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Why votes must count : CODER’s engagement from the rear

By Jide Ajani & Umoru Henry

In another move predicated on a noble objective, some politicians, members of civil society and professionals have again come together to make attempt at setting Nigeria’s democracy on a firm footing insisting that the sanctity of votes is the answer.

Interestingly, a miss-mash of politicians who appear to have lost out in the power struggle now claim to have become born-again democrats and are pushing for this lofty idea.  Will they succeed?  They should because this may be the last frontier in the battle to save Nigeria from itself.  This report takes a critical look at the latest initiative, pointing out the challenges.

Their headdresses symbolised the unity of the objective. From the high table, the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba headdresses were fully on parade. The politicians were in town along with members of the civil society groups, professional and student bodies, as well as religious leaders of the two major faiths. What singular thing could have brought these people together?  Well, it is the issue of voter rights.

After exhibiting colossal serial failure to engage the most basic of democratic tenets, which is the respect for the rights of the voters through the acceptance of the sanctity of votes, they came together to make a meal of it. They should. Not after American President, Barrack Obama lampooned Nigeria’s political class as being unable to democratise fully.

But the question people continue to ask is : What makes for full democracy?  That is where credible elections come in.  That is where the rule of law comes in.  That is where due process comes in.

Every democracy is hinged on the inalienable right of the people to freely choose leaders of their choice.  Incrementally, Nigeria has continued to fail woefully to do this.

And so, last Thursday, at the Ladi Kwali Hall at the Abuja Sheraton Hotel and Towers, another initiative was launched.
Named CODER, which stands for the Coalition of Democrats for Election Reforms, the body seeks to sensitise and mobilize Nigerians. ‘Opposition politicians’ emerged from the launch of CODER with a declaration that a regime of political stability and economic development can only be enthroned in Nigeria when the votes of the people count.

There was also a consensus to the effect that the only alternative to the sanctity of votes in future elections may not be one that would be without violence, stressing that Nigerians were beginning to be very impatient.

Speaking one after the other, the speakers made it clear that the time has come for Nigerians to hold their destiny in their hands.

 INEC chairman Prof. Maurice Iwu and President Musa Yar'Adua
INEC chairman Prof. Maurice Iwu and President Musa Yar'Adua

The Secretary of CODER, Chief Ayo Opadokun, a tested pro-democracy activist, who spoke on behalf of the facilitators of the group, made it clear that “CODER is a non-partisan body and it cuts across party lines.  It is a gathering of Nigerians who want to ensure that peoples vote count at elections.  In this gathering, there are representatives of the Civil Society, Organised labour, Professional Bodies, Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Christian Association of Nigeria, Students, Women, etc, as well as PDP, ANPP, AC, PPA and others”.

According to him, the aim of CODER “is to work together with all other public spirited Nigerians for the purposes of ensuring that key elements of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform recommendations are passed into law by the National Assembly.

“The objective”, Opadokun continued, “is to devise appropriate constitutional, legitimate and democratic means including media campaigns, town meetings and rallies etc, to sanitise, mobilise and educate Nigerians on the desirability of having a much more workable electoral system that will guarantee the sanctity of voters’ wish in Nigeria and that Nigerian peoples vote must count.” (see box). Particularly hard on the polity was Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Muhammadu Buhari who spoke through Alhaji Buba Galadinma. But the day obviously belonged to Tinubu, immediate past governor of Lagos State who played a major role in ensuring that CODER came to light.

Speaker after speaker could not but acknowledge the contributions of Tinubu to the struggle for democracy, a struggle which dates back to 1993 immediately after the annulment of the June 12, presidential elections. Tinubu, a political showman of this era, electrified the hall with his preachments about the state of the nation and the fact that votes should be treated with respect and dignity. Lamenting what he described as a total collapse of democracy in Nigeria, Tinubu said Nigerians “are in bondage; Nigerians are in chains again.  Before, our founding fathers fought and succeeded against colonialism but today what we are confronted with is internal colonialism as a result of military incursion into the arena of governance.

“The second struggle ended in 1999 with the advent of democracy. “The 3rd term issue was a single event struggle which we dealt with and again we won.  “This is the final struggle.  They say to our faces that we can steal your votes, and you can do nothing; we can spit on you and you can do nothing; today we say NO.  We can do so many things”
At this point, with the packed Ladi Kwali Hall at the Abuja Sheraton Hotel and Towers charged, Tinubu then drove in the overkill:  “If we are going to achieve this with our blood so be it” The former Lagos State governor acknowledged that it was not going to be easy but the CODER “is determined to launch in each of the six geo-political zones of the country at a yet to be determined date”.

Before Tinubu delivered his powerful speech yesterday, Buhari, speaking through Galadima, made it clear that the weapon before CODER as a group remains the strong will of the people of Nigeria.

According to him, ‘after this public presentation, the next stage is the use of the will of the people which is a very strong weapon.  And whereas we do not pray for a revolution in this country, recent events point to the fact that Nigerians are not prepared to just take it.  We do not pray for a revolution but our leaders seem to be pushing us in that direction”.

Galadima, who made it clear that whatever he said should be taken as coming from General Buhari, admitted that “we may not have the electoral reforms of our dreams”, explaining that “we may have the best laws, we may have the best personnel, we may have the best arrangement but if the will to do what is right is not there, then we have a problem”, pointing out that “we do not have any other country we can call our own except Nigeria”. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Bello Masari, said the first thing to do is “to ensure that every vote counts”.

Masari acknowledged the arduous nature of the task of electoral reforms when he said “the Muhammed Lawal Uwais report of electoral reforms, which is the peg of what we are saying may not be carried through except we amend the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  It is not going to be easy.  It is a very serious thing.  You need consistent people.  It is not enough to say we are doing this or we are doing that, what matters is the presence of consistent people.

Majority of Nigerians support the Uwais report but the if we allow selfish things to creep into constitution amendment, without focusing on the Uwais report which specifically deals with electoral reforms, we might begin to look for other alternatives to making the votes count”.

Audu Ogbeh, former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, said it was high time that Nigerians took their destiny in their hands.  He said Nigerians were used to speaking and doing nothing but that “this is the time when we should rise up and be counted for a worthy cause”.

Although preparations for the public presentation of CODER had been on for months, Thursday marked its first public outing.

In his welcome address, chairman of the occasion, Alhaji Iro Abubakar Dan Musa, said the engagement being proposed by CODER “deviates from the attitude of Nigerian elites who complain without taking appropriate and timely action.  In the case of CODER, the facilitators have complained and have now gathered to take appropriate action. We expect maximum support and cooperation from Nigerians”.

Dan Musa reminded the audience that “this meeting is not for partisan politics.  It is about Nigeria – its democracy, social justice, stability and economic wellbeing.  As we can see, the National Assembly is already throwing away the draft bills on Electoral reforms submitted by the President.

Consequently, there is a possibility that we may end-up with no electoral reforms at all which means 2011 election will be in jeopardy as it will face crisis of legitimacy.  That is why we, concerned Nigerians, have gathered to provide credible alternative based on the Justice Uwais electoral reform recommendations.”

Chairman of CODER’s Technical Committee, former Edo State governor, Chief John Odigie Oyegun made it clear that “CODER  is not anti-government; CODER is not an opposition gathering; CODER simply wants votes to count. The different speakers at yesterday’s public presentation included the following: Lagos State governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN; President of the National Council for Women’s Societies, NCWS, Ramatu Usman; Senator Ben Obi, AC Vice Presidential candidate; Professor Awwalu Yadudu, former adviser to General Sani Abacha on legal matters. In his welcome address, chairman of the occasion, Alhaji Iro Abubakar Dan Musa, said the engagement being proposed by CODER “deviates from the attitude of Nigerian elites who complain without taking appropriate and timely action.  In the case of CODER, the facilitators have complained and have now gathered to take appropriate action. We expect maximum support and cooperation from Nigerians”.

Although the event attracted quite a number of politicians, the question some observers asked was that had these politicians found accommodation in the present administration, would they have ventured into this project. Whereas there is need to make the votes count, the reality on ground is that politicians are the main culprits because on election day, they send their agents out to cause commotion with a view to rigging elections.

Aims
To work together with all other public spirited Nigerians for the purposes of ensuring that key elements of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform recommendations are passed into law by the national Assembly.

Objective
To devise appropriate constitutional, legitimate and democratic means including media campaigns, town meetings and rallies etc, to sanitise, mobilise and educate Nigerians on the desirability of having a much more workable electoral system that will guarantee the sanctity of voters’ wish in Nigeria and that Nigerian peoples vote must count.

Strategy
1: To set up state and zonal committees for the purposes of education, sensitization and mobilization of Nigerians on the urgent need for full implementation of key recommendations of Justice Uwais recommendations;
2: To collect signatures at local and state levels with coordination at the national level in support of the full implementation of Justice Uwais recommendations through legislation; and
3: To adopt and endorse the key Uwais recommendations in form of a private member bill for presentation to the National Assembly.”

Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, former Lagos State governor
We are in bondage; Nigerians are in chains again.  Our founding fathers fought and succeeded against colonialism but today we are confronted with internal colonialism as a result of military incursion into the arena of governance.  The second struggle ended in 1999 with the advent of democracy.

The 3rd term issue was a single event struggle which we dealt with and again we won.   This is the final struggle.  They say to our faces that we can steal your votes, and you can do nothing; we can spit on you and you can do nothing; today we say NO.  We can do so many things. If we are going to achieve this with our blood so be it.

Alhaji Buba Galadima (Speaking for General Muhammadu Buhari)
After this public presentation, the next stage is the use of the will of the people which is a very strong weapon.  And whereas we do not pray for a revolution in this country, recent events point to the fact that Nigerians are not prepared to just take it.

We do not pray for a revolution but our leaders seem to be pushing us in that direction.  We may not have the electoral reforms of our dreams; we may have the best laws; we may have the best personnel, we may have the best arrangement but if the will to do what is right is not there, then we have a problem.  We do not have any other country we can call our own except Nigeria

Aminu Bello Masari, former Speaker of the House of Representatives
The first thing to do is to ensure that every vote counts.  The Uwais report on electoral reforms may not be carried through except we amend the constitution.  It is not enough to say we are doing this or we are doing that, what matters is the presence of consistent people.  Majority of Nigerians supports the Uwais report but if we allow selfish things to creep into constitution amendment, without focusing on electoral reforms, we might begin to look for other alternatives to making the votes count.

Ramatu Usman, President of the National Council for Women’s Societies, NCWS
Our problem in Nigeria is elections. If we elect bad managers who do not meet basic managerial standards, what you end up with is bad management.

That is why we should ensure that we elect managers who are good.  Our leaders have failed us and we have failed ourselves.  The Justice Uwais report is the answer.  It has taken care of so many things. We have people with brains and we have brainless people.  President Yar’Adua as an individual means well but some people are dragging him down.

Alhaji Abubakar Iro Dan Musa

This meeting is not for partisan politics.  It is about Nigeria. As we can see, the National Assembly is already throwing away the draft bills on Electoral reforms submitted by the President. Consequently, there is a possibility that we may end-up with no electoral reforms at all which means 2011 election will be in jeopardy as it will face crisis of legitimacy.  That is why we, concerned Nigerians, have gathered to provide credible alternative based on the Justice Uwais electoral reform recommendations.

CODER in brief
Membership
*Civil Society Groups
*Organised labour
*Professional Bodies
*Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs
*Christian Association of Nigeria
*Student Bodies
*Women’s groups
*Members of political parties

Roll Call
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, former Lagos State governor
Chief John Oyegun, Former Edo State governor
Alhaji Lam Adesina, Fomer Oyo State governor
Ben Obi, Former Action Congress Vice Presidential Candidate
Dr. Usman Bugaje, former AC Governorship candidate
Alhaji Umar Ghali Nabba, former, Federal House of Representatives
Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari, Former Speaker, House of Representatives
Senator Mamora
Senator Gwadabe
NCWS President, Ramatu Usman
Saadatu Saad
Audu Ogbeh
Prof. Awwalu Yadudu
Ayo Opadokun
Deputy governor of Bauchi State
Mrs Beatrice Okonkwo(Rep. of Peter Obi of Anambra state)
Professor Adenike Grange
Professor Adebayo Williams
Abike Dabiri
Richard Akinola
Senator Adefuye
Alhaji Abubakar Galadima(Representative of Muhammadu Buhari),
Hon Abdulhakeen Abdulfatai, rep Gov Fashola
Chief Abiodun Ogunleye
Alhaji Maina Waziri
Alhaji Ibrahim Hassan
Hon. Wale Oshun
Hon Jumoke Okoya
Hon Kako Are
Dr Kayode Fayemi
Alhaji Rauf Aregbesola
Alhaji Iro Dan Musa
Mr Dele Alake
Mr Tunji Bello
Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora
Senator Ganiu Solomon
Prince Tajudeen Olusi
Alhaji Maina Waziri
Chief John Odigie-Oyegun
Mrs. Funmi Olayinka
Senator Tony Adefuye
Chief Henry Ajomale
Senator Bode Ola
Alhaji Lam Adesina
Alhaji Tajudeen Olusi
Alhaji Olatunji Hamzat
Rev. Tunji Adebiyi
Dr Stanley Macebuh
Alhaji Ibrahim Hassan
Alhaji Yahaya Kwande
Chief Adeyemi Ikuforiji
Mr Emma Ezeazu
Alabo Idaminabo
Solomon Ewuga
Alhaji Suleiman Argungu
Innocent Chukwuma
Mike Igini
Comrade S.O.Z. Ejiofor


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