Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let’s not scuttle this democracy!

I have a warning for the Nigerian politicians: Take care not to scuttle this democracy. This Fourth Republic did not come on a platter. When Gen. Ibrahim Babangida annulled the June 12 presidential election, civil disobedience ensued. As the citizens protested, lives were lost, properties destroyed and many activists had to go on exile. Since the return of democracy in 1999, after the military interregnum, we have successfully had four general elections in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011. The quality of those elections is debatable but nevertheless we are making progress in deepening our democratic culture.
We are at the threshold of conducting another general elections; the fifth in this Fourth Republic. However, the way and manner our politicians are going about their campaigns are discomforting. Once again, primordial sentiments are being raked up in order to get some political advantage. Religion, ethnicity, gender, social status and academic qualification are being projected as dominant issues during campaigns rather than developmental issues such as how they intend to address unemployment, poverty, corruption, infrastructural deficit, security, education, health and agriculture, etc.
In the last couple of weeks, the media including the social media have been awash with all manner of falsehood, half-truth, labelling, and unreasonable demands such as the call for postponement of the elections scheduled for February 14 and 28. Recently, some elements came up with news story about one Ibime Belema-Jonathan, a 24-year-old native of Nembe, Baylesa State who allegedly claimed to be President Jonathan’s “out-of-wedlock” son. This was debunked by the Presidency through the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati. He emphatically said that the President does not have any illegitimate son by whatever name, and dismissed the report, calling it a cheap propaganda from the opposition party.
The gossips were not done yet. They alleged that ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo said that President Goodluck Jonathan did not complete his PhD thesis. They quoted him as saying, “Even Jonathan did not finish his PhD course but when it was presented, we stated that it does not matter but many people do not know because it was a PDP thing.” However, the President later released a photocopy of his certificate while the University of Port Harcourt where he graduated has also come out in his strong defence. The UNIPORT Deputy Registrar (Information), Dr. William Wodi, was quoted as saying, “The authorities of the University of Port Harcourt are aware of rumours that are now spreading like harmattan fire over the doctoral degree status of President Goodluck Jonathan. The allegations have neither legs nor grounds to stand on and we hope that its purveyors will now rest in silence.”
The All Progressives Congress presidential candidate, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, had suffered more attacks on his person among all the 14 presidential candidates for next month’s election. Though this is his fourth attempt, having been contesting the same position since 2003, a visitor to this country will think he is a debutant presidential candidate. What has not been raked up about the man from Daura? A medical report purportedly from Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital was “manufactured” in which Buhari was alleged to have “prostate cancer”. Perhaps, it’s on that basis that the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, hinged his infamous advertorial calling on Nigerians not to vote for Buhari.
This assertion of cancer was later found to be a hoax. According to the Director, Media and Publicity of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, Garba Shehu, “This is the highest point of political distraction, malice and mischief. The report was not only fake but unfounded. I have spoken to impeccable sources at ABUTH all of whom deny the report and also claimed that the letterhead used was not their regular one, and that Dr. Bala Mohammed that purportedly approved the false medical report is not on the personnel list of that department.” In another vein, some individuals have been calling for the disqualification of Buhari on the basis that he does not have the requisite basic qualifications. When his school in Katsina produced his West Africa Secondary School Certificate result, they later claimed it was forged. The Jonathan campaign organisation even went further to call for the withdrawal of his rank from the army as well as prosecution for perjury. Well, the APC has said anyone who has issues with Buhari’s qualification should go to court.
That admonition has been heeded by an Abuja-based lawyer, Mr. Chike Okafor. He has asked a Federal High Court to disqualify the APC candidate from contesting the 2015 presidential election. Okafor claimed that Buhari failed to prove that he had the minimum educational qualification to run for President. He further claimed that Buhari’s affidavit that he possessed WASC was false, as not only did he not attach it to his nomination form, as compulsorily required, but his claim that the certificates were in the custody of the military had been denied by the Director of Army Public Relations, Brig Gen. Olajide Laleye. My take on this issue is that the court should make a final pronouncement on this matter and expeditiously too.
Aside from the certificate and medical issues, Buhari has been accused of dictatorship, corruption, bigotry, senility, and all what not. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not against scrutiny of our political leaders. What rankles me are the unfounded allegations aimed at tarnishing the reputation of these leaders. This Pull Him Down syndrome is anti-development. Maligning and assassinating the character of people should not be encouraged under any guise. Quite unfortunately, in a bid to gain upper hand in the coming elections, we have dragged religious and military institutions into the political fray.   Churches have now become campaign grounds much against the letter and spirit of our electoral law which forbid such. Conflicting “prophecies” are daily being made by our religious leaders about who shall be the next president of Nigeria. This is not good enough. Our military and other security agencies appear to be showing traits of partisanship when they ought to be apolitical.
Now, the strident call by some political stakeholders for a shift in the polls baffles me. If this call is being masterminded by the Independent National Electoral Commission, I would understand. However, for individuals and organisations which have no business in election administration turning themselves into advocates of election postponement is incredible. Just like the infamous Association for Better Nigeria of 1993, a group named Nigerian Hopes Alive Project on Monday blocked the INEC headquarters in Abuja demanding the shifting of polls by 60 days. INEC as of last Friday, January 23, said it was ready to conduct the polls and that all the resources it needed had been given to it. On the Permanent Voter Cards distribution debacle, the commission had said that the PVC would be distributed till the eve of the presidential election. Shouldn’t all these assurances from INEC lay to rest the call for election shift? I do hope, very sincerely too, that the debacle of 1993 is not about to repeat itself. We need to safeguard this democracy. Let the polls go on as scheduled or else we may be paving the way for anarchy and the military to seize power.
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