2023: Year of the political long knives, by Ken Ugbechie

Presidential town hall meeting

2023: Year of the political long knives, by Ken Ugbechie

Presidential town hall meeting
Obi -Tinubu-and-Atiku

Many things defined the 2023 political landscape in Nigeria. Pockets of good governance, oases of bad governance. Political beefs, like governors lording it over their deputies and deputies slinging mud at their bosses; like local government chairmen blowing the whistle on their governors to alert anti-crime agencies on perceived economic heists; like politicians defecting from opposition parties to the ruling party to evade investigation; like political god-sons drawing the dagger at their god-fathers. It’s a long list.

It’s also the year of new political phrases, iconic lexical springs and quotable quotes. If it wasn’t ‘all eyes on the judiciary’, it was the audacious ‘go to court’ riposte of INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, or MC Oluomo’s sensational lyrics “Mama Chukwudi, if you don’t vote for us, sit down at home. Do you understand? Sit down at home…”

To political pundits, 2023 should fit as the year of the long knives. It was the year of a mammoth general elections, the type never before witnessed in Nigeria. By its sheer size and volume of registered voters, 2023 general elections became the biggest democracy festival in Africa. A brimming 93.46 million voters were registered to vote in the elections, a huge 16.7 million voters more than all the other nations in West Africa sub-region put together. This dwarfs the 84 million voters captured in 2019; 67.42 million voters of 2015, 73.53m voters (2011), 61.57 million (2007), 60.82m (2003) and 57.94m (1999). With six general elections already conducted since 1999, you would expect the 7th general elections in 2023 to wear the garb of excellence with sprinklings of near-perfection. But did it? The answer is as profound as it’s obvious. The grim visages of some Nigerians that tell nothing but disappointment at the management and general conduct of the election; the verdict of a foreign election observer who described Nigeria elections as a ‘crime scene’ index the general verdict on the election. The general opinion was that 2023 election was flawed, stripped of credibility and shorn of the values and basic traits that make for free and fair polls. Not even by Nigeria standard did it measure up to public expectation. And public expectation was high, especially from a new generation of voters, the youths who raised the stakes with their zeal and devotion to register and to vote. Some didn’t have the liberty to vote though they registered and were willing to discharge their civic duty. They were redlined; banished from the polling centres by hired political goons and scofflaws.

But such received opinion on the anomalies and perfidious shenanigans that attended the election should never be dumped on the electoral body, INEC. It’s a case of shared responsibilities. Yes, some INEC officials may have been profligate and perniciously lecherous in discharging their duties, but they are not worse than the polling unit agent of a political party who colluded with agents of a cash-doling party to sex up figures to give the bribing party undue advantage. They are not more insidiously toxic than the compromised security personnel who deliberately looked away when agents of political mandarins and deep-pocket power brokers openly intimidate voters, suppress voters and mutilate results in the most devious and primitive show of shame. Neither are they any more repulsive than the politicians whose only measure of ‘value’ is the depth of their cash vaults, nor are they any aberrantly repugnant than the electorate who shamelessly sell their votes, by extrapolation, their tomorrow, to the highest briber. All of this, bar none, were manifest in the 2023 elections in a grand manner that it did not only ridicule the process, it brought the nation to disrepute in the eyes of the international community.

Nigerians have never witnessed an election so openly compromised like the 2023 polls. The various attestations by both local and international election monitoring bodies including the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM), the Africa Union (AU), the US International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the Commonwealth Observer Group among others, point to a massively-rigged polls. All the reports on the elections from the international media also scored the conduct of the election very low in terms of integrity of the processes, conduct of electoral officials and security personnel.

There were open cases of voter and media suppression and it reflected in the final outcome and analytics of the polls. Bola Ahmed Tinubu, candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was declared winner by INEC with 8,974,726 votes, while his main rivals Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of Labour Party polled 6,984,520 and 6,101,533 votes, respectively. By this, Tinubu was announced winner with only 36.6 per cent of the votes cast on a turnout of 27 per cent, the lowest in Nigeria’s democratic history since 1999.

Between January and December of 2023, daggers and knives clashed on the political space. In Edo, Governor Godwin Obaseki tussled with his deputy Philip Shaibu; Ondo had, now deceased Rotimi Akeredolu, feuding with his deputy, now Governor Lucky Aiyedatiwa (next time don’t make any Goodluck and Lucky your deputy, politicians be warned); Rivers put up a still running movie starring Nyesom Wike (the god-father) and Governor Sim Fubara (the god-son), and Kano had two political foxes, Abdullahi Ganduje in a slugfest with his former boss, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso.  Old friends became new foes and the centre could no longer hold.

But by far, the biggest political epiphany of 2023 was the emergence of Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra state who set the political stage on a new frontier of passion and commitment especially among the Nigerian youths. Peter Obi shook the political firmament riding on the wings of a hitherto unknown Labour Party (LP). Despite the lack of visibility of LP, Obi turned it into a formidable third force as against the usual two-legged presidential race.

The year opened with severe cash scarcity occasioned by the controversial naira redesign policy and ended, strangely, with another bout of cash scarcity. In between the two hemispheres of cash shortages and wonky electronic payment system was a dramatic removal of fuel subsidy followed by a floating of the naira leading to an unprecedented devaluation of the naira with resultant huge arbitrage in the forex market. Effect? 2023  turned out the harshest year in recent history.

In the midst of the turbulence, Nigerians showed a rare absorbent capacity, bestriding the landscape with all its pains and pitfalls and still waving a banner of hope that after the rambling through the dark tunnel of 2023, light beckons in 2024. Such patriotism, resilience and capacity to persevere make the average Nigerian a rare breed. It’s on this count that the award of Man of the Year should go to ‘Nigerians’. They, alone, deserve this diadem. Nigerians are incurable optimists, a redoubtable breed of humans gifted with the capacity to endure all bad seasons, bad leaders, terrible infrastructure, zero government support.

Only Nigerians have the knack to lament the rapacious looting of their tomorrow by their leaders and still turn around to garland such evil leaders with awards and laurels. Such a special breed!