By Bisi Lawrence
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has left the Peoples Democratic Party. Absolutely. Officially. At last. On record, it was the former Head of State who dramatically terminated his membership of the party by publicly causing his membership card to be torn, two or three hours before the party then announced his expulsion. What took either of them so long? The unending row is now mercifully over. We hope.
There is so much more palaver rumbling across the political scene that matters of a controversial membership of one party or the other simply have to be moved to the back burner, except where they concern serving governors who are suspected of “anti-party activities, to wit, dining with the enemy. Four of such, all belonging on the face of things to the PDP, are said to be having an inappropriate relationship with the All Progressives Congress which will remain behind the screen till the last moment. What keeps them from announcing their position at once so that the scene may be clean and clear, and the people are apprised of the movement on the playing field? Must every progression be made with a touch of theatrical manipulation?
We are not yet fully recovered from the deferment of the elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission had assured the nation that everything was in place for the presidential election to be held on February 14th; the Presidency was not convinced and voiced its doubt through Sambo Dasuki, the National Security Adviser. However, he would not perform a simple duty like that by simply bringing the concern to the notice of the INEC, if necessary, the nation at large. No, that would not be sensational enough. So he had to go and announce it in London, creating a larger ripple in the surface of the anxiety that had already engulfed the preparations for the election. But INEC stuck to its guns—it had to be February or bust! Even before the Council of States, a glorified bulldog toothless to tackle the mildest problem beyond the point of advisory intervention, the electoral organization continued to wave its flag of “independence”. And so, the last card was thrown on the table—SECURITY! The authorities in charge of the nation’s security declared that they were not ready, no matter what INEC says. At which point, INEC “re-calibrated” its position, and pushed the election forward by six weeks.
Now, just consider all that posturing—the position of the electoral organisation came up to be nothing short of that at the end of it all. Several groups in the country, especially the two main political parties—the APC and the PDP—had ranged themselves to the “pro” and “con” positions respectively over the matter. The APC said it was all part of the manipulation of the party in power to acquire some lease of life to rig the election, having read the handwriting on the wall. The PDP declared that the preparations for the election were simply not ready, even apart from the issue of security. They pointed out that the Permanent Voting Cards, which were compulsory for voting, had not been adequately distributed and that the situation was bound to leave many citizens disenfranchised. But the position of the APC, on one page with the declaration of readiness by INEC, was strongly supported by the Unites State of America, whose ubiquitous Secretary of State even took time off his pressing chores in the Middle East and Europe to visit Nigeria to convince the Federal Government to go ahead with the elections. However, the election was postponed.
We are now one week into the postponement. It did not seem the right thing to do on the face of it. The fortunes of the APC seemed to be on the upswing and they were right to feel that a delay might create a recession in the thrust that seemed established. The PDP appeared a bit shaken too, and President Goodluck Jonathan, whilst manly insisting on his notion that a postponement was necessary, all the same, would not admit publicly that he had a part in the announcement of the deferment. But it has now come to light that the preparations were truly flawed. And so the Federal Government was right after all. It would have probably been the most chaotic polls we ever had.
That was an open admission made before the Senate by Professor Attahiru Jega, the INEC Chairman when he appeared before the legislators some three days ago. He described the postponement as “a blessing in disguise” and spoke of how the extended period is helping the commission to fine-tune its preparations. The senate session served to clarify several points that have remained unclear about the process of voting, but most of the aspects discussed were fully explained to the distinguished ladies and gentlemen. It was however, still hazy in places; one can only hope the next week or two would make members of the public understand the seeming intricacies of the process. I watched the proceedings on television and, frankly, I could not pick it all up. But I was highly impressed by the level of inquiry made by the senators and particularly gratified by the incisive questions directed at the INEC chairman, especially from Senator Chris Anyanwu, whose skills as a professional journalist still seemed intact. However, more needs to be done by INEC in the way of enlightening the populace; otherwise it may lead to a demand for further for postponement and new wave of acrimonious accusation flung from all sides about attempts to rig the election.
Professor would not appear to have lived up to the level of efficiency that has been freely ascribed to him from various quarters. The gaping lapses in the preparations for the election are still there and still worrisome. This has nothing to do with his honesty, mind you. He is by all accounts a decent man. The shoddiness of the preparations for the election may be a function of the process of the voting system which could have been more simple. But he kept “re-assuring”, and “re-assuring” us that everything was alright whereas he had devised a system that was alien to our tradition of voting in elections. His sojourn in the Ivory Tower had probably isolated him from the common touch, else he would have been informed that the election accounted to be the most successful in the country’s history was conducted largely by a show of hands—and did not cost billions and billions of naira, either.
But the INEC chairman is so smooth, perhaps too smooth, though his performance, I submit, would appear to have been guided by the head rather than by the heart. If the election had been allowed on February 14th as formerly scheduled, resulting with the inability of many citizens to vote, to whose advantage would it have been? If the PDP had won, many people would have felt that it was influenced unduly by the “party in power” through the aegis of incumbency and other agencies. It might also be accounted to the insurgency in the North-East areas where the supporters of the APC are deemed to be in the majority, but unable to vote because the authorities had been intentionally tardy in suppressing the unrest for just that reason. But it is the Federal Government controlled by the PDP which has stubbornly insisted on the postponement of the election. Even the perceived surge in the recent support of the APC might have been overwhelmed by the lapses in the INEC preparations and, yes, the unsettled situation in the states they appear to control. Thus both the Federal Government and INEC are absolved of any complicity in this matter. They remained in disagreement till the matter of security was brought in. The rumoured intention of removing the INEC chairman is, of course, strictly for the birds. He is an honourable man whom we must help to match his efficiency with his uprightness.
Meanwhile, it has been all but peaceful through the husting. This was a campaign season we started with so much prayer from all sides. We prayed against violence, but that is what we have done to ourselves on all sides.
Those who hope for an eventual abandonment of the election are no doubt supportive of the mayhem. The campaign entourage of President Goodluck Jonathan was reportedly stoned in the North presumably by the supporters of the APC. No campaign activity of the APC now is any longer safe, it would appear, in Okrika, the Rivers State birthplace of Mrs. Patience Goodluck, either. There are other scenarios of confrontation and, very soon, the tempo of these outbreaks of violence might increase and so could the seriousness of their casualties.
Already, rumours are alive that it would serve the purpose of those who are already calling, though not so loudly at the moment, or an interim government. Who needs that again? We are not in that kind of emergency simply because we have not been able to prepare very well for an election that is yet to hold. We have actually deferred the starting date of an election before, and then gone through with it. We are able to overcome these problems, if only we would eschew distrust, deep distrust—that is the bane of our nation-building. The opportunity is right before us again. That is what the 2015 elections portend. We can take care of the challenges that swirl around us, even that of Boko Haram. We took care of Ebola, didn’t we? Now, see even how superannuated “statesmen” are taking care of themselves!