FEW people are likely to be surprised that the Jonathan administration has not reacted to the recording released by Sahara Reporters in which a junior defence minister claims that he was mandated by the president to draft a couple of army officers to facilitate and coordinate a subversion of the 2014 Ekiti governorship elections. Having personalised state security institutions, and having become accustomed to suborning law-enforcement agencies for partisan, often criminal, political assignments, any president overcome with hubris enough to play the strongman can afford to treat the people with contempt. Incidentally, barring a columnist’s comments, as well as brief stories from some newspapers, the public has maintained a funereal silence over this horrifying revelation. Does this seeming lack of interest imply a feeling amongst the populace that the country has, in any case, opted out of the civilised world, owing to the barbarity of Nigerian rulers, and their impunity-hardened proclivity for criminality? Or, perhaps Nigerians themselves have become indifferent to their own collective plight because everybody is preoccupied with “claiming” his personal material salvation in accordance with the individualism-ethos of miracle-peddling Pentecostal neo-Christianity? That none of our civil-society associations has so far raised its voice over this affair – NLC, NBA, Roman Catholic Bishops and Guild of Editors – also gives the impression that one and all have taken the Sahara Reporters’ revelation as no more than the latest token of the moral collapse of the Nigerian state.
Nevertheless, I am personally surprised that Jonathan’s number one attack dog has not been fuming with righteous indignation at what would, if untrue, be outrageous slander of his master’s reputation. This must indeed also be an awkward time for even the urbane artists at white-washing sepulchers. But, what can the smartest geniuses at advertising deep-black as sparkling white (depending on circumstances and inducements) do in this difficult-to-deny involvement of the president in a subversion of the electoral process? For now, these professional equivocators appear to be waiting for it to blow over, seeing their boss, like the proverbial dog fated to be lost, can no longer hear the hunter’s horn.
In a situation like this concerning the alleged involvement of powerful people in serious crime for which they have not been formally charged, and over which they themselves are keeping silent, perhaps the only way to go is by the law of probabilities. The main issue, then, is what is already known about the abuses to which the Jonathan government has often subjected the security forces, including the military, during national elections.
All Nigerian rulers, right from Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, have always considered it part of their prerogative to use the army for partisan political interests, including influencing the conduct of elections. However, in matters of scale, and in the brazenness of the abuse, Jonathan would appear to have been far more daring than his predecessors. It was in the Ekiti elections of June 2014, conducted when the Boko Haram insurgency which began five years earlier was still fiercely raging, that the largest numbers of troops so far were deployed for elections. Yet, the polling was far outside the theatre of the insurrection. Apart from the regular army, the Ekiti elections, as well as the ones in Osun two months later, for the first time in the country’s history, witnessed a number of uniformed, gun-toting masked men. These “soldiers” it was subsequently learnt, were used to pick up opposition party candidates, along with party officials and agents, to be either locked up, or guarded by the uniformed and masked, party thugs for the two or so days the elections lasted. Some of these masked soldiers of spurious provenance also went about the streets of Ekiti and Osun towns, shooting into the air, intimidating the populace, and causing consternation and panic. It is also instructive that during the Ekiti elections, two state governors, who are members of the APC opposition party, were prevented by soldiers from entering the state. A “chieftain” of the ruling party, a professional political thug with obnoxious reputation, from Anambra State, was however escorted by soldiers to Ekiti where local opposition politicians had already been put away to ensure that they could not monitor the process and conduct of the elections either at the polls, or at the collation centres.