Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June 12, NGF crisis and Nigeria’s democracy

Today marks exactly two decades since the regime of Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida annulled the most peaceful and credible presidential election in Nigeria’s political history. How time flies! Last Thursday, June 6, the National Assembly rolled out the drums in celebration of the second anniversary of the Seventh Assembly. Last Wednesday, June 5, the Senate Constitution Review Committee presented its report to the plenary, making far-reaching recommendations aimed at strengthening Nigeria’s democracy. All of these were taking place while the crisis rocking the Nigeria Governors’ Forum had yet to abate. Indeed, there are lessons to be learnt in all these developments which, to me, are interrelated.
I was an undergraduate in 1993 when the annulment of June 12 election took place. It came to all lovers of democracy as a rude shock. I recall that Nigerians fought tooth and nail to have the military rescind that decision to no avail. Many lives were lost in the post-annulment protests while many tertiary institutions, including the University of Lagos, where I was studying, were also shut down for months. The annulment led to the emergence of the National Democratic Coalition. Campaign for Democracy, Civil Liberty Organisation, and the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, all aligned to resist military rule. They worked with NADECO for the restoration of the mandate of Bashorun M.K.O Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the poll.
Many media houses sympathetic to the pro-democracy cause were proscribed or surreptitiously set on fire. The PUNCH and The Guardian were two of the most affected. Journalists such as Kunle Ajibade of The News were jailed while Bagauda Kaltho was murdered in Kaduna by unknown assassins. My favourite programme to which I was a regular contributor, OGBC 2 FM Mailbag 2084 was also suspended. Many other activists fled into exile with some of them floating the Freedom Radio later renamed Radio Kudirat. Even the death of Pa Alfred Rewane was not unconnected with his role as a financier of June 12 struggle. Readers should also be reminded that bombs or Improvised Explosive Devices were also being detonated in public places in the South-West by military goons while NADECO members, ironically, were being blamed for same. On top of this, Abiola, the symbol of June 12, died in military detention while his wife Kudirat was also assassinated thereabout.
Part of the June 12 history was also that of political sell-out. The military, using carrot and stick, lured some of the champions of revalidation of the June 12 mandate into abandoning the struggle. Abiola’s running mate, Babagana Kingibe, the then Social Democratic Party chairman and other chieftains of the SDP were to later soft-pedal on calling for the validation of the mandate. Strikingly, as it was with the June 12, so it is now with the May 24 NGF chairmanship election. Thirty five governors had met to elect a new chairman. The incumbent, Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State sought re-election much against the advice of his political party and some of his colleagues at the forum. The poll itself was postponed many times until it eventually held on Friday, May 24. No sooner had he defeated his opponent, Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State by 19 – 16 votes than all hell was let loose. “Jang and his Gang” decided to discredit the poll. They queried the authenticity of the ballot papers used, claiming that they were not serialised; they accused Amaechi of not stepping down as chairman for a neutral person to supervise the poll; they also said that 19 Northern governors had prior to the election endorsed Jang as the new chairman. They even claimed that it is against the tradition of the NGF to hold election as all previous chairmen had emerged as consensus candidates.
All these scenarios are similar to what Nigerians were told by the military and their apologists in 1993. They said a court had halted the presidential poll from being held; they alleged that Abiola breached the Electoral Act by wearing a cloth with the symbol of his party on election day; they said the election was inconclusive as only results of about 14 states out of the 30 states had been declared before further announcements were suspended. They conveniently forgot that the results had already been announced at the polling units, wards, local governments and the state collation centres and that the announcement at the then National Electoral Commission office in Abuja was just a mere formality. Like Abiola replied all those who tried to discredit the June 12 election, “You cannot abort a child that is already born”. For Jang and his factional governors forum members, whatever misgivings they have about the May 24 NGF poll is irrelevant, having subjected themselves to the electoral process, the outcome is binding on all of them. It would have been a different ball game if they had boycotted the election entirely.
Now, one of the key recommendations of the Senate Constitution Review Committee is a single term of six years for the President and governors. This is laudable, more so given the fact that this idea was in July 2011 mooted by President Goodluck Jonathan himself. It was officially broached by the Special Adviser to President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, on Tuesday, July 26, 2011. According to Abati, “President Jonathan is concerned about the acrimony which the issue of re-election, every four years, generates both at the Federal and State levels. The nation is still smarting from the unrest, the desperation for power and the overheating of the polity that have attended each general election, the fall-out of all this is the unending inter and intra-party squabbles which have affected the growth of party democracy in the country, and have further undermined the country’s developmental aspirations. In addition, the cost of conducting party primaries and the general elections have become too high for the economy to accommodate every four years. The proposed Amendment Bill is necessary to consolidate our democracy and allow elected officials to concentrate on governance and service delivery for their full term, instead of running governments with re-election as their primary focus”
In order to disabuse the minds of Nigerians who may think the proposed bill is for personal aggrandisement of the initiator, the statement went further to say that: “The envisaged bill is part of the Jonathan administration’s transformation agenda aimed at sanitising the nation’s politics. The President believes that this single move, when actualised, will change the face of our politics and accelerate the overall development of our nation. If the proposed amendment is accepted by the National Assembly, the President assures that he will not in any way be a beneficiary”
Not even the claim by the President on Thursday, July 28, 2011 at the PDP’s National Executive Council meeting that the single term idea was not originally his, but that of the 29-member inter-party advisory committee set up by ex-president Umaru Yar’Adua in 2008, was able to placate the antagonists of the proposal. With the benefit of hindsight, given the rancorous debates that have emerged on the 2015 elections, I think the National Assembly and the state Houses of Assembly should unanimously adopt this recommendation. It will be recalled that part of Amaechi’s alleged sins was his touted ambition to run as vice-presidential candidate to Jigawa State Governor, Sule Lamido, in 2015. I believe a single term of six years, given its merits, will help consolidate the country’s democracy.
Some other proposals of the Senate CRC which I endorse include: A mayoral status for the Federal Capital Territory; the separation of office of Attorney-General of the federation office from that of Minister of Justice and office of Attorney-General of a state from that of Commissioner for Justice; granting of local councils full financial autonomy and that allocation of councils being run by non-elected representatives be withheld. Likewise, the dropping of new state creation enjoys my support. I also hope the state Houses of Assembly will not reject the proposed financial autonomy as they did in 2010. The abrogation of the joint account of states and local governments is in order. I also support the removal of some of the items in the overloaded Exclusive List to the Concurrent List. I however vehemently disagree with the proposed life pension for the President, Deputy President of the Senate, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. I equally think that Diaspora voting should have been guaranteed given the enormous financial remittance of Nigerians abroad. I do hope this constitutional amendment will be concluded on schedule in order to give room for adequate sensitisation and implementation ahead of the 2015 polls.