Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Don't Agonise, Organise!

The late Pan-Africanist, Tajudeen Abdulraheem was credited to use the slogan: Don’t Agonise, Organise! US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton also urged us to do same in her town hall meeting with Nigerians in Abuja on Wednesday, August 12, 2009. She challenged Nigerians in need of positive change to organise and use Information Communication Technology (ICT) to pursue their goal. Hillary reminded us of how President Barack Obama used ICT to mobilise millions of Americans to partake in the US electoral process. Yes we can and should use various platforms ICT offer to build the critical mass that can demand and get desired change we want. There is the internet which hosts a number of social networking sites like Facebook, Netlog, Blog, Twitters, E-mails, You-tube and Websites that can be used to sensitise and organise people. There is also the mobile telephone with facilities such as text messaging as well as the traditional mass media like radio and television.

Going by the latest development in Nigeria’s electoral system, it has become imperative for those of us who are dissatisfied with the status quo to begin earnestly to organise. Isn’t it ironic that the same week as Hillary Clinton came to tell us the home truths about ourselves, three re-runs took place in Oyo and Ekiti States and the reports were same old story of violence and massive electoral fraud? On August 15, 2009 there were two re-run elections in Oyo State. Many newspapers reported that massive rigging, violence and low turnout of voters marred the elections held to fill the two vacant seats of Oorelope and Lagelu constituencies in the Oyo State House of Assembly. Although policemen were deployed to maintain law and order at the various polling units, thugs were said to have had a field day as they intimidated and harassed the few voters who turned out for the election.

In another election into the Ekiti North Senatorial seat held same day and time, the situation was worse. According to news reports, many of the ballot papers printed for use in the Ekiti election had no serial numbers while some had conflicting serial numbers. This was discovered on the eve of the election. On the election day, voting did not start until noon in some of the polling booths while there were wide cases of shortage of electoral materials, mix up in the voters register, low voters turn out and violence in three out of the five local governments that make up the senatorial district. In fact, two journalists, Tunji Olanipekun, an Africa Independent Television (AIT) staff reporter, was not only purportedly beaten but had his camera smashed while Babs Daramola of the Silverbird Television (STV) was also reported manhandled by political thugs at Ifaki. At Iludun, former Governor of Ekiti State, Niyi Adebayo was allegedly attacked and the back windscreen of his car smashed. The Chairman of Moba Local Council, Mr. Akin Alebiosu was reported arrested with weapons and about 10 thugs. On the whole, police authority claimed to have arrested 50 persons for electoral offences. The latest was in Edo State where a court-ordered re-run into Akoko-Edo State Constituency 1 election on August 22 was also marred by violence.

Now, with these developments, and as warned by the Director General of the State Security Service in a recent meeting with the House of Representatives Committee on Police Affairs and National Security, 2011 elections will be bloody if the situation persist. The signs are ominous. Incidentally, the same week as we had the marred re-run polls, the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on the reform of 1999 Constitution had its public hearings. The hearings were held to get public input into the 6 executive electoral reforms bills sent to the National Assembly in April 2009 and also on the executive amendment bill earlier sent to the parliament on the Land Use Act.

I was privileged to present a memorandum on constitutional reform on behalf of three coalitions: Constitutional Reform Dialogue Mechanism (CRDM); Gender and Affirmative Action (GAA) and Affirmation of the Rights of People with Disability (ARPWD) at the public hearing on August 11, 2009. My overall assessment of the hearings, many of which were held simultaneously (there were all-together about 5 different public hearings on different thematic areas between Tuesday, August 11 and Friday, August 14, 2009), was that it was hurriedly packaged. The exercise, which was probably organised to convince Hillary Clinton that electoral reform is on course in Nigeria, was put together within a week; hence there was low turn-out. Good enough, the various sub-committees have promised to continue to accept memorandum even after the hearings.

It is heart-warming that Hon. Eziuche Ubani at a press conference after the hearings said the ad-hoc committee on constitutional reform have agreed to focus on only the 6 executive electoral reform bills and the amendment bill on the Land Use Act. This was the position passionately canvassed by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Michael Andoakaa, SAN in his presentation at the commencement of the public hearings but which the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Usman Bayero Nafada vehemently opposed.

For those who missed the House hearings, I enjoin them to heed the Senate ad-hoc constitutional reform committee’s call for memorandum and come forward to present their issues during the upper chamber’s public hearing. Hopefully the constitutional reform exercise will be fastracked to enable INEC have the requisite legal instruments for the 2011 elections. However, legal reform alone will not solve Nigeria’s endemic electoral problem. Of greater importance are the need for ethical revolution, reduction of perks of political offices and law enforcement. I do hope that the Coalition of Democrats on Electoral Reform (CODER) and similar credible coalitions will rise to the challenge of organising Nigerians on this critical issue of genuine electoral reform if we are to prevent what the former Head of State, General Mohammadu Buhari (Rtd.) called ‘somaliasation of Nigeria’.