Whoops! The 2023 elections have finally been conducted and contested, and winners and losers have emerged (except in Adamawa and Kebbi states where rerun/run-off polls are expected to be held). The electioneering process was gruelling and pulsating as political campaigns subtly began long before the official commencement date of September 28, 2022.
Thanks to the newly enacted Electoral Act of 2022, the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), intensified its preparations by implementing its most significant innovation for the 2023 elections: the adoption of technological devices for elections and electronic transmission of results. Also, candidates and their political parties had ample time to campaign and seek the electorate’s votes and got a huge jack in terms of campaign funds to expend. The voters virtually got open access to politicians, particularly the candidates, who toured the entire country extensively, with some visiting designated “battleground” states more than once.
Asides from the rallies, town hall meetings and strategic discourse with selected associations that were held, the frontrunners in the presidential election also travelled out of the country and met with Nigerians in the diaspora to convince them that they were the right man for the job. For the Nigerians abroad who were not eligible to vote in the election, their task for the 2023 elections from the candidates who visited them was simple: promote them (the candidates) and sway family and friends to vote for the “right party”. The voters’ access to politicians became even more extensive courtesy of social media, which became a leveller for all major stakeholders involved in the electoral process.
Neophytes were welcomed into the harsh brutality of the electoral process in Nigeria, while some establishment politicians had their images reinvented and rehabilitated and were subsequently portrayed as “lovers of the people”. Political parties campaigned aggressively, using all platforms available to reach out to the electorate. While they met the voters in daylight, politicians met under the cover of secrecy to cut deals in a bid to maintain a power struggle and usurp one another.
The term “anti-party” became one of, if not, the most bandied word during the 2023 elections cycle. Politicians openly defied and worked at cross-purposes against their political parties and candidates without fear of repercussion. It was indeed a historical first as many politicians blatantly did not toe their party line and give a damn about how their alliance(s) would affect their party. Instead, they only fulfilled the proverbial saying: “politics is about (self) interest.”
But unlike previous elections, it was the Nigerian people that mattered and owned the 2023 elections. Those who had turned 18 years old and older over the last four years came out en masse to register and subsequently collected their Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs). Similarly, many first-time voters who were hitherto disinterested in the election and political processes invested their time by collecting their PVCs and paying attention to the nuances exhibited by the political class during the campaigns.
Despite many candidates, particularly the presidential candidates, not subjecting themselves to the rigours and intellect of debates, many citizens took to social media and traditional media platforms to ask conscientious and demanding questions of the candidates and their political parties, respectively. The campaigns were, unfortunately, dominated by vitriol as candidates’ surrogates and supporters made disparaging remarks while engaging each other, to the extent that it nearly descended into chaos. However, the citizens soldiered on and continued to ask questions of candidates and seek answers when possible.
The cash crunch that has plagued the country (and continues to), which was precipitated by the naira redesign and cashless policies of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), meant that politicians, their political parties and cronies could not easily induce voters as before, particularly for the presidential and National Assembly elections. They (politicians) had to campaign hard to sway voters based on the criteria of performance, track record, capacity and feasibility of campaign promises/plans enunciated in their manifestoes. Of course, some voters got connected to certain candidates based on emotional appeal or cajoling, but it was not business as usual for the politicians.
After five months of arduous and heated campaigns, February 25, 2023, finally came. Nigerians trooped out in their numbers to choose their new president and members of the federal legislature. Despite the intimidation and suppression of voters in some states across the federation, the final result of the presidential election and some of the National Assembly polls shocked politicians and sent a shiver down their spine.
The Nigerian people had, since 2015, spoken resoundingly. They may not have spoken with one voice, as expected during elections, but they made their mark emphatically in the 2023 elections with their PVCs, and in reverberating manner. Nigerians can thank one of the few laudable accomplishments achieved by INEC in the 2023 elections cycle – the introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) – as the game-changer in ensuring their votes truly counted.
Suddenly, politicians realised that the PVCs of voters are not just for fancy or identical purposes, they understood that the cards empowered the citizens to make a statement and show them “shege” with their thumbprint at the ballot box. In a flash, politicians who had previously not properly communicated with citizens for the past four years began engaging in performative acts after the presidential election such as visiting markets, places of religious worship, malls, and estates/residents’ houses to interact with the people whom they were supposed to serve their best interest but neglected. Promises almost equated to heavenly bliss were made, arrears concerning workers and pensioners were cleared, salaries were increased, and commitments were given.
The campaigns ahead of the gubernatorial (governorship) and state houses of assembly elections became so intense that voters frequently began to see politicians they only saw once in a blue moon. The postponement of the elections by INEC for one week gave the politicians more ammunition to assuage disgruntled voters, sway their minds and gain grounds. Also, the Supreme Court’s decision restraining the CBN’s ban on the old Naira notes and President Muhammadu Buhari’s reluctance to adhere to the ruling and disassociate himself from “ordering” the apex bank not to circulate cash into the economy propelled politicians to have a field day, inducing voters for the second leg of the 2023 elections.
On March 18, 2023, Nigerians stepped out for the second time in three weeks to choose their governors and state legislators. Although voter intimidation and suppression occurred on a larger scale for these elections, Nigerians still made their voice heard through their PVCs. The “mago mago” which some politicians could hitherto easily contrive and manipulate the electoral process with was checkmated, once again, by BVAS and the now-functioning iREV (the INEC result portal). The hard-fought outcome of the contests in Ogun, Sokoto, Kano, Plateau, Kaduna, Zamfara, Taraba, Enugu and Nasarawa states, as well as the pending results in Adamawa and Kebbi states, indicated that votes indeed do count, and the sovereignty of the citizens remain supreme at the ballot boxes.
It was the voters, not the politicians, who decided the outcome of these governorship and state houses of assembly elections. Or how else can one describe Rukayat Shittu, a 26-year-old woman, declared the winner of Owode Onire state constituency in Kwara State or how Lawan Musa, a 35-year-old, caused a political upset by sending Ahmed Mirwa Lawan, the Speaker of the Yobe State House of Assembly, packing or how Ireti Kingibe, after several years, finally unseated Phillip Aduda as the Senator representing the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) after the latter’s 12-year uninterrupted reign? It was the will of the people!
Some voters may still be wondering if truly they have a voice and whether it is listened to on election day. Some are even discomforted by how certain results in the 2023 elections panned out and have indicated their confidence in the electoral process. Well, it should now be clear to the Nigerian electorate that it holds the aces to the electoral fortune of politicians in the country.
It should now be glaring why politicians spare no efforts in ensuring that they engage in vote-buying or contract thugs to instigate violence and ensure that elections are disrupted and cancelled in their opponents’ stronghold. All these are done because they (politicians) now know that the citizens can WILLINGLY decide their future.
So, my fellow Nigerian voters, the 2023 elections have shown that one bad term of performance in office deserves a vote out for erring politicians in subsequent election years.