On threats of war….. Guardian

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IT is an enduring tragedy of the on-going politicking that many who speak do so without much wisdom but only to show how much they like the sound of their own voices. Expectedly, the words they speak neither edify them nor the nation. It is a phenomenon Nigeria can do without.

The run-up to the postponed general elections has been underlined by violent vituperations by politicians enamoured of power and its concomitant benefits only. In pouring such enormous bile, they seem to forget that Nigeria must survive and thrive; the interest of the masses seems to take the back stage in the fray as war drums are beaten. Painfully, these threats of war are coming from men of low estimation thrust upon the country as men of means or influence just by the basest ineptitude of governance.

The other day, the self-styled ex-militants gathered in the Government House Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa State, to deliberate ostensibly on the political direction of the country. The roll call included Mujahedeen Asari-Dokubo, Government Ekpemupolo (aka Tompolo,) Victor Ebikabowei (aka Boyloaf), Bayelsa Governor Seriake Dickson, himself and Kingsley Kuku, the Special Adviser to the President on  Niger Delta. The outcome of the meeting was one of threats if the present occupier of Aso Rock loses in the coming presidential election. Couched in the customary North versus South divide rhetoric, the ex-militants threatened that if the North succeeded in taking power in the election, the people of the Niger Delta would take their oil. For effects they added: For every Goliath, God created a David. For every Pharaoh, there is a Moses. We are going to war. Every one of you should go and fortify yourself.”

Before then, partisan statements of threats had come from the likes of Tanko Yakassai, Lawal Kaita, Adamu Ciroma, Junaid Mohammed and a few others to the effect that the country would be made ungovernable if power does not return to the north. Even before the 2011 general elections, Lawal Kaita, a former governor said among other things that: “Anything short of a northern president is tantamount to stealing our presidency. Jonathan has to go and he will go. Even if he uses incumbency power to get his nomination on the platform of the PDP, he will be frustrated out. The North should not be blamed for the calamity that would befall Nigeria if Jonathan emerged as the president”.

The recent statements especially those by the ex-militants had such a chilling effect on many Nigerians and attracted the response of a former Army Chief and Defence Minister, Lt. General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma who appropriately opined that “Nigeria belongs to everybody and we must do everything possible to safeguard her unity”. He then urged politicians to focus on issues and not personalities or things that would inflame tension in the country. He went further to call for the arrest of the ex-militants for their “irresponsible” utterances.

The government’s belated response came from the Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, who cautioned against inflammatory statements and said there was no basis for them, moreso as the president had said he would concede victory to the winner, if he lost the election. In Moro’s words, “It is reprehensible for people to threaten this country with mayhem should their candidates lose election. The President, Dr. Jonathan has not left anybody in doubt as to his preparedness to conduct a free, fair, credible and transparent election.”

Certainly, the ex-militants had a point in wondering why statesmen like General Danjuma did not call for arrests when people like Lawal Kaita and Junaid Muhammed and others were mouthing similar vitriol in the past, but this does not obviate the irresponsibility of their attitude and statements. Neither the militants nor the rabble-rousers from other parts of Nigeria own the country and they all stand condemned.

It is true that democracy guarantees freedom of expression, justice, equity and electoral legitimacy. Every Nigerian has the right to express himself or herself on any issue. The exercise of this freedom must, however, be responsible to the extent that it does not mortgage the liberty of expression of others and of the larger polity. When such unguarded statements as are being reported are made, the majesty of democracy is undermined. Already, the polity is heated up and comments that would further accentuate tension must be eschewed. Two, there is need for justice and equity in the country. Election will surely come and go, but Nigeria must remain united and the country needs peace. Although President Jonathan and his main rival, General Muhammadu Buhari have both cautioned their supporters to avoid violence, the president should have been more direct in condemnation when his officials or loyalists were present in meetings where threats of war were being issued against the country to the offence of the public psyche.

The legitimacy of democracy rests in a freely given mandate of the electorate and not in any authoritarian tactic. Nigerians must be allowed to decide who governs them and must not be coerced by words or deeds. Above all, Nigeria is bigger than any individual or group of persons.

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