Thursday, 12 February 2015

Arise Nigerians, Unite Against Election Violence, Anarchy!

Free, fair and peaceful election are requisites of a democratic society through which citizens cast their votes to usher in a particular political party or politicians of their choice based on the convictions of the electorate.
This ideal situation is far-fetched in many evolving democracies such as Nigeria where pre- and post-election violence stifles the very cornerstone of democracy: freedom of choice, civic participation, accountability, rule of law and trust in state officials and institutions.
There is a reciprocal, perhaps temporary relocation of hordes of Igbos, Hausas, other ethnic groups from their current domicile to their villages or states of origin while some moneyed Nigerians have moved their families abroad due to palpable tension, uncertainty, impunity, threats, counter-threats from drumbeaters, as pockets of politically motivated violence permeates the length and breadth of Nigeria. Probably sensing ominous danger sequel to the subtle, deft political maneuvering, tension and violence playing out in Nigeria, the United States Secretary of State – John Kerry briskly flew in to Nigeria a while ago and conveyed the import of a peaceful election to General Buhari and President Goodluck Jonathan. Both pledged to play by the rules. 

The general feeling in Nigeria is that the melodramatic political brinkmanship that culminated in scuttling the prior date for the 2015 general elections is profoundly skewed towards some ulterior, selfish rather than national interest. This inauspicious maneuver seems to bolster the already charged hysteria that Nigeria is on the brink of anarchy, balkanization. Dear NSA Sambo Dasuki, you were in the know that the onus for the postponement of the election is insecurity, why insinuate non-distribution of PVC ab initio? Do you expect Nigerians to trust you next time when you air your personal or official opinion on issues? Nigeria’s election was primarily postponed because the Service Chiefs reportedly said they cannot guarantee security during the election, that they need the borrowed time to rein in Boko Haram that they have struggled to contain in six years. Mr. NSA, you were quoted as saying, ‘’all known camps of Boko Haram will be ‘taken out’ in six weeks’’. Just wondering if this apparent impending notice of attack to Boko Haram is a gaffe or a well-thought-out tactical maneuver considering an Igbo proverb which goes thus: ‘’it is only a tree that stays put in the face of an imminent threat to be cut down, even a cripple will attempt an escape’’. To demonstrate his up-to-dateness with issues and been information/social media savvy, Mr. ‘Shekau’ promptly responded, released a video urging the multinational joint force to bring it on, even quoting the specific strength (7,500) troops been amassed against the Sect.

The election frenzy in Nigeria largely stems from the fact that aside wheeling and dealing on ‘Black Gold’, working as a senior civil servant in a government establishment or multinational corporation, politics is the alternative money spinning ‘industry’ in Nigeria that offers a short-cut to stupendous wealth and influence. Ideally, a political appointment should be an opportunity to render selfless service to humanity and not a platform for amassing wealth. Conscious of this get away from poverty, politics in Nigeria has metamorphosed into an all-comers ‘do-or-die’ affair where political wannabes and incumbents are desperate, Machiavellian in their quest to grab, retain power or political appointment. 

Symptomatic of ruthless Mafiosi tactics, readying for election in Nigeria is akin to gearing up for war, everything is thrown into the mix by greedy, unpatriotic politicians hell-bent on having their way. Prior to the 2007 election, former President Olusegun was said to have referred to the election as a ‘do or die affair’. Apart from the June 12, 1993 Presidential election, Nigerian elections which took place in 1999, 2003, 2007 and the April 16, 2011 were marred by widespread malfeasance, intra- and inter-party crises, rigging, violence that culminated in death of scores of people – contestants, electorates and destruction of properties worth billions of naira. Quickly recall that in 2003 and 2006, Dr. Ayo Daramola and Engineer Funso Williams, PDP gubernatorial aspirants in Ekiti and Lagos States respectively were murdered in cold blood. 

It is appalling how folks throw caution, decorum to the wind, not just threatening but actually maiming, killing fellow citizens and destroying properties because of political leanings. Equally disgusting is the fact that more often than not, such barbarities happen under the watchful eyes of law enforcement agents. Some senior citizens condescend to spewing invectives, blatant falsehood having mortgaged their consciences because of a plate of porridge. Regrettably, so-called religious leaders have joined the fray in this growing penchant for spreading falsehood and maligning individuals on the other side of the political divide. My respect for a certain Pastor ebbed the day he sent me a message urging me not to vote for a particular candidate because he is a Muslim and will Islamize Nigeria. Here’s an abridged version of my reply to the ‘man of God’: ‘’Sir, with all due respect, I think this is just cheap propaganda. Don Okereke is not persuaded by the religious or Party leaning of the President of Nigeria or the governor of my State so long as they are incorruptible, put the country first, uphold justice and separate statecraft from their religion. We should not be swayed by such cheap sentiments. Remember this is Democracy, the President of Nigeria cannot compel you to become a Muslim neither can he singlehandedly make Nigeria an Islamic country. We must not stereotype people by virtue of their religion. There are good, bad Christians and Muslims out there. Let’s be steered amongst other factors, by excellence and love for humanity. The SOLUTION to Nigeria’s problem is for us to put square legs in square holes and round pegs in round holes irrespective of tribe or religious affiliation. Thank you Sir’’.
Without mincing words, let be known that the good people of Nigeria wholeheartedly reject pre- and post-election violence, a state of anarchy. It is established that Nigeria is bigger than any individual and any section of the country. The posterity of Nigeria must not be sacrificed on the altar of personal aggrandizement, machinations of few individuals. The current generation of Nigerian leaders must not bequeath undesirable legacies of avarice, corruption, violence and impunity to the youths who are keenly following what is presently playing out in Nigeria’s political landscape. 

Nigerians are wiser now; we yearn for an issues-based political campaign not all the macabre dance of shame. Please shrink back your ungainly predilection for over-egging the pudding, heating up the polity with your paid sardonic documentaries; many Nigerians understand what is at stake. 

The following recommendations, best practices will go a long way in stemming incessant election violence, anarchy in Nigeria:

Need For Devolution of Powers:
At the risk of reiterating the obvious, I dare say that devolution of more power to the federating units will do this country a lot of good. Our presidential election will not be analogous to gearing up for war if the centre (Presidency) is weaker than it is. Let’s have a model (fiscal or true federalism) where State governors don’t have to kowtow to the President or Local Government Chairmen suck up to Governors before they can pay monthly salaries or execute basic projects. The United Kingdom is a classic example where the other constituent units - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland don’t have to bootlick or go cap in hand to Number 10 Downing Street for pocket money. These are fundamental issues the just concluded jamboree National Conference failed to resolve. 

The Electoral Umpire (INEC):
The way and manner the “Independent National Electoral Commission” (INEC) was patently cowed into postponing the 2015 general election in Nigeria does not augur well for Nigeria’s fledgling democracy. Having buckled and prevaricated under coercion by vested interests, the INEC has in a swoop established it is been micromanaged hence eroding the very essence of ‘Independent’ in its name. The Commission must strive to restore its rickety credibility, the trust and confidence reposed on them. The new election dates – March 28 and April 11 must be inviolable. Toying with the rescheduled dates is an invitation to anarchy with unpredictable consequences.

The INEC, please take a cue from India, a country of about 1.3 billion people and 814,500,000 registered voters where the electoral commission organized a successful general election on April 2014 devoid of rancor. The INEC and similar establishments in Nigeria must wean themselves of this culture of fire-brigade approach; they must not wait till the last minute before they start running helter-skelter. 

Similarly, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the much vaunted Electoral Offences Commission as recommended by the Electoral Reform Committee (Uwais Committee) must synergize, be strengthened, adequately funded, staffed and equipped to effectively apprehend and prosecute electoral offenders. There must be no sacred cows.

Law Enforcement Agents/Agencies:
The basic tenet of law enforcement agencies in saner climes is their neutrality and non-partisanship. It is dangerous for the government of the day to politicize the military, security agencies. Granted Mr. President appoints you as say an Inspector General of Police or a Service Chief (Chiefs of Army, Navy or the Air force), that does not mean you must be a stooge to him or continually gauge his body language before doing the basic roles that the Constitution invests on you. As a public official, it is the tax-payers that bear the brunt of your salary and your allegiance must be first to the country. Again, it is very dangerous, a mockery of justice and morality to set a precedent where some folks are untouchable, above the law. Our respective law enforcement agencies must rein in geezers who threaten the peace and stability of the country no matter how highly placed they are. Institutions – Security agencies, the Judiciary, the Civil service etc. must be fashioned in such a way that public officials can perform their duties without minding whose ox is gored. Security agencies must be adequately fitted out to enable them prevent, rein in violence during political campaigns/elections and to safeguard the security of electoral officials, materials, polling stations and documentation of results.

Faceless ‘Keyboard Warriors’
To our faceless keyboard warriors, please show some restraint, tolerance and civility. Let us learn to tolerate divergent opinions and be refined even when we choose to disagree. I am a proponent of superior reason. When we agree to disagree, our disagreement must not snowball into unprintable name calling. Don’t forcefully ram down your ignorance or unsubstantiated perception of events into the throat of the other person. Thank God that democracy permits freedom of speech and criticism but we don’t have to abuse this privilege. Let us desist from hurling insults on people because of their political leaning or the candidates they support. If you must criticize or hold an opinion, back it up with facts, not sentiments. In this age of ‘Big Data’, bear in mind that your ‘vituperative social media footprint’ can haunt you in the future. 

Advice To Nigerian Youths:
To the youths and other prospective political thugs out there, ask yourself this simple question: how many of these so-called politicians employ their children as political thugs? Practically none. Their kids attend posh schools abroad while they use you for their dirty jobs. Please life has no duplicate and these selfish politicians are not worth dying for! Allow Nigerians to vote according to their conscience. 

To The Drumbeaters:
To the so-called ex-militants (retired-and-not-so-retired), please bear in mind that no single individual has a monopoly of violence. Few years ago, Niger Delta militants held sway but now the ferocity of Boko Haram has eclipsed that of the former. Please call yourself to order. Don’t undermine the political process in Nigeria.

Public Enlightenment, Factual Reportage:
The National Orientation Agency (NOA) and Civil Society groups have a big role to play in dissuading unbecoming and inflammatory comments, culture of impunity and to remind citizens the consequences of such actions. 

Media establishments, journalists and bloggers must ensure factual and unbiased reporting of all election-related developments, and fend off publishing hateful, divisive and incendiary comments.

Security is a collective responsibility; every one of us must be extremely security conscious, vigilant now and always. In the words of one of my mentors, Mr. John Aduma Odey, ‘’we are all INEC, we are all Jega! We are all custodians of the rule of law/democracy and trustees of Nigerianism!’’

Let’s hearken to words of wisdom from a former Head of State and Chairman of National Peace Committee on 2015 Elections, General Abdulsalami Abubarka who said, “Any Nigerian, who loves this country, must preach peace. There is apprehension and there is no need for that. Nigerians, please, I beg you. Learn from the former mistakes. We must ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. We must ensure that the elections are peaceful and secure’’.

Elections come and go but Nigeria, humanity remains. Whether you are Christian, Muslim, Pagan, from the North, East, West or Southern Nigeria, we are all Nigerians. Beware the ides of March. Give peace a chance. Please take back humanity! 

We say NO to vestiges of ELECTION VIOLENCE. We say no to ANARCHY. Nigerians Unite Against TERRORISM and INSURGENCY. God bless you all and God bless Nigeria.

Written By:

Don Okereke
(Security Analyst/Consultant, Writer/Blogger, Change Agent, Ex-serviceman, Patriot)

Twitter: @DonOkereke

February, 2015