In its preview of what lies ahead in the New Year, THISDAY had identified the countdown to the 2015 general election as one of the major issues that would dominate discourse even though the elections are two years away. Few days into the New Year, the prediction seems to have hit the bull's eye as politicians have begun underground campaigns for the polls. In this discourse, Olawale Olaleye, Ademola Adeyemo, Shola Oyeyipo, Anayo Okolie, Ayodele Opiah and Nkiruka Okoh, examine the dirty tricks deployed by the politicians
As far as the 2015 general election is concerned, nothing is deemed premature any longer. Yes, the elections are still two years away, but there are indications that the campaign for the elections has started taking shape.
Signs that the 2015 polls will be one of the main issues this year had manifested since last year following debate over whether President Goodluck Jonathan would run again. But the debate became more pronounced recently when the news of Jonathan’s campaign posters made the headlines. His posters which had flooded major streets in Abuja, the seat of power, including the State House, was quickly denied by presidential aides who however did not explain how some of the posters beat security to get into the State House.
Of course, different meanings had been read into the development. Whilst some thought it might be the president testing the waters ahead of the elections in 2015, there were those who held the view that it could be the handiwork of the president’s detractors who just wanted to force him to make a categorical statement on whether he would seek re-election in 2015.
But the dust raised by the dirty poster politics was yet to subside when the major opposition party in the country, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) raised the alarm over alleged plans by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led Federal Government to start cracking down on key opposition figures as part of strategy to clear the coast for Jonathan’s re-election in 2015.
More importantly, ACN said the idea was conceived to prevent the merger talks by opposition parties from being successful since the opposition parties are viewed as a threat to the PDP. As a result, ACN said during the crackdown, key opposition figures and members of the PDP whose political leanings are in doubt would be arrested.
According to a statement by ACN’s National Publicity Secretary, “desperate measures are being planned by the PDP-led Federal Government to discredit and silence key opposition leaders involved in the ongoing plans to form a formidable platform to confront the PDP in 2015.”
Hinting on likely victims, ACN said a former security chief is believed to be one of those being targeted. The said target, ACN noted, is to be hurled before a court and charged with contract fraud, among others.
Following this, the party said is “the move to resort to imprudent and crude tactics aimed at tarnishing the image of key opposition leaders, especially the ACN National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and his CPC counterpart, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, as well as their close political associates.
“Tinubu is particularly a prime target of these evil machinations, because of his status as the leader of the country’s second biggest party, his progressive credentials as well as his electoral value. As far as the PDP-led government is concerned, getting him out of the way is the best way to ruin the merger plans.”
“For the Jonathan-led administration, and not minding its deceptive aloofness from it all, the race for 2015 has started in earnest and it is a do-or-die affair, and all means, foul and unfair, are on the table to cripple the opposition, by ensuring that nothing will be left of the integrity of its key leaders even if they are fortunate to make it to 2015.
“These opposition leaders are considered as constituting a clear and present danger to the electoral fortunes of the PDP in 2015, hence must be stopped at all costs and by whatever means,” the ACN said.
To achieve this, ACN further alleged that a fortune had been earmarked for the phased campaign, which has begun with a well-oiled media war, being waged especially online, denigrating these leaders.
“Some key government agencies have also been co-opted to dig up any dirt they hope can be plastered on the targeted leaders while foreign intelligence agencies have been contacted in a desperate attempt to unearth any information that can be used to discredit and disgrace these major opposition figures, thus distracting them from the merger plans.
“Indications are that highly-combustible sectional and religious issues that are being manipulated by desperate forces to divide and destroy are not off the table as long as exploiting them can shutdown the opposition. Or how else does one interpret a recent PDP statement that President Goodluck Jonathan is being criticised by the opposition because he is from a minority ethnic group?
“And what about the continuous efforts, that have failed so far, to portray a key opposition leader as a sponsor of Boko Haram? His nomination as a ‘facilitator’ of some phantom peace talks was not an accident, but was carefully choreographed to portray him as a religious zealot and terrorist not fit to preside over the affairs of the nation,” it said.
ACN, therefore, warned that “those who either conveniently acquiesced or opted to dine with the devil when many progressives took to the trenches during the long, bitter and grueling battle to enthrone the democracy we are now enjoying apparently do not value it, and will stop at nothing to endanger it on the altar of selfish personal interests and political expediency.
“It is, therefore, incumbent on all Nigerians, especially those who believe that all hands must be on deck to nurture and strengthen our democracy, to be vigilant. After all, it is said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” ACN statement ended.
Certainly, that was no allegation that would be glossed over, especially that it was leveled by the opposition party. It has since generated reactions- both for and against, such that have placed 2015 as a central discourse for 2013.
A foremost lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay, was of the opinion that the opposition parties were free to form alliance and that it is perfectly legal to do so, adding that “the PDP government cannot oppress the leaders of the opposition. “I hope the allegations are not true because at the end of the day, if they are, it will not bode well for the Nigerian populace and the country. Everyone will be affected.”
Sagay stressed the fact that the Nigerians have suffered enough and that the PDP government should not oppress the leaders of the opposition as it is perfectly legal for them to align if they so wish.
But Mohammed, while corroborating his earlier statement said: “It is very simple: government has awesome powers; they could unleash their agencies to harass opposition. That is why we are crying out. We are powerless but a vindictive government may not allow opposition to participate fully in an election.”
He reiterated that his party had cited examples, which include that the Federal Government has approached some international agencies to unearth damaging information about prominent members of the opposition, such that could be portray them as fundamentalists or corrupt, adding that the inclusion of Buhari on the list of those to facilitate talks with Boko Haram was part of such ploy. “Even as we speak, agencies in Nigeria are combing for information to nail opposition leaders,” he said.
It is for that reason, he said, that the opposition decided to go public on the matter so as to throw the issue in the court of public opinion. “That is why we are sensitising the public. In the face of a government that has all the powers, that is the greatest weapon we have.”
Chairman of the All Peoples Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, said his party has not been involved in any discussion with any political party with the view to galvanising alliance or merger ahead of the 2015 election. “What will concern APGA primarily now is to build strength ahead of 2015. Let us do everything to build the strength of our party across the country. It is only after that that we will know how to go it in 2015.
“Presently, we are not involved in any discussion. If an alliance discussion is necessary in 2015, APGA will pursue it through the relevant organs of the party. Our constitution allows that such discussion will be undertaken by the national caucus. Come to think about it, in 2011, APGA supported President Jonathan of the PDP. If we had entered into an agreement, it would have been an alliance instead of a donation of support.
“In 2015, I know that alliance discussions will take place because the presidential election in Nigeria is a very serious election. Any party that wants to be part of it is free to discuss with others. The only thing is that in scheming, APGA will scheme to produce the presidential candidate in such an alliance discussion. So, we will be willing to participate but for now, the dust is yet to settle in our party based on some of the issues that have been raised by some people. We want to build our strength first before we get involved in any alliance discussion,” he said.
A PDP chieftain and governorship aspirant during last year’s election in Edo State, Mr. Kenneth Imansuangbon, dismissed the alarm as “ranting of the opposition”. According to Imansuangbon, the opposition parties are not serious about forming any formidable alliance. They are strange bed-fellows, they cannot agree on anything. In any case, this is not the first time they will attempt to gang up against PDP and it has always failed; the current one cannot be an exemption.”
Imansuangbon said the alarm raised about the crackdown on opposition was a false alarm aimed at causing unnecessary anxiety in the country. He stated that presently, there is nothing on the ground to suggest any planned crackdown on opposition. “PDP is busy trying to ensure peace and good governance in the country and has no time to crackdown on any opposition.”
Chief Tunde Olusunle, former Special Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo on Special Duties, thought it was “presumptuous for anybody to contemplate, attempt or prosecute an agenda calculated to rein in or asphyxiate other political parties.
"Nigerians, and indeed, our democracy have become too sophisticated and dynamic for anybody to set this as an agenda. And if you asked me, I would tell you with sincerity and every sense of responsibility that our party is presently tinctured with plethora of multi-level schisms to open new battle front.
“There is prevailing unease in many state chapters of the party, the fractious Adamawa impasse being an example. There are tensions in the national executive where there are reported attempts to move against particular leaders. Electing a new chairman for the Board of Trustees has been more contentious than the proverbial camel passing through the eye of the needle. I think it will be utterly foolhardy for a party mired in these complex intra-institutional problems to voluntarily court additional distractions,” he noted.
But Deputy Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Victor Afam Ogen, believes the ACN was merely crying foul. He disagreed with the allegations that PDP was trying to crackdown on opposition parties because of the ongoing merger talks.
Ogene, who was elected on APGA's platform asked:"How possible is it for PDP to clamp down on the merger talks of the opposition political parties? Nigeria as a nation is guided by laws, rules and regulations and there is also the judiciary to fight any injustice.
“If any member of the opposition party has an issue with the security agencies, he should be man enough to attend to such issues. I am also of the opposition and I do not see how a federal agency will crackdown on me as an individual or my political party, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA).”
The lawmaker noted that “even in a state where different political parties are in control of the affairs of the state, you hear this kind of alarm every now and then. When the ruling government moves or takes an action, the opposition political parties will say it is targeted at them.
“For any serious political merger to begin to sound the alarm of crackdown, they are not serious with the merger. It is like young adults- male and female who had agreed to get married and then said either because the parent of the bride or the groom do not support the marriage or that they are going to crackdown on the marriage and as a result of that, one of them backs out. No, you stay back and ready to defend your right to that union.
“That is the way I look at it. So, any talk about a crackdown, for me, is far-fetched. If they are desirous and serious about the merger, they should go on and not be distracted by any such. How are they going to crackdown on the merger? Are they going to catch and throw into prisons all the leading personalities involved in the merger? It is not practicable and since we still have judiciary in place, I don’t think any crackdown of that sort will stop a merger process,” he added.
Another House of Representatives member, Hon. Ben Nwankwo, said it was insensible not to have opposition in a democratic arrangement, “constructive opposition, and not destructive opposition,” adding that constructive opposition improves the quality of governance and the performance result of the ruling government.
According to him, “what I did not agree with is that PDP is sabotaging the merger of the opposition parties because it is not by opposition merger that will take away the government from PDP. What will take it away is that we all work towards having an electoral system that is transparent, with the opposition themselves showing that they are capable of providing better quality leadership than the PDP and not this pattern because they want to taste power.
“I do not agree with them. It appears to me that they are also not sincere themselves. There are some divergent tendencies existing within the opposition that they are incapable of amalgamating into a strong opposition. They have multiple agenda and they are also incapable of giving up on certain long held political objectives and they cannot come together to form a strong opposition party that is capable of taking power over from the PDP.
“This I think is their problem rather than thinking that the PDP is sabotaging their merger talks. They should go ahead and merge. The merging system has due diligence that can be exercised but there are some clannishness I have seen in the opposition parties that they can’t give up and therefore, coming together as one bloc of opposition working against PDP is a problem.”
Also, a former House of Representatives member, Hon. Duro Meseko, believed the ACN was merely crying foul where there was none. “Is the party saying if its national leader breached the nation’s law, he should not be sanctioned? Or is the party saying Tinubu and Buhari are above the law? To me, the allegations are as frivolous as they come and should be discountenanced by right thinking Nigerians.”
Mr. Emeka Ngige, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) said such allegation “does no good to our democracy. The opposition parties must be allowed to thrive because the ruling party’s umbrella is not big enough to accommodate all sorts of opinions. So, it becomes the interest of the ruling party to destroy the opposition party or stop their merger plan by cracking down on the opposition party.
“On the other hand, the opposition parties too should be very careful with who they negotiate with on their merger talks because experience has shown that most of the leaders of the so-called opposition parties are funding the ruling party, so they do not care which opposition merges with another.
“We saw such scenario during the 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections where candidates in some opposition parties returned to the ruling party after finishing their tragedies. Some of them are now members of the ruling party so the opposition should be watching because they will come again. I will advise the opposition party to stick with their plan and know who they speak with about the merger plan,” he said.
On his part, Mr. Festus Keyamo, also a lawyer believes, urged the opposition parties to come together and destroy PDP. “The opposition are coming together to help the country and they are very excited about that because the Action Congress of Nigeria is a party of merger that came about when Alliance for Democracy merged with Action Congress and after their merger they become Action Congress of Nigeria.”