On Friday, a little-known civil society group, Zamfara Unity Forum, issued a press statement raising the alarm that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was trying to interfere in the 2019 governorship election in Zamfara state. The allegation is that the anti-graft agency has arrested Mallam Dauda Lawal, the consensus governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and kept him incommunicado for over a week. This, the group alleged, was to force Lawal, a former banker, to drop out of the governorship race in favour of an unnamed anointed candidate. Unfortunately, the INEC deadline for substitution of the candidate has passed.

Zamfara presents a unique case in Nigeria. The incumbent Governor, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, had reportedly wanted his commissioner for finance, Alhaji Mukhtar Idris, to be his successor. However, he could not get his way through. Some of the aspirants reportedly met and decided to endorse Lawal for the governorship ticket following the inability of the party to hold a primary election in the state. Zamfara had been a fierce battleground during the primary, with reports of violence and gunshots rocking the state. Nobody would expect such a virulent contest in a state considered to be one of the poorest in Nigeria. But so it goes.

To make matters worse, INEC is yet to accept the candidature of Lawal. As far as the electoral umpire is concerned, APC did not hold any primary election in Zamfara and can therefore not present a candidate in the March 2, 2019 governorship election. The APC, on the other hand, says it will field a candidate because its constitution, a copy of which is in INEC’s possession, allows the party to pick its candidate either by a primary election or through the consensus option, depending on the circumstances it finds itself. There seems to be a logjam there. My opinion is that this would be eventually resolved by a court of law. I won’t worry about that.

What I really worry about is the implication of EFCC arresting Lawal at this point in time. Ever since I read this press statement, issued by one Comrade Usman Bungudu who was described as the convener of the forum, I had been expecting the EFCC to deny it. No such denial is forthcoming. I found this disturbing. The arrest of Lawal, for whatever reason, is ill-timed. Even if the EFCC has any serious case against him — which we do not know yet — it is going to be very difficult for the agency to explain to the public that it had nothing to do with Zamfara politics. The ordinary interpretation would be that EFCC is being used to decimate Lawal.

Why am I worried? As we prepare for the 2019 general election, I would say the greatest challenge ahead is the test of credibility. Whether or not we like it, the 2015 elections remain among the best we have organised. It was not as if they were perfect; far from it. The figures still looked incredible in at least six states across the country. There were reports of “communal voting”, underage voting and disenfranchisement in key places. But, by and large, 2015 represented a step forward rather than backward. And President Goodluck Jonathan put an icing on the cake by conceding while the final result was yet to be officially announced. He also did not challenge the outcome at the tribunal.

We should be making progress from there — by taking several steps forward, by adding what can make the elections more transparent and credible — instead of going backward. The Zamfara case, if true, will represent a step backward. No state institution should be involved in trying to influence the outcome of any election. The police tried to arraign Senator Ademola Adeleke over allegations of examination malpractices before the Osun state governorship election but backtracked at the request of President Muhammadu Buhari. Many Nigerians had accused the police of trying to influence the Osun governorship election in which Adeleke was the main opposition candidate.

As things would later turn out, Adeleke still lost the election and has now been charged to court by the police. Of course, police could, technically, argue that they were doing their job. You cannot, convincingly, argue against that. But it’s not all things that are lawful that are expedient. The moment politics is in the mix, the official argument would only be weakened. If EFCC had arrested and detained Lawal months before the Zamfara primary election, it would have been difficult to build a case of interference against the anti-graft agency. But coming right in the middle of an electioneering process, this move will certainly and justifiably raise dust.

We desperately need credible elections next year. We should not have to be arguing over legitimacy again. It creates moral and political setbacks. We need to focus on the key ingredients for credible elections: absence of violence and corruption; an unbiased electoral body; transparency; and neutrality of state institutions. When there is violence, credibility suffers. When there is inducement of voters, the system is distorted. When the electoral umpire is less than unbiased, the cause of a credible election will not be served. When state institutions, such as the security agencies, perform their duties in a way that influences election outcomes, credibility crumbles.

President Muhammadu Buhari has consistently maintained that he wants us to have credible elections in 2019. He has said it at every turn. In fact, I have lost count of how many times he has praised Jonathan for conceding the 2015 presidential election. This is what is called legacy. You don’t have to be a fan of Jonathan — but anywhere people discuss 2015 elections today, his name is mentioned in positive light for the way he reacted to his loss. If I were Buhari, I would do everything possible to create my own legacy so that history would be kind to me too. One legacy is to ensure that state institutions are not working, overtly or covertly, under political influence.

By all means, 2019 must be better than 2015. That is one sure way of evaluating our progress as a democracy. I shivered recently when the chief of army staff, Lt. Gen. Yusuf Buratai, said the army will replicate its success in the Ekiti and Osun elections in 2019. No, that does not sound right. To start with, APC was vehemently against the deployment of soldiers for election duty when PDP was in power. What changed? Also, statements such as this lead to accusations of partisanship against the military. There were allegations of intimidation of voters by security agencies in Ekiti and Osun and the cases are now before tribunals. The army shouldn’t be talking about “replication”.

INEC, under the scrutiny of Nigeria’s development partners and civil society organisations, has sought to be above the fray. Just as APC subjected INEC to intense pressure ahead of 2015 apparently to exact neutrality from the umpire, PDP seems to be copying the same strategy. No pressure can be too much on INEC because it is the body that can make or mar the elections. The way it handled the Osun governorship election has been criticised by the PDP, which believes it won and has headed for the tribunal to seek justice. We leave that to the judiciary to determine. But INEC must not just be fair, it must be seen to be fair. This is the least expectation of all neutrals.

Above all, Buhari must consciously work for credible elections as part of his legacy. He needs to review his decision to withhold assent to the electoral amendment bill, which many activists think will instil more transparency in the process — especially the aspect on electronic transmission of results from polling units. Enhanced transparency could be a win-win for everybody. Buhari should point out the new provisions he does not agree with in order to reach a compromise with the national assembly. I have not seen any provision that cannot be further amended in the national interest. We must not throw away the baby with the bath water.

Buhari saw himself as a victim of tainted elections in 2003, 2007 and 2011. What reforms has he promoted to make our elections more credible? What would history record against his name in electoral reforms? He needs to sincerely ask himself these questions. Jonathan gave us the popular slogan: “My ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian.” Buhari must give us his own by way of absolute commitment to credible elections. Also, he must let it be known to the security agencies that their role is to help the process run smoothly and fairly. He must let it be known to the EFCC and other anti-graft bodies that they should not meddle in the elections. Progress.

ANF FOUR OTHER THINGS…

BOKO HARAM

I watched Hon. Sanni Zoro’s address to the house of representatives in which he lamented how unsafe parts of Borno and Yobe states are because of the Boko Haram insurgency. This, apparently, questions claims by the federal government that we are winning the war. However, it is comforting that Zoro went and returned alive, meaning there is still a bit of progress despite the recent setbacks. It is now left for President Buhari to do the needful by carrying out a comprehensive overhaul of his strategy, both military and non-military, so that we can deal a fatal blow on the insurgency. Things certainly have to change, except we want to be living in denial. Rethink.

AISHA AGAIN

Hajia Aisha Buhari has refused to enter a ceasefire agreement with the “two men” she has been fighting since 2015 for allegedly running her husband’s government despite not contributing “anything” to his victory. Speaking at a summit recently, she re-launched her tirade. “Our votes were 15.4 million in the last elections and after that only for us to be dominated by two people… this is totally unacceptable,” she said. I think she owes us a book on these two mysterious men. If I were Aisha, though, I would be busy promoting Buhari’s re-election bid rather than giving the opposition more ammunition to take him out. Or is it a case of “my way or nothing”? Odd.

MBAKA, MBA!

I am generally against the involvement of clerics in partisan politics. Jesus Christ himself refused to be drawn into political games throughout his ministry on earth. Fr. Ejike Mbaka, spiritual director of Adoration Ministry Enugu, Nigeria (AMEN), has not only been deeply involved in partisan politics, he has now become brazen with financial demands from politicians. He said Buhari “will go nowhere if he remains ungrateful” to his ministry, apparently because he endorsed Buhari in 2015. He has also said Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the PDP candidate, and Mr. Peter Obi, the running mate, might “end in shame” for failing to make donations at his harvest and bazaar celebration. Embarrassing.

AND FINALLY…

The Jubril Movement has sent me cracking since it launched the ultra fake news that President Buhari died in London last year and was surreptitiously replaced by one Jubril Al Sudani. Good effort, especially as I am a lover of humour. But the movement must be alarmed at how they are being taken seriously by respected people. Bishop David Oyedepo, unable to see the humour in Prof. Olatunji Dare’s satire on the Jubril tale, took to the pulpit to raise the alarm that Nigeria may be up for sale since the government had not refuted Dare’s claim that the country has negotiated, financially, with the Jubril family to keep the “