Shortly after President Olusegun Obasanjo called the then Plateau State chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Reverend Yakubu Pam, a “total idiot,” I wrote an article titled, “Yes, We Are All Idiots.”
I used the article to comment on the highly flawed 2003 elections and concluded thus: “When a man and his party wantonly rig elections as it was the case in Nigeria last year, in a desperate bid to cling to power, the country becomes the ultimate loser. It will be a pleasant surprise if Nigeria ever knows peace or makes any fundamental progress under this (Obasanjo’s) regime. As the augury becomes starker, we are bound to see a president who becomes more pugnacious, more belligerent and more aggressive by the day. We are bound to see a president whose aplomb will become less presidential. What happened at the Plateau State Government House where Obasanjo called a fellow citizen a “total idiot” is a foretaste of things to come.”
Three years after, this prediction has come to pass. The out-coming president has left no one in doubt that his administration is nothing but bad omen for Nigerians.
As we go through this tortuous process of electing those who will superintend our affairs in the next four years, I dare say again that unless the outcome of the election is a true reflection of the electoral preferences of the people, peace and development will continue to elude us.
By coming out in large numbers to cast their votes despite the overt militarization of the process, and doing so at the risk of their lives, Nigerians have demonstrated their resolve to take their destiny into their own hands. Long ago, many had decided that the election will be a referendum on the outgoing government. Nigerians are determined that this time around their voice, silenced over the years by the same forces holding us down today, must be heard loud and clear.
But sadly, the forces of darkness that are bent on holding Nigeria down are still at work as has been conclusively proved by last Saturday’s governorship and State Assembly elections. Nobody will be surprised at the level of violence that characterized the polls. It was simply crises foretold. It will be more so during Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly polls.
For months, well-meaning Nigerians and friends of the country have shouted themselves hoarse over the slapdash approach of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the dishonesty of the federal government to the polls. But INEC chairman insisted that his commission was fully prepared for the polls.
But what did we see last Saturday? All the problems which many people foresaw reared their ugly heads at and the commission had no answers to them. Many eligible voters were disenfranchised because their names were not on the voters register; in many polling stations, the wrong register was presented; INEC officials reported late at some stations; photographs of many candidates were missing on the ballot papers; some had their names spelled wrongly; election materials were under supplied; some parties had their logos removed from the ballot papers; under age voting; etc. What happened to Professor Iwu’s promise of a fool-proof process?
If INEC had done most of what it was supposed to do prior to this election, but which it totally ignored for reasons best known to the officials, most of these problems could have been rectified. For instance, had INEC published the voters register as mandated by the statutes governing the election, those who were disenfranchised would have known before now that their names were not on the register and rectified the anomaly.
Characteristically, President Obasanjo’s vow that the polls will be peaceful went largely unfulfilled. All over the country, mayhem was unleashed on the people. Figures ranging from 40 to even 100 have been reported as the number of people that were killed. Hundreds more were wounded. These people include soldiers and policemen. Guns, machetes, cutlasses and all sorts of dangerous weapons were freely used by the contending forces. Election materials were easily snatched and taken away by hoodlums. Vans conveying election materials were waylaid and the materials stolen. Some of the vans were burnt. Three police stations were burnt down in Port Harcourt by suspected militants.
True to the president’s prediction, the first leg of the election turned out to be a do-and-die affair. So where were the police, soldiers and their armoured cars when Nigeria was literally set on fire by those who want to govern us in perpetuity?
Yet, despite all these crises, Prof Iwu and President Obasanjo are already thumping their chests, boasting that Nigerians have never had it so good. Such self-glorification in the face of the debilitating violence beggars belief.
Perhaps, both men are misinterpreting the import of the unprecedented turnout of voters. They think it is an endorsement of the perfidy that is being foisted on Nigerians in the name of transition. But nothing could be farther from the truth. The fact is that, to many Nigerians, this election is a referendum on the past eight years of this civilian administration. Unlike the large voter apathy that characterized the 2003 polls, Nigerians have learnt to take their destiny into their own hands. As one Danladi Musa, a 71-year old Jos resident put it, in a report carried by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), “we want change and not even the sun or the delays can stop us.” The phenomenon of people waiting under the scorching sun, in spite of the unavailability of election materials and threat from hoodlums, for an opportunity to cast their vote, is a sign of their determination to effect a change.
As I see it, that genuine and legitimate aspiration of the people has been thwarted. And that is where I foresee problem. The presidential and National Assembly election is bound to be as violent, if not more violent, than last Saturday’s election. Events of last Saturday have opened the eyes of optimists who gave the government the benefit of the doubt. In Nigeria, things don’t change for the better; they rather get worse. Nothing has changed since 2003. And that is a big problem we have on our hands now.
Even if this government succeeds in browbeating everybody into acquiescence and succeeds in imposing a government on the people, peace will continue to elude us. We will find ourselves again in the unsavoury position where we will play politics with the next four years.
But I am afraid if we will even get to that bridge this time. My fear is predicated on the fact that what happened last Saturday is bad enough. What will happen next Saturday may even be worse. But what will ultimately happen when the results are announced and they do not reflect the will of the people will definitely be worse. God save us.