2015 elections and attempted disenfranchisement of Nigerians

That Femi Aribisala thoroughly dislikes Muhammadu Buhari should by now be beyond doubt. He has made no secret of his loathing for the former military Head of State or his horror at the prospects of Buhari re-emerging as an elected President. His Premium Times article of 21 January 2014 titled “Why Buhari will never be president of Nigeria” gave me an idea of his grudge–and the depth of his feeling—against Buhari. The article started with the run-in which Aribisala had with the State Security Service back in August 1985. As he presented his own side of the story, the dreaded arm of government had invited him for questioning over an article that he wrote on the Buhari regime’s barter trade policy. Fortunately for him, he was not around when the SSS goons paid him a visit. Not long thereafter, the Buhari-Idiagbon regime was toppled, giving Aribisala an opportunity to gloat. Aribisala saw the coup which ended Buhari’s reign as God-sent. Not many Nigerians will agree with this. That of course, is neither here nor there.

Still, instead of thanking his stars for sparing him the ordeal of detention without trial, Aribisala has since found satisfaction in portraying Buhari (as well as the North) in the worst possible light. It does not matter that he, Aribisala, narrowly escaped being whisked off to the Awolowo Road gulag for interrogation. The mere thought of joining the opponents of the Buhari-Idiagbon regime “in various stages of undress and malnutrition” sent shivers down his spine. It also fueled his loathing for Buhari. From that time on, Buhari became his enemy number one.

As if his is the only vote that counts, Aribisala had penned the January 2014 article, confident that the article would put paid to Buhari’s presidential ambitions. Not long after that, he aimed another salvo, this time, at Buhari and the entire North. With Buhari as its candidate, Aribisala audaciously predicted, the North would never realize its ambition of taking back the presidency in 2015 or in the distant future. In support of his otherwise specious argument, he dug up everything that he thought Buhari did wrong as military Head of State and under the present civilian dispensation. Aribisala did not even spare the dead. He found plenty of faults with the actions taken by Buhari’s second-in-command and fellow Northerner, the late Tunde Idiagbon.

Outrageous as his previous views on Buhari’s 2015 prospects might have been, they are mild—you can even say, benign–compared to those expressed in his latest Premium Times article, that of 11th February 2014. Apparently worried that his attacks on Buhari were not having the intended effect—the effect of sabotaging Buhari’s presidential ambitions and consensus building efforts–Aribisala reached for another weapon, basically, a combination of blackmail, auto-suggestion and half-truths.

To get his readers’ attention, he starts the 11 February 2014 article with a pull-out quote, one that has directly played into my hands. Here is the deceptively sensible but actually nonsensical quote: “Let there be no mistake about it: the rejection of Jonathan in 2015 will be interpreted as the rejection of the South-South by Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba bullies.” I have never heard an argument that is anchored on a fallacious assumption and is so lacking in any attribute of reason as this one. Where is the correlation, positive or negative, between the re-election of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (or for that matter, the election of an alternative candidate), on one hand, and the South-South’s feeling of acceptance/rejection by Nigeria, on the other?

If the pull-out quote is a hypothesis, Aribisala has yet to share with us the methodology he applied in “testing” or confirming it. He has not told us how many “Yoruba”, “Hausa-Fulani”, and “South-South” respondents he mailed questionnaires to or interviewed face-to-face. He simply expects us to take his assertion at its face value. Well, if he wants to handle issues as grave as the 2015 elections (including the legal and constitutional provisions on the nomination of candidates, the suffrage rights of the electors, and Nigeria’s peace and stability) he should at least go about the task in a scientific, rather than a casual way.

Aribisala’s latest gambit clearly rests on a weak theoretical foundation, and the logic he employed in defending his thesis is downright defective. I also have serious issues with the “facts” adduced in support of his conclusions and recommendations. Let’s examine his claims one at a time.

According to Aribisala, failure to re-elect President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 would be interpreted as a Yoruba-Hausa-Fulani gang-up against the South South. This is a remarkable somersault, coming from someone who had all along seen Nigeria in North-South terms. All of a sudden, the power tussle is no longer between the North and the South, but between the South-South and practically the rest of Nigeria! If Aribisala’s previous arguments were full of holes, the latest one is a bottomless crater by itself. For reasons adduced in the succeeding paragraphs, I expect to witness more somersaults down the Aribisala road.

First, neither the South-South that Aribisala seeks to pit against the rest of Nigeria nor the imaginary Hausa-Fulani-Yoruba bloc is as homogeneous as he would make us believe. In strict geographic sense, the South-South extends beyond the Niger Delta and comprises states lying in Nigeria’s Deep South. It is made up of diverse states each of which is ethnically, linguistically, culturally, and politically heterogeneous. With heterogeneity comes clash of interests. Where some are battling with sea-bed pollution and environmental hazards, others are anxious to create jobs and lure the restive youth away from crime. Yet others simply want improved access to quality education, affordable health care, urban and rural infrastructural services, and police protection, among other things.

The Yoruba of the south-west may be united by language, but that is about the only claim they can lay to unanimity. Like their counterparts in other parts of Nigeria, the Yoruba are only interested in finding solutions to life’s challenges and in enhancing their standards of living. Ditto the Hausa-Fulani. Indeed, it would be the height of revisionism (and most unfair) to portray a contemporary Nigerian as a zombie without a mind of his/her own. It does not matter whether s/he is in the South-South, the North, the South-West, or the South-East. The paramount wish of the average Nigerian of today is to improve his/her living conditions and keep suffering at bay. Fortunately, and regardless of attempts by experts in auto-suggestion techniques to ignite his primal ethnic impulses, the Nigerian is capable of assessing his/her condition and looking out for his/her interests. S/he will pursue these interests even if that requires crossing ethno-religious borders or playing down primordial sentiments.

The case of Mike Oghiadomhe, the President’s former Chief of Staff, debunks the assumption of blind ethnic solidarity. Oghiadomhe’s own Fugar community (in the South-South) rejoiced openly when they heard of his removal from office. “His own people” in Fugar did not act capriciously. They duly assessed his performance and found him wanting. If “insiders” can so assess what then stops “outsiders” from exercising the same right?
Regardless of what anyone might say to the contrary, Nigerians have every right to assess the performance of President Goodluck Jonathan and decide whether or not to re-elect him in 2015.

It is interesting that Aribisala allows himself the luxury of speculating on an alternative to President Jonathan. Glossing over the logical inconsistency in his argument, he pre-emptively–or is it, hypothetically?–“rejects” Jonathan when he advises both the PDP and the APC to field another South-South candidate in 2015. According to him, the only way to pacify the South-South is to have one of their own in Aso Rock in 2015. I shall return to this later when I take it up with Aribisala’s views on Boko Haram.

In the interim, I cannot see any merit in the suggestion to concede the presidency to Jonathan or to another South-South candidate in 2015. First, there is no provision in our constitution and in the electoral act for the coronation or consecration of presidential candidates. The OBJ example cited by Aribisala is totally irrelevant. The decision to make OBJ the PDP’s flag-bearer in 1999 was that party’s internal affair, one which OBJ’s own south-west constituency distanced itself from. Besides, when the matter of amending the constitution to allow him to run for a third consecutive term came up, the country was not moved by any spirit of “pacification”. It stood resolutely against the amendment.

Second, nowhere in the civilized world are political parties, let alone voting publics, peremptorily ordered to queue behind a particular candidate. The usual practice is for those interested in an elective office to unfold their visions, for party primaries or electoral colleges to vet their candidatures, for designated officials to carry out the necessary background and/or psychological preparedness checks, and for the electorate to choose between or among the contestants. If this procedure is short-circuited or a critical step is skipped, the chances are good that the least prepared would be placed in a position of power, saddled with grave, earth-shattering, make-or-break responsibilities. The chance of the ill-prepared occupant of the highest office belly-aching at the sight of an elementary challenge, or passing the buck back to his/her predecessors cannot be ruled out.

The third objection to a choreographed “election” of Nigeria’s president is its brazen violation (and ridicule) of the democratic process. When the electorate’s suffrage rights are extinguished, or alternatively, confiscated and handed over en bloc to a hand-picked candidate, the average voter will be justified to feel short-changed. In any case, what is the point creating INEC, spending billions conducting sham elections, and exhorting Nigerians to exercise their civic rights at polling stations if the outcome of all the efforts is pre-ordained and known in advance?

This is not to dismiss Aribisala’s idea of an alternative South-South candidate. However, the way to go about it is to encourage credible South-South candidates to step forward, rather than placing the onus of finding that candidate on either the PDP or the APC. The PDP may buy the idea, if only because it enables it to field a token candidate—a stalking horse—who would facilitate President Jonathan’s cruise to power for another term in 2015. The APC will never fall for this trick.

This takes us back to Aribisala’s 2015 prognosis, one which suspiciously looks or sounds like Dokubo Asari’s earlier bluster. The only difference this time around is that Aribisala adds the Boko Haram variable to the equation. Relying on scare tactics, Aribisala narrows the 2015 election down to a conflict between Boko Haram and the South-South militants. As he reckons, Nigeria risks being held hostage by either Boko Haram or the South-South (translation, Niger Delta) militants, depending of course on who becomes President in 2015. If, after a free and fair election, Buhari becomes President and the Boko Haram insurgency “magically stops” (whatever that means), the Niger Delta militants would wreak havoc on Nigeria’s oil-dependent economy. This raises the question who is the bully now–the person who respects the electorate’s right to decide or one who holds a gun to the electorate’s head?

Without answering the question (who is the bully), Aribisala continues to speculate on Nigeria’s future. Without telling us how he arrives at his conclusion, he asserts that if Jonathan or another South-South candidate, by hook or by crook, wins the 2015 presidential election, the Niger Delta militants would let Nigeria be, but Boko Haram would step up its resistance. Aribisala predictably favours making peace with the South-South and letting the Boko Haram continue to terrorise the North! In other words, he does not mind letting a region, the North, hang out to dry, so long as Buhari does not make it to Aso Rock.

It is highly troubling that anyone would incite a militant group against a region or the whole country to settle a personal or political score. Anyway, let’s for now stay with the facts. Boko Haram is not a political force. For all the group cares, the APC and the PDP may jostle for power till eternity. That won’t change its (Boko Haram’s) far-out interpretation of religious tracts. It does not discriminate between Christians and Muslims, or between the APC and the PDP. Unlike Dokubo Asari who sees a link between Jonathan’s re-election and peace, Boko Haram has neither sat down with anybody nor stated the terms and conditions for a permanent cease-fire. Is Boko Haram so publicity-shy it won’t make its conditions known? Not by a long shot!

Aribisala will naturally remind me that Muhammadu Buhari told his listeners on Radio Liberty that an APC government would find a solution to the Boko Haram insurgency. However, just because Buhari did not provide details of how he hoped to accomplish the feat, Aribisala erroneously concluded that the return of power to the North was the magic bullet that Buhari would use to coax the Boko Haram into ending the insurgency. This is the equation according to Aribisala: the North minus power equals Boko Haram. The North plus the presidency equals peace and stability. This is a case of extreme reductionism—of conjectures gone wild.

Any effective counter-insurgency strategy would of necessity have to rely on a cocktail of options. It would be closely monitored so it could be adapted to changing circumstances. That is the type of strategy that Buhari alluded to in his radio interview. It is the strategy that would, hopefully, bring long-term peace to the North, to the South-South, and to every part of Nigeria. I wonder if Aribisala has any problem with that.

As regards his idea that Nigerians should concede the presidency to the South-South in 2015 for fear of the Niger Delta militants’ recourse to violence, I have just one question for Aribisala. What would any reasonable person do if s/he knows in advance that an armed robber, a kidnapper, an arsonist, a blackmailer or a combination of all these vile characters, would strike on a particular date? If Aribisala’s response is to cave in and negotiate, I wish him luck. He should of course realize that his caving in and negotiating days aren’t ending anytime soon.

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