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How free and fair was the Nigerian presidential (s)election?

A poll of readers of shows today that 67% believe the (s)election was free and fair and 33% don’t agree.

I am down with the 33%.

Let me first declare an “interest”. My opinion was that Buhahari would have won a free and fair election because Goodluck Jonathan’s period in office was nothing short of a disaster for Nigeria. But because Buhahari would have won anyway is no indication the election was free and fair.

For starters, it wasn’t “free”. It came at huge financial cost. Both major parties unleashed mega bucks in the campaign on advertising, bribing voters with “stomach infrastructure”, bribing celebrities to appeal to voters, and bribing electoral officials. The bulk of this money was from looted public funds, especially on the part of the ruling PDP. The APC were not that different. The major financial backers of that party were “Bobo Chicago” Bola Tinubu and Rotimi Amaechi, whose stupendous wealth comes from their time as governors of Lagos and Rivers States. Wole Soyinka called it a “money election”.

In terms of fairness, how fair was the electoral process that gave Nigerians the choice between two candidates that were offering more of the same, from both parties that included people that had switched sides? With so many Nigerians fed up with 16 years of PDP rule, what real choices did they have when the other viable option included people that came from the PDP and were part of PDP administrations that caused so much misery for the majority of Nigerians? This doesn’t fit my definition of a fair process.

Former governor of Kaduna State Balarabe Musa nailed it when he said: “But remember, most decampees to APC are from PDP who felt they cannot find their way in terms of getting rich through corrupt means. If APC is voted into power today, it can even be worse than the government of PDP under the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan. APC is composed of PDP aggrieved members who could not get a breakthrough in terms of massive wealth while in PDP.”

He added: “Under the conditions existing in Nigeria, it is not possible to have free, fair and transparent elections leading to a legitimate government. And that is the nation’s objective. It is not practicable because of the condition that exists. We will have election which we hoped will be tolerable, but definitely not free, fair, and transparent election because the condition for that does not exist in Nigeria, particularly the deciding rule of money factor in politics and election. If money is the deciding factor, then there can’t be free, fair, and transparent election.”

The difference between this (s)election and previous ones was that the electoral commission (INEC) seemed to have minimised large scale vote inflation by those that tabulate the figures. But dirty tricks were still prevalent in terms of widespread underage voting and thumbing ballot papers in warehouses in collusion with INEC officials.

Children with voters cards
Children with voters cards

Underage voting seems to have been more widespread in the north and there were reports of children being bussed in from neighbouring countries weeks before the (s)election and paid to vote.

A child helps inflate the vote
A child helps inflate the vote

Some of the results from Kano and Jigawa States defy logic, as also did the result from Rivers State, where the APC alleged serious malpractices happened and this led to APC-organised protests.

APC supporters protest in Port Harcourt, Rivers State against electoral malpractices
APC supporters protest in Port Harcourt, Rivers State against electoral malpractices

In the end, Buhahari has been declared the winner, and the result more or less reflects the will of the majority, and the defeated president decided against complaining and accepted defeat. And while this was not like the “do or die” (s)election of the Olusegun Obasanjo era, and was “tolerable” in the words of Balarabe Musa, it was neither free nor fair.

Soyinka described it as “one of the most vicious, unprincipled, vulgar and violent election exercises I have ever witnessed” and asked “how are we actually going to get rid of this thing called corruption, if the electoral process itself has been so corrupted?”

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