Fellow Nigerians, today is not June 12, 1993, but it has all the trappings of that fateful day. For those who may not remember, let me repeat for the umpteenth time, that was our most beautiful democratic day as Nigerians trooped out in droves to vote for a candidate of their choice. And it was a straight fight, but a battle royale, between Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, the Aare Ona Kakanfo (a generalissimo) of Yorubaland and Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa, a Kano businessman. That election was epic because Abiola defeated his opponent black and blue all over Nigeria.
As I write this I feel a deep sense of nostalgia. Chief Abiola was definitely a more popular candidate whose fame was well-known even in far-flung places. As such his opponent and the godfathers behind him were scared to their bones about the possibility of having a strong President who may not be easily malleable or readily manipulate-able. Thus all manner of hurdles were erected along a path of thorns for Abiola to surmount. All kinds of infamous associations and nebulous organisations came from the woods to oppose him and to make it impossible for the election to hold. Even on the eve of June 12, a judge still went out of her way to deliver a judgment that sought to stop the election in its tracks but mercifully it was ignored and promptly consigned to the dustbin of history.
Well, we thought the worst was over and didn’t consider the desperation of those forces we were duelling against. The election came and it was so well accomplished with Nigerians conducting themselves with dignity and decorum. It was the day we broke down our walls of Jericho and all the artificial barriers that divided us along ethnic and religious lines. No one would have envisaged the uncommon audacity of a few control freaks who felt Nigerians did not deserve such a glorious and momentous occurrence. As soon as it became obvious that Abiola was coasting home to victory, the enemies of change struck and what had come to be known as HOPE ’93 and its attendant mantra “Farewell to Poverty” was shattered to smithereens.
Unfortunately, our happiest day soon became our saddest nightmare. It was an act of unsurpassed oppression and we were told in very clear terms we were nothing more than slaves or lesser beings in animal farm. Nigeria was instantly teleported back to the Stone Age and it is my belief that we are yet to recover from that traumatic experience. I have had to repeat this tragedy of monumental proportions before history repeats itself in an even uglier way. I will explain my reasons shortly.
Let’s fast forward to 2015 and juxtapose the current election against that of 1993. Today’s event is expected to be a straight-forward battle between the incumbent President, Goodluck Jonathan and a former Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari. Ordinarily, the challenger should be the underdog but not in this particular match. In a reversal of fortune, for want of better depiction, the ruling party has been pummelled into pulp by a much stronger opposition. It is one of those mysteries of life that a General Buhari that most of us rejected and derided in the past has now become our cult figure. Indeed, if there is a rock star in Africa today, that man is General Buhari. Such was the position that Abiola had also found himself in 1993 having come from being derided as an Islamic fundamentalist and a supposedly tainted moneybag to being touted as the Messiah of those times.
It is absolutely surreal that a General Buhari who had virtually given up on his perennial participation in politics and openly said he would not contest again is the same man facing a President Jonathan who had promised to spend only one term in power. That is not all; a much older General Buhari seemed to have gathered more momentum than a much younger President Jonathan. Furthermore, a man who was called unprintable names is now a walking super-brand, while a President who rode triumphantly to power under the effervescent slogan of Fresh Air is now the one desperately fighting for survival and clutching at one passing reed after another in an ocean where the current has been blistering and furiously against him.
But we have been warned by those who should know that a fully entrenched political party that has been in power for 16 years won’t go simply away of its own volition. The President is not necessarily the problem but the many acolytes who just can’t contemplate the thought of losing power and the endless lucre they continue to amass by being in the corridors of power. Their mind-set, according to impeccable sources is that much as they might have regretfully stomached and painfully tolerated defeat to any other opponent, they will never hand over power to a General Buhari because of his strong anti-corruption antecedents. Their fear is that this courageous and fearless warrior will not only haul them into jail, he will do the unthinkable by making them disgorge their loot leaving them with nothing to come back to after the ordeal of incarceration. This is why we must travel back in history to use as veritable example to those saddled with power and glory today.
When the June 12 election was annulled in 1993, President Ibrahim Babangida was not a candidate. The fear therefore is that if an election in which the substantive President was not directly involved could be so butchered what stops the candidate of today’s ruling party from attempting the same stunt. This is why all our men and women of influence, goodwill and great conscience should not just fold their arms today and assume that this cup shall pass over us without concerted efforts. The body language of those in power is ominously jumpy and nothing must be ignored or taken for granted.
This election must be free and fair. The acrimonious campaigns leading to this election has left no one in doubt that the hawks in the power conclave have taken over big time and only God can enter their hearts and calm them down. I believe our electoral body, INEC, has done its best. It is up to the politicians and electorates to make things work as planned. Despite the peace accord that has twice been voluntarily signed by the leaders, a portentous sign in itself; there have been skirmishes here and there. This may escalate from later today if care is not taken.
The major lesson to learn from June 12 is not how to win the election but how to manage the victory. The terminal error in 1993 was that Chief Abiola worked assiduously to win that election but did not prepare for any eventuality. There was no Plan B! The scenario on ground today is even more sinister and dastardly. We must immediately work out every plan possible.
The abuse of appurtenances of power has become too brazen. Our security forces have been polluted and dragged into the murky waters of politics. Both the Military and unfortunately, the President in his final election broadcast to the nation, have sought to intimidate, bully and cajole the populace with their control of the military might of the nation. The diction employed belongs in the military or coup day vocabulary, harsh, dismissive and condescending. There is no basis for an Army Chief or indeed the Commander in Chief to restate the obvious that the laws of the land lay down punitive measures for the few who breach the electoral rules and act with violence on or after election day.
Even a national State-owned television company that should be made available to all the candidates was hijacked and virtually monopolised by only one candidate and his governing political party. There should be a level playing field in politics. It would help to douse this tension and quicken the healing process post-election.
We cannot continue to run wild like animals in the zoo because of power and the perks of office. All the terrifying rumours concerning this election must be restrained and resisted to the end. We thank God that so far so good; the hawks have not had their way. By last week the impression was that this election might still be postponed, that Professor Jega would be sent on compulsory leave, that the card readers would be discarded, and all what not. At every step, and stage, there were serious insinuations about the credibility of the election and aspersions were cast on the government for its overbearing intervention in electoral matters.
Reports of wanton arrests of political opponents, allowing gun-wielding militants free rein on the streets of Lagos without hindrance from security agents has not helped matters. Again, the Presidential broadcast yesterday in which Dr Goodluck Jonathan promised to speedily apprehend and summarily deal with trouble-makers is as I have said worrisome because it was unwarranted as it is capable of misinterpretation. However, I pray God would give him the fortitude to do so across party lines. Once we can successfully conduct this election with minimal chaos, our next worry would be how to tame the many dogs of war ever ready to undertake any activity on behalf of their masters, whether they have been tasked with such opprobrious duties or not.
There is no doubt in my mind that it would really be helpful if the winner of the Presidential election wins convincingly. That would entail the following. Apart from obtaining the mandatory 25% in 24 out of 36 states, he must win the popular votes in at least four of the six geo-political zones. If the President wins he must take the lead in all the three zones in the South plus at least one in the North. If General Buhari wins, I would expect him to do so in the three Northern zones and in at least one Southern zone. I therefore expect President Jonathan to attempt a sweep of South South, South East and South West, plus one zone in North East, North Central or North West if he is victorious. I hope a winning General Buhari would lock down the North West, North East and North Central plus at least one zone in South South, South East or South West.
A situation where a Northern candidate wins only in the North and the Southern candidate is limited to victory in the South would make the winner very unpresidential. I can’t wait to see the candidate that would be able to cross to the other side of the regions in this particular election. It would also be exciting to see what happens at the level of the religious divide.
Religious affiliation has become a major factor, sadly, at this time and age. It wasn’t an issue in 1993 when Chief Moshood Abiola picked his fellow Muslim, Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe as running-mate and still won the election. It was less an issue in 2011 when Mallam Nuhu Ribadu picked his fellow Muslim, Mr Tajudeen Fola Adeola as Vice Presidential candidate, though they did not win.
Whoever wins today must demonstrate a capacity to carry people of other religious persuasions along. General Buhari should be able to garner substantial Christian votes in the South while President Jonathan should also be able to secure significant votes in the predominantly Muslim North. This would give everyone a sense of belonging within the polity. The present division along religious lines has become too volatile for any leader to remain in his cocoon.
My final wish for this election is that whoever wins should be magnanimous in victory and do everything to carry his opponent along. The loser should also be noble and tolerable in defeat, provided of course that the election has been visibly free and fair! The reason for this palpable tension which now pervades the country is that fear of the unknown. A line of dialogue should be urgently opened in order to assuage feelings of persecution and oppression.
The last thing Nigerians want at this time of our existence is an election that is neither credible nor fair. Happily the electoral Umpire has created an enabling environment to remove any doubts that it will be otherwise than free and fair. Our politicians must not despoil this fantastic opportunity by trying to gain advantages by unfair, desperate means. As the President said in his election broadcast the whole world is watching us and it is high time the largest nation in Africa, indeed one of the largest in the world, took its rightful place at the upper echelon of the comity of democratic nations.
God bless our people. God bless Nigeria.