Jonathan, Buhari in fierce contest today

Jonathan, Buhari in fierce contest today

Nigerians go to the polls today to elect a new President in a contest said to be too close to call. Since campaigns for the highest office of the land began, members of the two main political parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC) have been locked in a contest of their lives.

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Incumbent President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the candidate of the PDP, faces a stiff challenge from General Muhammadu Buhari, his main challenger in the presidential election four years ago.

As voters in the biggest economy in Africa vote today in the presidential poll, the entire world, especially governments and citizens of West Africa wait, hoping and praying that Nigerians will conduct a peaceful and fair election.

Their concerns and qualms are born of the fact that West Africa is already bedeviled with the deadly Ebola pandemic, while Cote d’Ivoire and Mali are recovering from the ashes of war and cannot afford to have another destabilised nation on the block.

Nigeria has a population of over 173 million so any trouble will have serious consequences for the region.  Ghana will catch a severe cold if Nigeria sneezes, hence the prayer of Ghanaians that election ends peacefully.

What is soothing to the ear and heart, however, are the numerous assurances by major stakeholders in the poll; INEC, the national security, political parties, religious and traditional leaders, that they would berth the ship safely and soundly and ensure that the country remains united after the polls.

The presidential candidates of the two main political parties, PDP and APC, have signed two peace accords. They appended their signatures to the last peace accord just 36 hours to the poll today.

More than two months ago, the political parties and their presidential candidates signed a similar peace accord on “the prevention of violence and the acceptance of elections results”.  Part of that accord included a commitment “to run issues-based campaigns at the national, state and local government levels.”

They signed a pledge “to refrain from campaigns that will involve religious incitement, ethnic or tribal profiling, both by ourselves and by all agents acting in our name,” and a “commitment to fully abide by all rules and regulations as laid down in the legal framework for elections in Nigeria.”

Out of the 14 political parties staking their claims to the high office only two have solid credentials.

Hoodlums and robbers have added to the rising tension and uneasy calm in the country.

Two commercial banks in Ondo and Owo states have been broken into and one set ablaze, while hoodlums numbering over 30, wielding guns and machetes tried to attack residents in Oshodi, Lagos State.

An albatross hanging around President Jonathan’s neck is his decision to not step down after his first term to allow a northern candidate to lead the party in the second term as agreed internally by the party big shots.

President Jonathan, who was Yar’ Adua’s Vice-President, continued the unfinished term of the late President and went ahead to contest the 2011 polls and emerged victorious, contrary to the agreement. He later publicly stated that he would not vie for the post again in 2015. 

Therefore, when he decided to do so, it ruffled the feathers of some party leaders. The decision also made some Members of Parliament (MPs) of his party, including the Speaker of Parliament, to cross carpet to the opposition APC. Consequently, one of the founders of the PDP, former President Obasanjo, publicly tore his PDP card and left the party.

APC chances

Those with the conviction that the APC may win the election are basing their argument on the defection of key members of the PDP and other issues such as the alleged corruption in the public sector, the worsening energy problems and the recent removal of oil subsidies, as well as the current economic challenges.

 Those who insist that President Jonathan will come out with flying colours have also based their argument on the fact that out of the 36 federal states, PDP controls 21, followed by 14 for APC and one for APGA.

Another strong argument against the prospect of President Jonathan losing the presidency is that in the 2011 elections, he had 22.5 million votes; representing 58 per cent, while General Buhari had 12.2 million votes, representing 31.98 per cent.

It will be difficult for General Buhari to win the hearts of more than eight per cent of the voters to get the popular votes to win.  It is believed that with the entrance of new voters, the dynamics might change.

Some of the 26 registered political parties have pledged their support for either APC or PDP, but whether this will translate into votes is another question that will be answered today. 

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Postponement

Today’s poll was originally scheduled for the Valentines’ Day, February 14, but just a week to the day, the Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, surprised many political watchers with what some described as going back on his word, to announce a six-week postponement of the polls.

About two weeks earlier, Mr Sambo Dasuki, the National Security Advisor to President Jonathan, had told an audience in Chatham House in London that the elections must be put off because the INEC was not ready. This infuriated many Nigerians, most of whom vehemently opposed the call.

Announcing the postponement, Prof. Jega said he had to take the unpleasant decision because the National Security, in a letter to his office had insisted that they were engaged in a fierce five-year-old battle with the Boko Haram and could not provide security for the elections.

Messages

Surprisingly, apart from the few posters of just two or three of the other parties, none of the remaining 12 parties have sponsored a single television advertisement on any of the main television channels in the country. This reinforces the perception that the poll is a straight battle between APC and PDP.

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In Nigeria, the voting process is divided into two parts; the accreditation and voting process.

From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., voters will queue and ensure that their names are in the register at a particular polling station.

They must also present their chip-based identity cards and after it had been verified with the card reading machine, the voter’s finger would be marked with indelible ink after which the voter would be asked to go home and come back to vote.

At exactly, 1.30 p.m., the presiding officer will announce the commencement of voting.

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Already some groups have threatened instability, while some supporters of the APC have warned that they will form their own government in Lagos if their candidates are given a raw deal. But those from the PDP have equally made it clear that they would secede from the federation if President Jonathan is not declared the winner.

However, it is expected that the moves and underground manoeuvring of various peace-loving organisations and individuals, including President John Mahama, who also doubles as ECOWAS Chairman, and the presence of former President J. A. Kufuor, the head of the ECOWAS Observer Mission, will be able to calm nerves and guard the fragile peace to enable the most populous nation come out of today’s election successfully.

Meanwhile there will be no movement of persons and vehicles in all the 36 states of Nigeria today.

There are reports of people hoarding foodstuffs in anticipation of a crisis, while long queues have formed at fuel stations.

Security has been tightened in most parts of Nigeria with armed security officers and men protecting major national installations and road intersections; all in preparation towards the election.

Voters

Speaking to the Daily Graphic, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police (COP), Mr Kayode Aderanti, explained that the measures were part of the comprehensive security arrangement for voters to perform their civic responsibilities during the elections.

 “We want to assure everybody, especially the voting public, that we have put in place a very comprehensive security arrangement that will really ensure that voting is conducted in a very peaceful manner.”

 

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