The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has declared that this year’s presidential and gubernatorial elections were the “mostly keenly contested elections in the history of Nigeria, despite being fairly peaceful and reflecting the general wishes of the people.”
ACF, in a statement by its secretary-general, Malam Murtala Aliyu, on Friday noted that though the elections were not perfect as reflected by the pockets of challenges “such as late opening of polling units, failure of BIVAS in some areas, scattered cases of violence, vote-buying and voter intimidation, no election the world over is perfect.”
It, however, decried the spate of ethnic and religious profiling in the South, noting that “it is unhealthy for the nation.”
The statement read in part, “History will report that the 2023 general elections that were held on the 28th of February and 18th of March, 2023, was the biggest and certainly the most keenly contested election ever to be held in Nigeria. The figures are tremendous: 87 million voters; 18 presidential candidates; 28 governors; 469 members of the National Assembly and 993 members of Houses of Assembly. Voting took place in 176, 000 polling stations in 8,809 wards. Some 1.5 million political party agents were accredited to bear witness to every event.
“Thousands of foreign and local observers were on hand to monitor and assess the credibility of the exercise. Thankfully, in spite of the outcry of mostly those that did not achieve their goals, the exercise passed off fairly peacefully and the outcomes could be said to have reflected the broad aspirations of the electorate. True, there were difficulties and mishaps: polling stations opened late, BVAS failed to upload results real time, there was scattered violence, there was vote-buying, voter intimidation, etc.
“While these problems are a serious source of concern and must be investigated and addressed, they have to be viewed in their right perspectives. Where in the world do they organise perfect elections? The size of our operations in any event is so vast and complex that isolated incidents of this nature are impossible to prevent. We are pleased to note that candidates that felt dissatisfied with the outcome of the elections including presidential candidates of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, and Peter Obi of the Labour Party, have resolved to go to court, not the streets, to seek redress. That’s the right and honourable thing to do.”
It added, “There is one particular problem thrown up by these elections that cannot possibly be addressed by the courts. It is the deployment of ethnic and religious sentiments as a driver of politics in Nigeria. As seen in Lagos and elsewhere, ethnic and religious zealots have a way of turning political and election campaigns into life and death struggles. They issue threats of violence and at times actually attack supporters of rival candidates with a view to intimidating and stopping them from casting their votes.
“It ought not to come as any surprise that voter apathy and absenteeism were unusually high in many areas – as well as why voter turnout was very low across the country. In Lagos where the problem created by ethnic and religious politics has continued to fester, acrimony and bad blood between the Yoruba and the Igbo have become a matter of concern to the security agencies. In the wake of the ethnic crisis, Yoruba and Igbo partisans freely profile one another and accuse themselves of criminal conduct, including as cheats, bandits, kidnappers, land-grabbers, etc.
“Ironically, ethnic profiling and accusations of criminality without evidence have always been levied against hapless Northerners, herders or economic migrants by the South and mostly supported by the press. They stigmatised northerners, convicting them for offenses they know nothing about. Northerners were forced to live under the shadow of guilt and criminality without trial. Perpetrators of these injustices couldn’t have known that a day such as this would come when they will inflict injustice not on Northerners but against one another.
“All of which underscores the very serious consequences of politics rooted in religion and tribalism. It is a political virus. Nigerians must do everything within their power to eliminate this virus and go on to inoculate ourselves against re-infection in the years to come. This time, it is truly a matter of life and death. Let us as Nigerians love and care for one another. Let us focus on what unites us and not our differences.”