Presidential Election Gives Nigerians No Choice

By Bunmi Makinwa

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President M. Buhari (Getty Images/P. Ekpei)

If President Muhammadu Buhari figuratively rode on a horseback to assume office in 2015, as at today, he barely rides a three-legged donkey. A wobbling government has frittered away the goodwill of the expectant millions who brought him to office.

However, his main opponent, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, does not have a donkey to ride on. His questionable past and close embrace of proven and perceived corrupt political actors and ruinous leaders do not make him attractive. Despite the weakness of Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) party, Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party or PDP is not the shining star.

Yet one of the two is most likely to emerge as president come the election of February 16, in a few days.

The PDP governed Nigeria from 1999 to 2015. Its three successive presidents, and with control over most of the states, reinforced a faulty political system where massive looting of government coffers became the norm. Provision of services and improvement of peoples’ well-being receded and disappeared in most of the 36 states and at the federal government level.  Politics was the quickest gateway to wealth, riches and power.

Under PDP rule, when political leaders have taken their large share of the official budget, the little that was left could not maintain Nigeria’s elaborate political and administrative systems. Infrastructures became dilapidated. Salaries remained little and unpaid in many states. Social tension heightened.

Nigeria’s political system is problematic too. The “investment” needed to win votes or buy oneself an elected position has kept rising. The demand presses elected persons, in turn, to hustle to recover their wealth, equip themselves and their acolytes for future political positions. Many elected officials aggressively privatize official funds to their pockets for use as future powerful political kingmakers.

Amongst the citizenry, high and low, a culture of primitive self-preservation and material aggrandizement developed. Reliance on system and order gave way to brazen self-reliance, hopelessness in hard work, and spiritual solutions to routine life issues.

People scramble for “money by all means”, especially through political favours, in a situation where material well-being is a primary determinant of people’s self-worth. Absent the government, all basic needs are met by each person according to whatever access is possible to any resources, state or privately-owned.

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Nigeria Votes (guardian.ng)

On February 16, 2019, Nigeria will pick either Atiku or Buhari to rule the country for another four years. It is not because there are no qualified, capable and exemplary candidates among the more than 40 other presidential aspirants. It is mainly because the political system is cast in stone, and only the candidates of a few major political parties can have the resources and means to meet the demands stipulated by the constitution, political tradition, and corrupt processes that produce candidates for political offices.

Several of the other aspirants have qualifications, experience and drive that will make any country proud of its possible leaders.

The political system is dominated by political parties that can afford enormous resources to set up structures, reach out to a sprawling, federated country of 36 states and one federal territory, use mass and social media that communicate with some 180 million population, and provide reliable security for themselves and supporters.

Candidates for elections must dole out monies to members of their own parties and voters who have given up on what elected leaders do when they are in office. Rather, party officials and voters want immediate gratification – whatever materials, food and money that they can get from candidates during the election campaign. Elections are costly, not only for the official organizers but also for candidates who must deploy huge amounts of money for every step of the election process, from seeking the nomination of political parties to seeking votes of the electorate.

For the coming election, Nigeria faces yet again the sad choice of having to choose between two leading politicians neither of whom can take the country to its level of development and realization of its potentials.

The gargantuan victory of President Buhari in 2015 over then-incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan gave Buhari a powerful entry. But his three-pronged campaign on corruption, a stronger economy, and security with special focus on ending Boko Haram insurgency are nowhere near being successfully prosecuted.

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Atiku (image via News24; File, AFP)

At the same time, Atiku will only be Atiku – focusing on further enriching himself, his cronies and beloved others.

Those who strongly support Atiku claim that he is different from Buhari and will perform better given the weaknesses of the current government. They say that Atiku will make the expected noise to discourage the rampage by herdsmen and organised attacks on certain people and religious groups. He will choose his lieutenants from various parts of the country. He will enable the South-eastern part of the country mainly the Igbo ethnic group to contest strongly for the presidency. He will make public money spread around through his customary largesse. He will unite the country that appears to be fragmenting. Yet, the claimants have only weak arguments to explain how the expectations will be met.

The strongest criticism of Atiku is that the popular demand to combat and at least reduce corruption will suffer greatly if he becomes president. But his supporters maintain that if corruption is the price to pay to have a more united country, a stronger economy and less structured federalism, it is time to let corruption continue under Atiku’s rule. It is a sad bargain to accept.

Whether 76-year old Buhari or 72-year old Atiku wins in the soon to be held election for the next president, Nigeria loses because neither of the two persons has the disposition, experience, appropriate mindset, nor determination to make Nigeria a better place for its people. The current political system presents only the rich and mighty, not the best that the country can offer.

Asked about February 16 election for the president, someone retorted: “Some people will vote for Atiku. Some will vote for Buhari. One of the two will win despite a large number of frustrated people who will spread their votes among the numerous other candidates. The status quo will remain because Atiku and Buhari are from PDP and APC which are two sides of the same coin.”

To buttress his point, the person explained that Atiku was in PDP before he joined APC, and then returned to PDP a few months ago to buy the political platform to aim for the presidency. The leadership of both parties boasts of the same persons who have led Nigeria’s politics for the past 30 plus inglorious years.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

More Fake News Here.

By Bunmi Makinwa

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Can one avoid fake news? It is highly unlikely.

Anyone who uses social media, also called social networking services, will receive fake news. The more frequently one uses social media, the more fake news one receives. The challenge is to identify and ultimately avoid spreading fake news as the personal and social impact can be damaging. In fact, it may also have legal implications.

The growth of technology, media technology in particular, in combination with the ease of creating one’s information through cheap mobile telephony, has democratised “news” both for good and bad uses.

An active user of social media receives information many times each day from friends, families, casual acquaintances, and unknown people. It has become easier than ever to generate and spread information. It can be about anything. In several formats, including text, video, photo and voice, anyone can use just a smart telephone to express views, ideas, wishes and news that can reach numerous people across the world in rapid time.

Such shared information may be fake news which contains misinformation and inaccuracies. The information may be designed purposefully to deceive or mislead the receiver. Or it may be used to inform, or promote a viewpoint, sale, generate interest in an issue, or perhaps to entertain. Most people re-post information quickly and hardly spend time to verify its authenticity.

Fake news varies in appearances and implications. As Nigeria’s 2019 elections for president, governors and other offices draw nearer, fake news will increase in frequency and sophistication.

The relevance of newspapers, radio and television notwithstanding, social network services are very effective means of communication. Their impact on political discourse and communication is significant in Nigeria.

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(image via pulse.ng)

According to available statistics, Nigeria’s active users of social media increased from only 52 million in 2013 to about 90 million users in 2017. With a huge population of young people, the country will most likely surpass its hitherto growth rate of about three percent for active users. Especially if the costs of mobile telephony decreases and the economy picks up in the near future, more young people will use the Internet with social media as primary means of communication. The mobile telephony subscription in the country rose from 1.6 million in 2002, to 87.4 million in 2010, and it is now at about 154 million.

Some fake news can be sighted from a mile off. Especially by astute communication and media professionals. A casual observation will show if the name of the purported media organization is wrongly portrayed, or if there are wrong spellings, unusual language or style of presentation. In some cases the hyperlink used as source of the news or information does not exist. Or the statements made are simply doubtful.

Yet, fake news can be cleverly done. It is possible to use modern innovations to modify photos, voices, images and scenes, and combine them to look credible. In such cases, it is difficult to spot the manipulations. More advanced analysis or technology is required.

Recently, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka spoke of a fake website that had his identity all over it. He succeeded to trace the originator but the person has not taken the website down.

Many wealthy people, celebrities, well-known persons, leading brands and organisations have fake information about them and attributed to them on the social media. Facebook, Twitters, websites and blogs, WhatsApp and Instagram are popular in Nigeria, and they contain a lot of fake news despite deliberate efforts by the platforms to identify and eliminate fake news and their creators.

Whilst there is general agreement that fake news should be discouraged and stopped, there is little common position on how it can be done. Current libel laws may be already adequate. Others ask for special policies and laws to counter fake news, whilst some countries place special taxes on use of social media. There have been several instances where national authorities closed down access to the Internet.

Just as one does in daily lives, one must apply common sense to determine what is fair, right or wrong. There are no better ways than to question claims and appearances.

For ease of doing things, you may want to consider the following ten points for social media messaging (text, voice, video, cartoon, photo and other materials). I call them my intuitive 10 laws of social media scams. They are particularly relevant in Nigeria as the political space heats up with ongoing campaigns.

  1. All freebies on social media are scam. If the freebies are actually free, everyone and too many people have already taken whatever was available before I get to know.
  2. If it sounds like fantastic news, a truly phenomenal happening, I hesitate. If it sounds untrue, it most probably is untrue.
  3. Who said it? The same liar. He/she lied about things in the past. Forget it.
  4. Oh, this story is credited to a well-known person, a public figure etc. If it is really true then I should find it on websites of the relevant major media, including newspapers, radio and TV. Is it there?
  5. This does not sound like the same person I knew as a public figure. He or she would never do it, or say such a thing.
  6. Does this quoted person have the qualification or experience to speak with authority on the issue? Can I find his background information or depth of knowledge through a regular Internet search?
  7. Alright, this item quotes a reputable major news organization. Let us check it on the website or in the information area of the news media.
  8. The fact that it is written does not make it true. Anybody can write anything about anybody at any place at any time for any reasons. Where else can I check the truth of it? Who should know?
  9. Allegations of corruption and abuse of office stated about every top politician is likely to be true. But proof is hard to come by. Choose which ones to accept and act upon. Avoid the ones that may lead to a libel case.
  10. Buhari does not hate Atiku. And Atiku does not hate Buhari. They are friends, and will remain friends after the elections. Please, do not send me these hate stories.

Bunmi Makinwa is the Chief Executive Officer of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

Ekitis and Fayemi: Moral Values and Integrity of Choice

By Bunmi Makinwa

There are new lessons and confirmation of old ones that have emerged from the July 2018 gubernatorial election in Ekiti State.

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Ekiti State

The first time that I witnessed an election up close was in 1983 in Ibadan. No, I was not an observer or a politician. I was “inside” the political campaigns, sitting next to gubernatorial candidates of political parties. I saw political thugs of candidates in cars and trucks that drove recklessly on town roads. I observed thugs using dangerous weapons to attack other thugs and supporters of political opponents of their leaders. I saw men lying in their pool of blood and barely breathing whilst policemen watched them dying. I was a terrified, fairly new reporter covering the campaigns.

At the then capital of Oyo State, I also witnessed heavily armed policemen who guarded the offices of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) whilst vote counting went on inside. Only the returning officers of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) that constituted the federal government were allowed inside. The NPN agents were fully protected by the frightfully armed policemen. The officials of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) the opposition party that governed Oyo State were prevented from entering FEDECO premises to witness or observe the vote counting.

As results were announced on radio stations, the city was locked down by security forces. The winning candidates circulated freely. The candidates of the opposition party were locked up in their homes or detained in police stations. According to the security forces, the security actions were necessary to “maintain law and order”.

When a political party constitutes the federal government in Nigeria, it has control of the security forces, and with it the power to manage and decide outcomes of elections is almost unlimited. The federal government uses this power when the stakes are high.

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Voting in Nigeria (via Techpoint)

In 2014 in Ekiti State, candidate Peter Fayose defeated sitting Governor Fayemi with a near 100 per cent vote count in the gubernatorial election. Fayose had the backing of the strong Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that formed the federal government. The party hence was in charge of the security forces and they backed candidate Fayose. During the election the state was locked down by security forces.

In the recent July 2018 elections in Ekiti State, sitting Governor Fayose’s hand-picked PDP candidate, Mr. Olusola Eleka, deputy governor, was defeated by former Governor Fayemi. The latter had the backing of the strong All Peoples Congress (APC) party that forms the federal government. The state was locked down by security forces.

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Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi

 Lesson one – the party at the centre with control of security forces can use the so-called “maintain law and order” in ways that are open to various interpretations . The security actions that were taken by the federal government during elections in Oyo State in 1983 do recur in several elections. They were similar to the security actions taken in Ekiti State in 2014, and again in Ekiti State in 2018.

Lesson two – money has become absolutely crucial to win elections among Ekiti people. And the amounts needed to influence voters and buy results of party primaries and elections has increased significantly. The use of money is more public than ever. The Ekitis were general perceived as tough, stubborn and fiercely loyal in their political beliefs. They would hold a position, support a candidate and protect their beliefs with their lives, if necessary. The Ekitis have changed. Money has become the dominant factor for the voters. They guard their stomachs with their lives. Governor Fayose used “stomach infrastructure” as official governing policy. His opponents adopted it for the elections. At every stage of the recent electioneering process, within their means, for all parties, including APC and PDP, money was the currency of engagement.

Lesson three – the more money is spent by candidates to win their elections, the more money the candidates have to recover once elected. In addition, the successful candidates have to look after their party, members and their personal future interest. What do people expect from their governments, governors, elected politicians? Having spent huge amounts of money to buy party delegates during primaries, and also to buy voters during elections, there must be a lot of holes to plug once in office.

Lesson four – Nigeria has become more homogeneous in expectations from political leaders, especially during elections. Ekiti people are no longer an exception. “What we get NOW from the candidates for political offices is the only benefit to us. Once they assume office, we get nothing”, say the voters. For various reasons, including poverty, loss of confidence in the political leadership, pressing needs and sharp “marketing” by politicians, people have given up on higher standards of politics as service to the people.

Lesson five – election results are almost invariably contested. Only in rare instances do candidates accept their losses and cheer the winners. Campaigns and elections are desperate, win-or-die times for politicians to attain power and wealth. The reports of observer groups on Ekiti elections vary. Whilst some say that it was reasonably free and fair, others say that it was unfairly conducted and over-militarised. Both APC and PDP are accused of carrying out activities that could undermine the proper conduct of voting and determination of results. Several cases are in court to ascertain whether party primaries and state-wide elections were done properly.

Can the in-coming government of Fayemi recover some of the lost moral values of Ekitis? Can he rally his people to bring back the personal integrity of Ekitis on choice of political leaders? Can he rekindle the high ground that he took when he lost gallantly to Fayose in 2014? Can he raise the “bar of excellence” as he stated while conceding defeat? Or faced with the realities of desperate politics of acquisition wealth and power, will he fall further into the “stomach infrastructure” miasma?

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Formerly, he was Africa Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Towards 2019, Which Way Nigeria?

By Bunmi Makinwa

There are many voices in Nigeria that express regret for having chosen then candidate Muhammadu Buhari during the 2015 presidential elections. In understanding the present, the past must be made clear.

Muhammadu Buhari raises fist after registering to vote on Saturday in Gidan Niyam Sakin Yara. Pic: The Telegraph.

In the choice between All Progressives Congress (APC) party’s candidate Buhari and Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) then President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, Buhari was the right decision. The Jonathan government had outlived its relative usefulness. It was hardly breathing under the weight of corruption, insecurity especially Boko Haram’s numerous willful attacks, false economic growth, inept leadership and rampant official unresponsiveness to peoples’ needs.

President Buhari is in office today because most Nigerians decided that they had enough of bad leadership of former President Jonathan. Yes, there were some very commendable achievements under Jonathan, but the decay was more.

At the time, Buhari and his coalition of “progressives” offered a possible alternative. Their three-pronged campaign themes of economic development, security especially arresting the growing territorial expansion of Boko Haram, and stopping or reducing corruption resonated well with electorates. It was the appropriate time for the country to climb out of a known sinkhole, and to firmer ground, though it was not to a solid rock.

A New York Times article that I quoted in my write up of March 2 2015 titled its strongly worded editorial, “Nigeria’s Miserable Choices”. Buhari did not come with a pedigree that could rescue Nigeria from its abyss of under-development. But compared to where Jonathan had led the country, “anything but the same” was acceptable.

Two and half years later, as the debate escalates on what is the next road to take for Nigeria, it is appropriate to consider whether the country has made strides under Buhari. And whether the successes are sufficient to justify a continuation of the same government come the 2019 presidential selection.

In a democracy, elections present the opportunity for reflection, reconsideration and action. It is a time for people to exercise their democratic rights by voting for political leaders. Nigeria has the opportunity once every four years to confirm a sitting president or welcome a replacement, according to the constitution.

It must be said that Buhari’s government tackled Boko haram convincingly, and heralded confidence in the nation’s military machine. It revealed many facts about massive stealing and corruption in the previous administration. It exposed humongous monies and wealth that were stolen and often hidden by so-called leaders and their surrogates.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari presents Lance Corporal Kenneth Kulugh with the Purple Heart medal for gallantry. Pic: BBC.

Unlike the Jonathan government, it reined in unbridled and reckless spending and began to save for possible difficult times ahead, despite major fall of petroleum price. And Buhari talked tough a few times about how to make the country gain traction in reducing imports.

Notwithstanding, the enthusiasm and positive “moment of actions” that accompanied Buhari into office was wasted by the new government. Rather than send out unequivocal actions to build on the high level of credibility that was shown by voters towards him, Buhari went literally into exile. Strangely, appointment of his own cabinet proved difficult and took six months, and other important offices were left unoccupied for a long time.

Many cheerleaders of Buhari, including my humble self, wondered if he was the same person who had aspired to rule the country numerous times.

Perhaps Buhari’s illness accounts for the slowness in many spheres where urgent actions were needed. Yet, it is not justification to absolve the leadership from its accountability to the people. It is correct to assert that, in many aspects which are explained daily in public discourse, Buhari has not done as well as expected.

Albeit, there is a greater problem.

Beyond the lack of performance of the government according to public expectations, there is a major concern that Buhari is leading the country progressively into territories of no-return. The actions and decisions of his government undermine the country’s nationhood. The country is tottering.

A few critical issues will serve to illustrate the point.

The commendable actions of the government on Boko Haram and engagement, though less successful, with the Delta area insurgents gave the impression that former military general Buhari understood security and could protect the country.

Still several security threats have ensconced themselves. The problem is not only that they should have been contained before they assumed serious importance, but that they were allowed to fester and grow. Kidnap, inter-religious fighting, open ethnic rivalry, insurgency by local militias, horrendous actions of herdsmen have all become serious threats to national cohesion. The government has been careless and ineffectual, to say the least. To date, there is no clear sense of urgency and actions to reclaim the girls, women and people abducted by Boko Haram or explain the lack of serious progress.

In appointments, assignments, and placements of senior officials, the government has been as partisan as it has been in sleeping on official reports, decisions on investigations. Management and containment of crisis within the presidency, executive arm and ruling political party leaves much to be desired.

The economy is one of the foremost areas of strength of Buhari’s government. Unlike many other sectors, there is a blueprint and direction. There are promises of results and often a timeframe is defined. However, the results are far too few and lightweight to deal with the problems on the ground. It does not matter that the previous government caused enormous damage to the nation’s economy. The solutions must come from the current government. Despite overwhelming control of states by APC, the sad non-payment of civil servants’ salaries on time or at all persists.

Unemployment, high food prices, high costs of fuel and transportation, high costs of education and health care, among others, are common and becoming normal.

Characteristically, religion – arising in part from the general insecurity, economic deprivation, poor governance, loss of confidence in government’s capability to be fair, firm and honest, – has become the only straw to which many people hang their hopes and trust. In the absence of official decisive actions and communication, people revert to religion or faith to explain many issues. As a result, a much polarized nation has become even more divided by religious differences.

Nigerian Naira notes. Pic: Daily Times Nigeria.

This government shows poor understanding of the dynamics of the country. It deliberately or inadvertently allows ethnic arguments to thrive; accusations of partiality in government appointments appear germane; and government often waits for inter-ethnic attacks to germinate and take roots, before it shows its feeble hands.

On corruption, Buhari’s government shows a consistent desire to act. It demonstrates commitment to tackle it. But the actions are too little, too limited, too weak, too narrow, very incomprehensible and more laden with failures than successes. The greatest fear is that Buhari’s government may leave so much disillusion due to its poor showing on corruption that apathy may set in – if Mr. anti-corruption, straight-as-a-rod Buhari cannot succeed in fighting corruption, maybe nobody can. Then, as many pro-corruption advocates argue, “corruption is a Nigerian, and let us live together”. It is a wrong thesis and corruption should and can be fought successfully. This government’s anti-corruption approach lacks honesty, strategy, direction and it is devoid of mobilization of people. It cannot succeed.

What is next towards 2019?

There should be an admission that Buhari’s government did succeed in changing some things for the better. Though far below what is expected. Much more can and should be done. There are four possible new directions to take.

One is to have the current government change its tempo and change from not being “in a hurry to do anything”, as Buhari himself admitted recently. The problems are known and by re-organising to have the right people around him to think and implement decisions in the best interest of the country, much more can be achieved.

The second possible way is for Buhari to be a statesman and accept that due to his health and factors beyond him, he cannot lead the country. His party, APC, may be able to find a capable replacement.

The third one is for Buhari to step aside and also opt out of APC. His illness and political party have made it difficult for him, he says, and he becomes a most respected statesman by such a wise step. He can provide a rallying point for an alternative force to the big political parties.

The fourth possible route is to re-invent the political fundamentals of the country. It should be possible for independent candidates and candidates of smaller political parties to run for presidential and other offices. Time and test have shown that APC and PDP are two sides of the same coin.

Buhari came into power to arrest the drift under Jonathan. It has done some of it. As things stand, the government cannot do better. It can most probably get worse. PDP does not have known leaders of the quality needed to handle Nigeria’s current and future challenges. It means that in 2019, as in 2015, presidential election may be a repeat of “miserable choices’.

Given the numerous proven corrupt people who may present themselves for the coming elections, strong are the chances that Buhari will have a second term in such a situation. It will be unfortunate.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Formerly, he was Africa Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

What Is Next for Yahya Jammeh – Even a billion years will end.

By Bunmi Makinwa

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Gambia’s President Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junjung Jammeh

Had he accepted defeat in the election of December 2016, Gambia’s President Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh, 51, would have been one of the few African presidents or heads of state who, having been in power for more than ten years or have had more than two terms of office, decided voluntarily to have a peaceful transition of power.

Notable presidents who stayed in power for a long time, yet organized or supported peaceful transition are Senegal’s Leopold Sedar Senghor who left office in 1980 after 20 years, Cameroon’s Ahmadou Ahidjo who left office in 1982 after 22 years due to ill health, and Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere who quit voluntarily in 1985 after 21 years. Others are Zambia’s  Kenneth Kaunda who left in 1991 after 27 years when he lost election, and Benin’s Mathieu Kerekou who also left in 1991 when he was defeated as military leader after 19 years. They were all the first presidents of the countries after independence.

In several African countries, the governments suspend the constitutional limits to presidential terms of office, and enable the leaders to stay in power perpetually or for a long time. From such strong positions, the incumbent presidents generally win elections using any means.

Jammeh, as a 29 year old army lieutenant took over power in a coup d’etat in 1994 and was elected president in 1996. Subsequently, he has been re-elected four times. Under Jammeh, Gambia changed its constitution and removed term limits for the president.

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A young Yahya Jammeh

ECOWAS dropped its plan for mandatory two terms for heads of state in West African countries when Gambia and Togo refused. Jammeh is reported to have said in 2011:  “I will deliver to the Gambian people and if I have to rule this country for one billion years, I will, if Allah says so.” It was clear that he did not see himself leaving office at any time in the foreseeable future. It was not an unusual scenario among his peers.

In 2015, the outcomes of presidential elections were predictably “favorable” to all long-term leaders in Africa.  In April that year President Omar Al Bashir of Sudan won by 94 percent in a poll that was largely boycotted by opposition parties. He had ruled Sudan for 26 years. In Togo in the same month, President Faure Eyadema, 50, won a hotly contested election for a third term after being in power for 10 years, a successor to his father’s 38 years as president. Togo has no term limit for the president.

During 2016, all presidents who have been in office for at least ten years or more than two terms won the elections or were declared winners of contested elections.  The list includes leaders of Chad, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) and Uganda.

The scheduled elections for the Democratic Republic of Congo in November 2016 could not hold due to serious civil disturbances as opposition parties and protesters demanded that President Joseph Kabila could not be a candidate. He was pressured to abide by the constitution adopted in 2006 and leave office as required after his second mandate expired in December 2016. Kabila, who came to office in 2001 following the assassination of President Laurent Kabila, his father, was first elected in 2006 as president. In a compromise on 23 December, an agreement, yet to be formally adopted, was proposed by the main opposition group and government under which the president would not alter the constitution and he must leave office before the end of 2017. 

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Congolese voters queue outside a polling station during presidential elections in Brazzaville, on March 20, 2016. (IBT)

Despite the numerous sit-tight leaders, there have been smooth transitions, and changes of ruling political parties and presidents in many African countries. In 2015, election results were accepted by all parties involved in Cote d’Ivoire, Lesotho, Nigeria, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia.  In 2016, Benin and Ghana witnessed superbly smooth transition of power.

Whilst Gambia’s Jammeh has acted true to character by rejecting the results of the election that he had accepted initially, the mood within Gambia and internationally suggests low tolerance of his stalling tactics. Whether Jammeh’s swagger and belligerence can outshine the resolve of internal critics and combined pressure of regional leaders and the international community will be clearer in the near future.

In 2014, Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore tried to force through a constitutional amendment to have a fifth term in office, but his 27-year regime was forced out by a combination of popular mass actions and military disenchantment with the government.

He had won elections four times previously under circumstances that were often similar to those of Jammeh.

The Gambia, as it is known, is the smallest country on mainland Africa. It has a population of about 1.8 million and economy largely dependent on tourism. Fishing and farming are also important.  The country is almost entirely surrounded by Senegal, and its western part opens to the Atlantic Ocean. Its military strength is generally characterized as small with no major exposure to combat. The president is minister of defence and head of the military forces.

There is no documented information of any former African president who accepted unfavourable election results only to reject them later. The question is whether Jammeh can willfully discredit the electoral system which his government had established and which results he had used in three previous elections to confirm his re-election. If he gets away with it, he will become the first African leader to say “yes” and “no” to the same election result.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Formerly, he was Africa Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Elections in Africa in 2015: So Far, How Fair?

By Bunmi Makinwa.

Predominantly, African countries are known as places where electioneering and political elections are synonymous with riots, fighting, violence and killings. Some of that is changing, but many things remain the same.

Holding elections to elect representatives of the people does not equate attainment of democracy. There are countries where elections are organized to legitimize authoritarian, despotic and dictatorial regimes. However, to some extent the process of organizing and holding elections can often reveal the quality or extent of democratic principles in a country. Elections can expose governments to closer scrutiny than they would have wished for.

(President Pierre Nkurunziza via Burundi image)

During 2015 in Africa, ten elections were held to date and two more are expected in November and December. In only one of them, Burundi, did law and order break down. The election of President Pierre Nkurunziza to a third term mandate in Burundi has led to violent demonstrations, protests and more than 200 deaths so far. And problems continue in the landlocked, historically troubled East African country, bordered by Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The parliamentary and presidential elections that returned President Pierre Nkurunziza, 51, to power for a third time were widely criticized. Opposition parties claimed that the amendment of constitution and subsequent favourable decision by the court to allow the President to contest after the stipulated ten years in office, was manipulated and against the wish of the generality of the people.

Paradoxically, the East African leaders who have championed a process to negotiate a rapproachment between the belligerent parties in Burundi are themselves compromised by circumstance. Of the four other countries in the regional group, only Tanzania and Kenya have constitutions that mandate a maximum of two terms in office for their presidents. In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni, the doyen of the East African Community, has been in power for 29 years and will contest the 2016 elections. In Rwanda, the lower house has given the nod to President Paul Kagame, 58, to contest the next elections for another seven year term, and possibly to stay on till 2034. He has been heading the country since 2000.

(President Paul Kagame via The Times UK)

Zambia, which had witnessed unusual deaths of two Presidents in office in the past seven years, was the first African country to hold an election this year. On January 20, its presidential election saw Mr. Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front party winning a hotly contested poll of 11 candidates. He will serve out the remaining term of the deceased President Micheal Sata until 2016 when a new voting will take place. The opposition denounced the election but took no further action.

Lesotho, a landlocked country, completely surrounded by South Africa, held its general elections on February 28. When no clear winner emerged, opposition parties formed a coalition and used its parliamentary numbers to name Mr. Pakalitha Mosisili of the Democratic Congress party as its new Prime Minister. Mr. Mosisili had served earlier as Prime Minister from 1998 to 2012. The small country of about 2 million, with more than its fair share of political turbulence, had a smooth election. Generally though, “Big brother” South Africa sleeps with one eye permanently open to moderate political crisis of Lesotho.

With bated breath, Nigeria held its elections in February and March. Despite reported incidents of violence and upheavals in some parts of the country, the much-feared conflagration that some predicted did not happen. The major opposition party coalition of the All Progressives Congress won and former military leader General Mohammad Buhari came into office as President after running unsuccessfully for the post in three previous instances. The ruling party lost and accepted defeat.

In April, both Togo and Sudan held elections and re-elected sitting Presidents Faure Eyadema and Omar Bashir, respectively. President Eyadema, who succeeded his father who died in office, was relected for a third term. The Eyadema family has ruled Togo for 48 years. President Omar Bashir had ruled Sudan for 26 years and he won by 94 per cent in a poll that was largely boycotted by the opposition. In both Togo and Sudan, results of the elections were dismissed by opposition parties.

Ethiopia’s elections on May 24 was a reconfirmation of the position of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn which he assumed in 2012. After 17 years as Prime Minister, Mr. Meles died in 2012 and the ruling Ethiopian People’s Republic Democratic Front (EPRDF) replaced him with the then deputy Prime Minister Desalegni. The EPRDF won 500 parliamentary seats of the 547 positions, further demeaning a largely non-existent opposition.

Guinea, reeling from the effects of Ebola, and in serious economic distress, had its election on October 11. President Alpha Conde was returned to a second five-year term. The opposition shouted fraud and refused to accept the results but their challenge in court failed.

Both Tanzania and Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) had general elections on the same day, October 25. After 50 years of being in power, Tanzania’s ruling Chama Cha Mapinduizu (CCM) faced a stiff opposition led by Mr. Edward Lowassa, formerly a Prime Minister on the platform of CCM and right hand man of current President Jakaya Kekwete. But CCM candidate Mr. John Magufuli won the poll. Election results were cancelled in Zanzibar, the small island complement of mainland Tanzania. The opposition claimed that it had won the elections in Zanzibar, and refused to concede in Tanzania.

In Cote d’Ivoire, a first election after its civil war returned President Allasane Outtara decisively to power for another five-year term. Some key opposition figures had refused to take part in the elections saying that it was improperly organized. However, some opposition leaders accepted the results of the poll.

In Cote d’Ivoire, Lesotho Nigeria, Zambia, the losing political parties accepted the final results of the presidential elections. Only in Nigeria was the ruling party defeated. In all other countries, incumbent political parties were returned to power – Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo. Change of leadership took place in Lesotho, Nigeria, and Tanzania.

Two very important elections are still in the horizon for 2015. On November 29, a reawakened Burkina Faso will go to the polls after a people’s uprising that pushed former President Blaise Compaore into exile after 27 years in power. A similar mass uprising this year routed the short-lived coup by the Presidential Guards and returned an interim government to manage the country.

(President Blaise Compaore via Arab.com)

On December 13, wobbling under heavy load of violence since 2013 and amidst uncertainty, Central African Republic plans to hold its general election.
Elections in 2015 have been more or less good stories out of Africa. There has been improvement over the past situation, both in electioneering and polling. Political analysts will look deeper into whether the situation marks a turning point, what changes there are, factors responsible, among other questions. However, the road is far yet when elections will truly represent a fair opportunity for people to choose their representatives.

Makinwa is a communication for leadership entrepreneur based in South Africa and Nigeria.

Connect with him on:
Twitter: @bunmimakinwa
Blog: bunmimakinwa.com

Ekiti Elections: What If?

It started like a rolling thunder. But it ended almost like a lullaby. Lyrics of democracy on the mend.

It could not have been predicted that the gubernatorial election in Ekiti state would end the way it did. No, it is not the loss by Governor Fayemi. Not even the victory by Governor-elect Fayose. It is the genteel, no-victor-no-vanquished, I-am-your- brother and you-are-a -saint embrace of both Fayemi and Fayose that has created this surreal atmosphere. Even Labour Party gubernatorial candidate Bamidele Opeyemi, despite his mega loss, had no anger.

Just a few days prior to the election, the campaign leaders of the political parties could not find words harsh enough to describe their opponents. Violence, unrelenting and ascending, continually seized Ekiti, and tension enveloped a people who were well known for their hard headedness. Incumbent Governor Fayemi cried out that even his life was threatened when police bullets were shot  in his direction whilst in a convoy.

Applause has greeted the comportment of Fayemi for his acceptance of defeat with no rancor. He has even said that he would not contest the election. It is an unusual departure from after-act of political elections of which he profited in a court decision against his immediate predecessor, Governor Oni. Shortly after the recent election, Fayemi met with Fayose and they appear to be orchestrating a smooth, hugging-friendly transition of power.

Analysts have gone to town to explain why Fayemi lost and Fayose won, or to assert that actually it was Ekiti people who won in their decision, and that democracy is the real victor.

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