Ejike Ejike, SUNDAY ISUWA
As Nigerians go to the polls today to elect their next president and representatives in the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has assured them that the votes they cast will determine the outcome of the elections.
The chairman of the commission, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, gave the assurance while speaking at the fifth and final briefing of the media and observers since the postponement of the elections last Saturday.
Yakubu had earlier noted that recommendations by international observers in the previous elections were being implemented, saying the adoption of Simultaneous Accreditation and Voting System for today's election is part of them.
He stated that the commission would continue with the system of simultaneous accreditation and voting which it used in the conduct of the 194 off-season elections, adding that it is now part of the election guidelines.
While calling on Nigerians to conduct themselves peacefully, Yakubu said the commission had no favourite candidates in the elections, adding that only people with Permanent Voter's Cards (PVCs) will vote.
... It's D-Day For PMB, Atiku, Others
... Battleground states identified
Today is the long awaited day that both Nigerians and the international community have been looking forward to for the country to choose its next political leaders at the federal level.
Millions of Nigerians will vote today to elect a president, 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives.
In effect, it is D-Day for President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the two main contenders for the nation's top job.
Political analysts are of the view that today's elections will be the most keenly contested in the history of the country.
There is heightened anxiety following the one-week postponement of the general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last week. As a result the presidential and the National Assembly elections hold today while governorship, State Assembly and FCT Area Council elections come up on March 9.
A call election by this newspaper a fortnight ago had tipped President Buhari to win the election handily with 60 per cent of the vote, with a five per cent margin of error in the prediction.
In the just concluded presidential campaigns, the two major candidates campaigned vigorously across the country. The president exceeded all expectations, campaigning across the 36 states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), despite concerns raised about his health.
The opposition had earlier called on the president to resign because of his of purported Ill-health.
Hinged on the slogan, 'Next Level', President Buhari's campaign was premised on his 2015 promises - fighting corruption, reviving the economy and addressing security matters.
On the other hand, Atiku Abubakar released a policy document with a focus on 'getting Nigeria working again', which is his official slogan.
It is worthy of note that, unlike in 2015, the political temperature is mild and the reasons are not far-fetched. In 2015, the presidential poll was seen as a contest between the North and the South, but in today's election, both Buhari and Atiku are Northerners, Muslims and Fulanis. Both candidates are also septuagenarians.
Tension caused by religion and ethnicity, the country's fault lines usually exacerbated by politicians for selfish gains, is missing in the election, translating to fewer cases of violence, threats and counter threats by the major actors now unlike in 2015.
The strengths of President Buhari are integrity and character, popularity among the Northern masses, frugality with state resources, infrastructural achievements and trustworthiness.
On the other hand, Buhari's weaknesses are allegations of allowing a cabal hijack his government, poor handling of the economy, allegations of cronyism and nepotism, poor handling of the farmers/herdsmen clashes and allegations of one-sided anti-corruption fight.
The strong points to Atiku candidacy are his supposed knowledge of the economy; that he is successful businessman; that he has the ability to assembly a crack team, and that he is a known restructuring advocate, which resonates with a large number of Nigerians.
However, he is seen as weak on corruption, will run an elitist government, has trust issues, and that he carries PDP baggage of looting the economy into recession.
A total of 72,775,502 million Nigerians have collected their PCVs in the 36 states and the FCT. With 774 local government areas and 2,642 political wards in the country where voting will take place, the 2019 general elections in Nigeria will be the largest election on the African continent.
Before last Saturday's postponement of the election, INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, had announced that 73 presidential candidates would be in the ballot, but two days ago 12 of them withdrew from the race and gave their support to the incumbent, President Buhari.
In terms of voting population based on the number of PVCs collected, LEADERSHIP Weekend reports that among the six geo-political zones of the country, North-West leads, followed by South-West, North-Central, South-South, North-East and South-East in that order.
Checks show that Buhari and Atiku will have a keen battle in Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Oyo, Ogun, Bauchi, Delta, Rivers and Plateau states, which are the states with the highest number of voters.
In Yobe State, it was gathered that some may not vote because of threats of attacks by the Boko Haram terrorists.
A report released by the Election Analysis Centre of the Centre for Democracy Development said attacks by armed bandits might threaten the conduct of the elections in Kaduna State, even though the state governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, has said that the state is safe for election to take place.
In Kwara State, the activities of thugs and hoodlums which have led to the killing of people in recent times have been identified as a major threat to the election in certain areas while in Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states, vote buying could pose a serious setback to the process.
It was gathered that there will be serious battle for votes especially in Lagos State which has the highest number of PVCs collected.
Observers said Lagos, which has been a state for keen contests in both in the gubernatorial and the presidential elections since 1999, would witness a similar incident in the 2019 general elections. While many believe it will be a smooth ride for the APC, others argue that the factionalisation of the APC in the state, coupled with the fact that the incumbent governor was denied a return ticket might tell on APC votes.
Kano State has always been a nest of bulk support for President Muhammadu Buhari, with the status of second largest voting population in the country. However, with former Kano State governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso moving to the PDP with his multitude of supporters in the Kwakwansiya Movement, it may not be plain sailing for President Buhari this time around.
It is believed that Buhari who won Kaduna and Katsina states last time is likely to retain the states even thought there might be an incursion by the PDP candidate, especially some groups in the two states that were not happy with the federal appointments made by the present administration.
In Oyo State, the APC is likely to take the day by some fractions while Plateau State is likely to go according to the yearnings of the Northern minorities.
But after thorough deliberations lasting several hours, analysts at the Centre of Democracy and Development's Election Analysis Centre (EAC) have suggested 10 key states which will play a significant role in shaping who becomes Nigeria's next president.
These states are Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Oyo, Ogun, Bauchi, Delta, Rivers and Plateau.
These battleground states were chosen because they have historically turned out high number of voters and they currently have large numbers of registered voters for this year's elections.
To decide which state fits into the pool for consideration, the analysts deployed factors like the total number of registered voters, voter turnout in the last general elections in 2015, established voting patterns and the current political situation in the state, relying on factors such as internal crisis, unresolved grievances and show of power between political heavyweights in the state.
Meanwhile, the analysts also pointed out that there are few hidden factors that are likely influence the outcome of the presidential elections.
They said areas experiencing insecurity might witness low voter turnout and this might affect candidates who have such areas as their strongholds.
Additionally, they cautioned that even though the South East has the least number of registered voters, the combined votes of people from the Igbo ethnic group across the country could overshadow some states put together since Igbos are highly dispersed across several states in the country.
They argued that other candidates like Prof. Kingsley Moghalu of the Young People's Party (YPP) and Omoyele Sowere of the African Action Congress (AAC) might influence the outcome of the elections since they would certainly secure some votes at the expense of either Atiku or Buhari.
IGP Orders Watertight Security, Says Offenders Will Be Prosecuted
As part of the security cover for today's presidential and National Assembly elections, the acting Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has ordered robust security arrangements in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
He also reiterated his earlier stand that those who engage in electoral malpractice would be arrested and prosecuted.
Force spokesman, Frank Mba, said that the Assistant Inspectors-General of Police (AIGs) in the 12 zonal commands and the commissioners of police (CPs) in the 36 state commands and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) had also been directed by the IGP to beef up security in their respective areas and to work closely with the senior police officers deployed on election duty to the three senatorial districts and form part of security management base for each state.
The IGP has also directed the Election Intelligence Monitoring Team (EIMT) to intensify constant surveillance, intelligence gathering and monitoring of security personnel deployed nationwide while the Special Election Investigation Team (SEIT) should ensure discrete investigation of electoral cases and diligent prosecution of all electoral offenders.
While charging all security personnel on election duty to ensure they remain patriotic, professional, unbiased and apolitical in the discharge of their duties, the IGP however warned that he would not tolerate any form of impunity or unethical conduct on the part of any officer.
He further reiterated that on no account should any policeman or woman attached to VIPs be seen escorting their principal to the polling unit or moving around with them on the day of election, saying any police officer caught would be arrested and dealt with accordingly.
The IGP advised politicians to prevail on their supporters to be orderly, law abiding and shun all forms of violence and electoral malpractices before, during and after the polls.
The IGP, who had earlier banned voters from wearing party logos and shouting party slogans at polling units in today's presidential and the National Assembly elections, added that there is maximum security in place to protect voters, INEC officials, observers, journalists and other stakeholders that would be engaged in the elections.
The police has also said it would arrest unaccredited security operative and VIPs moving from one place to another during voting hours, adding that the Force had made provisions for three security personnel per polling unit.
According Adamu, no VIP is allowed to move from one polling unit to another with security personnel without tags during the voting hours.
While promising that his officers will abide by the provisions of the Electoral Act and the code of conduct for the election, the acting IGP said they should always seek clearance from INEC before taking actions during the election.
"We have done a threat analysis of the whole country. Flash points have been mapped out. Individuals or groups that may likely cause mayhem have already been identified and will be monitored," he said.
The police boss has also directed the deputy inspectors general of police (DIGs) already deployed to the six geo-political zones of the country to ensure adequate security presence, coordination, supervision and implementation of security strategies for the election in all polling units, Registration Area Centres (RACs), super RACs, collation centres, INEC offices, government and critical national infrastructure, and flashpoints across the states of the federation.
U.S., Canada, ECOWAS urge Nigerians to make Saturday's elections peaceful, credible
U.S. President Donald Trump's top foreign policy adviser, Ambassador John Bolton, has urged Nigerians to ensure that today's elections are peaceful.
Bolton said this in a tweet by the U.S. Embassy in its twitter account @USEmbassyAbuja accessed by the News Agency of Nigeria yesterday in Abuja.
The National Security Adviser of the United States also called on all the candidates in the election to accept the results.
"To all Nigerians working to ensure elections on Saturday are peaceful, free, fair, and credible, we wish you success.
"We urge every voter to participate and every candidate to peacefully accept the election results," Bolton said.
In the same vein, Canadian High Commission in Nigeria also advised all Nigerians to go out on Saturday and vote.
The High Commission, in its twitter account @CanHCNigeria, said Nigerians would decide their future through free, fair and credible polls.
"Remember! We encourage all Nigerians to exercise their democratic rights to go out and vote tomorrow.
"You will decide Nigeria's future and deserve a free, fair, credible and peaceful chance to do it."
Also, the ECOWAS Election Observer Mission has commended Nigerians for their patience and calm following the postponement of the general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on February 16.
The head of the mission, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirfleaf, at a news briefing in Abuja yesterday, said the international community had watched the progress INEC had made to address the challenges it faced.
Johnson-Sirleaf said the progress made by the commission signalled a "deepening and building of confidence in the electoral processes".
"We extend thanks, admiration and gratitude to the Nigerian people for their patience in the face of the last-minute interruptions to their lives with the postponement of the 2019 general elections.
"We have watched the progress of INEC over the past week working together with domestic and international partners in addressing their logistical and technical challenges.
"We are pleased that these operational constraints have been significantly addressed towards a conducive atmosphere for tomorrow's general elections.
"We commend our brothers and sisters across the length and breadth of this great country for remaining calm and resilient as these concerns were addressed," she said.
Sirleaf also commended political leaders for signing the 2019 Peace Accord and described it as a further demonstration of the commitment of Nigeria to democracy.
She expressed confidence that the same level of maturity would be demonstrated during the remaining phase of the electoral process.
"We applaud Nigeria for the pivotal role it played in maintaining peace and the restoration of democracy in our sub-region," she added.
The head of mission also urged political leaders and Nigerians to continue to maintain peace and adhere to the rule of law during the rest of the electoral process.
Furthermore, she commended the security forces in maintaining the peace and protection of the electorate, local and international observers.