Monday, March 2, 2015 12:11 pm
By G.A. Akinola
Few people are likely to be surprised that the Goodluck Jonathan administration has not reacted to the recording released by Sahara Reporters in which a junior defence minister claims that he was mandated by the president to draft a couple of army officers to facilitate and coordinate a subversion of the 2014 Ekiti governorship elections. Having personalised state security institutions, and having become accustomed to suborning law-enforcement agencies for partisan, often criminal, political assignments, any president overcome with hubris enough to play the strongman can afford to treat the people with contempt. Incidentally, barring a columnist’s comments, as well as brief stories from some newspapers, the public has maintained a funereal silence over this horrifying revelation.
Does this seeming lack of interest imply a feeling amongst the populace that the country has, in any case, opted out of the civilised world, owing to the barbarity of Nigerian rulers, and their impunity-hardened proclivity for criminality? Or, perhaps Nigerians themselves have become indifferent to their own collective plight because everybody is preoccupied with “claiming” his personal material salvation in accordance with the individualism-ethos of miracle-peddling Pentecostal neo-Christianity?
That none of our civil-society associations has so far raised its voice over this affair – NLC, NBA, Roman Catholic Bishops and Guild of Editors – also gives the impression that one and all have taken the Sahara Reporters’ revelation as no more than the latest token of the moral collapse of the Nigerian state.
Nevertheless, I am personally surprised that Jonathan’s no. 1 attack dog has not been fuming with righteous indignation at what would, if untrue, be outrageous slander of his master’s reputation. This must indeed also be an awkward time for even the urbane artists at white-washing sepulchers. But, what can the smartest geniuses at advertising deep-black as sparkling white (depending on circumstances and inducements) do in this difficult-to-deny involvement of the president in a subversion of the electoral process? For now, these professional equivocators appear to be waiting for it to blow over, seeing their boss, like the proverbial dog fated to be lost, can no longer hear the hunter’s horn.
In a situation like this concerning the alleged involvement of powerful people in serious crime for which they have not been formally charged, and over which they themselves are keeping silent, perhaps the only way to go is by the law of probabilities. The main issue, then, is what is already known about the abuses to which the Jonathan government has often subjected the security forces, including the military, during national elections.
All Nigerian rulers, right from Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, have always considered it part of their prerogative to use the army for partisan political interests, including influencing the conduct of elections. However, in matters of scale, and in the brazenness of the abuse, Jonathan would appear to have been far more daring than his predecessors. It was in the Ekiti elections of June 2014, conducted when the Boko Haram insurgency which began five years earlier was still fiercely raging, that the largest numbers of troops so far were deployed for elections. Yet, the polling was far outside the theatre of the insurrection. Apart from the regular army, the Ekiti elections, as well as the ones in Osun two months later, for the first time in the country’s history, witnessed a number of uniformed, gun-toting masked men. These “soldiers” it was subsequently learnt, were used to pick up opposition party candidates, along with party officials and agents, to be either locked up, or guarded by the uniformed and masked, party thugs for the two or so days the elections lasted.
Some of these masked soldiers of spurious provenance also went about the streets of Ekiti and Osun towns, shooting into the air, intimidating the populace, and causing consternation and panic. It is also instructive that during the Ekiti elections, two state governors, who are members of the APC opposition party, were prevented by soldiers from entering the state. A “chieftain” of the ruling party, a professional political thug with obnoxious reputation, from Anambra State, was however escorted by soldiers to Ekiti where local opposition politicians had already been put away to ensure that they could not monitor the process and conduct of the elections either at the polls, or at the collation centres.
A number of questions are pertinent at this point: Were the soldiers who prevented Governors Amaechi and Oshiomhole from entering Ekiti to monitor the elections, and those who escorted Chris Uba to the state not acting under orders? What duties, under the constitution were the police minister and junior defence minister, in Ekiti to perform during ‘the elections? And finally, why were the opposition party men incarcerated during the course of the elections, only to be released without charges immediately after? Whoever can adequately explain away these questions in relation to the mysteries of what actually transpired at the Ekiti governorship elections, can as well cast doubt on the audio, and now even the video, recordings, of the conclave of criminals, haggling over how to rig the elections.
Short of a personal confession, it is obvious that only a judicial pronouncement can determine whether Jonathan indeed authorised a subversion of the Ekiti governorship polls. I am only, like any citizen is entitled to, expressing dismay at the president and his administration pretending that they are unaware of the grave allegations about their involvement.
Equally grave are the implications for the president’s person and office and for the image of the country and its people. This is as if Richard Nixon and his administration were to keep mum when the Watergate story’s dirty ramifications began to unfold. Even if Jonathan, in his usual self-and-office- compromising attitude, does not “give a damn” about what Nigerians think of his excesses, does he also not care about the standards and values which prevail in the conduct of public affairs in civilised countries, and about the opinions and feelings concerning pariahs that dare defy and defile these international usages? Unfortunately, whether he takes these things into consideration or not, it is the country which ultimately suffers, just like during the regime of Sani Abacha, whose infamy Jonathan seems to be now aiming at surpassing.
In view of the above, Jonathan should immediately empower the Chief Justice of the Federation to set up an independent panel of inquiry into the Sahara Reporters’ revelations. Should the president fail to do this, the Nigeria Bar Association should proceed to organise the probe.
While the issue of Nigeria’s image in the international community over the Ekiti governorship elections affair is of the utmost importance, a far more crucial issue is the implications of the scandal for the current situation in Nigeria itself. In one respect, the Sarah a Reporters’ revelations could not have come at a more appropriate occasion. Today, Nigeria again seems to be drifting into another crisis of political succession, a situation generated in the main by the ambitions of an incumbent ruler to do what other presidents before him have brazenly gotten away with – namely, to appropriate state powers to manipulate the electoral process to his advantage and that of his party.
The eight-year rule of the loathsome moral nihilist, Babangida, was a study, as well as a variation of some sort, in this tragic political chicanery. Nor was the Obasanjo presidency much different? (In this context, I believe it is high time Abdulsalaam Abubakar, came before Nigerians to apologise for the stable-institution-inhibiting, and the pro-one-party dictatorship of a fraudulent constitution that he imposed on the country in 1999).
Given Jonathan’s constricted and clannish worldview, unredeemed by weak character, he thinks that to fail in his bid for a second term in power would be tantamount to discrimination against him because of his ethnic origin. Hence he does not seem to care whether his schemes for reelection bring the country crashing down over his head. Jonathan should rather see his entitlement to enjoy the prerogative of even appointing the INEC chairman (not to talk of otherwise influencing elections) as comparable to exercising the antiquated divine right of kings. For, when the people decided to terminate such sweeping powers, they chopped off the heads of monarchs who resisted the tide of change.
By the way, Jonathan swore to uphold something called the Nigerian constitution. So what does the faith he wears like his trademark hat say about allegiance to this sacred document? Perhaps his crowd of spiritual advisors should remind him.
The impression created by Jonathan’s ingratiating disposition is capable of deceiving many about the president’s neo-fascist tendencies and such abuses as using state agencies for evil purposes. While party hawks and careerists with a stake in Jonathan’s continuance in office may count for something, it would be dangerous to ignore Jonathan’s own neurotic obsession for power, and his reactionary urge to exercise prerogatives which his predecessors enjoyed even in violation of the constitution. As far as responsibility for obvious political manipulation is concerned, there is no way one can discount Jonathan’s personal initiative in such things as the abuse of religion plus ethnic and other differences for political purposes. Indeed, only a man who wears a permanent mask could pull off his political stunts while hopping from one church to another, mouthing his inanities about the congregations’ prayers which have been sustaining Nigeria, and similar drivel calculated to win the votes of God-crazy Nigerians.
The cardinal significance of the Sahara Reporters’ scoop, even if the high and mighty now proceed to deploy all sorts of legal obfuscations to discredit it, is that it is the first internationally publicised exposure of how the military, not to talk of the police and other security agencies, are routinely abused to overturn the will of the electorate in Nigeria. The Sahara Reporters’ story similarly crucially identifies, by implication, the most powerful political executive, albeit not the only one, capable of ordering or endorsing the manipulation of elections in favour of incumbent governments.
Though rampant, and generally suspected to be a disgraceful and tragic consequence of the entrenched weakness of the country’s “independent” electoral commission, abuses of electoral processes have never been acknowledged as sufficiently proven, even by justices of the supreme court, as to warrant the nullification of the election of a president in Nigeria. A couple of governors of the ruling PDP whose elections were overruled at the court of appeal some years back, ultimately earned the presiding judge suspension and disgrace by the present incumbent president!
The implications of this power to fix national elections are of course very grave for democracy as for socio-economic stability. Once the military installed Obasanjo and the military in power in 1999, and given the character of that cynical hypocrite for whom no value is sacred once it stands in the way of his insatiable appetite for power and all that it commands, a de facto one-party state was instituted in Nigeria. It has thus required the little-acknowledged political wizardry of the Jagaban himself, Ahmed Tinubu, to pull off the magic of the APC opposition which, one hopes, will quickly proceed, if it wins power, to overhaul the fraudulent, destabilising Abdusalaam constitution, pruning the impurity-compliant and criminalising powers vested in the office of the Nigerian president.
Another important implication of the president’s power to manipulate elections is that Nigerian rulers – executives and legislators alike, are seldom truly elected by the people. As a result, they are not accountable to the electorate, except in theory. Apart from the calibre of people who are often imposed as rulers and legislators, there is little incentive for them to work in the public interest. In lieu of this, the two arms of government conspire to use their privileged offices to award themselves lavish emoluments, and to engage in peculation and outright looting of the treasury and other public resources. Above all, the conspiracy erects barricades against meaningful constitutional and democratic reforms.
Something tells me that revelations like those made by the Sahara Reporters, as well as the abominations that happened, and continue to happen, in Ekiti cannot but have consequences. Some price, whether judicial or not, is usually paid for such crimes against all that society holds sacred. As in the significance of the meaning and dynamics of history, and in their apprehension and absorption by mortals, the implications and ramifications of signal events unfold piecemeal. It may, therefore, be that the Ekiti elections, hitherto supposed to reflect the influence of “stomach infrastructure” on the manner in which the electorate vote, may come to stand for something altogether different, perhaps even pointing the way to a resolution of Nigeria’s electoral and even “National Question” problems.
– P.S.: Since I wrote this essay, Sonala Olumhense and Professor Biodun Jeyifo have, in their Guardian and Nation columns on Sunday, 22 February,made comprehensive dissection of the Ekitigate.