20 Feb 2015

Before The Elections Hold - by Niran Adedokun

It takes a whole lot of courage to swim against the tide of public opinion in Nigeria. Why? The average Nigerian does not take kindly to it. Because of the contrived nature of our politics, we are suspicious of such postures. We do not see anyone who comes against what looks like the general belief as capable of independent thought. Anyone who rides against the bandwagon is either a sellout or a weakling. This sometimes makes one query the chances that democracy, in the shape and mould of the West, will ever work in Nigeria. But I should not digress.

Unfortunately, the bandwagon is not always right, especially in a country where thought and opinion leaders put self and ethnic interests over the collective. Largely undiscerning and impulsive however, the average Nigerian does not see through those who speak for us. We take their propositions hook, line and sinker, surrendering our country and its future to the manipulations of desperate and selfish political leaders. To that extent, we are suspicious and unaccommodating of views that differ from the popular.

So, what is the most popular view in today’s Nigeria? I would say two. The first and perhaps loudest is ending the long run of the Peoples Democratic Party rule over Nigeria and voting in Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) of the All Progressives Congress. Buhari signifies the change that Nigeria urgently needs in the opinion of those who hold this position.

The second overwhelming opinion is that President Goodluck Jonathan who has been in the saddle since 2011 should get another term of four years when we vote next month.

People on each of these divides swear that their candidates will win the election and that the only way for Nigeria’s democracy to move forward is for the elections to hold now. Suggesting anything contrary makes you an enemy of change or transformation as the case may be.

But I am wondering how many of us have given deep thought to what might be best for Nigeria. The loud voices who insist that elections must hold say that it is the only way to build democracy, but the question needs to be asked, would democracy grow under an atmosphere of violence and mutual ethnic distrust?

Two Nigerians have volunteered opinions, different from the popular ones, on how Nigeria should proceed from the current point of dilemma. Incidentally, these two are clergymen.

First was Kaduna-based Islamic cleric, Sheik Ahmed Gumi. In October 2014, Gumi wrote open letters to both Jonathan and Buhari essentially urging the two of them not to offer themselves for the election.

Although he stated different reasons why these gladiators should step down, Gumi’s main premise was the stability of Nigeria. He opined that both men were phenomenally divisive and that their ambitions could throw Nigeria into unprecedented conflagration

In the letter to Jonathan, Gumi said: “…I hereby candidly advise you to relinquish your presidential ambition because of peace, stability and well-being of millions of innocent Nigerians…”

And for Buhari, he wrote: “…Today, I am also advising you against contesting in the 2015 presidential election because you will be used to ignite the nation – a dream well-orchestrated several years ago – and also be used by bad people as a ladder to grab regional and local powers…”

Then came the suggestion of the Convener of the Save Nigeria Group and Pastor of the Latter Rain Assembly, Lagos, Pastor Tunde Bakare. Bakare, who was running mate to Buhari in the 2011 election and one of the few Nigerians who participated in last year’s National Conference at their own expense, suggested that the upcoming polls should be postponed by six months during which statesmen and knowledgeable men and the Council of State should come together “to salvage our country first.” He insisted that “elections have not solved Nigeria’s problems, and this particular one will not solve it, it will add to it.” He recommended a transitional government which will include the opposition during this period.

The cleric painted the scenario better in a recent interview with THISDAY, THE SUNDAY NEWSPAPER. Hear him: “…you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that the signs are very terrible. If they want to have the elections at all costs let them go on, just keep at the back of your mind that except God intervenes in our situation, heads, they win, tails they win and Nigeria loses. What do I mean by that? Let’s say the election is free, fair and credible, Buhari wins, what’s going to happen to Nigeria? What will be the reaction of the South-South people who are calling for arms and all kinds of things? And if Jonathan wins again, what’s going to happen to Nigeria? What will be the reaction of the North that has been out of the power equation for too long a time…?”

Now, one would have to be in absolute denial not to see the point in what these two gentlemen and some Nigerians who would not speak out for fear of mob condemnation, are saying. The level of violent desperation in the land says it all. At the moment, about 70 lives have been lost to pre-election violence but a majority of Nigerians think it is okay to hold the elections.

Some argue that not having the elections as scheduled would further diminish the already battered image of Nigeria, while others argue that whatever happens would be part of the country’s journey to entrenching democracy. But aren’t there costs that are too high to pay even for democracy? Besides, do we really have a nation, are we not just a community of ethnic nationalities whose destiny is still undefined?

And would the international community rather have a nation torn apart by ethnic and political rivalries as the coming elections portend?

I wonder why Nigerians think that our democratic practice cannot be in line with our realities instead of the dictates of those who do not feel our pains. I also do not understand why Nigerian leaders always put their own interests before national interest unlike leaders of some other nations.

In the course of the negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa for instance, a Multi-Party Negotiating Process was set up to produce an interim constitution which produced a Government of National Unity between April 1994 and February 1997.It was under this interim law that Frederick Willem de Klerk, who handed over to President Nelson Mandela, came back to serve as one of the deputy presidents to Mandela. Such selflessness!

So how do leaders in all parties deny the dark signs looming over the country? How do we close our eyes to the threats of sectional violence facing us? How do we pretend that the massive stealing of Permanent Voter Cards all over the country as admitted by INEC chairman, Attahiru Jega, and the volume of cards that have found their hands into private hands do not matter? Even if the thieves will not be able to vote with the cards, as Jega assured, they would have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Nigerians!

While changing the election date is inconceivable at this point, urgent steps need to be taken to avoid the looming danger before March 28. Political, community and religious leaders in Nigeria cannot go on playing the ostrich. They must, without partisanship, come together to speak to the mind of politicians all over the country. The Council of State must for once, address itself to the interest of the nation, appeal to candidates, get their commitment towards peace, honestly assuage the fears of individual ethnic nationalities, get commitments from winners for the fair treatment of all, encourage the institution of an inclusive government and above all, pray that all goes well. I believe miracles still happen, but we must also position ourselves for the wonders that God can do in the 2015 elections.

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