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Electoral reform and the Niger Delta Technical Committee report

By Henry Ayanruoh
IT was my mentor who said it years ago that in human relation the truth is hard to come by, because most people are deceived about themselves. Rationalisation and the incessant search for scapegoats are the psychological cataracts that blind us to our collective sins.

But thank God the day has passed for blind euphemisms. He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery. Freedom is still the bonus we receive for knowing the truth. “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” And I ask what then is the truth? The truth is that, this is the time for Nigerians to tell each other the truth about who and what have brought us to the condition of political and social deprivation against which we struggle today.

In his inaugural speech, President Umaru Yar’Adua, admitted that the 2007 elections were flawed and promised to reform the electoral process. True to his words a committee was constituted and was chaired by Muhammadu Uwais, former Chief Justice of Nigeria.

On December 11, 2008, the day the committee submitted its report, the Chairman and members of his committee were in high spirits as they circulated among members of the Presidency who witnessed the event they confidently felt to be historic.

In the report as was submitted by the committee, the legislation was designed to put the ballot box effectively into the hands of Nigerians after eight years of denial by terror and evasion.

The committee report that lay before the President was born in violence, that same violence the militants of the Niger Delta are being accused of.

It all started when the former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in his usual stubborn tradition of betrayal had stumbled against the future. During his regime we lost qualified and credible leaders, leaders  who were murdered by their friends and trusted allies.

The swift and easy acquittals that followed for the accused had shocked much of the nation but the truth was that it sent a wave of abashed triumph through the power circles. Many people wept at the funeral services for the dead and for our democracy.

The personal torment of humiliation, discrimination, injustice, and oppressions, Nigerians went through in that administration cannot be compared to any other regime in the history of this country. That was a democratic dispensation and not a military one where actions were taken in monologue rather than in dialogue.

There was disturbance within the psychological order. Everywhere there was paralyzing fear harrowing people by day and haunting them by night. Deep clouds of anxiety and depression were suspended in our mental skies. More people were emotionally disturbed then than at any other time in our history. Morals were no longer important. Moral principles lost their distinctiveness. Right and wrong is a matter of how the President sees it. It is relative to his likes and dislikes.

The quest for political power was one of the deepest causes for contemporary abrasions between party men. Loose and easy language about level playing ground for all party men, resonant resolution about being in one family fell pleasantly on the ear, but for the good man in politics there was a credibility gap that cannot be over looked.

He remembers that with each modest advance, the political leaders raise the argument that he has come far enough.  Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash. It would be grossly unfair to omit recognition of a minority of good party leaders who genuinely wanted authentic democracy.

Their commitment is real, sincere, and was expressed in a thousand deeds. But they were balanced at the other end of the pole by the unregenerate politicians who declared by their actions that democracy is not worth having if it involves good men. The unregenerate politicians goal is the total reversal of all reforms, with re-establishment of naked oppression and if need be a native form of fascism.

The great majority of Nigerians were suspended between these opposing attitudes of politicians. They were uneasy with political death but unwilling to pay a significant price to eradicate it. The persistence of political death at the beginning of that regime and the dawning awareness that good men must participate in politics necessitated structural changes in society, and generated a new phase of political resistance all over the country but they were intimidated, cajoled and harassed.

In that Obasanjo regime till now, the security agencies have not been able to arrest any of the political killers. There could be no possibility of life-transforming change anywhere in this country as long as the vast and solid influences of these politicians remain unchallenged and unhurt. We still hear stories of how men are being cajoled into oath of secrecy just to gain political favour. As a result of the weak cohesive political structure of the country the few good men in politics have not been able to imprint their ideology on the nation’s laws.

This explains why Nigeria is still far behind some West African countries in all forms of social and political legislation. Ghana distinctly less wealthy than Nigeria, provides more security relatively for their people and just conducted a presidential election without stress even when the situation warrants it.

From President Yar’Adua down to the councilors none ascended to prominence on the shoulders of mass support. Most of them were elected by Obasanjo and the former state governors. Today, Nigerians nurture a healthy suspicion toward these manufactured leaders.

Since 1999 the only thing Nigeria politicians have been offering to induce loyalty and solidarity as their chief argument is cultism, religion, tribe and region. They spend little time in persuading members of their community that they embody personal integrity, commitment and ability. They offer few programmes and less service.

Tragically they are in too many respects not fighters for a new life but figure heads of the old one. Hence few political leaders are impressive or illustrious to their constituencies. They don’t enjoy qualified loyalty and support.

This relationship in turn is hampering the growth of the country because they are not nationalistic in their approach toward national issues, always parochial as was witnessed in the fight for resource control and presently constitutional review.

The lower house is fighting the upper house over who chairs the joint committee on constitutional review because the Deputy Senate President is not from the North and as such they felt he will be biased in executing his responsibilities as the head of the joint committee.

The executive is too well aware that all of them, including the executive are impotent, isolated from their constituency and is dealing with the other arm of government as a powerless subordinate. The problem is how we select our leaders; they do not evoke affection, respect and emulation to correspond with world leaders.

This is the reason why the Uwais report is very important because it affords us the opportunity to do more than just register and vote, it will enable us create leaders who embody virtues we can respect. Who have moral and ethical principles we can applaud with an enthusiasm to rally support for them based on confidence and trust. And the time to start is now, and how do we start?

By letting the President know that we are a reliable constituency for those who have proven themselves to be committed to the cause for a better Nigeria on our behalf like the Uwais report and the Niger Delta technical committee report. When the President sees that the unity of such reports with the Nigeria citizen is unshakable and genuine they will be treated with respect which such reports that embody such power deserves.

Mr. Ayanruoh is a member of the Delta Waterways Security Committee.


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