By Ochereome Nnanna
DID former President Olusegun Obasanjo commit blasphemy when he spoke at the Leon H. Sullivan Dialogue on Nigeria in Washington DC last week? Let us quote him and reflect appropriately: â€œWith all due respect, if Jesus Christ could come to the world and be the Chairman of the INEC, any election he conducted would be disputedâ€.
Taking this statement at its surface and ordinary meanings, OBJ is saying that Jesus Christ does not possess the character, competence and personal track record of achievement to conduct elections that will not be disputed. That would be blasphemy.
If a White man of British/American background, or a Nelson Mandela, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Kenneth Kaunda, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa or Kwame Nkrumah spoke these words that would be outright blasphemy. They understand the use of English and they speak the language in its standard form. Obasanjo does not have that level of learning.
He speaks that prestigious international language like a typical street African, who translates his native tongue into English as he speaks, thus often saying things that could pass in the native context but which will not among those properly schooled in the use of English.
Obasanjo committed blasphemy without really meaning to. His offence owes more to his inadequacies in the language than intention to commit an expensive sacrilege.
All we need to do to establish this much is to put the statement into context with the rest of what he said. Then, the fuller meaning will come out. He said he had â€œbeen involvedâ€ in elections since 1959, and all of them were disputed.
Therefore, even if Jesus Christ comes to Nigeria to conduct elections employing his heaven-perfect standards, there will be people who will still reject it, perhaps because the outcome did not favour them. For him, a perfect election is neither possible nor necessary, so long as a pollâ€™s outcome reflects the general wishes of the people.
But even if we bleach away the blasphemy factor from Obasanjoâ€™s utterances, his statement is at best a self-serving rationalisation of the evils that he personally infused into our electoral processes during his time, thus adding to an already bad situation.
Yes indeed, disputed elections were responsible for over 90 per cent of the political crises we have suffered in this country. They were responsible for the Western crises, the treasonable felony trials of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his Action Group members, the fall of the First Republic which snowballed into the civil war, the fall of the Second Republic, annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and the quick return to military rule, as well as the crises of legitimacy that have dogged the nascent democracy willed over to Obasanjo by the military as a propitiation over the annulment of June 12.
Electoral results, just like population censuses, are rejected in Nigeria for three major reasons. Number one, the classic reason, is that the British colonialists sowed inequities into the Nigerian political fabric, such that no matter how â€œfree and fairâ€ an election turns out to be, it will not be acceptable because someone is guaranteed to win and rule, while someone is guaranteed to lose and suffer.
The British ensured in 1958 election that the North would produce the nationâ€™s Prime Minister, irrespective of how hard Southern politicians worked to get the plum job. Anyone who is assured of winning no matter what will soon enough become arrogant.
Therefore, the true electoral reform Nigeria needs is the one that will remove these regional inequities and level up opportunities, so that every Nigerian, irrespective of his or her peculiar natural circumstances, can stand for election as president and win, just as Obama did in the USA.
The second reason that elections are rejected in Nigeria is that they have become like war campaigns mounted by well armed mercenaries to capture the public treasury. Whoever is declared winner goes there and uses public funds to hire an army of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) to defend him at the tribunal, while â€œloserâ€ scrapes from his pocket and scrounges from his supporters. Nobody wants to be found in the latter position.
Finally, the third reason that elections are routinely rejected in Nigeria is that those in authority, the ruling party, hijack the institutions that conduct elections and perpetuate themselves in power irrespective of what the public wants.
The ruling class is a self-perpetuating machine. Votes donâ€™t count. During Obasanjoâ€™s time, the ruling PDP perfected electoral fraud and staged charades that knew the answer from the beginning of the process. Everything was pre-arranged to seem like the wishes of the generality of the people.
Let us end this exercise by reminding Obasanjo that, once upon a time, a presidential election was held on June 12, 1993.
Professor Humphrey Nwosu, the Chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) was no Jesus Christ, yet he conducted a poll so widely acclaimed and accepted that when the military annulled it the nation was pushed to the edge of the precipice.
That election was not rejected by the Nigerian people. It was rejected by regional warlords in the military and outside, the â€œfighters for Nigeriaâ€™s unityâ€ who feared that a shift of power to the South would mean the end of the booty and freeloading spree.
Funny enough, Obasanjo was one of those who worked to sustain the annulment. And because Nigeria is not a normal country, Obasanjo benefited from that annulment by being named as the president of Nigeria in lieu of Chief Moshood Abiola.
Any electoral reform that does not address these foundational issues will not result in crisis-free political culture in Nigeria.