2019 Elections: Will New Songs Come Out of These Ashes?

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SATURDAY COUNTERPOINT

By Femi Akintunde Johnson

The crescendo to the kickoff of the Presidential election was more dramatic than we envisaged. Millions of young Nigerians kept a vigil on INEC-related news, fretting: Is everything going on well? Have INEC done all that is necessary to make the election hitch-free? Will they be able to overcome all the problems and hurdles crawling out of the holes? Many questions drove away sleep from worried hearts.

Then at past 3am, the stern face of Mahmood Yakubu, a professor of Political History and International Studies, who heads our current headache, INEC, broke the bad news.

Expectedly, torrent of criticisms have landed on the unfortunate decision to postpone all elections by one week. Considering the magnitude of waste, losses, frustrations, and such baleful experiences suffered by Nigerians willing to do all that was necessary to vote the candidates of their choice – it was a dull, painful and incensed Saturday, last week.

INEC’s bunglings of the electoral process, whether self-inflicted by sheer weight of incompetence or duplicity; or externally manipulated by fifth columnists or frightened barons of corruption, and their infernal collaborators… INEC fell few pegs on the ladder of trust and perception in the estimation of Nigerians.

If apathy was not such a worrying spectre last week, as Nigerians were pumped up to make a statement, one way or the other, with their PVCs – over 15m new voters have registered since 2015… today, it will be a miracle if any state records up to 55% voter turnout.

Nevertheless, life goes on… If voting goes ahead today, as rescheduled, let Nigerians have the pleasure, peace and privilege of conducting a free, orderly and credible election that will restore our confidence, reassure our neighbours and inspire our children that we are not just big in size – but strong in values, resilient in integrity and resourceful in management of our affairs.

Yet, in all things, the good book says we should be thankful. We thank God we can vote, and it shall count.

Also, I now have the opportunity to conclude the “sparklers” I started last week but was constrained by space.

El-Rufai & His Body-Bags

Perhaps, you missed it: Here are excerpts of the famous ignoble words of the governor of Kaduna State and APC candidate, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai: “At the end of the day, it’s Nigeria’s 84 million registered voters that will line up and vote on February 16; let us wait for the results, and if the results are not what we expect them to be, there’s a process to challenge them. We have election tribunals; challenge them… We are used to losing elections – those of us that came from opposition… we never resorted to violence… Those that are calling for anyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we’re waiting for the person that will come and intervene (…), they will go back in body bags, because nobody will come to Nigeria and tell us how to run our country…”.

 Though his party, APC and the presidency were quick to give him a shoulder, it is important to note that many Nigerians, including opposition parties, vehemently carpeted El-Rufai for this potentially incinerating outburst.

My immediate reaction: That a sitting governor will go on national television to utter “body-bags” as part of a threat to deter “foreign interference” is staggering. This is a man with pretensions of ruling this country in some future dream. Such inflammatory utterances diminish the quality and mental stability of our “leadership” pool, reminding us that we still have a long way to go in nurturing and positioning sensible and sensitive leaders of the Nigerian people. We then asked that El-Rufa’i should openly recant those bloody words, and apologise for needlessly jacking up the tension wires around the polity, few days to a major election.

As usual, the wily politician tried to fob off the cascade of criticisms by reconstructing the semantics of his misjive – of course, he stopped short of apologising.

Sadly, days to the postponed elections, killers struck at two points in El-Rufa’i’s backyard. In Kajuru local government, 11 Adara natives were killed and scores wounded by alleged herdsmen. The news went under the radar. It was on Sunday, February 10 in the village of Ungwar Barde, Rufana District, according to the spokesperson of the Southern Kaduna People’s Union, SOKAPU, who accused the governor of instigating “ethnic and religious brushfires”.

Few days later, the world rose in skepticism when El-Rufai went to town with the killings of 66 Fulani people in the same Kajuru LGA. The dastardly act was on Friday, February 15, the eve of elections. It took a combined team of heads of the Army, police and DSS in the state for people to somehow believe that El-Rufai was not crying wolf! Perception deficit!

Please, Carry Your Ballot Paper!

A special prayer for all patriotic Nigerians today: May the Almighty enable you the strength to receive, unfurl, search through the maze of over 70 party logos, and the dexterity to finger-print your choice without voiding your ballot.

Have you seen the extra large “face-towel” INEC calls the ballot paper? Voters have to be very careful when stamping; it may be sensible to use the tip of any of the slimmer fingers to avoid spilling the ink unto unfancied  party line. I won’t be surprised if the number of invalid votes is on the high side.

Meanwhile, a warning: don’t struggle with ballot snatchers so you’re not mistaken for the miscreants and receive a “ruthless” action that is not meant for you. When politicians task you to “defend your votes”, I beg you to apply wisdom. There are several unmarked graves of heady martyrs whose legacies are overtaken by dust and rot! Vote with sense, please.

Politics of Knives & Stones

APC seems factricidally betrothed to violence – or such will be a neutral’s impression of their members’ actions at the state campaign starter at Ikeja GRA, Lagos where Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode symbolically handed the baton to the party’s new standard bearer, Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Even journalists were not spared, as guns, machetes, and such violent articles were brazenly displayed and used on opponents. We were later told it was a spill-over intra-union disquiet within the National Union of Road Transport Workers. That was Tuesday, January 9, 2019.

The shame that rallied again at MKO Abiola Stadium, Abeokuta, Ogun State on Monday, February 11 was even more curious. Brimming with high officials, including the presidential candidate, his vice, party national chairman, national leader, and a clutch of bigwigs, the expectation was high in the modest stadium for a remarkable outing. But the sitting governor, Ibikunle Amosun conducted himself, and his rally, in a manner unbecoming of a state chief executive – snapping at this, huffing at that, snatching this, and generally being belligerent at elements opposed to his overlordship…and then invoking the name of God and the president’s aura to calm nerves that had been invigorated by his own bullish tantrums.

Most befuddling question: how did an APC presidential/governorship rally dissolve into a cauldron of APM sympathisers, a flung APC guber flag, volley of stones on the loquacious pair of Adam Oshiomhole and Rauf Aregbesola, a tongue-tied Dapo Abiodun, despondent Bola Tinubu and Segun Osoba… rowdy double-minded spectators… and other indiscretions.

Similar drama was reportedly scripted for Imo and Zamfara (APC) and same Ogun (PDP). Some observers were thanking God, and the Supreme Court for postponing what would have surely been a “mother of all mayhem” if APC and PDP candidates had a free reign to fully campaign in Rivers State!