By Sufuyan Ojeifo
Sing-songs about the plot by the current administration to rig the February 16 presidential election in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari have taken centre stage.
Nigerians must have listened to the recent warning dirges of former president and retired army general, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and his former compatriot in the army, former chief of army staff and one-time minister of defence in his (Obasanjo’s) government, General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (retd.)
Apparently, prudence is at work here. They have not pointedly accused Buhari of masterminding the alleged plot. The general drift is that some administration officials have perfected plans to use the institutions and agencies of the state to manipulate the process in order to confer undue advantage on Buhari. And this is where the test of integrity can and should be ascertained. Buhari has been reputed to be a man of integrity.
The question is: even if he is not aware of plot to allegedly rig the election to favour him, has his body language not suggested to his officials that he is in pari materia with the idea and will, therefore, not mind it, provided nobody raises the issue with him? Another question is: does that pretence or hypocrisy accord with the nature of integrity? Yet another question: does Buhari have the weight of character to look chicanery in the eyes and declare: “to hell with you!”?
Can he then go ahead to reject the outcome of a flawed, manipulated process that produces him as winner? Responses in the affirmative are the stuff that integrity is made of. Buhari should have helped himself by constantly reining in his administration officials not to be party to a negotiated presidential electoral process and outcome. He would have doused tension and anxieties if he had decided to repeat verbal exhortations, as former President Goodluck Jonathan did, that his re-election is not a do-or-die affair and that it is not worth the blood of any Nigerian.
In fact, the interventionist role by the National Peace Committee, headed by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Alhaji Abubakar in ensuring that the electioneering and electoral process are peaceful, transparent, credible and acceptable to all stakeholders would have just been merely salutary. The committee would not need to persuade winner and losers to accept the outcome, once the process was acceptable to all.
I remember a conversation that I had with former Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and one-time permanent secretary in the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Petroleum Resources, the late Chief Sunday Bolorunduro Awoniyi in 2002, about the significance of transparency and credibility of electoral process. He told me about how he reined in his supporters in the ill-fated Third Republic when he contested on the platform of the National Republican Convention (NRC) for the Kogi West Senatorial seat, not to rig the process in his favour with a threat that if he discovered that the process was rigged, he would reject his victory as flawed.
The conversation had a context to it. It was at the time General Muhammadu Buhari had indicated interest in contesting the presidential election on the All Peoples Party (APP) platform in 2003. Awoniyi and Buhari were friends. In fact, Awoniyi was permanent secretary in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources at the time Buhari was federal commissioner in charge of the ministry. He spoke about how, under their watch, they negotiated the costs of major contracts downwards and rebuffed overtures by foreign companies to pay the amount negotiated off the contracts into their personal foreign accounts.
In essence, Buhari had come highly recommended to me and I remember casting my vote for him in the 2003 presidential election. His integrity credential appeared writ large. That was also significant in the countrywide support he enjoyed in the 2015 presidential election in which he defeated an incumbent president. Although, the issue presently is not much of reputation, yet we are in a situation where, reasonably, the index of performance is more or less the determining factor.
Interestingly, opposition elements have continued to harangue Buhari in a bid to deny him of his integrity capital as well as to discount his claim of performance in office. Expectedly, Buhari, his sponsoring party – the All Progressives Congress (APC) and his administration officials have not relented in pushing into the public domain and the consciousness of Nigerians counter narratives in self-justification. In the process, they have, perhaps, made excess claims in the provision of infrastructure facilities and overrated the administration in the overall delivery of democracy dividends.
The strategic decision to deploy conditional cash transfer of N5, 000 to the most vulnerable in the society and tradermoni of N10, 000 in the uplift of market women, et al, coupled with the administrative processes involving deployment of personnel to man critical beats at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other sundry issues such as the creation of Voting Point Settlements (VPS), have been construed in some quarters as tantamount to a rigging plot.
Though the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been understandably most vociferous in its criticisms, the decision by Obasanjo and Danjuma to lend their voices to the process of alerting Nigerians to the alleged rigging plot has certainly raised the stakes and heightened anxieties in the polity. The fact that Obasanjo, in particular, made the allegation should not be taken lightly, especially if it was genuine and not for the promotion of some mischief.
Significantly, Obasanjo was once in the saddle as president and he knew what he did to win re-election in 2003. And, if what he did in 2003 was restrained, the 2007 purported unrestrained manipulation of the election that produced Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as president has continued to question his moral authority to rail against the issue of rigging, let alone pointing a finger of guilt at the Buhari administration.
It is like the proverbial dictum and rationalization that it is only the thief that knows the path of another thief on the rock. To that extent, if there is actually a plot to rig, then with the benefit of hindsight, Obasanjo’s decision to raise the alarm should be quite instructive so that Nigerians can take necessary positive actions to ensure that their votes count. But if the alarm was motivated by intended mischief, the onus is on the Buhari administration and institutions responsible for conducting the election to prove that they are above reproach, like Caesar’s wife.
However, the Danjuma angle is what appears to have somewhat reinforced the purported rigging plot. It has given the allegation some measure of gravitas. Having not been overtly political and having not been known to be flippant, the alarm by the reserved general is on the basis of his antecedents distinguishable from Obasanjo’s.
As it is a majority of Nigerians are concerned about the convergence of the dispositions, anxieties and claims expressed by these respected and influential generals on the theme of alleged rigging plot in the scheduled February 16 presidential election. In order to bolster the integrity of, in particular, the presidential electoral process and the outcome, all domestic and international stakeholders must be on their toes to compel compliance with due process. Perhaps, this is the essence of the Obasanjo and Danjuma’s clarion calls for eternal vigilance, which is the price of liberty (read democratic and popular choice).
- Ojeifo contributed this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org