11 July 2018

Nigeria: Will Buhari, APC Guarantee Seamless 2019 Handover?

Going by the readjusted election timeline released recently by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigerians have seven clear months to the 2019 Presidential poll. It is worthy of note that there are many similarities between the forthcoming general election and the preceding poll of 2015. The contrasts relate only to levels of anxiety and concerns for electoral fidelity.

The 2015 Presidential election ended in what many observers described as an anti-climax, defined by the incumbent conceding defeat even before the end of collation and counting of votes.

Being the first time a candidate of the opposition was defeating an incumbent, and given the tension and speculations of troublesome and lengthy election petition that preceded the election, the then President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan's decision to throw in the towel and congratulate the winner, General Muhammadu Buhari, caught most Nigerians unawares. It was a novelty.

For the first time in the history of Nigeria's Presidential election, there was no litigation, no squabble except belated controversy on whether handing over to the incoming President should precede his inauguration or vice versa.

However, ever after the seamless transition of power from a ruling party to the opposition, the beneficiary of that peaceful change of baton, President Buhari, has never ceased to reflect on the "generosity" of the outgone President to concede defeat.

Speaking when he hosted State House correspondents to lunch at the villa as part of the ceremonies marking his first year in office, President Buhari said Jonathan made a "great decision" by accepting defeat, stressing, "The PVCs worked well in 2015, that was why when the former president rang me, I went temporarily into a coma."

Expatiating on the import of the concession call from the former President, Buhari added: "The truth is after being a deputy governor, a governor, vice president and president for six years, and he took that decision is great. He could have caused some problems. He had stayed long enough to cause problems."

The President asserted: "For him to have conceded defeat even before the result was announced by INEC... was quite generous and gracious of him."

Early this year, when he hosted some leaders of APC to a dinner at the villa, the President once again recalled how he went into a swoon shortly after former President Jonathan called to concede defeat in the 2015 presidential election, stressing that the former Nigerian leader had stayed long enough in power to have caused some problems when he lost the election.

On his part, the former President explained during the governorship election in April 2015 that "I am a Nigerian and I am Goodluck Jonathan. I feel that as a nation you respect your laws. I am quite pleased to respect the laws of the land. The key thing is that citizens must be ready to change government properly. We must do elections every four years."

Next year, it would be four years after that historic election and glorious handover. However, there have been some scary developments in the polity that inspire general feeling of uncertainty in the minds of most Nigerians. There is also growing sense of apprehension that the handover in 2019 might not be as smooth as it was in 2015.

Most citizens hold the belief that the utterances and body language of the ruling party and President Buhari do not suggest an easy change over. Part of the concerns revolves around the President's lack of firm control of the security apparatus and bickering by stakeholders over INEC's impartiality.

On top of all that, could it be that the President's surprise at Jonathan's concession suggest that, faced with similar scenario, he would not do the same? Having stayed long out of leadership circles and sought the Presidency for a long time, would be cause troubles?

Signs and scares

Either out of desire to recognize their contributions to the downgrading of Bok Haram or mere gesture of encouragement for stability in the military, President Buhari decided to retain some service chiefs long after their tenure had elapsed, last year.

It was argued that the President extended the tenures of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai; Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas and the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, in exercise of his powers under Section 218 (1) of the 1999 Constitution and Section 09.06 of the terms and conditions for service for officers (2012).

However, many commentators, including political stakeholders saw the extension as a Greek gift to the service chiefs for a quid pro quo arrangement for the 2019 poll.

Some critics argued that given his extreme parsimony, the President knowing that he would not have much money to splash on security officers during the election, decided to provide the service chiefs opportunity to earn some further income.

Although Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, said he had nothing against the extension, he claimed that it was "part of plans to spend the $1b that Nigeria Governors' Forum had allowed the Federal Government to withdraw from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) for the fight against Boko Haram."

Again, when the President disclosed that the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, did not carry out his directive to relocate to Benue State at the height of herdsmen massacre in the state, a lot of people felt the lack of censure in the President's observation left much to be desired.

Also, not long ago, leaders of Southern and Middle Belt zones complained that the fact that the President, who hails from the north appointed not only a person from the north as chairman and his relation into INEC created the impression of desperation to entrench himself in office.

Based on the foregoing, The Guardian decided to interact with stakeholders to see how all these and the preparedness of the gladiators to play by the rules, would shape the polity going forward to the much talked about 2019 poll.

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