Predictably, President Muhammadu Buhari’s warning to potential ballot box snatchers that they might not live to tell their story generated mixed reactions but notably critical ones. The development is the latest in the series of hiccups to the commencement of the 2019 general elections. Buhari’s red alert was an angry reaction to the sudden postponement of the elections hitherto fixed for February 16. Again, as might be expected, the postponement generated accusations and counter-accusations by the both ruling APC and opposition PDP, fingering each other as the instigator.
Row over the postponement of the elections came in the heels of the suppressed internal crisis in the ruling APC, which eventually erupted in the violent disruption of Buhari’s presidential campaign in Ogun State, a kind of political storm, which escalated postponement of the elections and attendant fall-out to the status of a hurricane. By its nature, a storm damages, while the hurricane destroys. In both cases, calamity is not unavoidable but only in all seriousness.
Despite attempts by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to play down the magnitude, series of logistic and security challenges compelled postponement of the elections. With that blunder, both APC and PDP accused each other of colluding with INEC. Election petitions in the past featured allegations of ballot box snatching, which were not easy to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” in attempts to nullify election results. Accordingly, for 2019 elections and especially in view of security reports of plans to rig or discredit the elections, if ballot box snatching was going to feature, such had better be made impossible by all means, before the event, lest fatal injuries inflicted by law enforcement agents be cited especially by foreign election observers to discredit the election.
Buhari, therefore, merely issued the danger alert. Playback of his alert has been repeated on both radio and television stations. Nowhere did he order shoot at sight since he didn’t have to. But anywhere in the world, it is the discretion of armed guard on duty to perform when necessary and it is in most cases fatal or he would not be armed in the first place. Armed guard duty is not the environment for banter. Consequently, unless on a suicide mission, it is safest not to dare armed guards. Near banking halls anywhere in the world? Near British Parliament? Near railway on an underground station in London, Paris or New York? These days, on church premises, during church services, on educational campuses in United States? Again, anywhere in the world, the mentality of any armed guard on duty is to kill or be killed, with the choice exclusively that of the guard.
The history of ballot box snatching during elections in Nigeria is that, in all cases, the culprits are over-armed and only in rare cases, shoot into the air. Otherwise, the armed criminals not only murdered their innocent victims on official duty but also succeeded in unlawfully installing their paymasters in office as governors on technicalities of law. Among fatal victims of ballot box snatchers had been soldiers, police officers and their details as well as youth corpers. Their dependants live in sorrow today.
Without ballot snatching, no political party or election candidate would suffer in any way. On the contrary, whether as losers or winners, the number of their respective votes would be intact. Buhari’s reminder to potential ballot-box snatchers is, therefore, in every candidate’s/political party’s interest and must be supported. There is no cause for alarm. I would neither snatch nor sponsor anybody to snatch ballot box(es) throughout the elections. I would, therefore, lose no sleep. If, similarly, you could volunteer that pledge, you too should lose no sleep on Buhari’s red alert.
Then, this very vital point. Army Chief, General Tukur Buratai, must rise to the level if his contemporaries in genuine democracies. No matter the provocation, army generals are never overzealous to be exchanging words with politicians, especially on the opposition side. Buratai has been duly briefed by his Commander-in-Chief, to whom and only to whom he (army chief) owes his loyalty.
On their part, it is naive of politicians to expect a Chief of Army Staff to ignore his Commander-in-Chief’s briefing. The criminal off-shoot of such disobedience is mutiny leading to treason trial for which the instigators, even in ignorance, would not escape trial for conspiracy.
Incidentally, it was quite relieving that, at long last, External Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, called foreign envoys (especially of Britain, United States and Switzerland) to order on the limit of their interference in the conduct of Nigeria’s presidential election. Telling INEC how to conduct the elections? Bloody cheek. Career diplomats would never be so daring. Have Nigerian envoys in Britain and United States ever similarly got involved in British or American elections?
Independent National Electoral Commission’s chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, seemed in order when he said ballot box snatchers, among other election offenders, would be tried under the provisions of the Electoral Act. Yakubu only forgot to name an instance in the past when a single ballot box snatcher, even who murdered his victim, was ever tried.
There is still the political storm in APC reverberating crisis in the party’s branches in Ogun, Imo and Kaduna states. Buhari should have been firm on the issue involved, party supremacy, which must be either established once and for all or the alternative is anarchy, a taste of which was on display when stones were thrown at him while presenting his party’s candidate as governor, Dapo Abiodun. Luckily, we escaped a possible tragedy on national scale.
The political malcontents could have been more deadly by throwing bombs or even shooting from a distance. Suppose something untoward thereby occurred, where would Nigeria be today?
Reprisals on innocent southern residents in the North? That was the tragedy Nigerians experienced from May to September 1966 as also happened years later in Rwanda. The idea of voting for candidates of personal choice was, therefore, not advisable as was a major cause of the near-tragedy at Abeokuta, Ogun State. Again, all over the world, at any election, the party leaders’ imperative is to endorse the party’s candidate as long as such candidate was duly nominated. Anything less or different, specifically, in the cases of Ogun, Imo and Kaduna, clearly undermined the party’s national leadership (i.e. National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole).
That is even mild although still intolerable. Worse was that from the outbreak of the Ogun rebellion to the moment stones were thrown at Buhari while presenting party candidate Dapo Abiodun, the whole episode, even if unintended, was a humiliation for Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, in his state and zone. If the idea of voting for candidate of personal choice was reversed, it would read something like “vote for APC as governor candidates and vote for whoever you like as president. Would that ever have been advisable? That would surely have been electorally suicidal.
APC is strongest mainly in Northern zones and South-West zone. But even within South-West zone, Ogun State is electorally vital for APC, being the immediate constituency of Vice-President Osinbajo. Even if APC won two or three states in South-East and South-South (which until then is like crying for the moon) such big victory would still not make up for the slight on Osinbajo as a sitting Vice-President. And there should be no untenable comparison. Osinbajo in Yorubaland is not Olusegun Obasanjo as he (Osinbajo) is more respected and more accepted in South-West and the North than Obasanjo. Apart from that, America’s Donald Trump has been busy campaigning for his party’s senatorial and governorship candidates without being stoned by criminals.
Battle for supremacy of party is constant and as old as Nigerian politics. In 1941, Nigerian Youth Movement nominated party leader Ernest Ikoli for by-election to fill a vacant seat for Lagos in the Legislative Council. Another member, Samuel Akinsanya (later Odemo of Ishara, Remo, Ogun State) stood against him but the party supported Ernest Ikoli, who won. For the 1954 federal elections to House of Representatives in Lagos, a leading member of NCNC, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, lost the party nomination to another member, Chief E.B. Sorunke. Mrs. Kuti complained to the party but Nnamdi Azikiwe, as the leader, affirmed Chief Sorunke’s nomination as in line with democracy. Chief Sorunke won the seat to House of Representatives.
While leaving Western region as premier in 1959, Obafemi Awolowo preferred Tony Enahoro as his successor but the party opted for deputy leader Chief S.L. Akintola. Awolowo upheld the party’s decision to be supreme. For the 1959 federal elections to House of Representatives in Lagos, Michael Omisade defeated Remi Fani-Kayode in the primary election for Ife Central seat. Fani-Kayode appealed to Awolowo, who, instead, stood by Omisade to contest the election. Omisade won the seat and affirmed supremacy of the party.
Why then should the APC be lilly-livered in Ogun State? The party’s national leadership overruled consensus candidacy for primary elections in Ogun, Lagos and Imo states. In the consequent primary elections, Dapo Abiodun won the ticket in Ogun State, Hope Uzodinma won in Imo State while Jide Sanwoolu won in Lagos State. Dapo Abiodun, therefore, remains APC’s legitimate and democratically-nominated governorship candidate in Ogun State, and should have been so supported by the party hierarchy without any candidate of personal choice. It was completely wrong to have flooded Buhari’s/APC’s campaign rally with his political enemies boldly parading themselves on the platform of a different party.
The situation was identical but reaction different in Imo State, despite the fact that Governor Rochas Okorocha deserves some sympathy. When it seemed politically impossible for APC in South-East, Governor Okorocha, former Anambra Governor Chris Ngige and former governor of original Abia State, Ogbonnaya Onu, were prominent in sticking out their neck for APC foothold in that zone. But there ends his sympathy. Okorocha too tried consensus candidacy for his successor, worsened by the fact that he selected his son-in-law. That was wrong and was duly overruled by APC national leadership. Okorocha is also sponsoring his son-in-law Uche Nwosu on the platform of another party. Buhari should have been firm on supremacy of the party, instead of directing party supporters to vote for candidate of their choice.
Then the party proved inconsistent by keeping silent on Kaduna State, where the party defied the national leadership, which recommended, for reconciliation purposes, that Senator Shehu Sani should be offered automatic nomination for the seat in his senatorial district. Senator Sani also did not help the situation by failing to draw a distinction between his seeming irreconcilable differences with Nasir El-Rufai and avoidable disrespect for and snipings at Buhari. Result of elections in that state should be of concern to the two combatants.
Security personnel must be commended for their restraint over the violence at Buhari’s campaign rally at Abeokuta. Criminals who disrupted former President Goodluck Jonathan’s convoy in Kampala, Uganda, while attending a conference were all shot dead.
On the other hand, till today, there is no single arrest on the Abeokuta incident. Nigerian security should have got wind of the planned violence at Abeokuta and should have sent tens of their men to mingle with the criminals to arrest them as they threw stones.