By Iyobosa Uwugiaren and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Few weeks to the presidential election, former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, has accused President Muhammadu Buhari of using security institutions to fight all critics and opponents, warning that this could derail the nation’s fledgling democracy.
The former president equated the president’s style to the era of late former military Head of State, General Sani Abacha.
In a statement titled, ‘’Point for Concern And Action,’ Obasanjo also said he has serious doubt about the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) integrity, impartiality and competence to conduct a fair, free and credible election.
But in a quick response to his concerns, the president’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), said the former president was reminding Nigerians of his ugly past when elections were allegedly manipulated under his watch.
The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Malam Lanre Isa-Onilu, said Obasanjo is yet to adjust his mind to the fact that things are no longer the way they used to be during his era, adding that as far as APC is concerned, vote will count in the next general election.
He said, “Obasanjo cannot imagine that it is possible for a government to allow INEC the statutory independence that it has. We have had 93 elections since APC came to power, and we are sure that all those elections were conducted without any interference from this government.
“So, we can understand where the former president is coming from; his past is hunting him. The 2003 and 2007 elections were nothing to write home about and those elections happened under President Obasanjo. So, for us in APC votes must count. We are going to have a free, fair and credible election. We have no reason to want to rig election because our achievements speak for us.’’
But Obasanjo warned Nigerians and the international community of being passive in the unfolding political events in the country, and said the price of liberty and sustenance of the nation’s democracy is eternal vigilance and appropriate reaction to ward off iniquities.
He advised Nigerians to be ready to pay that price and not rely on hollow words of callousness.
He warned that the derailment of Nigerian democracy would be a monumental disaster comparable to the disaster of the Nigerian first military coup, adding that Nigerians must not allow such a disaster to happen.
He urged the international community, which played an admirable role in warning INEC, of course, to no avail on the Osun State gubernatorial election, to send more people to the field to observe and work out punitive measures against INEC and security officials especially the Police and politicians, who stand to gain from INEC’s misconduct, which he said is ‘’obviously encouraged by the executive arm of government’’ and who must be held responsible for the violence that will follow.
Obasanjo said such measures could vary from denial and withdrawal of visas from the people concerned and their families to other more stringent measures, including their accounts being frozen, and taking them to International Criminal Court (ICC), if violence emanates from their action or inaction.
He said, ‘’Today, another Abacha era is here. The security institutions are being misused to fight all critics and opponents of Buhari and to derail our fledgling democracy.
‘’EFCC, police and Code of Conduct Tribunal are also being equally misused to deal with those Buhari sees as enemies for criticising him or as those who may not do his bidding in manipulating election results. Criticism, choice and being different are inherent trade mark of democracy; if democracy is derailed or aborted, anarchy and authoritarianism will automatically follow.”
He said he was concerned as a democrat, who believed that with faithful and diligent practice of democracy, the nation could get over most of its political problems and move steadfastly and sure footedly on the course of stability, unity of purpose, socio-economic growth and progress for all.
He argued that democracy becomes a sham if elections are carried out by people who should be impartial and neutral umpires, but who show no integrity, acting with blatant partiality, duplicity and imbecility, warning that for all democrats and those carrying out the process of elections, there must be the redline that must not be crossed in tactics and practices of democracy.
According to Obasanjo, ‘’I personally have serious doubt about the present INEC’s integrity, impartiality and competence to conduct a fair, free and credible election. And if the INEC is willing, will the ruling party and government allow it? From what we saw and knew about Osun State gubernatorial election, what was conclusive was declared inconclusive despite all advice to the contrary.
‘’The unnecessary rerun, if viewed as a test-run for a larger general election, would lead people to expect incidences of deliberately contrived, broken or non-working voting machines or card readers, confusion of voters as to their voting stations; inadequate supply of voting materials to designated places, long line to discourage voters and turning blind eyes to favour the blue-eye political party of INEC because the commission’s hands will be tied to enable hatchet men and women to perform their unwholesome assignment.”
Obasanjo said that the joke about INEC would seem real, saying that when INEC was asked if the commission was ready for the election and if it expects the election to be free, fair and credible, the INEC man was reported to have said in response, “We are ready with everything including the results!”
Obasanjo advised Nigeria not to allow democracy derailed, saying no individual or group has monopoly of violence or gangsters, and that they must not forget that in human interaction, reactions are normally greater than action, though opposite.
According to him, ‘’It is no use, at this juncture, to keep lamenting about the failure, incompetence, divisiveness, nepotism, encouragement and condonation of corruption by Buhari administration as there is neither redeeming feature nor personality to salvage the situation within that hierarchy.
‘’You cannot give what you don’t have. Bode George put it bluntly in his statement of December 3, 2018 when he said: ‘The other day, the Vice-President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo – a learned man, an enlightened person in all parameters – was seen at various markets in Lagos State and Abuja distributing N10,000 each to market women.
“What an absurdity! It was indeed an obscene display of executive recklessness and abuse of office. Pray, where did the money come from? Was it budgeted for in the appropriation law? In more civilised nations, Osinbajo would have been impeached and prosecuted for gutting our collective treasury.
“What an act by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, number two man in the executive hierarchy; and what is more, a pastor of one of the Christian movements led by a revered, respected and upright church leader, Pastor E. A. Adeboye. Osinbajo must have gone for, if you can’t beat them, join them.
‘’A great pity indeed and which makes people ask the questions. Any hope?’
“Yes, for me, there is hope. Osinbajo has shown the human weakness and proved the saying that the corruption of the best is the worst form of corruption. His explanation that it was their government programme can only be construed to be very shallow and lopsided, if not an out-rightly idiotic programme.’’
Also expressing concern over the proposed trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, the former president alleged that Buhari and his ‘’hatchet men’’ in the coming election think that the judiciary must be primed in their favour, saying that is the reason Onnoghen has been harassed and prosecuted for non-declaration of his assets without following the Constitution and the law, just to make him conform or set him aside for a Buhari man to take over or act.
He alleged that the president and his people believe no stone should be left unturned to rig Buhari in, adding that it seems to be a ploy to intimidate the judiciary as a whole in preparation for all election cases that will go before them.
He asked, ‘’Where and how will all these stop? Typically, with overwhelming outrage and condemnation, we are told that the presidency denied knowledge of the action. But the vice president told us that the president knew of the action on Saturday night for everything that has been prepared for Monday morning. Haba VP, it doesn’t happen that way.
‘’Nobody should take such measure against any of the four in hierarchy below the president or any of his ministers without his knowledge and indeed his approval. But if that can happen to the Chief Justice of the Federation, the fifth man in the hierarchy of government, without the knowledge, let alone the approval of the president, then it speaks for the type of government we have, which means the president is not in charge let alone being in control and no Nigerian must take anything for granted.’’
Obasanjo advised Nigerians not to trust the Buhari government in his current promise to take Nigeria to the next level.
He described him as inflexible, insincere, dubious, intolerant, never accepts responsibility when things go wrong and impervious to reason and advice for change.
“If you cannot change your mind, you cannot change anything is the assertion of George Bernard Shaw.”
Obasanjo said what is happening under Buhari’s watch can be likened to what the country witnessed under late Gen. Abacha in many ways.
He said when Abacha decided that he must install himself as Nigerian president by all means and at all costs, he went for broke and surrounded himself with hatchet men who on his order and in his interest and at high costs to Nigeria and Nigerians maimed, tortured and killed for Abacha.
He added, ‘’Buhari has started on the same path in mad desperation. From available intelligence, we have heard of how Buhari and his party are going about his own self-succession project. They have started recruiting collation officers who are already awarding results based on their projects to actualise the perpetuation agenda in which the people will not matter and the votes will not count.
‘’It is the sole reason he has blatantly refused to sign the revised Electoral Reform Bill into law. His henchmen are working round the clock in cahoots with security and election officials to perfect their plan by computing results right from the ward to local government, state and national levels to allot him what will look like a landslide victory irrespective of the true situation for a candidate who might have carried out by proxy presidential debate and campaigns.
‘’The current plan is to drape the pre-determined results with a toga of credibility. It is also planned that violence of unimaginable proportion will be unleashed in high voting population areas across the country to precipitate re-run elections and where he will be returned duly elected after concentration of security officials as it happened in Osun State.”
He said, ‘’Buhari has intimidated and harassed the private sector, attacked the National Assembly and now unconstitutionally and recklessly attacked and intimidated the judiciary to cow them to submission.’’
Obasanjo appealed to Buhari to desist from ‘’evil with manipulation and desperation’’ because, according to him, evil has repercussion especially, as man who should watch and be mindful of his self-acclaimed and packaged integrity.’’
He added, ‘’At the end of the day, those who goad you on will leave you in the lurch. You will be left alone, naked and unheralded. In defeat, which must be Buhari’s fear leading to desperation, he and his co-travellers can still maintain modicum of decency, and exhibit fear of God in their actions.’’
Obasanjo said while Nigeria must appreciate Buhari for the little he has done and allow him to depart for home in peace if he allows free, fair, peaceful and credible elections, Nigerians must also tell themselves that Nigeria deserves better at this point in time than what Buhari is capable of offering.
‘’History will note that he has been there. Nigeria now needs a man with better physical and mental soundness, with an active mind and intellect. Let me say again that Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians and exists for the benefit of all Nigerians and non-Nigerians who desire to live or do business in and with Nigeria.
‘’The attitude of it is my turn and I can do what I like with impunity will not last because Nigeria is created by God and it will outlive all evil machinations and designs against the overall interest of Nigeria’’, Obasanjo stated.
Speaking about the deteriorating security situation in the country, Obasanjo said with the teaming up of Boko Haram and Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), Boko Haram is stronger today militarily than they have ever been.
He added that Boko Haram has also been empowered by the Nigerian government through payment of ransom of millions of dollars which each administration disingenuously always denies.
According to him, ‘’With ISIS being liquidated in Iraq and Syria, Africa is now their port of concentration. Soon, they may take over Libya which, with substantial resources, is almost a totally failed state. When that happens, all African countries North of Congo River will be unsafe with serious security problems.
‘’The struggle must be for all West African, Central African, North African and most East African States. Nigeria has to play a vanguard role in this struggle as we have much to lose. This administration has reached the end of its wit even in handling all security issues, but particularly Boko Haram issue, partly due to misuse of security apparatus and poor equipment, deployment, coordination and cooperation.’’
For those Nigerians that are being intimidated or threatened by this administration, Obasanjo advised them to trust in God and stand firm, saying ‘’Tough times do not last forever, but tough people invariably survive tough times.’’