By Muyiwa Adetiba
Two weeks ago, I reached out to some of the media chiefs I am still in contact with to ask if there was any credible opinion poll on the Nigerian forth coming elections. I specifically wanted to know on whose side the presidential pendulum was swinging.
They replied me one by one that they were not aware of any. This is a pity. Opinion polls in general, help to gauge the mood of the people on actions, events, preferences and predilections. They are useful to both the Sciences and the Arts in that they not only capture the present, they can help predict future trends, preferences and directions.
In the case of politics and elections, they prepare the mind among other things, against unnecessary surprises. They inform the contestants and the voters of the situation of things and thus help prevent massive rigging.
For example, if an opinion poll with an error margin of one or two per cent says a contestant is going to lose a state and that contestant goes to win it convincingly, then eyebrows should be raised and explanations sought for the last minute ‘miracle.’ The result therefore, is likely to be less rigging, less litigation and less tension.
It is with the latter that I am concerned. The polity has been heated to such an extent that any spark can be combustible. The main opposition believes it has done enough to win so anything short of a pronunciation of victory will be regarded as robbery. The incumbent on the other hand, is not likely to just accept defeat and walk away unless it is glaring that it has lost like in 2015 with the then incumbent.A credible opinion poll would have shown the likely victor and losers.
A good exit poll would even analyse the details. I am surprised that those concerned with post-election trauma and violence had not thought it wise to organise a public opinion poll as a way of dousing tension. It is not as if we do not have the expertise. We do. Private organisations use them all the time for marketing reasons especially. I had used them in the past for my publications and found them useful.
Last week, I asked the same media guys who they thought was likely to win based on field reports. Field reports must be differentiated from a poll. The former is at best, an informed guess. The latter is more scientific. (So those foreign outlets who are tipping one contestant or the other based on field reports should be taken with a pinch of salt.
They have their own agenda and may be trying to influence opinions in furtherance of that agenda). My media colleagues narrowly gave it to the incumbent. But they warned it would be close. One even gave a caveat that some of their assumptions could be wrong as the tide of public opinion was shifting electoral sand very rapidly. A colleague who is renowned for being hands on had told me two weeks ago that the incumbent would win by a landslide. Last week, he said the gap had narrowed.
What this means is that results would be close unless their permutations are wrong— which is why I wished there was an exit poll. I suspect though, that the two main parties would have their own private exit polls or are privy to more accurate intelligence reports. A close result of an election that is not overtly transparent can spell trouble—and no election is overtly transparent in Nigeria.
We were lucky somewhat in 2015 that Jonathan’s electoral wins had been mainly narrowed to the South-Eastern part of the country so the chances of his being able to fight back had been significantly reduced. He had been isolated politically and geographically. Even then, the nation is grateful for his prompt concession. Signals point to a more diverse spread for the two major contestants this time around.
This can be ominous should they both claim victory. The main opposition might not have used the term ‘do or die’ but its rhetoric and body language remind one of the days of Obasanjo when that statement was recklessly made and shamelessly affirmed by his Mr ‘Fix It.’ An aide of the incumbent has also shamelessly talked about body bags as if an election is a war. Would Atiku graciously concede if the verdict was to go against him? Especially if it was a close call knowing that they both probably rigged to the best of their resources?
Would Buhari pick up the phone to call Atiku like Jonathan did four years ago? Would the loser’s first call be that of concession and the dousing of national tension or to the waiting battery of SANs and what it portends? Would that first call serve to douse tension or inflame passion? Would it be a call for peace or a salvo for war? Would this election deepen our democracy or end it? The answers are literally in the hands of the two main gladiators
President Buhari has been twice the Head of State of Nigeria. He once fought for the unity of the country. If for any reason the polls decide against him, he should be magnanimous and not try to use State power to hold on. Even a recourse to the courts should be unnecessary for him. He has had the opportunity to serve and can still be useful as an elder Statesman.
Atiku should also be man enough to pick the phone and concede should the verdict not go his way. He should not listen to the hawks around him who would shout blue murder and call for violence. It is to his credit, that of the nation’s low moral threshold, our collective amnesia, and the failings of the ruling APC, that he and PDP have come this far so quickly to overcome much of the baggage they started out with.
The two main protagonists are from the North. They are Muslims. They are Fulanis. It would be interesting to see whether their actions would foster unity or fan the embers of disintegration. Would they play into the hands of some Southerners who want a break up and might use the outcome of the election to cause one?
They must realise that should civil unrest break out, the fiercest conflicts would most likely come among their own people. One of them must be ready to make that call of concession. Of peace. The peace and continuing unity of the country must override personal ambitions and goals.