BY JEANY METTA-ANGOYE
In one of his popular releases in the 80’s and perhaps with a peep into the future, Sonny Okosun, the popular Edo born musician making the waves then, squealed “ ..which way Nigeria … which way Nigeria …which way to go ...I love my father’s land.”
In view of the current position the country has found itself economically, politically and otherwise, the above words from the said musician is no doubt instructive to every Nigerian and friends of Nigeria who are sad about how generations of the country’ leaders, since independence from colonial Britain, squandered the chance to take the country to the height it deserves.
Against this background of wasted opportunities, the fact remains that, the coming Feb 16 to March 2 , 2019 general elections provides for the electorate, a clear chance to decide, with his/her voters’ card, the direction -as enunciated by the vision of the existing political parties /candidates - they want the country to go.
For sure, what cannot be easily wished away in Nigeria’s current democratic experience in recent times is the levels of awareness the country’s electorate is showing concerning the power their Permanent
Voter Card (PVC) wields in determining who they want to represent them at the various levels of elective political leadership.
The scenario that played out in the epochal 2015 Presidential election where, for the first time in the country’s democratic practices, the sitting President (Goodluck Jonathan) of a ruling political party (PDP) was overwhelmingly defeated -in an election -by the opposition (APC) to a large extent, announced the arrival of high level awareness of the voters’ power to change the status quo at any given election.
With all that transpired in pre- and post- 2015 general elections already catalogued in the annals of history, Nigerians are once again, in the 2019 general elections, presented with yet another opportunity to decide of course, with their voters cards, which, among the numerous political parties they would give the mandate to pilot affairs that would affect their destinies at the local, state or national levels of governance.
From the federal seat of power at Aso Villa, Abuja to the various coordinating centres of influence at the 36 states plus FCT, the atmosphere appears charged to the extent that, alarms are being raised that the election is likely to be marred by rigging, violence, vote buying among other electoral infractions that are expected to cause a breach in the existing peace and order in the country.
These concerns which are being raised by individuals, organizations and groups locally and internationally, arise from the statements, actions or inactions of the major political actors, their aides and supporters that tend to give one the impression that hell would be let loose on Nigerians if their favorite candidate does not win his/her election.
Though Nigeria’s political landscape is dominated largely by the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) out of the existing 90-plus political parties, the facts on ground show that the battle for the votes of Nigerians in the Presidential election is a straight fight between incumbent APC’s Mohammadu Buhari and PDP’s and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar.
Since the flag-off of campaigns as directed by INEC, Nigerians, who have been inundated with the utopian promises of these two major political parties among others, have had no other choice than to watch the unfolding script with an air of suspicion.
Yes ! Suspicion, viewed against the fact that PDP which is aspiring to take over the reins of Federal power from the ruling APC squandered its goodwill of 16years on the altar of corruption upon which Nigerians rejected it in 2015. For the ruling APC, its avowed desire to free Nigeria from the vice-grip of corrupt government officials and institutions has made Nigerians, for obvious reasons, not to take its fight against corruption seriously. Thus, the dilemma electorates find themselves over which, between these two major political parties/candidates, they would vote for on Election Day.
Party /Candidates Strategy:Not oblivious of its waning appeal to Nigerians who expected it to live up to its pre-2015 CHANGE electoral promises, the ruling Buhari –led APC is doing everything it can to ensure that it defeats every contestant in the race, not a few are of the opinion that in recent times, the party has been employing desperate and untoward tactics in achieving that goal.
Pinning its slogan on taking the country and the people away from its contentious CHANGE agenda to the NEXT LEVEL, it has not left behind the usual mantra of telling the electorate that “ those who ate up our commonwealth for 16 years should not be allowed to come back to power”.
All through its campaign trail, the leading lights of the Party ( APC) President Buhari, Adams Oshomoile, Bola Tinubu, Lai Mohammed, Rotimi Amaechi have equally been busy reeling out the debatable achievement of the Party since it took over Federal power from the opposition PDP and these, are constantly being conveyed to the public through the various conventional or unorthodox mass media platforms.
It could be recalled that at the onset of its determination to take over power from then ruling PDP- led government at the centre, APC harped its redeeming CHANGE vision for the country on three cardinal planks namely; total fight against corruption, winning the war against the Boko Haram terrorist group/ armed threats to the territorial integrity of the country and improving the nation’s economic fortunes which, according to it, the PDP had allegedly rendered comatose when they were in power.
Like it did in pre-2015, the propaganda machine of APC have not relented in demonizing the main PDP opposition and its Presidential flag-bearer Chief Atiku Abubakar on allegations of graft among other unsubstantiated claims.
A case in point is the claim by APC’s National Chairman Adams Oshomoile during President Buhari’s recent campaign in Kano that as Vice to former President Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999-2007 Atiku Abubakar “ caused the collapse of several companies in Kano.”
Prior to when the PDP chose its Presidential candidate, the opposition was never regarded as a threat to the ruling APC particularly for the Presidential election. However when such big wigs as Senate President Bukola Saraki , Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, among many Senators and House of Reps members decamped from the ruling APC to then floundering PDP which eventually resented ex-VP Atiku Abubakar as its Presidential candidate for the 2019 Presidential election, the stakes immediatelyrose to a very high octave.
Aside the larger –than- life picture of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar which APC ‘s strategists are busy working to diminish with the tar of corruption they hope the populace and electorate will buy into like it easily did against former President Goodluck Jonatthan in 2015, the other element which the ruling party is currently contending with, is the perception by many Nigerians and the International community that the much trumpeted fight against corruption is just a ploy to get at perceived political opponents and “strong men” from the other side of the divide . Add that to the stark reality that its promises to make life better for Nigerians has been anything but otherwise, one would then know the dilemma that stares the electorate in the face as D day gets closer.
On the part of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), its strategy has been no less intense and confrontational. Soonest they overcame the numerous court cases concerning its National leadership which almost snuffed life out of it and oncluded its Presidential Primary that eventually produced Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as its Presidential candidate last year, they became embolden and went headlong against the ruling APC word for word, propaganda for propaganda, allegations for allegations.
Having earlier, through its National Chairman Uche Secondus apologized to Nigerians over how it handled the affairs of the country since 1999 to 2015 before it was defeated by the then fledging opposition APC, the Party (PDP) promised Nigerians that, should it be given yet another opportunity at the Centre (in the 2019 Polls) it would perform far better than it did the last time it occupied Aso Villa, much to the admiration of Nigerians.
In statements upon statements by its National Publicity Secretary Kola Ologbodinyon and Press briefings by other leading lights of the Party, PDP reeled out alleged breaches of Buhari-led APC administration in all the areas it promised to make a better change for the people when it canvassed for votes in 2015.
In the fight against Boko Haram terrorist group, PDP picked holes in Lai Mohammed (Information Minister’s) claim that the deadly Islamic sect has been technically defeated. Other well meaning Nigerians including the US, UK, European Union have also expressed concerns that the Buhari- led APC federal government has not shown enough commitment in the total elimination of the group or its affiliates considering the fact that in recent times, attacks against Army formations and communities in the North East war zone has become so frequent that one begin to wonder where to place Lai Mohammed’s “ Boko Haram has been technically defeated” claim .
Some are even weaving conspiracy theories on the part of well placed individuals in the Administration and the Military, who they allege, pass valuable information to the sect on troop’s movement, thus making them vulnerable to deadly attacks that have been claiming the lives of soldiers in the frontlines.
Aside several losses which the Nigerian Army and Nigerian Airforce have been recording at the battle- field in quick succession in recent times, PDP had equally cried foul over the manner young girls from a Government Secondary School in Dapchi, Yobe State were abducted and released (without one Christian girl, Leah Sharibu) after a hefty ransom in Dollars was allegedly paid to the insurgents.
Sighting further cases like the selective arrests, detention, prosecution and intimidation of alleged corrupt persons while those in APC are not brought to book even with overwhelming evidence against them, the PDP is telling Nigerians that a vote for Buhari would lead to further shielding of corrupt members of the APC led administration who have now made it the “most corrupt government ever” in the history of the country. The statement credited to APC’s National Chairman to politicians that “ if you crossover to APC, your sins will be forgiven “ has been sighted as one proof that the APCadministration condones and dines with corruption.
Like the issue of the fight against corruption which it says the APC has failed to tackle, PDP, through its Atiku /Obi candidacy is saying that, if voted in to take-over from Buhari who, instead of creating more jobs for the people as once promised, has rather swelled the ranks of the unemployed, a far better life it
assures, awaits everyone; as platforms that would encourage the creation of more jobs would be established to suck in millions of the unemployed population.
Aside the promise to ensure that 70% of appointments would go the way of younger persons with an equally sizeable percentage for the women folk if voted in, PDP is equally dangling the tempting carrot of Restructuring a matter that has been generating a lot of interest and swirling up emotions in a greater number of people and regions in the country.
Appealing as Restructuring is to, particularly people of the Southern and Middle -belt Zones of the country, people in the core North – Northwest, to be precise, are not disposed to the idea of Restructuring; the supposed magic wand for a united Nigeria’s march to economic/industrial greatness.
PDP’s worries are not limited to Buhari’s lopsided fight against corruption, inability to rein in the Boko Haram terrorist group, nor its inability to raise the country out from the hyper inflation, non performing state the economy has been bogged in for years now.
They say that his style of government where, over 90% of those occupying the most critical positions in his administration comes from his core Muslim Northwest region, not only smirks of high level of nepotism never before witnessed in the country, but also threatens the unity, peace, stability and progress of the nation.
A case in point is in the composition of the heads of major security and judicial organs of government where only 1 out of that lot i.e. the Chief of Naval Staff, is from the South and a Christian.
While the ruling Buhari-led APC administration see nothing wrong with this obvious breach of the 1999Constitution that preaches Unity and sense of belonging for the many tribes and ethnic groups that constitute the country through its Federal character provisions, PDP’s Atiku Abubakar says his administration (if voted in) would not stray away from that provision but even go further to restructure the country. Well, sounds good to the ears of advocates of Restructuring. The point however is, can Atiku and his Party be trusted, or would they, just, like the APC, not renege on its promises if Nigerians eventually give them the nod to lead them at the centre come Feb. 16, 2019?
One very unique feature about this 2019 Presidential election is that, unlike the 2015 polls, the two leading contestants for the top job hail from the Northern part of the country. While the incumbent Mohammadu Buhari is from Daura, Katsina State in the Northwest, PDP’s Atiku Abubakar , is from………Adamawa State, North East. And both are Muslims of the Fulani ethnic stock!
Banking on the cult-like following Buhari is said to have among the masses (talakawas) in the North particularly, his North West Zone where, in his three previous democratic attempts at becoming President before his eventual victory in 2015, he had always garnered more than half of the ballots credited to him, APC’s stalwarts are believing that, together with the block votes from the South west among others they expect to peck from traditional PDP enclaves in the South- South, victory for Buhari is a done deal.
The Miyetti-Allah group of cattle owners who have literarily transformed from a simple cattle herders community to a largely feared socio-cultural group that is alleged to be the brain behind attacks and large scale killings in Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa, Kogi states, etc has since endorsed the man who is their Grand Patron to rule the country for yet another 4 years. To make this a reality, its leadership assured APC and Buhari that they would mobilize their members to ensure that all their members vote for Buhari.
The incumbency factor, many are saying, could be a factor in swinging the pendulum of victory to the side of President Buhari. Already, signs are pointing to that direction; considering the ruthlessness with which Buhari is executing some policies and taking controversial decisions in government organizations and agencies that are very critical in processes leading to free, fair and credible elections.
A case in point is the refusal of the President to support the National Assembly’s desire to change the sequence of the election where the National Assembly Poll would be held before that of the Presidential. Another is the President not committing himself to new insertions to the Electoral Act expected to make the 2019 general elections and subsequent ones even more transparent. So also the admission by INEC that ballots would be counted by hand.
What about the appointment of Amina Zakari a niece of Mr President who has been given the task of supervising activities of INEC at the National Collation Centre where results from the various states during the Presidential election would be brought in for eventual collation and announcement . The P resident’s I-don’t –care attitude over this matter that is seen by an overwhelming majority as a dent in his supposed claim to integrity has been pointed out as a further proof that APC and its flag bearer are not keen to play the game on a level playing field.
As if the dent on his self-righteousness occasioned by the very conspicuous infractions against the interest of the people and the spirit and letter of his Party APC’ Manifesto that has trailed his administration was not enough, Buhari, less than two months (Jan 2019) to the Presidential poll decided to go for the jugular of the judiciary by suspending the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Walther Onnoghen over issues bothering on non declaration of his (Onnoghen’s) asset. Not only has the President’s action been condemned and branded as unconstitutional, the Judiciary, as expected, is currently jumping from one Court to the other to seek a way out of the Constitutional logjam
It could be recalled that on the 7 th of Jan. 2019 a petition by Zikhrillhaghi Ibrahim of Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civil Education was submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau requesting that the No.1 Law officer be investigated for failing to declare his Assets to the Bureau as mandated for a public servant.
With an uncommon speed and alacrity which analysts suspect to be the handiwork of Buhari, the Bureau, through its Code of Conduct Tribunal headed by Justice Danladi Umar, swung into action less than a week after the receipt of the petition to arraign the Chief Justice before its Court.
The arguments and counter –arguments over the propriety of Mr. President’s action, bearing the pivotal role the Judiciary that Onnoghen heads is expected to play in the processes leading to a free, fair and credible 2019 general elections - which even the International Community, have vehemently condemned- is seen as a clear case of incumbency factor positioning itself ahead for any eventuality.
For Atiku and his Party –PDP, the supposed mass discontent in the country towards everything that APC represents appear to be one area they are hoping to benefit from to give them an edge to clinch the Presidency.
The South-South and South East which are the strongholds of the Party are expected to deliver block votes, while people of the North Central States of Benue, Plateau, Taraba and others, who are bearing the brunt from the brutal attacks by killer herdsmen who Buhari is said to condone, are expected to throw in their lot on the side of the PDP.
For the North proper, moderates who are more enlightened than the “talakawa” (Buhari’s presumed foot soldiers) have resolved to mobilize to garner more than a sizeable share of the votes in that region for Atiku/PDP.
Considering what many ascribe to be the diminishing influence in Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s grip in the Southwest, particularly Lagos State which has the largest voter population in the country, PDP’s strategist s are working hard every day to see how the Southwest’s strongman’s pedigree can be demystified further.
In that regard, underground moves are said to be going on to see how to mobilize protest votes from the camp of the embattled Governor of Lagos State, Akinwumi Ambode who Tinubu and his die-hard supporters denied the chance to go for a second term as Governor and who, as the time of filling in this report is still being harassed and embarrassed by the State House of Assembly with plans of impeachment.
With reported public endorsements from socio-cultural groups such as the (Southwest’s) Yoruba, Afenifere, (Southeast’s) Igbo Ohanaeze, (North’s) Northern Elders Forum, (South-south’s) Pan Niger-Delta Forum and the (Northern Minorities) Middle Belt Forum among other s, analysts are of the opinion that if the untoward does not happen, Atiku is eventually going to carry the day come February 16 , 2019.
No doubt, such abound in the minds of Nigerians and a lot more of the international community considering the manner with which politics is played in this part of the world. Skeptics cannot be blamed for their reservations over whether the said Feb. 16 th /Mar.2 nd 2019 elections would be conducted in a free, fair and credible manner as unfolding events leading to the election appear to indicate otherwise.
Indicators such as the hounding and eventual suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen and his immediate replacement with Justice Ibrakim Mohammed in an Acting capacity without recourse to the National Judicial Council, the body statutorily empowered to handle all matters relating to members of the Judiciary when disputes of any kind arise.
Justice Onnoghen’s celebrated case is intriguing in the sense that, as head of the Judiciary, he is the one to appoint Judges who would sit in Tribunals that would be set up to handle cases brought before it. So when the CJ was Petitioned and brought before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, for trial over his purported failure to declare certain assets a few weeks to the 2019 general elections, the message became clearer to discerning Nigerians and the International community as well.
Another source of fear to the opposition and well meaning Nigerians alike, is the alleged plan by the ruling APC to import foreigners from Niger, Chad, Cameroun, Mali among others to come with PVC’s that have been provided for them to vote in its (APC’s) favour. The opposition PDP, citing the appearance of Governors from two States in Niger Republic at President Mohammadu Buhari’s campaign in Kano, charged Nigerians to take note of that development as yet another plan by the APC to rig the polls for Buhari.
The issue of under aged voters in the North where Buhari expectedly gathered much of the votes with which he defeated PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 is yet another misgiving that is trailing the handling of the electoral process by the ruling party.
While voter apathy appears to be one critical issue that analysts wish would not rear its ugly head in the 2019 election, INEC, the Election Empire is doing all it can, to sensitize Nigerians , particularly those with PVC’s -in every available media Forum- to come out en-masse to cast their votes for their preferred candidates.
So also have alarm been raised by no less personalities such as former President Olusegun Obasanjo , former Defence Chief, Theophilus Danjuma, leading lights of the opposition, the USA, UK, and the EU who separately and collectively have stated categorically that they would not be happy with any leader(s)/member(s) of either of the political parties who endangers and thus scuttle the desire of Nigerians to elect leaders of their choice democratically. When identified, such persons, they say, would be appropriately sanctioned in line with International standards.
Analysts and stakeholders who spoke with our correspondent are of the view that if Nigerians truly want democracy to be sustained in Nigeria, all that need to be done, is for the electorate to come out with their Permanent Voters Card, cast their ballots and wait for their votes to be counted, protect it in a none violent manner before quietly retiring to their homes to await the announcement of the results.
Well, will that eventually be the case? Let’s wait and see.