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Bello, a rebel with a cause

By Our Correspondent
MR. Bukhari Bello, presently the subject of speculations for the chairmanship of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has a history of rebellion to the very system that has upheld electoral fraud in Nigeria.

Before he was appointed and subsequently dismissed as Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Buhari had set himself on the positive side of history with his quiet but determined opposition to the ploys of anti-democratic forces to sabotage the conduct of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.

As Director of Legal Services of the then National Electoral Commission, NEC, Buhari was a quiet but resolute force in checking the perceived moves of then Attorney General of the Federation Clement Akmagbo and those allegedly aligned with him to frustrate the conduct of the election.

Mr. Bukhari Bello

Bello’s proclivity to democratic tenets, however, became pronounced during the Obasanjo civilian era when he turned the Human Rights Commission from being an apologist of the ruling government into a critical articulator analyst of government human rights violations.

A year into his second five year tenure at the NHRC in 2006, Buhari was unceremoniously dismissed from his job for the commission’s sharp criticism of the detention of the broadcast journalist Gbenga Aruleba by the federal authorities.

He was returned to the Ministry of Justice as a bureaucrat and had remained largely out of the public eye until the recent speculations of his appointment as Chairman of INEC, an organization where he left a legacy of astuteness.
Professor Humphrey Nwosu, the chairman of the NEC in his book on the election published in 2008 spoke effusively of Mr. Bello’s steadfastness against the antics of the anti-June 12 strategists.

Recounting how he found Buhari a useful ally after he was reportedly shut out by then President Ibrahim Babangida in the midst of the bedlam just before June 12, 1993, Nwosu in his book titled “Laying the foundation For Nigeria’s Democracy: My Account of June 12, 1993 Presidential election and Its Annulment”, said:

“As I was unable to contact the President, I decided to visit the residence of the Attorney General of the Federation. On my arrival, he appeared surprised, as he was not expecting me. He was conferring with Barrister Philip Umeadi, SAN, who was the same counsel for Abimbola Davis and his ‘Association for Better Nigeria’.

“Immediately Barrister Umeadi, an experienced Senior Advocate of Nigeria who knew me very well, saw me, he uttered, ‘Humphrey, I do not want to do anything with NEC,’ and left me alone with the Attorney-General of the Federation. He entered one of the rooms in the Attorney-General’s residence,” he said.

Transition to civil rule programme

Nwosu said Akpamgbo assured him that the elections would hold, saying: “He informed me that the Director of Legal Services, NEC, Buhari Bello, had just left his residence that he directed him (Bukhari Bello) to assemble and bring to him all the relevant decrees relating to the Transition to Civil Rule programme.

He explained further that he would use all these documents in a meeting of National Defence and Security Council and other principal officers of government scheduled for 10.00 a.m. that morning. He claimed that the purpose of the meeting was to find a solution to the court order restraining NEC from conducting June 12, 1993 presidential election.

He asked me to return to my office that after the meeting, he would inform me to go ahead with the scheduled election.
“As I left his residence, I betrayed no emotions. However, I was surprised to learn from him that the meeting of the highest ruling body of the country (NDSC) would start within an hour to deliberate on the presidential election scheduled for the next day and that I, the Chief Electoral Officer of the federation, was not invited.”

Nwosu further narrated suspicions by Bello of a plot by Akpamgbo against the election who he accused of employing diversionary schemes with the instruction to him ( Bello ) to assemble the decrees governing the transition.

“He also went further to express his shock and dismay in meeting Chief Philip Umeadi, the lawyer of ABN that morning who was apparently putting up with the Attorney-General of the Federation.”

Nwosu book said he convinced Bello for the two of them to bump into the meeting of the NDSC holding later that morning.

Explaining how Akpamgbo opposed the holding of the election at the meeting, Nwosu said: “Our suspicion about the position of the Attorney-General was not misplaced for he took an opposing view from that of NEC. He stated that NEC should rather obey the Abuja High Court order and postpone the election.

This was contrary to what he told Bello and I in his residence. Besides, he claimed then I was not a lawyer. He stated that we should obey the High Court order and later appeal against the decision of the High Court.

He said the only way out of over-ruling the High Court was enactment of a new decree. Bello, the Director of Legal Services in NEC took him on. He respectfully reminded him about the Court of Appeal ruling on the matter in Komolafe versus Omole.”

Nwosu asserted that Bello alleged mischief on the part of those against the election as he said the order was filed on May 18, 1993 and only served on the commission on June 8 and a ruling given by the now late Justice Ikpeme in the night of June 10, 1993.

“The President after weighing the arguments on both sides of the divide was convinced that NEC position was quite tenable and that the Abuja High Court order would not stop us from conducting the June 12 presidential election.

We were about sharing a smile of victory when we heard shuffling of papers and legs. And as we looked up, we also heard the collective voice of the military colleagues of Mr. President saying: ‘We are not banana republic. No one should tell us what to do. Postpone the election at least for one week to prove that we are sovereign nation.’

“We were surprised and wondered what could have given rise to the new development. On our inquiry, the Senior Security Officer sitting close to me, shoved a piece of paper containing a release from a Director of Information in United States of America embassy. It reads: ‘We are awaiting the Federal Government’s reaction to the high court decision.

However, any postponement of tomorrow’s election is unacceptable to the US Government.’
“The statement by the Director of Information of the US embassy agitated the President’s military colleagues and made them to demand that the Presidential election should be postponed even for one week in order to assert Nigeria ’s Sovereignty.

“At this point in time, I looked up to the President and our eyes met. He sought my view on the release from the US embassy, which had made his colleagues agitated and demand the postponement of the election. I was very forthright in expressing my views,” Nwosu writes as he said he condemned the statement but equally advised that the release should be ignored.

“Our advice might have pleased the President and displeased some of his colleagues who did not want the election to take place. They wondered why he should listen to a civilian official who was not even a member of the ruling council.”


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