By Sufuyan Ojeifo
In Monday’s opening ceremony of the caucus meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC), broadcast live from the party’s national secretariat, Abuja, President Muhammadu Buhari reacted fully to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) postponement of the presidential and national assembly election, 48 hours earlier.
The convergence of top-echelon APC members provided a very good opportunity for Mr. President to ventilate his disappointment and anger at what he read as incompetent management of the critical electoral process by the Commission. It was clear that Buhari spoke to the issue of postponement from his heart.
Dropping his prepared speech, he spoke ex-tempore, after the national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, had rambunctiously taken the electoral body and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the cleaners. As chairman of the ruling party and a critical stakeholder in the election, Oshiomhole, in his trademark, compelling oratory identified and dealt with the issues.
Oshiomhole took on the INEC whom he accused of colluding with the PDP to abort the February 16 presidential and national assembly election. That was not all. He accused the electoral body of plotting to manipulate the general election against the APC.
For, instance, he claimed the Commission gave prior notice of the postponement of the February 16 election to the PDP. These were all grave allegations. Nobody should fault Oshiomhole for leveling these serious allegations, especially if there is no specific evidence to conclusively counter them.
I have read the quick riposte by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, wherein he said: “This is a very surprising statement considering the fact that the Federal Government controls every institution and agency involved in the electoral process, including the CBN, Nigerian Air Force, and Aviation authorities, among others.”
Dogara had continued: “We are also very familiar with the pressure brought on INEC by top government officials and APC leaders to go ahead with the elections despite not being adequately prepared…. We are also aware the APC wanted the INEC chairman to conduct elections in some States and postpone in other States so as to have staggered elections. It should also be noted that the areas that would have been affected by inadequate delivery of materials were PDP strongholds.”
These accusations and counter accusations are the stuff that political confrontations are made of. Oshiomhole was right to throw his devastating punches at the PDP while Dogara was in apple-pie order to deliver his counter punches at the APC. The development has tweaked and livened up the political terrain.
In fact, it appears that 2015 events are repeating themselves. Then the ruling PDP was accusing the opposition APC of collaborating with the INEC and enjoying the electoral body’s sympathy. The Jonathan administration was even pressured to remove the then INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, just as Buhari had been called upon to sack Professor Mahmoud Yakubu.
Clearly, many Nigerians have not forgotten the shameful protest by Elder Godsday Orubebe (then a cabinet minister) at the collation centre, accusing Jega of bias for APC’s candidate (Buhari). It does appear all those scenarios are being re-enacted. How so similar! How so real! The eventual bigger picture could just end up being a classic replay of the 2015 electoral saga, from the way things are panning out.
With the goodwill the APC enjoyed then as an underdog or whipping boy in 2015, the goodwill the PDP, as opposition or underdog, appears to be enjoying, Oshiomhole was right to take on the INEC and the PDP in the manner he did, sparing no jabs. But to those who are not politically discerning or versed in the dynamics of electoral contests, Oshiomhole was, perhaps, only crying wolf where none existed.
I do not think Oshiomhole was playing to the gallery or putting up an act to veil APC and the Presidency’s actual feelings or positions. I think Oshiomhole was serious about his claims. And, I think he was right to have verbalized them the way he did. This is a power game where winners take no prisoners. If I had doubted the sincerity of Oshiomhole’s histrionics, every modicum of doubts dissipated immediately Buhari began to ventilate his anger.
It was clear Buhari was going to be frank and obtrusive when he chose to speak ex-tempore. He had effectively adopted and deployed the speech of Oshiomhole as an anchor to further harangue the opposition parties and those who had perfected plots to perpetrate electoral malpractices during the rescheduled series of election.
Apparently unconvinced by the reasons offered by INEC in postponing the February 16 election a few hours to the commencement of the exercise, the president who noted that all funds required by the commission were made available, assured that the development, which led to the poll postponement would be investigated at the end of the election.
While I don’t see anything wrong in that or in the declaration by the president that he was disappointed at the seeming incompetence of the electoral body, as it was within his constitutional powers to cause investigation of INEC’s perceived failure and within his rights to comment on how he feels about the let-down by government agencies to deliver on their mandates, there were areas of the president’s speech which I consider extreme and tendentious.
The declaration to expressly direct the nation’s security agencies to be ruthless against ballot box snatchers or the threat to influential political leaders who attempt to lead their supporters to snatch ballot boxes during the election that they should be ready to do that at the expense of their life is, to me, a resort to jungle justice. That part of the speech and other similar aspects that tended to reinforce the theme of jungle justice was not presidential or statesmanlike.
I say no to Mr. President on that outlandish declaration. I can understand his pains and frustrations at electoral manipulations. I remember the fate that he suffered on that score in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 presidential elections until 2015 when he won, defeating an incumbent to clinch the presidential prize. I remember the statement credited to him ahead of the 2015 election to the effect that the dog and the baboon would be soaked in their blood if what happened (rigging) in the 2011 presidential election was allowed to repeat itself in 2015.
I know the celebrated statement was a product of frustration with a compromised system that could not deliver justice. And, having had the opportunity to be president, I had expected Mr. President to encourage a process that would have culminated in a reform of our nation’s electoral system in all its ramifications. For instance, the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, making the use of card readers mandatory should have been signed into an Act.
In any case, the INEC must be commended for administratively making it obligatory for only holders of recognizable permanent voter cards to vote on Election Day. It is part of effort to bolster the integrity of the process. This will make it easy for winners and losers of the series of election to accept the outcomes.
This is the ultimate, reasonable expectation from the electoral process. Any mischief that circumvents this reasonable expectation should be cured through the laid-down procedures circumscribed by extant laws. Nobody is permissible or justifiable to issue illegal order that ballot snatchers should be shot on sight. Mr. President lost me on that score.
There are laws to take care of electoral malpractice, especially Sectionn129(4) of the Constitution which prescribes a two-year imprisonment for offenders. What the president should have done or said was to declare that he would deploy the power of his office to ensure that perpetrators of electoral malpractices are expeditiously prosecuted and sanctioned. Anything short of this is a retreat to Hobessian state of nature and a resort to unconscionable and desperate illegality, as Mr. President had indicated in his speech at the APC caucus meeting. I hope he will not keep fidelity with his avowed intention or directive.
▪ Ojeifo, a journalist, contributed this piece from Abuja.