Costly distractions must be avoided at this critical stage of governmental transition, writes Monday Philips Ekpe
What hasn’t one seen or heard lately? A cocktail of general social and economic pressures, crooked political atmosphere and the frenzy that goes with political changes in Nigeria seems to have made it somewhat difficult for people to think and act straight. Late last month, tens or hundreds of energised people took their protestations against the outcomes of the recent federal and state elections to the Defence Headquarters in Abuja. With the help of a megaphone, they cried to their hosts to “do something”. I’m yet to put my finger on what the whole mission was all about and, more disturbing, whether they truly grasped the import of the optics being generated by their strange intervention. Those who were surprised by the brashness of that desperate crowd may still be treated to other awkward dramas before the May 29, 2023 handover date.
Truth is, 24 years after the Nigerian military handed over political power to civilians, not many people wish to have it back in the usurped executive and legislative roles. And, in fairness to it, some of its top functionaries have been assuring Nigerians lately that theirs is to provide support for the police and boost internal security anytime they’re called upon to do so at this volatile point in the nation’s democratic journey. Keeping faith with those briefs, in the face of electoral frustrations still simmering among a sizable part of the populace, would guarantee more respect for our soldiers and give the country enough space and time to deepen its hard-won democracy.
Even before last week’s disclosure by the Department of State Security (DSS) about the plans of some persons to railroad the country into an interim government arrangement, some prophets, soothsayers and critics had already predicted its possibility and also promoted its advantages. Much esoterism has actually gone into explaining why the presidential inauguration may not hold as scheduled, after all.
The DSS spokesperson, Dr Peter Afunanya, was emphatic. His agency “considers the plot being pursued by these entrenched interests as not only an aberration but a mischievous way to set aside the constitution and undermine civil rule as well as plunge the country into crisis. The illegality is totally unacceptable in a democracy and to the peace-loving Nigerians. Consequently, the service strongly warns those organising to thwart democracy in the country to retract from their devious schemes and orchestrations. While monitoring, the DSS will not hesitate to take decisive and necessary legal steps against these misguided elements to frustrate their obvious intentions.”
Very stern indeed but one wonders why such a treasonable offence should be tackled with a mere appeal to the suspects to see reason, instead of arresting them for proper investigation and possible prosecution. If the aim is not “overheating the polity”, as we often say whenever we hide behind condonement, docility and cowardice, then the state service may have surrendered professionalism to partisanship. Political correctness mustn’t overthrow expert responses to potentially ruinous threats. No matter how strongly anyone feels about the results of the February 25 and March 18 elections, deliberately pushing for something clearly beyond the reach of the constitution at this point would be unpatriotic, reckless and risky. No right-thinking person or responsible country stands to gain from such gambling.
That DSS announcement only signalled the acknowledgement of the plot for an interim administration at a high level of the nation’s security apparatus. Coming barely two months to the scheduled handover of power from President Muhammadu Buhari to President-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu, that whistleblowing shouldn’t be glossed over. As expected, the reactions have been overwhelming. And, as usual, they bear familiar flavours, ranging from the informed to the purely sentimental and the outrightly ridiculous.
Some elements in the declared victorious All Progressives Congress (APC) think that the smoke must have originated from the camp of those announced as losers by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the presidential election who, according to them, would go to any length to truncate the ongoing seemingly seamless transition.
The immediate reaction of the Spokesperson of the Labour Party (LP) Presidential Campaign Council, Dr Yunusa Tanko, to the DSS alarm represents the views of many of the opposition parties. In his words, “As a party, we have submitted ourselves to pursuing the course of justice through constitutional means, it will not serve us if the interest of democracy collapses in Nigeria. Where was the DSS when our members and other Nigerians were being attacked, maimed and killed especially in Lagos? Where was the DSS when some individuals were engaged in ethnic profiling and violence against Nigerians of a certain ethnic nationality over their democratic choices?
“Now that Nigerians have decided to follow laid down democratic procedures of drawing attention to injustice, warnings and threats are being issued. The DSS ought to have issued these warnings from the beginning to show Nigerians that this country belongs to all of us and not the personal fiefdom of an individual or a group. We urge the DSS to send these words of caution to those bigots who are pushing this country to the brink of disaster with their utterances and violent conduct against other peace-loving Nigerians who do not subscribe to their political views or speak their language.” One can interpret Tanko’s anger as denouncing attempts to use the alleged plans to distract the aggrieved parties from continuing with the legitimate quests for their perceived stolen mandates. It’s remarkable and highly commendable that the LP and Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) embraced the legal route soon after the presidential poll.
The individuals said to be rooting for this political hiatus are either historically challenged or can’t be bothered about its repercussions. The only time it surfaced in the country’s history was in 1993 when the then Military President Ibrahim Babangida instituted an Interim National Government (ING), with Chief Ernest Shonekan as the head, in the heat of the toxic anti-government environment produced by the annulment of the famous June 12, 1993 presidential ballot. Popularly referred to as a contraption, the ING lasted for less than three months, having been summarily torpedoed by General Sani Abacha in November that year. It ended abruptly the way it started. To date, most Nigerians don’t accord that period any worthy recognition. While it can easily be argued that the differences between the elections 30 years ago and the latest ones are obvious, the inappropriateness of the sort of interregnum being clandestinely canvassed remains valid, nonetheless.
The failings of the recent general election are too fresh to be revised, twisted and wished away with a fiat. An exercise hyped as technology-driven and low error-prone, simply caved in and couldn’t live up to its own promise. To worsen this record, those polls didn’t go down as being among the best the country has organised, in the estimation of many citizens and most local and international observers. Solutions to rigging and other forms of malpractices are yet to be found, sadly. The last outing didn’t prove anything to the contrary. Some analysts are already looking at the recent presidential election as belonging to the opposite extreme of the 1993 version, the former being near excellent but the latter hovering around the hall of infamy. Of course, not everyone would agree with this assertion.
Anyhow, no matter the gravity of the accusations levelled against the president-in-waiting and his party, there’s absolutely no reason why the normal judicial course shouldn’t be followed to its logical conclusion. Thankfully, the aggrieved parties who initiated the litigation are still on it. We can hope and press that the courts realise the sensitivity of the moment and commit due diligence to their duties. When Nigerians see that justice and fairness are well served, they’ll embrace peace.
Dr Ekpe is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board