FEATURE ARTICLE


Dr. Wumi AkintideWednesday, April 30, 2003
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Wumione@AOL.com
New York, NY, USA


WE MUST NOT JUDGE NIGERIAN ELECTIONS
BY AMERICAN OR EUROPEAN STANDARDS


am deeply troubled by some of the statements credited to some of our brothers and sisters who had lost so badly in the last Elections, and are now calling for the whole exercise to be canceled. Calling for cancellation at this stage in the game is a euphemism or a subtle invitation to the coup plotters in our Military to start exploring their chances one more time. It becomes a lot more potentially dangerous when the person making the judgment call is a retired General, and a former Head of State who had once had cause to forcibly seize power from an elected President. Such a desperate move, in my own opinion is clearly a step in the wrong direction, both for the caller and our nation as a whole.

I think the former Military Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Umar got it, exactly right, when he reminded all of us that a rigged Election, or better still, an imperfect Election like the one we have just had, is a far better option than a coup d'etat. That statement was Daniel come to judgment, and I am writing this piece to second the motion with all the emphasis at my command. Of course Governor Umar has always been a beacon of hope in our country for courage and straight talk when it matters the most. With Colonel Umar, what you see is what you get. He was like that even before he took one of the best decisions of his entire career in the Military by finding his way to Harvard to legitimize his claim to scholarship and clearheaded thinking on pressing national debate on the election stalemate, which has to be nipped in the bud, before it sets our nation on fire one more time too many.

The greatest luck our country has always had, is the fact that in spite of our collective shortcomings as a people, we always have a few individuals among us, both in the North and the South, who are willing to die for the truth, regardless of any temptation to do otherwise. These individuals can be found every where you look in our country. They can be found in the Military, in the Academia, in our Public Service, in our News media, in the Labor Unions and more importantly in our Church and Islamic Hierarchy across our country.

Governor Umar is one such individual. Balarabe Musa is another one not to talk of the father of them all in the North, the late Alhaji Aminu Kano. In our Public Service, nationwide, our country is blessed with juggernauts like the late Sule Katagun, the late Sir Manuwa to mention a few, not to talk of distinguished public servants like the late Simeon Adebo, Emeka Anyaoku and several from the North, East and West including the late Chief Michael Ani, and Ejueyitchie from the Delta region. Among two of the Permanent Secretaries from the North that I was ever privileged to work under were Ahmed Joda and the "triple A", Alhaji Alhaji Abubakar. They are two of the finest officers you will ever meet in your life. They are courageous to a fault, and like Governor Umar, they are so sure of themselves. The only person they fear is God.

You look in the academia, you find blessed souls like Wole Soyinka, the late Professor Awojobi, Professor Itse Saga who I know the best, because he was a year my senior at the great Obafemi Awolowo University of Ife. He was among the first set that graduated in 1965. He became the very first student in the history of great Ife to make a first class in Law. I am mentioning his name here, not because of his intellectual power, which is world acclaimed, I am using him as a benchmark because Itse Sagay was clearly a breed apart when you talk of courage. He also has something going for him that very few of his peers are endowed with. I am talking of his uncanny ability to frame an issue in a way that you and I can relate to and understand.

I concur with Governor Umar's statement that an imperfect Election, laced with some irregularities and manipulations, that may have tainted the last Elections, Is still several shades better than orchestrating a coup that will decimate our nascent Democracy, and reenact the Demolition crew in Uniform and jackboots that have brought our country to where we are today. I have come to a new level of awareness about Nigeria after reading the authorized biography of M.K.O. Abiola, now making the rounds in the United States and around the world.

In looking out for those individuals that have made themselves the very conscience of our Nation, you have to give kudos to the likes of the late Adekunle Ajasin who at over 80, was willing to face up to Abacha in his Gestapo days, and to call his bluff. A story was once told by the same Moshood Fayemiwo in his national best seller, the authorized biography of M.K.O. Abiola I just mentioned in my last paragraph. The late multi millionaire while looking for Ajasin's support in his struggle to be President of Nigeria had come visiting Papa in his country home at Owo with 10 million Naira in the trunk of his car that he had wanted to dish out to Papa and his supporters in NADECO Papa Ajasin did not only refuse the cash, he had given Abiola a lecture on how money could not be a substitute for principle, integrity and honor. It was vintage Papa Ajasin at his best. Politicians like Adekunle Ajasin have become endangered species in our country. What you have today are political contractors who will do anything for money. Gone are those days when you can hold a politician to his word in our country.

I have gone back to reading all over again anything I could lay my hands upon with regard to the old Biafran War as the wonderful young man called Alfred Obiora Uzokwe of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, had brought a new awareness in me as I read his "Surviving in Biafra" recently published in America. In doing so, I have had cause to go take a second look at the Ahiara Declaration one more time. I just stumbled on a letter written by the late Sir Francis Akanu Ibiam to Her Majesty , the Queen of England. Sir Ibiam was renouncing the Knighthood, and all those titles that had been bestowed on him, before the War, because he could not stand the double talk and the role of the then British Government in the Biafran War That a man of his stature would have the courage of his conviction to do what he did at the time, was profoundly inspiring and praiseworthy to me.

I am still waiting to hear from Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi, the retired Anglican Bishop of Akure Diocese, who has never passed up a chance to speak up, for the silent majority, on issues of national importance like the one just raised by Governor Umar. If there is any hope that our nation is going to survive and endure, that hope must be anchored on the willingness and the preparedness of these courageous Nigerians to stand up, and be counted on the side of he truth. The brouhaha over this Election offers yet another opportunity for all peace loving leaders of our country to now speak up, before our ship of State capsize one more time in the ocean of indecision, and irresponsible call to arms by leaders who should know better.

I will be the first to admit that the PDP' success at the polls in some places in the last Elections, are just too good to be true. I expected Governor Adefarati of my State to lose, but not as much as he actually did. I did everything I can to articulate why I think he deserved to lose. But when the result shows the PDP might in fact be heading for a one party scenario in Ondo State, just like the UPN or the AD was in Papa Awolowo's time, I did not like it. Yes, Segun Agagu was my candidate from the "get go," but I also wanted a strong opposition that would help to bring out the best in the young Governor and his running mate.

I don't appreciate a Government like the last PDP Government in Abuja that spent more time fighting themselves in the Senate and the House because there was no credible Opposition Yes, there was some rigging. It may have been more in States controlled by the PDP. But rigging also took place in States controlled by the ANPP Governors. The allegation of massive rigging against the PDP is like the pot calling the kettle black. It is a joke carried too far. Rigging is not the exclusive preserve of the PDP alone. The PDP was only more guilty because it had more control over the Police and the Army which may have looked the other way in a few polling stations, just like happened in Florida where the Bush brother was Governor. If that could happen in America with all her sophistication and technology, it has to be a forgone conclusion in our own backyard in Akungba, Iju-Odo and Akure, for sure

But that must not be stretched to mean that the whole exercise must be overturned, and a new Election started all over. That would be a recipe for disaster, and it must be resisted by the majority of our people. Even though I am a Yoruba man, I criticize Obasanjo's Government, if I need to. I have said it before, and it bears repeating here, that Nigeria's Elections cannot be judged with the same yardstick you apply in Europe or America. Every country has its own unique identity and idiosyncrasies, if you choose to call it that way. If we are applying European and American standards to the conduct of the last Elections in Nigeria, Obasanjo and the PDP would not, and could never have won the Elections.

All those points that Gani Fawehinmi in his comment on those Elections has articulated in his Press Conference are the yardstick by which a good and successful Party and candidates are judged in more stable and developed societies. By those indices of measurement, it goes without saying that Obasanjo and his Party should have been sent packing, if the Elections were to be held in America. But even in America as sophisticated as the country is, sometimes the answers to those questions like "Is the country better off today than it was, when your Government took over" may not be the only yardstick that determines whether a candidate wins or loses. Intangible things to many in the third world, like character, performance of candidates at the various television debates and whether or not the candidates have youthfulness on their side, could also come into play in deciding the outcome of the Elections.

The biggest problem Al Gore had in the last Election, was not whether or not the country was fairing better, economy-wise under Bill Clinton. It was clear to most voters that Clinton had turned a deficit economy to a surplus in eight years of luck and hard work. The real problems for Al Gore were the Clinton scandals, and a perception by much of the conservative America, that the liberals were more vulnerable on morals that than the Republicans in that Election year. George Bush Jnr and his handlers, to their credit, had managed to tie Al Gore to the character flaws of Bill Clinton. Al Gore had tried as much as humanly possible to shake off that that perception, but he failed. The Republicans had actually set up Al Gore for failure, and he fell for their bait, hook, line and sinker, failing to make use of Bill Clinton, and to actually campaign side by side with him in securing victories in smaller states like Arkansas and Tennessee and one or two other places which would have made the Florida result never as critical, as it later turned out to be, for the margin of victory or defeat. I was one of those pundits consulting and doing analysis for Al Gore, at the time, just like we have successfully done for Bill Clinton in previous years and for Hillary in the all important Senate Race in the big Apple. Al Gore, for some inexplicable reason, did not listen, and he had paid dearly for it by losing to a weaker but better equipped and better prepared candidate in G. W. Bush who finally won through a t.k.o. at the Electoral College.

My point here is that Obasanjo as a candidate was decidedly stronger than any of his rivals in that Election based on the peculiar and unique indices for winning or losing Elections in our country. You could say all you want that Nigeria is a country walking on her head, because we all do some plain stupid things in our value system that other polities around the would consider very silly or insane. But that is who we are, and we have got to live with that until we are ready and willing to change. We have a practice in Clinical Psychology and Social Work which says "You have to always start where the client is at" You miss the road if you don't. "You will be climbing the tree above the leaves" to borrow a word from Moshood Fayemiwo's book on M.K.O.

The Yorubas know very well that if you climb the tree above the leaves, you are sure to take a Napoleon fall. We have to take the country at her face value. We have to accept Nigeria for what she is. Period. We are just not ready to be judged by the same standards applied in other countries outside our own.

If you don't believe me, I urge you to go get yourself a copy of this new Fayemiwo's Book on Abiola, and to read it from cover to cover as I have done. If you do, you will realize it is hard to clone Nigeria as it is presently configured You either take it or leave it is where we are. We are always making the wrong choices, and picking the worst candidates for the wrong reasons. If you cast your mind back to Tafawa Balewa, and how he became our first Prime Minister, you will agree the problem is not in our stars but our social make-up as a nation right from the involuntary amalgamation of 1914 by Lord Lugard.

The only southerner to ever win the fairest and freest election in our history, was also the wrong candidate, if you ask me, and if you remember how many better candidates were dropped or disqualified by the evil genius before M.K.O was able to emerge. He probably would have turned out to be another disaster as hinted by Moshood in his wonderful book, because money alone does not make one a good President. The June 12 debate was not on whether or not we all believe that M.K.O. would have been a good President. The debate was on the fact that he was robbed of his victory (deserved or not) by an evil genius pretending to be what he was not. The Moshood Fayemiwo' book is a must read for all Nigerians. Once I started reading it, I just could not let go until I finished the book. It has answered for me, as it will answer for you all, the questions you may have been looking for all these years..

Those who are rightly upset that PDP had completely swept the polls in the last Elections despite its apparent weaknesses, would be consoled, if they come to realize that Obasanjo, despite his shortcomings or weaknesses, as a man or as a president, has actually passed the acid test for anyone who could lead Nigeria in what I call "the Nigeria State of mind" Just like we have "the New York State of mind" we must all now begin to appreciate "the Nigeria State of mind"

The Nigeria State of mind requires that if you want to become President so bad, you have to first of all pretend you don't want it at all, and let people start appealing to you to please consider it. Awolowo and Azikiwe did not understand that, to begin with, but Balewa did, and he became Prime Minister, with effortless ease, even though he was the least qualified. Obasanjo has always understood that very well, hence he has been President twice, and was reluctant to do it the third time until God spoke to him, and until Nigerians led by Solomon Lar and Annini trooped out to Ota begging him to please oblige the nation. Obasanjo was only following the script he has mastered so well. Abiola did not understand the script, and his millionaire magic wand could not do the trick. He had to forcefully proclaimed himself President, but what he got instead was "Seriki tulasi" He also had to lose his life in doing it.

The Nigeria State of mind requires that you always identify with the North more than you identify with your own people. You must also be willing to equate the interest of Nigeria with that of the North. If you do, you will be fine, if you run for President. The Nigeria State of mind enjoins you to recognize that election or no election, there is a powerful cabal that decides who will rule Nigeria, or who will die in an effort to do so. If that cabal does not want you, you could have all the best credentials for the job like Awolowo, Azikiwe, and Gani Fawehinmi, you will never get there. The Nigeria State of mind requires you to say and actually believe in the statement made famous by Yakubu Gowon when he said "To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done, regardless of the inequities within the system. The Nigeria State of mind requires that you do not rock the boat, or suddenly change the rules by which the country was put together, and governed from the "get go"

You could tinker with the rules here and there, for illusion purposes, but you must never touch the fundamentals. If you won't promise that, don't even try. The people in Government in Nigeria are not the power brokers in Nigeria. The power brokers are else where in the nook and corners of a particular section of our country. If you are not willing to play ball according to their own rules, don't even try. That is the Nigeria State of mind. You also must not ruffle the feathers, or try to project Nigeria as a secular state. In the mindset of the power brokers, Nigeria is an Islamic State. You have got to be willing to live with that perception for you to successfully rule Nigeria. Don't you ever think of removing Nigeria from the Organization of Islamic States. Just let sleeping dogs lie, and you will do just fine as President..

All those issues that make candidates win or lose elections in civilized polities around the world, like freedom for all, and life more abundant, fighting corruption, constructing and maintaining roads, making sure there is security of life and property in the country, proper education for our children, affordable Housing, making sure the Military never venture into politics, a buoyant economy, availability of Food, are only a side attraction for the power brokers of Nigeria. You could do all of that, and still not become President as Awolowo would tell you.

You can now see that Obasanjo has fulfilled all righteousness more than any of his rivals for the job. He has fully met all the fundamentals, and has even ventured into some of the other areas like providing telephones, constructing new roads, improving basic infrastructures like power generation, and allowing the money to circulate. Those are the things that I thought about, and I finally came to the conclusions, that given the rules of the game, Obasanjo has to be the man to beat in the last Elections. So those of you who lost very badly in the last Election, and you want to blame rigging as the main reason, I have to tell you, you are wrong.

There was more to that victory than just rigging on the part of the PDP and Obasanjo. The gods of victory in Nigerian Elections are definitely on the side of Obasanjo and the PDP for that Election. Don't ever hope you can have the Election overturned, based on allegations of rigging alone. If you love Nigeria, you should just go and take full advantage of the Election tribunals to seek a redress. Hopefully, you will get some justice that way. It is gratifying that the PDP and the President himself have agreed to cancel and redo the Elections in 6 of the States where rigging or day light robbery could not be swept under the carpet, because it was too blatant.

Obasanjo has already gotten away with this because he had actually won the Election, and I predict again that he and the PDP are going to do very well in the Elections to be overturned and the subsequent ones coming up first week of May. The second Osagyefo has emerged in our life time. I say "Hail to the Chief" as I appeal to the losers to bury the hatchet, for he who fights and runs away, lives to do another fight. You should address yourself to creating a meaningful opposition, and see yourself as a Government in waiting. Hopefully the rules of the game would drastically change in the future to make the opposition the alternative to a Government or Party that has failed to live up to her promise. That is the only way to support and nurture our nascent Democracy in Nigeria, not through another bloody or bloodless coup.

I rest my case.