That both the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the court can now hold political parties to account in the manner they nominate their candidates may not seem like progress to some people. But what happened to the All Peoples Congress (APC) in Rivers State is a significant blow to impunity. Meanwhile, against the background that never in the history of electioneering in Nigeria has the ruling party been denied opportunity to field candidates because of the manner it conducted its primaries, there is a lot to say for President Muhammadu Buhari in that regard.
What the development suggests is that critical institutions are still relatively free under the current dispensation. If the decision had gone against the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), I doubt if anybody would have believed that it was not orchestrated by the party in power. The message from the court ruling is that for any democracy to thrive, political parties must provide a level-playing field for all members to compete. The big issue here is that by closing the space for fair competition within the parties, the power of the electorate has been circumscribed with regards to choosing between credible alternatives.
Sadly, our politicians may not even learn any lesson from that. The contempt with which many of them relate with the people is reflected not only in the manner in which they impose candidates but also in the phantom votes they pledge ahead of every election. That perhaps explains why voters now express their preferences on the basis of momentary gains (loaves of bread, sachets of milk, small bags of rice or some miserable cash) totally oblivious to how the choices they make could come back to haunt them one, two or three years down the line.
With the Nigerian Traders for PMB (NTFPMB) promising ten million votes to join the six million votes that the Bus Conductor Association of Nigeria (BCAN) national president, Mr Israel Adeshola, is mobilising and the 11 million votes already pledged by the Fulani Youths Association of Nigeria (Jonde Jam), I wonder why Buhari is still campaigning for votes. If you join all these with the five million votes that the Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, keeps promising and another five million votes that the former governor of Bauchi State, Mallam Isah Yuguda pledged last week, this election is already in the bag for the president. But we have not even come to the mega votes.
Brig-General Mohammed Buba Marwa (rtd), who chairs the APC Central Working Committee of the Women and Youth Presidential Campaign has pledged to Buhari 60 million votes. A northern association, Buhari Osinbajo Dynamic Support Group, has also assured Buhari of 40 million votes. From the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), a Fulani socio-cultural group, Buhari can bank on 20 million votes. And from the southwest, the APC zonal coordinator for the Presidential Campaign Council, Chief Olusola Oke (SAN) has pledged to mobilise a modest eight million votes for Buhari. To cap it all, former Akwa Ibom State governor who is currently a senator, Godswill Akpabio said he would personally deliver 10 million votes to Buhari come Saturday.
If you think these votes are enough for Buhari to go to sleep, then it shows that you are yet to be ‘Atikulated’. The 21st Century Youths of Nigeria for Restructuring, in a statement signed by its leader, Izon Ebi said “We want to assure the PDP and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar that 18,077,427 votes are already intact waiting.” There was no guess work, they know the exact number of votes that will be delivered to Atiku on Saturday just from one source. The Grassroots Network 4 Atiku (GNA) 2019 will add a modest 10 million votes to that. The Atikulation 2019 Movement has also pledged to mobilize 10 million votes across North-West zone for Atiku, while the Coalition of Saraki Advocates for Atiku (COSAA) will deliver six million votes. From the Atiku/Obi Presidential Movement, 10 million votes are already in the bank for the former Vice President. The Atiku/Obi Vanguard for Good Governance plans to deliver additional 12 million votes.
The Eastern Peoples Front, (EPF) is mobilising 26.7 million prospective voters of Igbo ethnic origin for Atiku who is deemed “the only one committed to handing over to Ndigbo and he has pledged to reposition Nigeria because the country has never been as divided as it is now”. According to the EPF national leader, Elder Ken Emechebe, former minister for power, Prof Osita Nebo, Senator Azu Agboti, Dr Ifedi Okwenna, among other representatives from the south east states, the group is in complete agreement with Ohanaeze Ndigbo’s endorsement of Atiku/Obi for this Saturday’s presidential election. “There are 26.7 million registered voters of Igbo origin and we are getting them to vote for Atiku,” Emechebe said.
I can go on and on to list the numerous politicians and groups that have promised millions of votes for either Buhari or Atiku but I think the point is already made about our peculiar kind of democracy. That is also reflected in the state of our country today and the lack of accountability that defines public life. For those who can discern the times, hard choices lie ahead regardless of who wins on Saturday. Yet, we have a situation in which schools are being closed and our children sent home on holiday just because we want to hold an election.
Before I conclude, let me pay a special homage to Dr Kingsley Moghalu, Mr Fela Durotoye as well as my two friends in the presidential race: Omoyele Sowore and Tope Fashua. Any of these four is eminently qualified to be president and I must commend their efforts and sacrifices in the past few months. The reason I have not lent support to their aspiration is obvious. As I stated recently, going by the geo-political consensus that defines elections in Nigeria, 2019 presidency has for long been ceded to the North. Because these gentlemen hail from the south, I knew from the outset that they were swimming against the tide. But their time will come.
Since the campaigns are not issue-based, making a choice in this election is not very easy for the non-partisans. Buhari supporters want Nigerians to believe that a vote for Atiku is a vote for corruption and profligacy. On the other hand, Atiku’s supporters see in the continuation of Buhari a vote for incompetence and nepotism. On Saturday, I am going to vote for either of these two as a civic responsibility. After the votes are counted, I am not going to invest my emotions on the outcome. Whoever wins between Buhari and Atiku, it is not going to affect the way I live my life or how I relate with anybody afterwards.
But I worry for many of our young people who have been recruited to work for some of these politicians. Many of them are unwittingly tweeting their future away as I warned in my lecture at Baze University in September 2017: https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2017/09/27/the-perils-of-social-media/. The critical question is: Are these politicians on whose behalf they make enemies for themselves worth the trouble? I do not think so. I have a story to back my misgivings.
Early in 1993, Dr Iyorchia Ayu, the then Senate President under the General Ibrahim Babangida’s curious transition to civil rule programme, led a delegation of Senators to visit the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe in Enugu. I was among the reporters taken along for the road trip. In the course of the return journey the next day, it was decided that there would be a stopover at the country home of Senator Ameh Ebute in Benue State for lunch. By the time we got to Ebute’s village, we were already famished.
While the Senators entered the inner recess of the house, we (journalists, assembly staff and drivers) were kept outside, waiting for our food. We became all the more expectant when we heard the sound of yam being pounded. But after what turned out to be a long wait, the Senators appeared from the house with David Iornem, chair of the Information committee picking his teeth, before addressing us, “Gentlemen, we have to go now.” Seeing how shocked we were, Iornem burst into a mischievous laugh and added, “when we arrived here about an hour ago, we discovered that the pounded yam would not go round. So, the Senate President put the issue to debate. After an exhaustive deliberation, it was resolved that since we (senators) are your servants we should eat first. When you get to Abuja, then you (our masters) can eat.”
Although Iornem relayed the message to us as a joke, I learnt a significant lesson from that episode about Nigerian politicians and their notion of public service. That then explains why it is easy for them to criss-cross political parties at every election season. In 2015, Senator Smart Adeyemi was the PDP candidate for Kogi West Senatorial district. He was defeated by Dino Melaye of APC. This time around, Melaye is the candidate of PDP in the same election while Adeyemi is now the APC flagbearer. More noteworthy is that both Governors Amosun and Okorocha are running for Senate on APC platform while sponsoring gubernatorial candidates on the platforms of other parties.
As Nigerians therefore go to the polls on Saturday to elect the next president, there is no shortage of reasons to vote for or against either Buhari or Atiku. Choosing one or the other is a right for any voter. It is important that we yield not to the temptation to despise those who make a choice that is different from ours.
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