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.
20 days in DSS pits of silence: We must not forget Sowore
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.
Unending nightmare of flooding in Anambra
Flood menace has become a perennial occurrence in Anambra State and the battle seems endless.
Whenever the rainy season approaches, various communities, especially those around the lower River Niger, become apprehensive due to the havoc wrecked by ravaging flood.
They always battle with the high rising waters in their various communities whenever it rains.
A few days ago, heavy flooding submerged several communities in Ogbaru, Anyamelum, Anam and other areas of the lower Niger River, but luckily, there were no records of deaths.
The incessant flooding in these areas are often blamed on poor management of the environment, poor building structures and felling of trees on flood plains.
It was gathered that felling of trees on river plains, construction of structures on water ways are major impediments to the free flow of water, thereby causing siltation.
Last year, over 375, 142 people were affected by flood disaster across 10 local government areas of the state. Out of the numbers, about 18, 144 people were in the category of people in need, while 973 were either injured or sick as a result of the disaster.
Investigation further revealed that Ogbaru Council Area has the highest number of affected persons with 131, 175, followed by Anambra West with 100, 775 while Onitsha South has the least with 1, 005 people.
The secretary of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Idris Abubarkar, recently urged residents of the areas to stop construction of structures on flood plains.
He also advised those in flood prone areas to respect early warning signals by NEMA and move up to higher lands. “A major cause of flooding is the siltation resulting from a number of dams and cutting down of trees on flood paths, so we need dredging and de-siltation so that water can remain in its natural course,” he said.
The Executive Secretary Anambra State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Paul Odenigbo, said the state government has created 28 emergency shelter centres in flood prone areas in case of flooding anytime.
According to him, the 28 emergency shelter centres include six in Anambra West, six in Anambra East, four in Awka North, four in Ogbaru, three in Ihiala, three in Awka South and two in Ekwusigo.
He, however, urged residents to get prepared for emergency evacuation or relocation, in case of flood disaster. Former Chairman of Ogbaru Local Government Area, Arinze Awogu, said
“The flood situation in Ogbaru LGA has continued to take a turn for the worst and we’ve been losing people over the years due flooding.
He called on government to provide them with better equipped hospital to enable them manage the emergency. Worried by the level of flooding in Ogbaru 1 Constituency, Hon Chukwunonso Noble Igwe, who represents the constituency in the Anambra State House of Assembly, urged the state government to intervene quickly to save them from their sufferings.
Igwe said, “The only drainage system to check flood is the Sacamori drain in Okpoko and it is filled up with sand. That drainage is supposed to collect water from some parts of Awada, Fegge and the entire Okpoko down to Idemili River and finally to the River Niger, but for now, the Sacamori is filled up with sand, thereby enabling flood to ravage and destroy peoples’ property and lives.”
He described Ogbaru 1 Constituency as a no-go area because of the magnitude of flood during the rainy season, noting that most government schools in the area are completely non-functional due to flooding.
“Roads reading to Okpoko Boys Secondary School, Okpoko Girls Secondary School, and some other schools are in bad conditions, such that students struggle through rising waters to find their way home whenever it rains.”
Ministerial appointment: The Aregbesola you don’t know – Farouk
I wonder why the nomination of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola for ministerial appointment has been generating, unabated ripples and concomitant reactions across the country.
Nonetheless, the immediate past Osun State governor who was recently screened and cleared by the Senate will, in no distant time, be assigned a befitting portfolio.
But the uncommon consensus amidst a few pockets of unfounded criticisms against him has remained that many stalwarts of his party (APC) and friends hold him in a high esteem, saying he is a versatile and talented go-getter who can do wonders in any ministry or department.
Among his teeming adherents is Comrade Umar Farouk, an APC stalwart and friend of the former governor.
Farouk had recalled that as former Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure in Lagos State, Aregbesola laid the foundation for the infrastructural transformation of Lagos, one of the world’s largest megacities.
Comrade Farouk further noted that Ogbeni Aregbesola is not only an outstanding administrator and leader, but also a consumate grassroots campaigner and mobilizer who would take the NextLevel policy thrust of President Muhammadu Buahri’s administration to all and sundry.
“From my interactions with Ogbeni Aregbesola, I see him as a catalyst that would make that much needed difference that Nigerians yearns for under the Buhari administration. He has the experience and capacity”, Farouk maintained.
Equally commenting on the nomination, Prince Newgent Ekamon, a civil rights activist, described Ogbeni Aregbesola as pro- democrat and fiscal federalism advocate whose impact in government would not ignored.
” I recall that as governor of Osun state, Ogbeni Aregbesola was able to create 20, 000 jobs in his first 100 days and went on to initiate other popular socio-economic and people friendly programmes. This tells us that Nigerians would be the better for it with the coming of Ogbeni Aregbesola as Minister. His vast experience in government and skill would see him hit the ground running. He is not just a technocrat, and astute manager of men and materials, he is also a pro-people politician “, Ekamon affirmed.
A Public Affairs Analyst, Abdulkarim Salihu noted that he sees Ogbeni Ategbesola as team player, tested, trust worthy and loyal whose interest in politics is anchored on delivering life more abundant” to the people. “With his versatility and capacity, he can fit into any ministry and perform creditably”, Salihu argued.
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