Home Opinion Long walk from Safari Park Hotel: Any lesson for Nigeria? (II)

Long walk from Safari Park Hotel: Any lesson for Nigeria? (II)

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Long walk from Safari Park Hotel: Any lesson for Nigeria? (II)

Ahmed Yahaya-Joe                                      

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

In the shadow of Nairobi’s midtown façade of glitzy skyscrapers were a series of protesting members of Kenya’s civil society that vehemently pushed for the kind of far-reaching electoral reforms, institutional checks and balances that provided the enabling environment which culminated in the Supreme Court of Kenya verdict canceling the August 2017 presidential election.

Rollback was brutal with the obviously well-kitted Kenya Police responding to street protests with extreme prejudice that included a gruesome jackboot as the disturbing image of a cornered protester on a roadside kerb timely captured by Associated Press photographer Ben Curtis in May 2016 shows. Kenya’s news network NTV reported from the scene in the aftermath, “The protester had been chased by the officers for 50 meters before falling. The identity of the man and his current condition is not known.”


The moral of Safari Park Hotel is that there is life after every defeat. And an in-depth electoral post-mortem was compulsorily performed.

 Agreed, untoward events ranging from various schemes of voter suppression, electoral chicanery, and incidences of thuggery to vote buying and collation manipulation took place across the nation but as far back as the 4th century BC, Sun Tzu admonished, “To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” – Chapter IV Tactical Dispositions, The Art of War

Simply put, the opposition in the overall context didn’t learn from the Battle of Marathon that took place in August of 490 BC, “The Persian army was enormous, some 80,000 men strong, transported by hundreds of ships; it had excellent cavalry and the best archers in the world. The Athenians, meanwhile had only infantry, some 10,000.”

How did the Athenians prevail?

“When you look at your enemies, do not be intimidated by their appearance. Instead, look at the parts that make up the whole. By separating the parts, sowing dissension and division from within, you can weaken and bring down even the most formidable foe.”

Against such background, it is political wishful thinking that Raila Odinga would ever prevail in Kenya without any sustainable political alliance. The Nigerian opposition in 2023 was no different in the bid to prevail over the APC behemoth, “PDP went into the election fragmented into three parts. Five of its governors under the G5 worked against the party’s presidential candidate.

The Labour Party candidate who was the PDP flagbearer’s running mate in 2019, abandoned the party. Rabiu Kwankwaso, also a member of PDP went solo in the NNPP.”

In 2022, Mr. Odinga perhaps out of an over-exaggerated sense of entitlement tried for an unprecedented 5th time to be president in Kenya. He once again failed to successfully build any meaningful coalition neither significantly nibbling into the ruling alliance. Therein lies the ultimate lesson for the current Nigerian opposition. A politically painful lesson that took outgoing President Buhari 12 years to learn. Obsession focus and inflated self-assessment must always be balanced with strategic insight and supreme rationality.

 “Power is not a faithful mistress.” – Dare Babarinsa on February 3, 2023 

I hope Mr. Folu Olatimi who will be 72 this November would get around to publishing his memoirs. The Nigerian Tribune newspaper reporter exclusively covered Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s campaign trail in 1979 and 1983, “It was an exciting experience. There is no place we did not tour with Baba Awo. Most of the time I flew with him in the same helicopter. Baba structured his campaign so that he could speak to the people in every part of the country. His rallies were well attended. Everywhere he went in the North people were shouting, “Haske, haske…” (the Hausa slogan of UPN) and we were hopeful.”

My question for the veteran journalist: after the forerunner of today’s INEC – FEDECO announced the outcome of the 1983 presidential election awarding, “a landslide victory” to NPN why did Chief Awolowo not bother to approach the courts, rather he maintained, “a loud and ominous silence”?

 As could be recalled UPN also lost to the NPN the former Oyo state also overrunning the NPP stronghold in the South East grabbing the former Anambra state in the process.

How did the NPN of yore pull off such an electoral heist?

Paragraph 10:10 of the report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the affairs of FEDECO, 1979-1983 submitted to General Ibrahim Babangida in 1986 remains instructive, “Indeed, it can be claimed with a large measure of truth that rigging of elections has become part of our political culture.”

For instance, the commission under the chairmanship of Justice Bolarinwa Oyegoke Babalakin (1927-2021) uncovered that at Oranmiyan North 1 constituency there were 48,216 registered voters in 1979 but by 1983 the number had escalated to 214,500 registered voters with voter turnout of 100%, “an increase of 444.87% at an average annual growth rate of 111%”, directly traced to workings of a certain administrative secretary at FEDECO, Mr. Stephen Ajibade.

Have such shenanigans ended in Nigeria?

Omuma ward in Oru East local government area of Imo state in 2015 had a total of 6,500 registered voters. By 2019, the number had escalated to 46,000 by a factor of 700%. Among those newly registered is Adesanya Nash born 123 years ago in 1900.  

In the 1983 presidential election, 25.4 million Nigerians voted out of 65.3 million registered voters. Forty years later, there were only 25.2 million valid votes in 2023 out of the over 87 million registered voters that had collected their PVCs. It doesn’t add up!

Perhaps time would unravel everything as it partly did with the 1986 Babalakin report.

 Tick, tock, tick, tock………

The sword of justice is double-edged. It can swing in any direction. The moral here is that the votes of millions of Nigerians have been reduced to that of a handful of jurists. So, barring any landmark judicial pronouncement to the contrary by the Supreme Court of Nigeria the February 25 presidential election has already been won and lost.

Regardless, in Nigeria even Kenya indeed around the world, “Changes of regime occur not when rulers are overthrown from below, but when one elite replaces another. The role of ordinary people in such transformation is not that of initiators or principal actors, but as followers and supporters of one elite or another.” – Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) 

In conclusion, what we can discern from Chief Awolowo’s “siddon look” posture of 1983?

Whatever the answers the lesson from Kenya remains – there is still political life even after purported electoral defeat.

Lest we forget, former President Obasanjo had frustratingly opined at the Leon Sullivan dialogue on Nigeria held at the National Press Club in Washington DC in April 2010, “Not even Jesus Christ can conduct an undisputed election in Nigeria.”

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