By Olu Fasan

LET’s get down to brass tacks: Muhammadu Buhari won this year’s presidential election, and Atiku Abubakar lost it. The election was, of course, marred by significant irregularities and shortcomings, including violence, intimidation, disenfranchisement and vote-buying. But, as the doctrine of substantial performance goes, while these anomalies undermined the legitimacy of the outcome, they didn’t materially change it. So, Buhari won, Atiku lost!

But Buhari’s victory brought to mind the famous words of the French philosopher Joseph de Maistre that: “In a democracy, people get the leader they deserve.” This puts responsibility on followers rather than leaders. For, in a democracy, citizens have a duty to choose the right leader, but if they shirk that duty, they must, as de Maistre implied, take responsibility for the choice they have made! You’ve made your bed, now lie in it, one might say! Those were my thoughts as I considered the oddities in the presidential election.

Think of the abysmal turnout. One analysis shows that, at 35 per cent, the turnout in this year’s presidential election is the lowest since 1999. How could a country have 82 million registered voters and only 27 million of them bothered to vote? Good governance and democratic accountability are seriously undermined when the majority of eligible voters refuse to adjudge the performance of elected politicians at the ballot box.

Muhammadu Buhari

They would simply govern by appealing only to their supporters knowing that the independent, non-partisan “wailers”, often the majority in most countries, would never put their money where their mouth was. In other words, they would never vote. For them, it’s all bark and no bite!

Buhari is probably the most criticised president in Nigeria for his poor handling of the economy and his sectional approach to national unity. Yet, in an election in which, for the first time, there was a different candidate with alternative economic and political visions, potentially competent approach to governance and inclusive and consensual leadership style, Buhari’s vociferous critics, mostly in Southern Nigeria, largely refused to vote, with the average turnout being less than 25 per cent.

In Lagos State, only 18.5 per cent of the 5.5 million voters who collected the PVCs voted! The South certainly wanted change, obvious from the fact that 14 out of the 17 Southern states voted for Atiku, who lost another, Osun, by just 10,000 votes. Yet, they lacked the courage of their convictions by not voting in large numbers.

But here’s another oddity: the voting behaviour of the poor. Why did the poor vote to be poorer? I say that advisedly because, over the past four years, Buhari’s statist economic policies have further impoverished an already poor nation, and, given his socialist mindset, he is unlikely to generate economic prosperity in his second term.

Indeed, the immediate negative reaction of the stock market to Buhari’s re-election, with N196bn lost in one day, was evidence of the doubts that his victory was a real shot in the arm for Nigeria’s economy and polity. As the global business media outfit, Bloomberg, reported: “Bank stocks in Nigeria fall most since 2016 after Buhari victory”, a confirmation that the anti-business president, whose economic record and grasp of economic fundamentals are miniscule, was not investors’ preference.

Surely, that’s bad omen for Nigeria’s economy and for the prosperity of its people, particularly the poor and the vulnerable. Nigeria has more extremely poor people than any other nation, with nearly 90 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty, 66 per cent of who, according to a World Bank report, reside in the North. Alarmingly, six Nigerians fall into extreme poverty every minute, according the Brookings Institutions. It’s no surprise that Nigeria ranked eighth out of 128 in the world’s misery index in 2018.

So, then, back to the question: Why did Nigerians vote to become poorer? Why did they re-elect a president on whose watch unemployment rose from 8.2 per cent to 23 per cent and youth unemployment skyrocketed from three million to 13 million (a 263 per cent increase)? In hardly any civilised country would an incumbent with President Buhari’s appalling economic record secure a second term.

But, let’s face it, Buhari won by default. The American journalist Franklin Adams famously said that: “Elections are won by men and women because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody”. Thus, Buhari won because millions of poor Nigerians voted against Atiku rather than for him. They knew that Buhari’s government hadn’t improved their lives, but preferred him, an ascetic, puritanical socialist, to his brash, amoral billionaire opponent. The election was fought on integrity, and Buhari’s perceived integrity, his reputation for incorruptibility, helped him among the poor, who were puzzled by Atiku’s wealth and its source, and loathed his perceived lack of integrity.

Of course, Buhari weaponised the integrity issue. He won by exploiting socialist, anti-wealth, anti-elite rhetoric, which, more or less, elevated poverty as a virtue. But, as Aristotle said: “Politics is the pursuit of the higher good of living well”, and, in the words of Thomas Jefferson: “The care of human life and happiness is the only legitimate object of good government”. Poor and vulnerable Nigerians won President Buhari a second term, the onus is now on him to show they didn’t vote to make themselves poorer!


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