Despite the shortcomings of the 2023 presidential election, which were seemingly deliberately created by the Independent National Electoral Commission, the election has given some power to the masses and created some fear in Nigerian politicians. If INEC had kept its word of organising a completely transparent election in which all results at polling units were electronically transmitted and collated without any alteration, it would have revolutionised elections in Nigeria by returning powerfully to the people as demanded by democracy.
Notwithstanding that, it gave Nigerian politicians a taste of what true democracy is: government of the people by the people and for the people. Especially in the federal legislative elections where INEC allowed elections to be electronically transmitted, many power brokers were defeated by political Lilliputians in different parts of the country. This has made those contesting the upcoming governorship and state legislative elections to become humble. Many of them have been seen kneeling down or prostrating before the people to beg for forgiveness, or visiting unusual locations and performing amusing acts, to prove that they are people-oriented politicians. Those who taunted the masses or dismissed them as social media tigers have changed their tune.
Last week, the world celebrated International Women’s Day for 2023. But for Nigerian women, 2023 has not brought good news in politics. Even though the election was declared inconclusive in some of the senatorial zones, results of the February 25 election show that only three women may be in the Senate, which features 109 members. That is a drop from the eight female senators inaugurated in the current ninth Senate in June 2019, out of which Senator Rose Oko of Cross River died and was replaced by a man.
Two of the seven senators that will not be part of the Senate from 2023 to 2027 are from Anambra State, which has been producing the highest number of female senators since the Fourth Republic commenced in 1999. They are Senators Uche Ekwunife and Stella Oduah.
Until the February 25 election, the most powerful female grassroots politician in Nigeria was Senator Ekwunife, representing Anambra Central Senatorial Zone. This is not an exaggeration. There are facts to back up that claim.
Ekwunife had her Anambra Central Senatorial Zone under lock and key. Whether you are a man, a woman or a demi-god, she would floor you in any election, no matter your chains of degree or wealth or influence. She facilitated many projects for her zone, and the people loved her. If not for the rotation of the governorship position among the three zones of Anambra State, she would have contested the seat in 2021 and probably won it.
Ekwunife with Senator Stella Oduah from Anambra North Senatorial Zone gave Anambra the record of the state that has produced the highest number of back-to-back female senators. With both of them, Anambra was producing more female senators than some zones in Nigeria that have six or seven states. Despite the disadvantage women have in Nigerian politics, it was only in Anambra State that female senators had the upper hand over men and were sure of defeating men without the backing of any political godfather.
Then hubris came upon Ekwunife and she took unwarranted swipes at the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi, referring to him as “a kindergarten president” and his supporters as “mobocracy.” Oduah was also accused of working against the presidential ambition of Obi during the primaries by ensuring that the Anambra delegates of the Peoples Democratic Party were under the control of Nyesom Wike, who was in the race with Obi and others. With his home base taken away from him, Obi left the PDP.
Note that these ladies were not contesting against Obi. Obi did not say anything against them. They didn’t even have to say anything against Obi during the campaign. But like most Nigerian politicians who don’t know how to read situations, they couldn’t see that the ship had left the harbour. In the estimation of most Nigerian politicians and Nigerian voters, there are power brokers who own Nigerian politics and determine who wins any election.
Then came February 25. And the people spoke. The people did not just speak: they thundered! Their noise reverberated and propelled Ekwunife and Oduah out of their senatorial seats. For a political tigress who had defeated many heavyweights before, Ekwunife could not even get the second position in the election. The people showed that power belongs to them and not to power brokers with structures.
Meanwhile, Senator Victor Umeh, former Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, who had worked against Obi some years ago, had read the handwriting on the wall and smartly reconciled with Obi, picking the LP ticket for Anambra Central, which Ekwunife had collected from him. By going to Obi and joining the little-known LP, he finally was able to wrest the Senate seat from Ekwunife. And he took the ticket so easily this time. Umeh must have been shocked that what was so difficult for him to achieve for a while became like a piece of cake just because he aligned with Obi at a time no top South-East politician wanted to openly align with him.
Interestingly, if the governorship position of Anambra State were up for election on Saturday, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo would have been overwhelmingly voted out, despite his huge popularity barely one year ago when he contested the position. He would have been punished for the condescension, malice and ridicule he expressed in his needless November 2022 letter against Obi and his supporters. Like other politicians, the argument of Soludo was simple: Obi had no political structure and could not win the presidency; the best he could do would be to win in one state.
Before the February 25 election, many “political pundits” emphasised the importance of political structure as the determinant of election victory. They dismissed Labour Party as lacking in structure and therefore unable to pose any threat. Interestingly, even though the presidential election result was flawed and has been the subject of legal contest, Labour Party denied the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party the 25-percent vote score in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.
For the first time, LP has made it come up as a factor for the court to determine if a presidential candidate needs to win at least 25 per cent in the FCT to be declared the winner. There is no gainsaying that in any country where people’s votes count, popular candidates win elections. It is only in countries where people trust in rigging that they tell you that you need a “structure” to win an election.
When Barack Obama joined the presidential race for the United States in 2007, I saw the type of excitement he evoked in people and predicted from far away Nigeria that he would win the presidency. But political pundits told me that it was impossible for him to do so, given his racial identity and lack of “political structure.” His opponents in the Democratic Party mocked him as a neophyte. But he eventually won his party’s ticket and the presidential election.
Similarly, when Donald Trump emerged in 2015 and was creating excitement, I said he would win the presidency, but political pundits told me that a man with such a foul mouth and unpredictable behaviour could not win the American presidency. He eventually won it.
As long as elections are completely transparent and determined by popularity, the much-touted political structure (read “vote buying, thuggery, intimidation, and election manipulation”) credited to some strong men and women is hollow. In a true democracy, the people’s vote (and not the political structure) wins elections.
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