Home Opinion The Ghost Of 3-3-3 Elections

The Ghost Of 3-3-3 Elections


…How The 2023 Presidential Elections In Nigeria Imitates The 1983 And 1993 Presidential Elections In Very Uncanny Ways, As Nigeria Tends To Learn Little Or Nothing From Their Past Electoral Crisis.


By Anietie Usen

I had just completed my NYSC programme in Kano in 1983 when the most controversial election of the Second Republic was conducted on August 6, 1983. The result was a highly disputed victory for Shehu Shagari. He was the candidate of the National Party Of Nigeria, NPN, and the incumbent president who was contesting for a second term. He was declared winner over Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party Of Nigeria, UPN, and Nnamdi Azikiwe, of the Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP, in an election that was openly rigged by the ruling NPN government.

Nigerians, a people with a deep sense of justice and fairplay, cried out helplessly against the election to no avail. They said the elections were mired with fraud, violence and compromise of government institutions. The complaints fell on deaf ears. Students took to the streets while journalists and musicians, including the legendary Fela Kuti, criticised, mocked and sang in derision about the systematic and widespread rigging that took place. No dice. It was the golden era of electoral impunity. The ruling class bulldozed their way with unparalleled arrogance. But three months after the elections and two months after President Shagari had been sworn in for a second term, the military visited the State House on Ribadu Road, Lagos, stamped their authority firmly and overthrew the Shagari government with alacrity on December 31, 1983. Nigerians went wild with joy.

A thin and austere Army Officer, known as Major General Mohammadu Buhari was announced as the new Head of State. He ruled Nigeria with an iron fist for 20 months. He brooked no nonsense from anybody. He sentenced many politicians to hundreds of years in prison for corruption. He even executed publicly by firing squad, three young Nigerians convicted of illegal possession of cocaine and heroin. They were Bartholomew Azubike Owoh, 26, a former employee of the Nigeria Airways, Lawal Akanni Ojuolape, 30, a spare parts dealer, and Bernard Ogedengbe, 29, a sailor. That was on Wednesday, April 10, 1985, outside the Kirikiri maximum security prison.

As a rookie reporter covering that frightening event, I remember that Owoh, a handsome, urbane gentleman smiled broadly in the face of death, waved to reporters and prayed in front of the execution stake before he was tied to it. ‘If I knew peddling in hard drugs would result in death I would not have done it,’ he said. The executions took five minutes as a burst of violent gunfire instantly terminated their lives. Watched by thousands of Lagosians, the victims were loaded into rough coffins for burial at Atan Cemetery in Lagos. It was one of the toughest days of the military rule, all because the 1983 elections were widely rigged.

Strikingly, before the military coup that ushered the first coming of Buhari, there was a flurry of post election court battles over the tainted victory of Shehu Shagari. Star among the court cases was the one over the definition of two-thirds of 19 States, which was the constitutional requirement for electoral victory of a Nigerian President. Nigeria had 19 States at that time. Two-thirds of 19 States was12 and a fraction State. Nigeria had no fraction of State. A legal dilemma engulfed the country. It was probably akin to the simmering controversy now over the 1999 constitutional requirement of “25% of the vote in at least 24 of the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory”, for a victory in the current Presidential elections. Tinubu did not win up to 25% in FCT. Curiously, it is one sure ingredient that makes the 2023 election a twin brother of the 1983 election.

Perhaps the lessons of the flawed 1983 elections led to one of Nigeria’s most transparent, freest and fairest elections in 1993. It was conducted under what was termed Option A4. Nigerians across the country simply lined up openly in every polling unit behind the party that they supported. Even before the ballot was counted and announced, it was clear to all Nigerians that MKO Abiola of the SDP was “our man o”. He won a landslide victory even in Kano State, home base of Bashir Tofa, his only opponent. But there was a fly in the ointment. The election was annulled by the ruling military government of General Ibrahim Babangida. The express wishes of the Nigerian people were suppressed. MKO was not sworn into office. Instead, he was arrested and thrown into the dungeon. He died in captivity. The rest is history. Those who masterminded that grave injustice are still in the black book of Nigerian history.

Curiously, Bola Tinubu, the controversial winner of last weekend’s presidential election has a lot in common with MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the 1993 presidential election. The two are Yoruba. The two contested on a Muslim-Muslim ticket. The two chose their running mates from Borno State. The two ran with nearly the same campaign slogan: Abiola with HOPE’93, Tinubu with RENEWED HOPE’2023. The two set up thriving media houses before contesting for presidency. Not the least, the two were rightly or wrongly fingered for trafficking in hard drugs.

But that is where the similarities end. Abiola was a very popular and well-loved man, with philanthropic landmarks across Nigeria before he went into politics. Tinubu is very unpopular with Nigerians and generally seen as a godfather figure. Abiola’s election was in a two-party system. Tinubu’s election is in a multi-party system. Abiola’s election was manually counted. Tinubu’s election was digital by law and it was mandatory for Presiding Officers to transmit election results electronically.

Yet there is more to compare and contrast. Abiola won his home State of Ogun and the home State of his opponent in Kano. Tinubu lost his home State of Osun. He lost his State of residence in Lagos. He lost the home State of his party chairman. He lost the home State of the Director General of his campaign. He lost the home State of the leader of his party, President Buhari. He lost in the Federal Capital Territory, seat of the federal government and lost also in the home States of his three major opponents, to mention a few.

For more contrast, Abiola’s election was widely acclaimed locally and internationally as free, fair and credible. Tinubu’s election is widely condemned locally and internationally, as fraudulent, manipulated and disappointing. The US, EU, AU, Commonwealth and ECOWAS observers are in total agreement that Tinubu’s election lacks transparency. Lest I forget, the man who supervised Abiola’s election, Professor Humphrey Nwosu, the Chairman of the National Electoral Commission, NEC, as it was called then won the respect of Nigerians and international observers, whereas Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has wound up with devastating criticism and condemnation, locally and internationally.

️ The bottom line is that the majority of Nigerians are unhappy and dissatisfied with the officiating of the 2023 election. Nigeriano know how to call a spade a spade. They think they were fooled by the government and INEC to believe that the presidential election will follow in the footsteps of the last three governorship elections in Ekiti, Anambra and Osun States. They are very troubled, more so as the economic hardship in the country bites harder and citizens cannot even access their money in the banks. The omens are not good. Political uncertainties and economic hardship are not a palatable mixture anywhere in the world. These are recipes for a needless crisis. The scenario therefore calls, not just for vigilance but for dexterity in crisis management and conflict resolution, in view of the trumped up importance and leadership role of Nigeria in the stability and wellbeing of Africa. Truth be told Nigeria has not led Africa by good example.

Nigerian journalists must now feel a deep sense of vindication. Over the years, they have shouted themselves hoarse and spoken the truth to power, often at the risk of their safety and very lives. They have told Nigerian leaders and reckless politicians over the years that the way they are running this country can only lead to ruins. In response, many journalists have been thrown into jail and in some cases dispatched to early graves.

The truth be told. This 2023 presidential election is heavily flawed. It has failed the elementary test of transparency, sincerity and fairplay. It may have succeeded in taking Nigeria several steps backwards.This underlines the urgent need for political brinkmanship and transparent judicial redress so that the current high blood pressure of the country does not translate into a national cardiac arrest.

*Anietie Usen is a multiple award winning journalist, author and technocrat.


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