By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK
April 1, 2015
The Presidential candidate of Nigeria’s opposition party, Retired General Muhammadu Buhari of All Progressive Congress (APC) won an historic victory over the incumbent and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prof Jonathan Goodluck in the presidential election held on March 28, 2015. This article is an analysis of conditions that influenced the Nigerian electorate and the lessons, if any, that Ghana’s two leading political parties, the ruling NDC and the opposition NPP as well as their respective or potential presidential candidates for 2016 could learn.
Congratulations to the people of Nigeria and particularly the two presidential candidates for following Ghana’s example of peaceful transfer of power from the incumbent to the opposition in a democratic election. Ghana did it in 2000 and 2008 when the ruling parties lost to the then opposition. The difference and the beauty of Nigeria’s is that the incumbent president did not even wait for the final declaration by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before conceding defeat. Again, Jonathan Goodluck called Muhammadu Buhari to concede and to congratulate him on his victory. In the case of Ghana in 2000, the then Vice President and the ruling party’s candidate, the late President Mills issued a statement to concede defeat, congratulated the winner, John Agyekum Kufour and pledged support to the president elect. There were reports that he later withdrew his concession and wanted to challenge the results. The 2008 was no different as the defeated candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo refused to accept defeat and attempted to use the courts to stop the Electoral Commission from organising the run-off in one constituency that could not participate in the original run-off. In the end, he bowed to pressure from within his party to accept defeat. Nigeria has therefore scored a major victory over Ghana though the handing over is yet to take place.
The first lesson Ghanaian presidential candidates of the two leading parties must learn from the Nigerian experience is that they must not only accept and concede defeat earlier but must telephone the successful candidate to concede that defeat and congratulate him. I hope Nana Akufo Addo and President Mahama will emulate Goodluck’s courage, statesmanship and true democratic spirit. I could sympathise with Nana Akufo-Addo for not conceding defeat earlier in 2008 as the margin was too narrow. In the case of Nigeria, the margin is wide, though small historically and by Nigerian standards.
Unfortnately, Buhari’s victory has turned into the usual NDC/NPP dichotomy in Ghana with NPP drawing strength from it and hoping events in Nigeria will be followed by the Ghanaian electorate to their advantage in 2016. Though there are similarities, there are also wide variations in the political landscape between Nigeria and Ghana. The first similarity being the ages of Nana Akufo-Addo and Buhari as Akufo-Addo will be seventy two when he makes a third consecutive attempt at securing the presidency whilst Buhari succeeded on his fourth attempt at seventy three. NPP has a weapon to fight back NDC’s negativity on Akufo-Addo’s advance age relative to that of President Mahama’s youth. I do not believe both NPP and NDC can gain any political leverage from using the age differences between Akufo-Addo and Mahama. In fact, Nana Akufo-Addo could use his age as an advantage as the late Roland Regan did as a candidate. Unless, Nana Akufo-Addo shows signs of illness or tiredness during the campaign, NDC would be better off not using the age as campaign message because it’s insignificant.
The other similarity is corruption in both countries are at all time high and that NPP will make good use of it in 2016 as NDC did in 2008 and APC did in 2015. Another is the economic situation of high inflation and poor performance aggravated by power shortages and incompetence. As far as the power crisis in Ghana is concerned, if dumsor is not completely ended by mid 2015 President Mahama should just forget a second term. He should not even waste his time and resources to campaign because he would be defeated by Nana Akufo-Addo in a landslide as the economy will get weaker and weaker. In fact, dumsor could become Mahama’s Boko Haram if not completely resolved in 2015.
What are the differences? President Goodluck promised not to seek a second term and broke that promise by seeking a second term. That divided his party and destroyed party unity. Some leading members of PDP resigned to join the opposition. Moreover, the fact that PDP rotates its presidential candidates between the north and the south, the northerners felt Goodluck betrayed them by breaking his promise and denying them a second chance, particularly when the late Yar’Adua who was from the north could not complete his first term. This could explain the heavy defeat Goodluck suffered in the northern states, though Buhari being a northerner was a greater appeal. This situation is not the case within the ruling NDC whilst there is a faction within NPP allegedly opposed the third consecutive attempt by Akufo-Addo but it is not as strong as that of the PDP.
Though minor, the disagreements between Goodluck and Ex-President Obasanjo and his public condemnation and destruction of his party membership card was a disaster for the incumbent and the party. That was a huge electoral advantage for the opposition. This situation is not yet present in either of two parties and highly unlikely to happen in Ghana, though Ex-President Rawlings could do an Obasanjo to Mahama but less likely to be done by Ex-President Kufuor to Akufo-Addo.
Again, Buhari’s success is due to the fact that opposition parties in Nigeria buried their differences to elect and support a single candidate, which turned out to be Buhari. The ruling party therefore faced a formidable and united opposition. That is also not the current situation in Ghana and highly unlikely to happen. Ghana had a united opposition around candidate Kufuor for the second round in 2000, when the urgency to end the Rawlings era and the fact that some within the then ruling NDC broke away and supported Kufuor as they saw Mills as an imposition on the party by Rawlings. It is highly unlikely that the smaller parties in Ghana will unite around Akufo-Addo to get rid of Mahama, though dumsor is capable of galvanising such political consensus in 2016.
Time for Change was also a big factor in Nigeria. The PDP has been the only ruling party since Nigeria returned to multi-party constitutional democracy sixteen years ago. Coupled with bad economic conditions, power shortages and security threat and Goodluck’s inability to deal effectively with Boko Haram terrorism, time for change became urgent. The Nigerian electorate could not wait to see the back of Goodluck and hoped for the better in the hands of the former military strong man. On other hand, both NDC and NPP have been in power since the Fourth Republican Constitution. Time for change in Ghana is real but from dumsor, mismanagement and corruption among others. However, because the country is divided almost equally between NDC and NPP, but for dumsor, there appears to be no strong urgency for change as was in Nigeria, as personal security and safety are not threatened by regular acts of terrorism in Ghana.
Boko Haram has had a devastating effect on Goodluck’sre-election efforts. His failure to adequately resource the Nigerian military to fight the terrorists, the capture and murder of innocent victims, particularly, the abduction of over two hundred school girls at Chibok by Boko Haram who still remain unaccounted for, damaged him beyond repair. Thank God Ghana has no national security threat by a terrorist group.
Moreover, Nigeria is a federal country with elected governors that are very powerful when it comes to national and state elections as they control resources with huge influence over their communities. Some of the governors are from the opposition parties as well as independents who disagree with Goodluck. In fact, some governors from PDP left the party due to their differences with Jonathan. With such situation, Goodluck could not rely on their support for his re-election campaign as some of them actually campaigned against him. Fortunately or unfortunately, all the ten regional ministers, the numerous metropolitan, municipal and district chief executives in Ghana are appointed by President Mahama and are from the ruling NDC. In fact, they all owe allegiance to him and the party and would whole heartedly support Mahama’s re-election efforts.
Goodluck also made powerful enemies with some of his decisions such as the dismissal of the Central Bank Governor for complaining about missing millions from state accounts. The dismissed governor was subsequently made the Emir of Kano and became a powerful ally of Buhari. These are prominent leaders who could tell their communities and followers to vote for a particular candidate. That decision weakened Jonathan and strengthened Buhari’s electoral fortunes.
The religious factor coupled with north versus south hegemony in Nigerian politics disadvantaged Goodluck and favoured Buhari. Not only was Buhari a northerner but also a strong Muslim. In some countries his faith would have been a disadvantage because of atrocities committed by Boko Haram supposedly in the name of Islam. However, in Nigerian this was advantage because many believed that Buhari was better placed as a northerner, Muslim and former military strong man to deal effectively with the Boko Haram threat. Yes, the north-south divide in Ghana will be used by NDC but because Dr Bawumia is also a northerner, it would not be effective. Though the recent religious difference between Christians and Moslems has raised its ugly head in Ghana, this would not be advantageous to any of the two parties even if Dr Bawumia is a Moslem as both Mahama and Akufo-Addo are Christians.
Finally, social media made the Nigerian election un-riggable by both parties. The power of social media is such that events and activities regarding the organisation and management of the elections were captured live and reported on social media. That would be the same in Ghana in 2015. The days of electoral manipulation by the incumbent are limited by social media power.
My observations on the organisation of the election and the collation of results were such that, I called the 2015 Nigerian Presidential Election as the “Professors’ Election”. All the thirty-six State Collation Reporting Officers were Professors and Vice-Chancellors of academic institutions in Nigeria. I was impressed and shamed by Ghana’s Electoral Commission’s performance in 2012. A country with a high number of graduates unemployed engaged electoral officers who could barely read and write properly. They could not record accurately the details of electoral results on the statement of poll and declaration of results popularly known as the pink sheet. I hope Ghana’s EC will learn from INEC and improve on the calibre of electoral staff from polling station officers to returning officers in 2016. Notwithstanding this INEC did a bad job with the final tallying of the results by resorting to doing that manually instead of using Spreadsheet that could have done the job in minutes. This delayed the final declaration by hours and kept Buhari waiting to make his victory speech.
The writing was on the wall for Jonathan Goodluck but he refused to listen or pretended not to have seen it coming. Election day became a bad omen for him when the verification machine could not verify him. Remember, most presidential candidates who experience such mishaps (falling down on stage during campaigns) often lose elections and Goodluck was no different.
The problems with verification machines and their failure to verify many voters, which Ghana also experienced in 2012 resulting in a second day of voting as in Nigeria, is a problem that must be resolved before many innocent citizens are disenfranchised for no fault of theirs. The earlier this problem is resolved the better, otherwise, there could be another Supreme Court challenge one day when a considerable number of voters are unnecessarily rejected by verification machines and denied their democratic right to vote. In Ghana where the margin of victory is often narrow in presidential elections, the loser will definitely challenge the outcome and rightly so if verification machines reject hundreds of thousands of registered voters and no room is made for manual verification to allow them to vote.
In conclusion, the 2015 Nigerian presidential election and Buhari’s victory have thrown up some interesting differences and similarities with the situation in Ghana and the impending presidential election in 2016. However, should NDC and NPP, take these differences and similarities for granted without proper analysis and jump to hasty favourable conclusions to support their causes, they would be making very sad political miscalculations that they will live to regret for decades.
Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK