The 2015 Presidential elections have been keenly contested, won and lost. As noted by local and international observers, this is the first time that a change would occur in federal government in Nigeria from the ruling party to the opposition through the means of an election. World over, an event like this is seen as a mark that the principles of democracy have become embedded in the psyche and consciousness of the people. Whilst some African Countries such as Ghana and Benin Republic had passed through this phase, Nigeria, Africa’s largest democracy took some time to get there. That we have now achieved this feat is indeed a cause for celebration.
I am certain that Nigerians now realise the power that lies in their thumbprints on the ballot. Before now, the greatest threat to enthronement of democracy in Nigeria was not really its political class whose acts of impunity are well documented but rather the apathy of its citizens who had come to falsely believe, after years of electoral malpractices and manipulations, that their participation in the political process would serve no cause. It is however now clear that the power of the people is real and therefore anyone who attains public office will now be aware that he can be removed from office the same way he attained it; through the exercise by the people of their vote. It is for these reasons and more that I intend to examine the lessons which must be learned by all from the elections.
THE PRESIDENTIAL PHONE CALL THAT AVERTED CHAOS
For several minutes on the 31st March, 2015, Nigeria tethered on the brinks of chaos. For several minutes, one man held up the Collation of the 2015 Presidential Elections, an exercise that was being monitored not only by Nigerians home and abroad, but indeed all lovers of democracy and peace, irrespective of race, colour or creed. After normalcy was restored, Nigerians again endured several hours of anxiety conscious of the fact that the final result may be bring about violence and the resultant loss of lives and property just as happened after the 2011 Presidential Elections. However as fate would have it, a simple phone call from a President and Statesman to a retired General, Statesman and former Head of State ensured that thousands or perhaps millions of Nigerians lives were spared. That well publicised phone call from President Goodluck Jonathan to General Buhari during which the former congratulated the latter his victory, even when the full results had not been collated and announced was a first at that level in Nigerian Politic and deserves special attention and commendation.
PRE-ELECTION VIOLENCE AND APPREHENSION OF CHAOS AFTER ELECTION
To state that the pre-election period was chaotic and violent would be an understatement. Several factors including the high-profile defections from one party to the other ensured that the two main political parties at times forgot that the issue at stake was not personal egos but the future of Nigeria. Matters were therefore not helped by the rhetoric of victory at all costs which characterised most political rallies. This resulted in various acts of violence across the country. In a report, the National Human Rights Commission stated that between December 3 2014 and January 31 2015, 58 persons died as a result of pre-election violence across the country. With this background and with the knowledge of the violence which broke out in certain parts of the country after previous elections, Nigerians were apprehensive about their safety.
Since 1963 violence had erupted in many parts of Nigeria after the announcement of results. Valuable properties had been destroyed in many parts of the country including Kano, Ilesha, Ado-Ekiti and Ibadan. Many innocent citizens had also lost their lives. Western Nigeria was once labelled as “wild wild west”. In 1983, a total 83 houses were destroyed in Ado-Ekiti in one day.
Therefore Nigeria witnessed a massive movement of people some days to the elections. Nigerians relocated to their states of regions of origin in the belief that they would be safe among their own. Many Nigerians amassed food and other necessary items in their homes sufficient to last weeks in the event of a total breakdown of governance and security. The Lagos international airport was jam-packed with Nigerians and foreigners who wanted to leave Nigeria for safety. Not since the days of the “mother of all strikes” called by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) during the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo had Nigerians appeared so fearful of the future of the Country.
Thus when a former Minister of the Federal Republic demanded a halt to further collation of the results, many Nigerians were quick to assume that their worst fears were about to be realised. The former Minister openly asked those present not to touch him if they desired peace in Nigeria. However after several minutes of the stand-off he returned to his seat. For some hours more Nigerians watched again with bated breath as more results tricked in. But then came the phone call.
However one looks at it, President Goodluck Jonathan played a great part in the success which Nigeria has now recorded. He it was, who vowed to ensure that the electoral system in Nigeria is made more transparent. He has not only kept to that promise, he also acted in a manner expected of a statesman. The number of lives and the value of property saved from destruction by the selfless act of President Jonathan may never be known. What is however known is that by his conduct, he has proven that he loves this country and that as he has always reiterated, the interests of Nigeria and Nigerians must rank uppermost at all times.
In appreciation of his heroic declaration, I wrote a letter dated the 1st of April, 2015 part of which reads:
“I want to specially salute you for not allowing the nation to be turned into another theatre of war with the attendant gory carnage, burning, maiming and killing as well as wanton destruction of both ambulatory and non-ambulatory properties similar to the events of 1983 after the gubernatorial election in the then bigger Ondo State.
Your Excellency, without any iota of doubt, you are indeed “the hero of this Presidential election. Apart from Alhaji Ibrahim Kwakwanso of Kano State 12 years ago and the immediate past Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. John Kayode Fayemi, I do not know of any other loser in Nigeria politics who congratulated the winner. Your name will go down in history as a lover of peace and also a lover of the people who you have toiled to serve most assiduously in your entire political career. With your unique action, indeed a new dawn has begun in Nigeria.
I will also like to commend your action to all political gladiators in the country. They should take a cue from your well-informed demonstration of a gallant and honourable looser without necessarily turning our election into a do-or-die phenomenon”.
His selfless act, as I will discuss next week is consistent with the highest standards of responsibility held by current and past Presidents and leaders in history which is to ensure peace at all times.
To be Continued…
AARE AFE BABALOLA SAN, CON