LAST week, at least 17 people died during a stampede at an APC rally in Port Harcourt. When I went home to Rivers State to vote, I decided to also attempt to find out why this tragedy occurred; and the answers I received from witnesses shocked me to the core.
Apparently, some folks wanted to leave the rally – which was being televised live – early. But the APC organisers felt that early departures would make the President look bad, especially since he had just endured an immensely mortifying outing in Abeokuta (where crowds booed the party leadership and Ogun State Governor, Amosun, begged them in the name of God not to disgrace him).
OK, so the rally organisers in Port Harcourt, in a desperate bid to avoid further humiliation for their Oga, Buhari, locked the gates of the stadium to prevent an embarrassing premature exodus.
But instead of philosophically accepting that they couldn’t leave until the gates were reopened at the end of the event, many people panicked and a chaotic scramble for the exit ensured; and some lost their lives while they were trying to escape from the venue.
A witness who wishes to remain nameless told me that he was lucky because he successfully jumped a fence – as opposed to heading for one of the gates – and was therefore not part of the stampede.
When I asked him why he had felt obliged to make such drastic efforts to get out of the stadium – as opposed to just waiting patiently for the politicians to finish their show – he said: “We thought they were locking the gates because they wanted to kill us.”
When I asked why on earth APC bigwigs would want to kill people who had taken the trouble to attend an APC rally, he couldn’t give me a proper answer. He just shrugged sadly and said that all he knew for sure was that he and others felt at risk; and I almost wept. Imagine ordinary people harbouring such a profound lack of trust in political leaders…and regarding them as evil homicidal maniacs.
The Social Contract and bonds of kinship between Rulers and the Ruled has broken down in this country.
Nigeria we wail thee.
ALSO READ:My Thoughts on INEC, by Feran Owootomo
The wrong kind of talk
President Muhammadu Buhari has generated widespread outrage in Nigeria and beyond by uttering what amounts to a death threat. His exact words, at an APC meeting in Abuja on Monday, were: “I am going to warn anybody who thinks he has enough influence in his locality to lead a body of thugs, snatch ballot boxes or to disturb the voting system, he will do it at the expense of his own life.”
The right kind of talk
The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, politely contradicted his boss by saying, the very next day, that the electoral commission would be guided by the provisions of the Electoral Act, which states that the penalty for snatching election materials is a prison term of two years or a maximum fine of N500, 000.
A number of pro-Buhari personages have sycophantically backed the President’s inflammatory statement. And the INEC Chairman, who got his job from Buhari, could easily have gone down this path…or could at least have diplomatically dodged the issue. But Yakubu chose to turn his back on illegality; and I heartily applaud him for refusing to be roped into extremism.
I was one of the many who angrily criticised Yakubu for postponing last Saturday’s elections, especially since the postponement happened shortly before voting was supposed to commence. And I’m still seething with indignation about the substantial inconvenience and additional (travel, etc.) costs that the postponement has inflicted on me and millions of other Nigerians.
But my attitude towards Yakubu has mellowed in recent days because I keep hearing from seemingly reliable sources that he was forced to postpone the election.
Even if this allegation is false and even if the postponement boiled down to nothing more complicated than sheer incompetence on INEC’s part, Prof. Yakubu has gone up several notches in my estimation since he opted to disassociate INEC from the Commander-in-Chief’s aggressive rant and firmly stand by the law.
OK, so let me leave the last word to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. In a week when emotions are running high on both sides of the political divide, his calm, mature message to voters strikes the right note:
“My dear citizens of Nigeria, As you know, this Saturday we have our Presidential and National Assembly elections. The reason we have elections is to allow us to have our voices heard on how we have been governed for the last four years and who will govern us for the next four.
“On March 28, 2015, we – the people of Nigeria – went to our polling units armed only with our PVCs and yet we were able to vote peacefully. That made me very proud to be a Nigerian and very proud to be a democrat.
“This Saturday we will have the opportunity to do so again. My message to you is simple: please come out and vote as this election is about your future and the future of our great nation. On Election Day we are all equal as no single vote is more important than any other… “