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Editorial/Opinion

Presidential election: Victory without honour

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The presidential and National Assembly elections conducted last Saturday, February 23, 2019, were a sham. The headlines tell the sad story of a nation whose citizens lined up to participate in important national elections but found to their dismay the outbreak of warfare, extreme violence, callous killings, open snatching of ballot boxes, free transportation of ballot papers already thumb-printed, and exchange of angry words by voters. Why is it difficult for Nigeria to organise credible and peaceful elections that African countries conduct without too much fighting or spilling of blood? We are a democratic country in name only.

In a research paper he published 14 years ago, Jesper Strömbäck (2005, p. 333) identified five core elements that are used to determine whether a country should be regarded as democratic. These involve checking to see whether: “(1) political decision-makers are elected by the people in free, fair and frequent elections, (2) there is freedom of expression, of the press and of information, (3) citizenship is inclusive, (4) everyone has the right to form and join organisations of their own choosing, and (5) society is law-governed.”

In each of these considerations or parameters, you can see that Nigeria does not qualify to be identified as a genuine democracy. Here is why. Our political decision-makers are not elected in free, fair, and credible elections. This was demonstrated clearly by what happened during last weekend’s elections. Freedom of expression and of the press is highly constrained in the country, even as we proclaim proudly the enactment of the 2011 Freedom of Information Act. Citizenship is far from inclusive in a highly fractured and polarised country in which citizens feel they are alienated by a president who believes that only his kinsmen and people from his region are qualified to be appointed into the cabinet and as heads of top security agencies. Far from being law-governed, there is widespread breakdown of law and order. Impunity by top government officials is rife in the society, and disrespect for court judgements is common.

During last Saturday’s elections, everything that ought not to go wrong went horribly wrong. All the elements associated with flawed elections in a failed state occurred before, during, and after the presidential and National Assembly elections. Regardless of who emerges victorious in the presidential election, the selection of candidates was done in an environment that was not fair, free, peaceful, and credible. The integrity of the elections has been shredded.

Across the country, voters were confronted with innumerable challenges that ranged from the inability of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct elections as and when scheduled, widespread violence that resulted in unnecessary loss of lives, and thugs who chased voters away from polling booths. There were indiscriminate shootings at some voting centres. There were problems with card readers that failed to work and voters advised illegally to go home rather than hang around till the problem was fixed. In various polling centres, election officials and voting material arrived late. In some other places, accreditation of voters started much later than scheduled. The integrity of the elections was destroyed when some criminals were caught with thumb-printed ballot papers, an illegal act that violated the election rules. There were many other irregularities that marred the credibility of the elections.

The scale of these abuses is beyond doubt. Thanks to digital technology, alternative media, bloggers, citizen journalists, and online forums, there was extensive and undisputed video evidence of violence, disruption of the election process, ballot boxes stuffed with illegal thumb-printed ballot papers, and security officials watching while irate youth bashed supporters of different political parties. The videos were recorded and circulated live as voters were harassed at various polling booths. The videos provide eye-witness accounts of how the elections were disrupted, how the rules were breached and thrashed, and how voting in some places was abandoned.

Pre-polling advice and public information campaigns by INEC and the government encouraged eligible voters to turn out in large numbers to cast their votes for their preferred presidential candidates, as well as their preferred candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives. Voters conformed to the advice and trooped to various voting centres. It was in some of these polling centres that some voters, unfortunately, were attacked, hunted like feral animals, shot at, and killed.

The elections were not designed to portray voters as inherently violent and unlawful. But that was what the elections turned out to achieve. The elections were not peaceful. They turned into a do-or-die affair, an utterly reckless exercise in which politicians and political parties were determined to risk everything in order to achieve their lifelong ambition. What a shame!

We pride ourselves as a democratic nation but during elections we display the animal instincts in all of us. We admire the freedoms enjoyed by citizens in democratic countries but we moan about the widespread abuses in our own system that serves as the hallmark of the authoritarian system of government we practice. We pretend to be a democracy. The manipulations and abuses that marked last week’s elections have done incalculable damage to the image of Nigeria.

Over the years, elections in Nigeria have not offered a level playing field to all political candidates. The successful candidates are often second-rate but they possess the financial strength and the support of thugs who are paid to disrupt voting. In many cases, the candidates who are qualified, popular, and preferred by voters never get to scale the hurdle.

There are certain traditions that follow the announcement of the winner of a presidential election. The losers almost certainly would express their intention to challenge the outcomes of the election at the election petition tribunals and in most cases up to the Supreme Court. Legal challenges can be long, tiring, expensive, and gruelling. In 2015, former President Goodluck Jonathan went against convention when he accepted defeat rather than contest the results of the election. Jonathan demonstrated a unique character trait, in particular courage that is hard to find among African political leaders. For that statesmanship, Jonathan was praised at home and abroad because his action ensured a smooth transition of power from a defeated incumbent president to the opposition candidate.

In 2019, given the massive infractions of the electoral laws, in the face of all the video evidence of widespread violence, electoral malpractices, and misconduct by election officials, you can be sure that at least one of the losers of this year’s presidential election would challenge the results. Between 2015 and 2019, the environments are different. The leading opposition presidential candidate is also different. Thanks to video evidence, there is more ammunition with which the losers can mount a challenge at the tribunals and the courts. Whether the challenger would succeed at the Supreme Court remains uncertain. These are interesting times in Nigerian politics.

For the winner of the presidential election, there is really no honour in victory. Victory may have been achieved but it is not a triumph that attracts respect. Everyone knows how the election was won and lost.

Editorial/Opinion

Atiku 2019: Bumpy road of a presidential hopeful

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The presidential election petition tribunal has given its verdict in the petition brought by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Atiku Abubakar challenging the February 23 election won by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Buhari was declared winner with 15,191,847 votes while Abubakar came second with 11,262,978 votes.

Buhari also won the election in most of Nigeria’s States as well as met the constitutional requirement of at least 25 per cent of votes in 24 states.

The PDP, which had ruled Nigeria for 16 years before 2015, challenged the election results on many grounds.

The PDP and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, had argued that the ruling APC connived with government institutions like the electoral umpire, INEC, and security officers to rig the election in favour of Buhari.

The PDP also alleged that INEC manipulated the results and that original results sent to an INEC ‘server’ electronically by electoral officials showed a PDP victory. The PDP and Abubakar sought access to the server.

The party also alleged massive non-compliance with election guidelines in a majority of the polling units.

The PDP further challenged the emergence of Buhari as a candidate for the elections on the grounds that he failed to meet educational qualifications to contest the election.

The petition was filed on March 18, about 177 days ago.

According to section of the electoral act, a petition of this nature must be determined before the expiration of 180 days.

Although the petition was filed on March 18, hearing into the main issues did not commence till July 3.

The hearings had partly been delayed because of an objection raised by the PDP against the leadership of the panel as earlier constituted under the leadership of the Court of Appeal President, Zainab Bulkachuwa.

The PDP cited the active membership of Mrs Bulkachuwa’s husband, Mohammed Bulkachuwa, and son, in the APC, as reasons for their objection.

The petitioners also alleged that a statement made by Mrs Bulkachuwa at the opening session of the tribunal suggested that ”she had taken a stand in favour of the APC when she submitted that elections were bound to result in a dispute no matter how properly conducted.”

Following that objection by the petitioners, Mrs Bulkachuwa recused herself. This resulted in the emergence of Garba Mohammed as the chairman of the tribunal.

Subsequently, on July 3, the PDP began its hearing and presented 62 witnesses to support its claim.

Among the witnesses presented by the PDP was the media adviser and spokesperson for Abubakar, Segun Showunmi; a former ally of President Buhari, Buba Gamadima and a former aviation minister, Osita Chidoka who appeared as the last witness among others.

The PDP also showed a video clip where an INEC resident electoral commissioner from Bayelsa State, Mike Igini, made comments related to the central server which the petitioners believed was in support of their claim.

According to the video, Igini submitted the election results would be transmitted through a central server, a point alluded by the petitioners in their request.

The APC reacted to the deposition of the video evidence by producing a similar video clip where the INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, debunked claims regarding the server.

The PDP had named INEC, Buhari and the APC as respondents in the suit.

Consequently, the respondents made several applications also challenging the petition by the PDP.

The first respondent, namely INEC, questioned the validity of the PDP petition ”because it did not include Vice President Yemi Osinbajo whom INEC described as a necessary party to the matter”.

But in a ruling on the issues, the tribunal said section 137 (2) of the constitution does not imply that Mr Osinbajo is a necessary party to the suit.

According to the court, the section mentioned above was specific in its mention of those to be categorised as parties to a petition.

They include: “the candidate in an election, the political party who participated in an election,” among others.

“It is the conclusion in the judgement that running mates to an election are not a necessary party,” the court ruled.

The tribunal then dismissed the application filed by INEC.

The court also dismissed an application by INEC suggesting that the PDP petition was not properly attested to, by the lead counsel, Levi Uzoukwu.

The five-member panel then decided against a submission by the APC that the claims concerning President Buhari’s certificate were pre-election in nature and should not have been raised as part of the PDP’s petition.

According to the court, section 138 which focused on the educational requirements for contesting ”did not refer to the issues raised in the section as pre-election in nature”.

Regarding the allegation that Buhari was not qualified to contest in the first place, the court ruled that there was sufficient evidence before it to conclude that President Buhari ”was not only qualified but that he was eminently qualified to have contested the election”.

The PDP challenged Buhari’s results on the grounds that the Cambridge University and the West African Examination Council copies of the result contained a number of discrepancies including the spellings of Mr Buhari’s name.

“There is no doubt the second respondent is not only qualified but is also eminently qualified.”

The court also said Buhari ”is not the maker of his certificate, and there is nothing to show that the errors in the names of Buhari as indicated on the certificates from Cambridge and WAEC implied that the certificate did not belong to Mr Buhari”.

“I am of the opinion that whether it is Muhammadu Buhari with a U and Mohammed Buhari with an O, they relate to the same person,” the court ruled.

In another application by INEC challenging the PDP’s failure to name the security operatives as parties to the election, the court ruled that INEC was right in submitting that the PDP ought to have included the security officers mentioned in the petition.

The PDP had argued that the government rigged the election by deploying security operatives to disrupt the proper conduct of the elections.

Reading through the section of the petition regarding the controversies surrounding the alleged use of a central server, the court noted that the PDP had said that Section 9 of the Electoral Act was amended in 2015.

“The issue is: Can it truly be said that the section amended actually empowered INEC to transmit election results electronically?

“The court only has a duty to interpret the law. The court has no power to amend the law.”

The court read out the import of the provision. It stated that Section 22 (a) does not provide for electronic transmission of results.

The court then read through other sections of the law.

“It is undeniable that the transmission of election result is manual at different and all levels of the elections at different stages from the states to the national level.

“There is no provision authorising the first respondent or any of its officers to transfer election results to any of the servers. There is also nothing allowing the first respondents to use the smart card reader for the collation of results.

“I’m not aware that the card reader machine has replaced the voters’ register,” the court ruled.

Regarding the allegation that the election was marred with widespread irregularities, the court said the petitioners pleaded ”that so many of their agents were situated in various polling units and that members of the first respondents connived with security agents to conduct massive rigging”.

“They also alleged that no real voting took place in Dekina Local Government Area, among others,” the judge said.

The judge, however, added that the ”PDP failed to call the polling unit agents who would have testified that they were arrested harassed or affected by the violence pictured by the petitioners.”

“There is no admissible evidence on record to support the petitioner’s allegations,” the court ruled.

Subsequently, the court decided that the PDP had failed to satisfactorily prove its allegation and dismissed the petition in its entirety.

All the panel members agreed with the lead judgement.

For Abubakar and his party, the next option will now be to head to the Supreme Court for legal redress.

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Zimbabwe’s Mugabe: from liberator to oppressor

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Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe was feted as an African liberation hero and champion of racial reconciliation when he first came to power in a nation divided by nearly a century of white colonial rule.

Nearly four decades later, many at home and abroad denounced him as a power-obsessed autocrat willing to unleash death squads, rig elections and trash the economy in the relentless pursuit of control.

Mugabe, who died in Singapore aged 95, was ultimately ousted by his own armed forces in November 2017.

He demonstrated his tenacity – some might say stubbornness – to the last, refusing to accept his expulsion from his own ZANU-PF party and clinging on for a week until parliament started to impeach him after the de facto coup.

His resignation triggered wild celebrations across the country of 13 million.

For Mugabe, it was an “unconstitutional and humiliating” act of betrayal by his party and people, and left him a broken man.

Confined for the remaining years of his life between Singapore where he was receiving medical treatment and his sprawling “Blue Roof” mansion in Harare, an ailing Mr Mugabe could only observe from afar the political stage where he once strode tall.

He was bitter to the end over the manner of his exit.

On the eve of the July 2018 election, the first without him, he told reporters he would vote for the opposition, something unthinkable only a few months before.

Educated and urbane, Mugabe took power in 1980 after seven years of a liberation bush war and – until the army’s takeover – was the only leader Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, knew since independence from Britain.

But as the economy imploded starting from 2000 and his mental and physical health waned, Mugabe found fewer people to trust as he seemingly smoothed a path to succession for his wife, Grace, four decades his junior and known to her critics as “Gucci Grace” for her reputed fondness for luxury shopping.

Born on February 21, 1924, on a Roman Catholic mission near Harare, Mr Mugabe was educated by Jesuit priests and worked as a primary school teacher before going to South Africa’s University of Fort Hare, then a breeding ground for African nationalism.

Returning to then-Rhodesia in 1960, he entered politics but was jailed for a decade four years later for opposing white rule.

When his infant son died of malaria in Ghana in 1966, Mugabe was denied parole to attend the funeral, a decision by the government of white-minority leader Ian Smith that historians say played a part in explaining Mugabe’s subsequent bitterness.

After his release, he rose to the top of the powerful Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, known as the “thinking man’s guerrilla” on account of his seven degrees, three of them earned behind bars.

Later, as he crushed his political enemies, he boasted of another qualification: “a degree in violence”.

After the war ended in 1980, Mugabe was elected the nation’s first black prime minister.

“You have inherited a jewel in Africa. Don’t tarnish it,” Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere told him during the independence celebrations in Harare.

Initially, Mugabe offered forgiveness and reconciliation to old foreign and domestic adversaries, including Mr Smith, who remained on his farm and continued to receive a government pension.

In his early years, he presided over a booming economy, spending money on roads and dams and expanding schooling for black Zimbabweans as part of a wholesale dismantling of the racial discrimination of colonial days.

With black and white tension easing, by the mid-1980s many whites who had fled to Britain or South Africa, then still under the yoke of apartheid, were trying to come home.

But it was not long before Mugabe began to suppress challengers, including liberation war rival Joshua Nkomo.

Faced with a revolt in the mid-1980s in the western province of Matabeleland that he blamed on Nkomo, Mugabe sent in North Korean-trained army units, provoking an international outcry over alleged atrocities against civilians.

Human rights groups say 20,000 people died, most of them from the minority Ndebele tribe from which Nkomo’s partisans were largely drawn.

The discovery of mass graves prompted accusations of genocide.

After two terms as prime minister, Mr Mugabe tightened his grip on power by changing the constitution, and he became president in 1987. His first wife, Sally, who had been seen by many as the only person capable of restraining him, died in 1992.

A turning point came at the end of the decade when Mugabe, by now a leader unaccustomed to accommodating the will of the people, suffered his first major defeat at the hands of voters, in a referendum on another constitution.

He blamed his loss on the white minority, chastising them as “enemies of Zimbabwe”.

Days later, a groundswell of black anger at the slow pace of land reform started boiling over and gangs of black Zimbabweans calling themselves war veterans started to overrun white-owned farms.

Mugabe’s response was uncompromising, labelling the invasions a correction of colonial injustices.

“Perhaps we made a mistake by not finishing the war in the trenches,” he said in 2000.

“If the settlers had been defeated through the barrel of a gun, perhaps we would not be having the same problems.”

The farm seizures helped ruin one of Africa’s most dynamic economies, with a collapse in agricultural foreign exchange earnings unleashing hyperinflation.

The economy shrank by more than a third from 2000 to 2008, sending unemployment above 80 per cent. Several million Zimbabweans fled, mostly to South Africa.

Brushing aside criticism, Mugabe portrayed himself as a radical African nationalist competing against racist and imperialist forces in Washington and London.

The country hit rock bottom in 2008 when 500 billion per cent inflation drove people to support the challenge of Western-backed former union leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Facing defeat in a presidential run-off, Mugabe resorted to violence, forcing Tsvangirai to withdraw after scores of his supporters were killed by ZANU-PF thugs.

South Africa, Zimbabwe’s neighbour to the south, squeezed the pair into a fractious unity coalition but the compromise belied Mugabe’s grip on power through his continued control of the army, police and secret service.

As old age crept in and rumours of cancer intensified, his animosity toward Tsvangirai eased and the two men enjoyed weekly meetings over tea and scones, in a nod to Mugabe’s affection for British traditions.

On the eve of the 2013 election, Mugabe dismissed cries of autocracy and likened dealing with Tsvangirai to sparring in the ring.

“Although we boxed each other, it’s not as hostile as before,” he told reporters.

Even as he spoke, Mugabe’s agents were busy finalizing plans to engineer an election victory through manipulation of the voters’ roll, according to the Tsvangirai camp.

It was typical of Mugabe’s ability to out-think – and if necessary out-fight – his opponents, a trait that drew grudging respect from even his sternest critics.

Writing in a 2007 cable released by WikiLeaks, then-U.S. ambassador to Harare Christopher Dell reflected the views of many: “To give the devil his due, he is a brilliant tactician.”

(Reuters/NAN)

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20 days in DSS pits of silence: We must not forget Sowore

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It has been 20 weary days since Omoyele Sowore was taken into a hovel of silence by the DSS. The outrage over his abduction and detention is tapering off; dissolving with every quotidian day.

It is human nature to quickly glide past shock, happenstance or pain after sometime, but in Sowore’s case we must bring this weakness into capitulation and into conformity with the realities of our country. Sowore could have elected to stay in the US, where he is a citizen, and enjoy the salubrity of a well-managed country.

He could have chosen to clink glasses and drink champagne with the predatory ‘’owners’’ of Nigeria. He had no insular reason to call for a protest; he was well-off, managing successful businesses. But like Buddha who abandoned prince-hood, Sowore traipsed an uneasy path to awaken Nigerians to the duty of taking charge of their destiny.

Sowore is not an activist with pretensions of glory. He has been an unrelenting advocate of good governance, freedom and human rights since the early nineties. He led the students’ struggle against the June 12 abomination and lived in the trenches fending off military bullets with words of hope, passion and defiance.

The DSS has filed five charges which border on treason against him. The secret police say he ‘’planned to violently overthrow the government through a protest; he planned to join forces with the Shiite group to bring down the government; he planned to mislead the public to overthrow the government, and that he formed an alliance with Nnamdi Kanu to launch attacks on Nigeria and topple the government’’.

I believe the DSS in truth knows these charges are farcical. But it appears ‘’farcicality’’ has become the job description of the service. Since 2016, when the residences of judges were invaded in the dead of night and since when Nigerians who criticise the government are abducted, the secret police has become accomplished in ludicrity.

It has become a norm to arrest citizens and rustle-up jocular charges to keep them shut out of civilisation. ‘’Threat to national security’’ is now a password for neutralising citizens and keeping them locked up indefinitely.

As I said in a previous essay, the DSS must evolve. It should not be suspended in a militarised past. The agency must serve citizens’ interest and not regime interest. It must understand civil protest or the call for it is democratic.

And what is the endgame in keeping Sowore? How is he a threat to national security, really? Why are the real threats to our security rehabilitated, negotiated with and pampered with promises?

There are speculations that the regime is exacting punishment on him for being critical of the government. His news platform, Saharareporters is not letting up in publishing reports that agents of the government find abrasive. So, for them, it is about taking a pound of flesh.

The DSS is a critical security agency that must not lend itself to the neurotic pursuits of any regime. The detention of Sowore, an ex-presidential candidate, is reminiscent of an ‘era of tears, sorrow and blood’ in Nigeria; a crimson season of oppression and suppression.

Over the years, the secret police has racked up abysmally poor human rights records, and its perception by most Nigerians, judging by widespread condemnations, is of dread and scorn. This should not be the case.

This is a time secret services across the world are becoming open, humane, civil and cordial. Even the CIA, which in the past was dreaded and considered a ‘’dangerous’’ organisation has evolved. Our own secret police should not remain in a jackbooted past. Secret services today are not to be feared, but respected and cooperated with.

Also, the DSS should not be political police. Governments will come and go, but the service will remain. The integrity of the agency and its perception by Nigerians should matter to it. The agency exists for Nigerians; it must serve and protect them.

The DSS must know that releasing Sowore will be a step in redeeming its image.


@FredrickNwabufo

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