NIGERIA: Between Popularity and Popular Votes

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 There lies a danger when a candidate’s popularity among the people fails to translate to a majority vote at the poll. The fear of what such a dashed hope could lead to was raised by the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at the signing of the Abuja Accord.

Jega said that one of the causes of post-election violence can be tied to instances when supporters of a particular party believe that their candidate was likely to win. According to him, even when an election may have been conducted freely and transparently, this class of supporters will not accept the result if their choice candidate fails to get majority votes.

If not immediately addressed, this mind-set could be the prelude to post-election violence next month. Ask several supporters of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who amongst President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and General Muhammadu Buhari of the APC, will likely win the February 14 Presidential election, and you’d hear Buhari. The atmosphere is charged; and they tell you “change has come”.

On social media sites, the word February has been rechristened FeBuhari. The election being on Valentine’s Day, supporters of Buhari have pledged their love to him, and their votes would be concrete proof to back it up. Question is, are they in the majority to make their vote count?

Until the issue of Buhari’s secondary school leaving certificate came up, many supporters of Jonathan hardly identified with him on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. The few that did then were dismissed by Buhari apologists as being PDP paid agents, and quickly withdrew.

Several people continue to complain that supporters of Buhari and the APC are quick at hurling insults at those who do not share their love for Buhari. Not wanting to be publicly attacked, many supporters of President Jonathan were forced to recoil, tagging Buhari supporters as “violent” and “abusive”, and preferred to express their angst at the polls on February 14.

Haven bullied their way and left to dominate the cyberspace, Buhari supporters had concluded their position to mean that they were in the majority, and presuming that a minority supported Jonathan. But the certificate controversy changed that. There is now an increasing number of Jonathan supporters coming forward to defend the president.

They have been sometimes forced to shadow the Buhari supporters by vehemently defending Jonathan’s administration, arguing that there are evident transformations in many sectors of the economy. For them, the APC’s criticism even in the face of improvements in the agriculture, aviation, education, and other sectors is merely political.

When challenged on Jonathan’s inability to quell activities of Boko Haram, citing his failure to rescue the abducted Chibok schoolgirls, they have defended that too. Critics of Jonathan cite terrorism as evidence of incompetence but some of his supporters believe that the thriving of Boko Haram is evidence of a plot by some politicians from the North as a means of returning power to the region. To them, this is blackmail and not incompetence.

As it stands, there is a balance in argument and supporters of Buhari cannot claim to be in the majority, neither can supporters of Jonathan. As being predicted, the 2015 presidential election is going to be a tightly contested one. Predictions are that there may be a run-off election.

Another prediction is that several factors beyond insecurity and corruption will influence how people vote. Although there are many who support Buhari – which includes Christians from the South – religion and ethnicity are expected to still play a vital part in who wins the election.

APC supporters have always argued that votes from the North will favour their candidate. APC strategists too are banking on a combination of votes from the North-west, North-east and South-west. This consideration influenced their selection of Buhari from the North-west as presidential candidate and Professor Yemi Osinbajo from the South-west as his running mate.

But to the PDP loyalists, an assumption by APC strategists and supporters of a united vote from the North and West stands shaky. In the North for instance, even in Buhari’s alleged strongholds, are Christians, Middle Belts and other minority groups whom it is said do not see any future for their tribe and faith in the prospect of a Buhari presidency.

For instance, in Kano State, one of Buhari’s strongholds, many non-indigenes, several of whom dwell in the Sabon Gari area of the state, have remained unwavering in their support for Jonathan. Just as some Hausa-Fulani view the Boko Haram onslaught as a Jonathan agenda to deplete their population, many of the non-indigenes considered it a plot by the Hausa-Fulani to depopulate Christian-dominated areas in the North-east.

They are quick to point out that though there have been Muslim casualties in the Boko Haram onslaught, Christians and minority groups remain the sects’ primary target. They argue that Muslim victims are largely those that can be classified as moderate and with a different belief system.

In the North, there is a persistent distrust between the Muslims and Hausa/Fulani tribes on one hand, and Christians and minority groups on the other. Not something that can be wished away by APC supporters, this factor, among others, will help in deciding who wins the election. This postulation was supported by a research paper published by US Think Tank, the Brookings Institute, which favoured Jonathan over Buhari.

The paper, titled: ‘The 2015 Presidential Elections in Nigeria: the Issues and Challenges’, was written by a Senior Lecturer at the Nasarawa State University, Jideofor Adibe, who also edits the African Renaissance magazine.

In the research paper, Adibe listed the North-South, Christian-Muslim divide, North-South regional inequalities, money and the power of incumbency, vice presidential running mate, Jonathan’s performance in office, strengths and weaknesses of PDP and APC, and the electoral umpire, as some of the issues that will drive the election.

Making his argument one point after another, beginning from the divide between the North and South and Christians and Muslims, Adibe posited that, “The fault lines of region, ethnicity and religion run deep in Nigeria. Virtually every part of the country has an institutionalised memory of injury or feelings of injustice, which they often feel will be best addressed if one of their own wields power at the center, preferably as the president.”

This feeling of injustice was what swelled the rank and file of the APC, and so, while many supporters are queuing behind Buhari because they see him as succeeding in areas where Jonathan had failed, the governors from the North who defected from PDP to the APC, are standing on the foundation of anti-Jonathan sentiments in the Muslim North.

This is the APCs strength, as well as its weakness. According to Adibe, “The party is, however, a fragile one that seems united only in its quest to wrest the presidency from Jonathan or to have power “returned” to the North.” As is expected, there are signs of disgruntlement within the APC.

In the Kano State chapter of the party, there are reports of friction between the governor of the state, Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso, and Buhari. It was Leadership Newspaper that reported last week of disarray in the chapter over Buhari’s refusal to recognise any other power bloc. According to the report, this had already begun polarising the party along loyalty lines.

Sustaining the disgruntlement some Nigerians harbour towards Jonathan, the APC has continued to shove up their comments and statements with phrases that tend to generalise issues. For instance, they alleged that “Nigerians” are disenfranchised with Jonathan’s administration. And when they refer to victory in the North, they claim that the “North” will vote for Buhari.

It is false to conclude that all Nigerians are dissatisfied with Jonathan. It is also misleading to assume that the North will vote for Buhari. There are other minority ethnic and religious groups in the North, including Buhari’s strongholds that are more likely to vote for Jonathan.

There is a danger in this type of generalisation by the APC and those who support them. Already the signs are there. In an event organised to introduce Osinbajo to the public on December 24 of last year at the Oriental Hotel, someone in attendance said PDP would “rig” the election, because according to her, “Buhari was going to win the election”.

Her position was encouraged by Osinbajo who too repeatedly suggested Buhari as having won the election. “I never thought that the day will come when I will be on the ticket that will win the election and so that I can put into practice all that I have been talking and researching about on how to move Nigeria forward,” Osinbajo had said.

Like Osinbajo, the governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, and numerous APC leaders repeatedly fuel the assumption that Buhari has already won the election; suggesting February 14 as being a formality. It was Fashola who was reported as saying that the “election is already lost and won”.

If Buhari’s supporters keep up with the assumption that their preferred candidate was going to win the election, the danger would be like what Jega argued. Take for instance, if it turns out that Buhari’s popularity does not translate to having a majority vote, it will be hard to convince his party and supporters that the election was not rigged to favour Jonathan.

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