buhari administration has brought out the worst features of the country’s Unitary governance mantra into mainstream politics. Unitary Nigeria should, therefore, not be celebrated with meaningless electoral exercises that obfuscate the real matters at stake without any potential to bring out acceptable solutions. The 2019 general elections are thus deemed to be a charade that must be boycotted by progressive forces in the country, especially the youths. The Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, champions this position.
Another viewpoint calls for the cancelation or postponement of the INEC-scheduled 2019 general elections so as to redirect the stakeholders’ focus on giving undivided attention to the potentially fatal malady that is threatening to overwhelm the essence of Nigerian nationhood. This approach is being championed by the Lower Niger Congress (Lower Niger Congress) and its partners in the Movement for New Nigeria (MNN) and the Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-determination (NINAS). NINAS, which comprises progressive movements striving for the self-determination quest of indigenous constituent nationalities inhabiting the South and Middle Belt regions of Nigeria, publicly declared in the Freedom Park Proclamation of December 11, 2018 that a transitional government should be put in place in lieu of INEC-scheduled 2019 general elections (https://goo.gl/bskmPM). The NINAS solemn assembly remarked that the most urgent task for Nigeria, at this juncture, is to reconstitute itself as a true federation without which the dysfunctional corrupt unitary state that we behold today shall endure for the foreseeable future.
The numerical majority, of course, have since resigned themselves to drift along, no matter where the cabal that minds the status quo chooses to take the Nigerian polity. Some hope that divine intervention shall eventually save the day as was the case during the dark days of the Abacha reign of terror. So, the Nigerian electorate is divided into three – those who see boycott as a viable tool, the self-determination agonists who argue for an interim national government and the deferment or cancelation of the 2019 general elections and finally, the majority who hope for divine intervention to stop Africa’s most populous nation from careening off the edge of the precipice anytime soon. At no time in the nation’s history have the constituents of Nigeria ever been so divided regarding general elections as we witness today. Perceiving the heightening restiveness and anxiety, influential democratic nations in Europe and America have chimed in with their words of caution and advice.
As uncertain as circumstances look today to the average observer, many are holding their breath in anticipation of what the 2019 general elections dateline shall bring with it when it finally arrives in a fortnight. Astute political pundits and expert analysts would confidently wager that the INEC-scheduled general elections shall commence on February 16, 2019, come rain come shine. Bearing Nigeria’s antecedents in mind, anything can happen starting from the first polling date of the election series. The most controversial of the polls, the presidential election, shall precede the rest chronologically. The results certified and announced by the INEC boss, Mahmood Yakubu, shall go a long way in determining what shall happen to millions of Nigerians in weeks and months to follow. Many fear and rightly so, that breach of public peace and violence shall follow the INEC’s pronouncement, no matter whether the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari wins or loses. The exact timing of onset of the anticipated upheavals is uncertain. The rest of scheduled elections may be abandoned if escalating insecurity makes such an exercise to become too risky or impossible.
2019 General Elections – a Vote on Buhari
Never have the citizens of any modern nation state predicated their wellbeing and future on the outcome of a single election. President Buhari is not just an incumbent president seeking to renew his mandate after the expiration of his first term in office. A vote for or against Buhari looms large in eyes of the electorate because of the following reasons:
Muhammadu Buhari is being portrayed as the last president of a Unitary Nigeria. His defeat at the polls, if certified by the INEC, shall surely open the floodgate of pent-up demands for the self-determination rights of hundreds of ethnic nationalities who feel trapped and enslaved in a Unitary Nigerian state that is regarded by the Sokoto Caliphate as its Allah-given fiefdom.
The sense of insecurity felt nationwide is underscored by the murderous rampages by world-notorious terror groups with a radical Islamist agenda. Many believe that, without the official shield of protection provided by a conniving Buhari presidency, the impunity with which the MACBAN and its foot soldiers, the Fulani herdsmen militia, operate shall gradually ebb.
Restructuring is the buzzword for the much-demanded devolution of today’s 36-state Unitary governance model to restore the semi-autonomous federating regions of the First Republic. Buhari had quipped that there is nothing wrong with Nigeria’s geopolitical structure but rather there is a failure in implementing the process as delineated in the imposed 1999 Constitution. The hope for a return to democratic constitutional federalism, therefore, depends on the outcome of February 16th
Many anticipate a significant turnaround in the economic fortunes of the average Nigerian and immediate end of the tough four-year rule of the former military dictator. Even though mere defeat of Buhari at the polls has never been shown to mean a return to economic good times, some trust Abubakar Atiku’s experience and penchant for entrepreneurship as a major departure from the incumbent president’s obsession with Fulani irredentism and Islamization of Nigeria, often at the expense of sound economic judgment that can uplift the lives of the citizenry.
Atiku Must Be Closely Watched Even in Victory
Despite a healthy dose of skepticism, there is still a possibility that Abubakar Atiku may indeed be declared the victor and thus the president-elect at the conclusion of the polls. The PDP presidential candidate is no stranger to the corridors of power in Abuja where he had served as vice president for 8 full years during the Obasanjo presidency. In order to expand the support base for his presidential ambition, Atiku had made extraordinary effort to reconcile and seek favor with his former boss, Obasanjo. The Otta farmer is a well-known defender of Unitary Nigeria which, of course, has been the creation of his military co-conspirators. Being the longest ruler of Nigeria’s geopolitical space, as a military dictator and civilian president, it is not farfetched to suspect that Obasanjo’s support for Atiku is based on the latter’s irrevocable pledge to the former NEVER to do anything that shall detract from the sacrosanctity of Unitary state built by the retired general and his ilk.
It is likely that if Atiku garners a vote lead that cannot easily be bridged and overcome, the INEC boss may have no other choice than to do the inevitable. The Buhari camp, however, cannot be that daft to not have an Option-B plan in waiting. Abubakar Atiku is still a Northern Muslim Fulani whose core sentiments and interests are not too divergent from those of President Buhari. Without an adequate counterpoise, a victorious Atiku, if not properly restrained, may easily succumb to the presaged overtures emanating from his kinsfolk in the APC who shall be angling to dump their defeated partisan alignment and declare loyalty to the incoming president and the resurgent ruling party. President-elect Atiku may become susceptible to being cajoled into adopting a gradualist approach toward upturning many of Buhari’s errant policies, including the sharing of important national appointments, to reflect the so-called “federal” character.
It is not unconscionable that a victorious Atiku may, suddenly, begin to scramble for the means to nudge an urgent need for geopolitical restructuring of Unitary Nigeria to the back burner. He can, for example, plead with the polity that immediate attention should be given to revival and restoration of the national economy as a priority before focusing needed attention to the controversies entailed in a proper geopolitical restructuring of the country. Once sworn into office, quasi-military pressure shall be brought to bear on the new president to not do anything that can disrupt the cozy relationship that currently exists between the Boko Haram terrorists and the Buhari presidency, for example. As a tradeoff for a promise of uneasy peace, the would-be President Atiku may begin to systematically water down the hope and expectations of those on whose backs he shall ride into electoral victory. The point here is that even a victorious Atiku shall be watched with an eagle eye in order to assure that things that matter are given the priority they deserve, no matter what.
The brewing animus between various interest groups regarding the imminent INEC-scheduled 2019 general elections must not becloud the overall understanding of what the electoral exercise is designed to accomplish in the overall game plan of the minders of status-quo Unitary Nigeria. Millions believe that this round of elections are hardly Nigeria’s top priority – in a polity being drowned by widespread insecurity, bone-crunching mass poverty and breakdown of rule of law and order among other issues. But Nigeria’s current political economy is still not sophisticated enough to be able to obviate unproductive pursuits designed to foster the narrow interests of only a few privileged in society.
The 2019 general elections constitute a boobytrap which Nigerians reserve the rights to carefully avoid or recklessly trip. The prevalent “commonsense” conduces to perfunctory participation in the 2019 general elections, even at a time when the very foundation of Nigerian nationhood is quaking at Richter scale of greater than 7.0. Some prefer to see the imminent electoral showdown as a vote on Buhari and his record at the Aso Rock Villa. Some prefer to boycott the scheduled elections. Others urge for cancelation or postponement. Perhaps, it is more utilitarian, at this juncture, to focus more on the implications of the scheduled polls rather than to continue to waste time and bandwidth disagreeing with constituents’ preferences. For sure, the 2019 general elections cannot be an end in itself. It is, however, a very significant milestone situated at crossroads on Nigeria’s evolutionary path. Whether the INEC-scheduled 2019 general elections are boycotted, canceled or deferred, the significance of the choices ahead can never be minimized by whoever wish a better future for the 200 million people trapped in today’s dysfunctional Unitary Nigeria.
Maybe we shall be better-off tasking our minds more on what shall follow the scheduled 2019 polls rather than to engage in futile longrunning debate about how best to disable the elections’ very occurrence. Should Buhari confound electoral prognosticators and end up being declared victorious by INEC, many more shall likely begin to better appreciate the vehemence of the 800-lb gorilla minding the jailhouse called Unitary Nigeria and therefore, what must ultimately be done to tame this beast or put it into permanent retirement.
The Editorial Team