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What Makes A Mandate Popular? -By Rotimi Fasan

The 2023 elections were characterised by Violence and voter intimidation in certain places. This is not entirely unheard of in times of electoral contests in our part of the world. Violence, intimidation and voter suppression are, in fact, part of what make our elections and their outcome what they are- a fraught process that leaves huge question marks on the legitimacy of the mandate contested for, no matter the winner of the Election. People just choose to believe what they want. But the fact is that there’s hardly any general election that has been conducted in this country that does not have one question mark or another on it, especially if we are determined to find one.

The difference between one election and another, the problem with them, is just a matter of the degree to which they complied with or violated electoral laws. Which is to say that there is no perfect election anywhere. We all still remember what happened across the North during the 2011 elections, the level of violence, the loss of many lives and property? That was from recent memory and the winner’s Votes were, at over 22 million, a little more than twice the votes that won the presidency for Bola Tinubu. The fact that the votes cast for Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 were far more than those for Tinubu in 2023 apparently made them less problematic for those who would ground Nigeria today because of a Bola Tinubu victory.

They add up the votes of Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and Peter Obi of the Labour Party, LP, and conclude that Tinubu lacks a popular mandate? The numbers made all the difference despite the violence that characterised the 2011 elections, right? What, pray, makes a mandate popular- is it the aggregation of the votes of the losers or the actual votes won by the victorious candidate where it’s a first past the post system? What sort of convoluted thinking leads people to such conclusion based on some strange computation? If there is anyone to blame where voter turnout is low, is it the victorious candidate or the voters and the electoral system in place?

Would those opposed to the outcome of the 2023 presidential election have rejected the votes had either of Peter Obi- especially Peter Obi, and Atiku Abubakar, won? It’s doubtful if that could have happened. Nor would they have added up the losing votes to prove the winner lacks a mandate. If we don’t want candidates winning by the slimmest of margins, then we must set our laws right. And that should be before not after the election has been won and lost and someone is casting around to shift the goal post. What would critics of the present system and, thus, of Tinubu’s victory have to say about the American system with its electoral college where the winner of the popular vote, as was the case with Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, did not win the elections of 2000 and 2016 respectively?

All a candidate needs to win a presidential election in Nigeria is a plurality of votes in addition to winning 25% of the votes in at least 24 of the 36 states and the FCT. Tinubu met these criteria and had the election gone through the second stage and still not produced a winner, the winner thereafter would have been declared after winning a simple majority, apparently without the obstacles of winning 25% of the votes in 24 states and the FCT.

But I digress and to go back to my earlier point. violence has been an undesirable part of our elections and the sheer scale of it during the 2011 election was almost unprecedented, especially in the Northern part of the country. But those working to particular scripts and narratives choose what they want to believe and have insisted that the 2023 election lacked a popular mandate because of violence and voter intimidation in some parts, not all, of Lagos.

Were the infractions enough to have affected the outcome of the election substantially? This was one of the questions the Supreme Court had to answer in declaring Tinubu winner and the answer was no! Yet the third-placed person in the election and his supporters wanted the entire process annulled on the basis of what happened only in some parts of Lagos. Lagos was in the eye of the storm and only got the coverage it did because of its place as Nigeria’s primary urban, commercial and political centre. The violence and voter intimidation that took place in Lagos were for this reason reported more than in other parts of the South-East and the North where the opposition parties had their stronghold.

Yet, a single story of voter suppression and violence was created out of what happened in Lagos as if other parts of the country where opposition parties were dominant were free of this electoral malaise. Even when cases of violence in opposition enclaves were reported less and for that reason appeared isolated, they were no less frightening for the victims than they were for people in places like Lagos where some of the supposed victims of violence could actually provide recorded footage of themselves being attacked, intimidated and fleeing from their attackers. This was the case with the Nollywood actress, Chioma Akpota.

In a word, therefore, the deployment of violence was not limited to Lagos but the reports were uneven and, in places like Lagos, magnified by certain candidates and their supporters. Let’s be clear: electoral violence, voter intimidation and any form of electoral misdemeanour cannot and should not be measured in degrees of their severity. Condemnation should be total and unequivocal. There is in this sense no such thing as good or bad violence. Yet, the focus has been on some parts to the almost total neglect of others.

While the relatively low number of votes could justify the request by some Nigerians that President Bola Tinubu should reach out to members of other parties to forge a bipartisan front at both the executive and legislative levels, that does not warrant the attempt at delegitimising the government of the day or demanding equal representation of the leading parties in the government of a victorious opponent. With nearly nine million votes cast in his favour, Tinubu’s votes are not the worst ever recorded for the winner of a presidential election. His votes are still more than those cast for Alhaji Shehu Shagari in the 1979 presidential election.

What those opposition elements seeking to delegitimise his government should realise is that he fulfilled the conditions required by law in terms of vote count to be declared winner of the 2023 presidential election. This is the fact and everything else is unnecessary bellyaching.

The post What Makes A Mandate Popular? -By Rotimi Fasan first appeared on Opinion Nigeria.



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What Makes A Mandate Popular? -By Rotimi Fasan

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