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HURRICANE MUHAMMADU BUHARI & the electoral process – Running a race for posterity?

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In appreciation of the efforts of all who are desirous and are championing the cause of democracy in Nigeria, this compilation commences with some relevant quotes from publications of a foremost Nigerian nationalist and patriot Obafemi Awolowo: ‘’Power enslaves: absolute power enslaves absolutely. ‘’I have made a diligent search through history, and I have not come across a single instance where a regime, be it military or civilian, which has come to power at its own will, and has wielded that power for many years, has found it easy to extricate itself from the sweet uses and shackles of power, and then hand it to others outside its own hierarchy. It is possible, quite possible, that my search is not exhaustive and so, I stand to be corrected.”- Those of us placed in a position of leadership must be prepared to grasp the nettle.  ”If we unite in doing so, and if, in addition, we set a worthy example and a marat on pace in probity, unselfishness, and self-sacrifice, the people will follow, all too readily, in our footsteps.’’

NIGERIA’S STRATEGIC POSITION IN AFRICA & GLOBAL POLITICS Nigeria is such a strategic country in Africa that the global community cannot but take interest in the nation’s affairs just like Nigeria reserves the right to counsel the United States over the conduct of the upcoming November 3, 2020, presidential election in the United States because that country regarded as the foremost democracy in the world is strategic to the interests of the whole world. There is nothing wrong with Africa’s leaders commencing ‘’shouting’’ from now that the US presidential elections must be credible and should not be compromised because the whole world looks up to the United States as a leading nation in democracy.  The usual diplomatic words: ”Most Unacceptable” could be uttered should any side sense danger. Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke about the place of Nigeria in the international community in a lecture he delivered in 2015 at the Annual Obafemi Awolowo Lecture Series. Many people might not realize the inference in Anna’s speech.

He declared:  “The African Union is increasingly influential and important. But ‘’both the AU and Nigeria’’ can, and must, do more.’’ The interpretation is that the African Union is led by Nigeria with Africa and Nigeria recognized by Kofi Annan as two blocs.  Across the continent, there is huge potential for increased regional and sub-regional co-operation not least to improve infrastructure, boost trade and create jobs. Africa would be in a stronger position to demand and win the changes needed in international organisations if it showed the courage and will to tackle problems within our own continent.” Kofi Annan continued: ‘’Political leaders across the continent must recognise that democracy means they can be voted out as well as into power: “It is a profound shame that since independence so many of Africa’s leaders, once elected, come to believe that only they can be trusted to run their countries. “The result, all too quickly, becomes Government for the benefit of a ruling elite rather than society as a whole.” Africa must take a greater responsibility for its own problems and solutions.’’

BUHARI ON DEMOCRATIC CONTESTS — THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA? President Muhammadu Buhari’s stance on the last Edo governorship election had a tinge of an Obafemi Awolowo thought on leadership: Awolowo wrote that:  ‘’If we are in the habit of practicing the opposite of what we preach, our admonition will not only lose their force and cogency but also we ourselves will forfeit every claim to credibility. ‘’An ounce of example, it has been widely said, is far better than a ton of precepts.” Elsewhere, Awolowo submitted that: ”It is safer and wiser to cure unhealthy rivalry than to suppress it.  ‘’There is an urgent and massive need for moral and spiritual reconstruction: the kind which will help to demolish morbid desire for naked power and domination and ensure justice equity and fair play for all.’’

WHY I CHOSE THE PATH OF HONOUR — BUHARI –– Mr. President, in his speech, gave his reasons for his directive to security agencies to enforce peace and orderly electoral contest: ‘’My single desire is to make sure that innocent Nigerians don’t suffer regardless of party affiliation. “I thank you for bringing your deputy and supporters to come and see me after defeating my party. ‘’I am supposed to preside over all Nigerian interests whether I like it or not, but my single desire is to make sure that innocent people don’t suffer. That message I got across to the Inspector General of Police, that elections must be free and fair.”

According to the President, “If contestants have too much money and they decide to spray, so be it. But what I insist is, nobody should go and raise a counterforce to the government, arm heavily-drugged thugs to go and humiliate people.”   He told his guests that, “I want Nigerians to appreciate that I respect them as Nigerians and that I am bound by the oath I have taken, that their security is in the hands of God and in the hands of the government, which I am leading.” President Buhari noted that as the leader of the governing party, and despite the fact that the party has lost some states in elections, he wishes to leave behind a political culture based on integrity. “We have lost states across the country. Now I do not like to escape the responsibility, seeing as the leader of the country, I am also the leader of my party, that I am not leading the party very well.  “I am trying to make sure that the party is built on a civilized basis, rule of law and respect for human rights and human beings, right from polling units to local governments, to states up to Abuja and that’s what I have been insisting as my contribution to the National Working Committee and executive of the party. I know we are a developing country, a developing economy and trying to develop our political culture. I want the development of political culture to be based on integrity and accountability. Let people work very hard and earn what they are looking for through their hard work and through fair competition”

REACTION BY THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY: The United States Embassy in Nigeria, in a statement issued after the Edo State elections, ‘’congratulated the people of Edo State on a credible and peaceful governorship election. We thank the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Nigerian security services on the positive role they played in the election and commend their work in strengthening Nigeria’s democracy.  We recognize the critical role that Governor Godwin Obaseki and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu played in promoting peace.  We also thank our civil society partners for their invaluable work in upholding democracy and accountability in this election. ‘’The United States remains concerned with reports of some violence that did emerge during the election, and by reports of vote-buying and intimidation of both voters and civil society domestic observers. We will continue to encourage all stakeholders, including INEC, political parties, and the security services, to improve the electoral process in the upcoming Ondo State governorship election.  ‘’As a democratic partner of Nigeria, the United States remains committed to working together to achieve our mutual goals of peace and prosperity for the citizens of both our countries.’’ Similarly, the Chairman of INEC Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, commended all stakeholders who made the Edo State governorship election while winding down INEC’s Situation Room on the Edo governorship election in Abuja.

THE ELECTORAL PROCESS — The conduct of successive elections in the country has provoked agitation for electoral reforms in the country. Perhaps no issue has been touchier than that of the electoral process, which many participants have condemned on account of the allegation of brazen disregard for the basic rules and transparency. Electoral contests have proven to be sore thumbs such that Nelson Mandela asked to know from a notable Nigeria ‘’why elections are like wars in your country’’ It is worrisome that participants in the electoral process and contests have not once, since independence, been able to agree that elections organized for participatory democracy have not been flawed. This development is a serious one that has, in some instances, led to military intervention following the bad blood generated by electoral contests. Electoral contests have been accompanied by loud protests by losers who have often complained of being robbed of victory. Such is the situation that these protests have resulted in the killing and maiming of people, particularly members of opposition political parties who are usually accused of being involved in the manipulation of election results. While the possibility of malpractices in electoral contests may not be totally ruled out, it is true that some of the violence that has greeted elections in the past were sponsored by aggrieved leaders of political parties who maintain scores of thugs and miscreants for destabilizing the society.

MR PRESIDENT AS NIGERIA’S CHIEF IMAGE MAKER Regrettably, democracy has been the greatest loser in this sad development of electoral malfeasance of the past. Arguably, manipulation of the will of the people is wrong. But it is even more wrong and unacceptable for political actors to terminate human lives and damage invaluable property simply because of disagreements arising from electoral contests. By his comments and conduct, President Buhari has shored up Nigeria’s image in the international community as Nigeria’s Chief Image Maker.   Mr. President’s comments above prove conclusively that he is aware of why Nigeria’s democracy appears imperiled and he could write in his name on the positive pages of history by ensuring that Nigeria is placed on a sound democratic footing. Another identifiable pitfall is the feverish urge of the populace to be part of the political leadership. It is believed that the rush has been influenced largely by the remuneration attached to political offices, as well as other perquisites of office which have made politics to be the most lucrative vocation in Nigeria today.

The development has brought along with it highly condemnable acts of political brigandage, assassinations, and other heinous crimes. In its editorial of Friday 16th May, 2008, the Nigerian Tribune highlighted this dangerous development, noting that: “The constant inflow of unearned income into the pockets of political office holders has made politics the most lucrative vocation in Nigeria. The quest for political office is being pursued with unusual desperation and utter ruthlessness. ”Political office holders have been preying on the people they swore to serve. A negligible percentage has been appropriating what belongs to all. ”The primary objectives of representative government and the fundamental principles of economic management are being wantonly perverted. ”Nigeria opted for the presidential system after making a hash of parliamentary democracy. ”Calls for a return to the parliamentary system have been getting more and more strident because the operators of presidential democracy have turned it into an albatross around the necks of the people”. This is one area Mr. President could request those reviewing the new Constitution to graciously consider in the national interest.

ELECTORAL OFFENCES COMMISSION A total review of the electoral process becomes inevitable if an enduring democratic culture is to be entrenched. There have been strident calls for unbiased conduct on the part of electoral bodies established in accordance with the constitution. The Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais Committee on Electoral Reform proposed a number of measures that appear very capable of correcting perceived ills in the electoral process. The committee rightly suggested that there must be impartial arbiters in electoral contests and that bodies charged with the organization of elections must be clearly independent of the three arms of government. Another recommended measure is the creation of an Electoral Offences Commission to handle electoral malpractices and to ensure that stiff and proper penalties and sanctions that would serve as deterrents.  Mr. President would score another goal by putting in place an Electoral Offences Commission with independent-minded people who would not be influenced by any contestant or competing political party. What needs to be done at the moment in preparation for future electoral contests is for government and the political class to embark on massive education of voters in a manner that will make the electorate aware of the importance of using their votes to elect their preferences. It is necessary for the government and the political class to jointly promote those measures that would promote fool-proof elections and the installation of credible governments and structures.

NIGERIA’S INCREASING INFLUENCE  Nigeria has evolved a robust foreign policy through the solidification of relations with her immediate neighbours in particular Africa.   Nigeria, the most populous black nation and the Giant of Africa has a great role to play in leading the African continent to political and socio-economic advancement. Nigeria must therefore continue to propel other African nations to move from the back row to the front by recording greater and impressive socio-economic developments.  Nigeria shoulders not only a heavy burden of doing well for the sake of Nigerians but also the burden of our sub-region and the African continent. Whatever affects Nigeria has the attendant possible effect of spreading to other parts of Africa. This is one of the major reasons prominent democracies like the United States and the United Kingdom have maintained postures that appear uncomfortable for Nigeria in the area of democratic contests.

THE MASSES & POVERTY The whole world is currently in trouble and an economic disaster has enveloped the globe. Of the estimated 1.2 billion people living in abject poverty all over the world, Africa is host to about 300 million, which is grossly disproportionate to the overall population.  The gap between the rich and the poor countries continues to widen. It is a very serious matter that is provoking negative reactions. Government has taken steps to introduce palliatives on a continuous basis. Easily the greatest antagonist to development is poverty. With the gathered storm of industrial crises, labour might behave in a manner that would be considered unreasonable. The golden rule is to anticipate and move swiftly before the problem rears its ugly head.  To be explicit, it is better to take to preventive rather than curative approaches to ensure proper crisis management. The best method is to employ dialogue with the opposing party with a view to resolving the crisis.

Let the other party realize the pros and cons of the potentially explosive situation and why there is a need for both sides to come to terms. Information management is one of the hardest of tasks. Explanation of policies and programmes through the media has the capability of dousing tension. There must be behind the scene overtures by government through its officials with very cordial relationships with labour leaders.  In some cases, hard-liners have been known to back out of actions after logical reasonings and explanations. There are capable hands surrounding Mr. President who could join the government’s negotiating team, particularly some of the Hon. Ministers who have handled labour matters as State governors who could make inputs with their residual knowledge and also reach out to labour leaders. Mr. President must not give such officials any breathing space to sleep until the labour issue is resolved.

LEADERSHIP STYLE: It is important for leaders to be kept abreast of situations in order to apply logic in solving problems associated with governance. Governance is about finding solutions to problems. It is a tasking business that requires tact, diplomacy, and the ingredients of good governance. It was Rigoberta Menchu a 1992 Nobel Peace Laureate who submitted that: “Peace cannot exist without justice, justice cannot exist without fairness, fairness cannot exist without development, development cannot exist without democracy, democracy cannot exist without respect for the identity and worth of cultures and peoples.”  Elsewhere, she argued that: ”Nonviolence is one way of saying that there are other ways to solve problems, not only through weapons and war. ”Nonviolence also means the recognition that the person on one side of the trench and the person on the other side of the trench are both human beings, with the same faculties. ”At some point, they have to begin to understand one another.” Government and labour must dialogue for the public good.

On a lighter note, I remember our jokes when my good friend and brother Akin Olaniyi (then Director of Protocol, Osun State) and my humble self approached our principal for me to contest as governor of Osun State and Olanity as Deputy-Governor. Then Chief Judge, late Hon. Justice Fasasi Ogunsola (God bless his soul) who sat at one of such gatherings where we cracked the joke at the Government House suddenly raised up his two legs and erupted in laughter. Why? He said we should just be eating our pap quietly because, from available indications, we could not stand the rigour and demands of a governorship election.

We had approached our principal, then Governor Oyinlola to sponsor us from the stage of purchasing forms for party nominations, campaigns, and other quiet moves until we won. Our sponsor/godfather would have been given the opportunity of collecting our INEC Certificate of Return in case we misbehaved. We were told it was an expensive joke that shouldn’t be heard by serious candidates. But by 2010, people of God who really love me called and inquired if I was interested in running for governor because they were prepared to pray through. But characteristically, I politely declined because I never could withstand what we called ”a one-gun salute”

CIVILITY IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS: In his inaugural speech delivered on January 20, 1961, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy pledged that “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty. “So let us begin anew–remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate. ‘’Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us. Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms–and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations. Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths and encourage the arts and commerce. Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah–to “undo the heavy burdens . . . (and) let the oppressed go free.” Now the trumpet summons us again–not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need–not as a call to battle, though embattled we are– but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation”–a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself…Credit: JK Kennedy Presidential Library)

WELL DONE TO BUHARI: I congratulate President Muhammadu Buhari once again to taking steps that would certainly promote democracy and ultimately good governance in Nigeria and expectedly Africa. Beyond this, Nigeria’s flag was flown higher by dispassionate conduct and presidential directives that could only have been ignored at the peril of government officials and institutions that supervised the conduct of the last Edo State governorship election. Let me now finally recall an excerpt from President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address:: “In the face of our common dangers, let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”…….. “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility, a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize grandly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. ‘’This is the price and promise of citizenship.”

May the Good Lord Bless Nigeria!