27 Feb 2015

Justifying A Lie - by Pat Utomi

And the elections were postponed. Ghosts of the predicted came alive. The usual culprits were willing tools; elements in the military, political leaders who abused the commonwealth and traditional apologists who profit from abusive public authority. What was more ridiculous than the lack of grace of bringing a people to ridicule in the eyes of the world that will wonder how those Nigerians cannot organise something as routine as an election, was the way people went about justifying the shift in date.

I watched Sunrise Daily on Channels Television the Monday after and found Lagos Peoples Democratic Party Chairman, Tunde Shelle, struggling to stretch imagination in response to questions relating to the postponement. He summed up the loss of a sense of shame in Nigeria when he was asked what he would do if as Commander-in-Chief, his officials in charge of security came to him barely hours before elections and told him they could not guarantee security during elections. Shelle concentrated on lampooning the Independent National Electoral Commission, suggesting that for love of voters and ensuring no one was denied the opportunity to vote he would move the elections for six months and even much longer, if necessary.

A number of fears I had, which I had tweeted the night before, were crystallising in concrete from Shelle’s answers. The first was that INEC, far from being independent, had been pushed into postponing elections it had indicated it was ready for. Second, it was clearly part of the goal of the PDP leadership he was part of, to upset INEC Chairman, Attahiru Jega, enough to make him, as an honourable man, choose to throw in the towel. His resignation would be manna from heaven for them to declare Force Majeure and cancel the elections, primarily because they are far from believing in democracy but simply see the democratic process as a useful vehicle to acquire power and use the state for their other intentions. Three, that they have enough contempt for the people that their protests against shift of date notwithstanding, an election in which the signals pointed to an electorate so fed up with the extant order was targeted to be thwarted. The indications were they would vote anything but the current order so whatever would avert a looming will of the people, even if it damaged our institutions and burdened several generations with the consequence of failed electoral institutions, seemed fair game to fracture.

Four; and very importantly, six weeks is only a first go, and that the prize was high enough to either topple the democracy of this moment rather than lose power after 16 years of the feast of the locust, or keep power at any cost.

I have tried hard to have an open mind about what may be the justification for the aborting of the pledged election dates but find most of those offered hard to think of as logical and often as quite spurious.

They say the main issue is security. Poor Professor Jega not being a security man throws his hands up in the air. But how logical is it that threats you have not contained in more than five years can suddenly become amendable in six weeks because you need to have elections. If that is likely, then those who have not dealt with it for so many years must face consequences for dereliction of duty.

There are those who also ask the question; how come previous elections took place in the Niger Delta states when an insurgency was located there; and how come the political parties have been able to campaign in some of those states in question in the North-East.

When held down on the security score, they turn to the challenge of the Permanent Voter Card distribution. I am amazed these people have the kind of conscience they lacked in previous elections. If the President had asked for advice from me six months ago, I could have told him how to be a hero. Avoid contesting these elections. But we know from Machiavelli that those who profit from an old order will do anything to prevent a new order from coming about. So, those who parasite on the Nigerian state around him, goaded him on to the point of fouling up his place in history. Decency, because it was said privately, prevents me from mentioning something he said to me, in the presence of one other person six years ago which made me certain he would not fall into this trap. But we are back to 1993 and 1997. Back then our conscience led us to the founding of the Concerned Professionals and a long-drawn struggle for democracy. I did not know it would happen again in my lifetime. But man proposes, not sure now who disposes, but this does not look like God.

It is amazing that this plausible, but not thought too incredible to play track, has become reality, throwing up amazing dilemmas. Clearly, they want to abort this democracy. So, why, someone asked, should someone like me who talks about the error of 1999 and the error of how the wrong people entered the political process because many true leaders did not take the departure of the Army seriously, not celebrating an opportunity to end it. Having entered the system, at a time of high oil rent, with little accounting, and pillaged the commonwealth, they used that to erect barriers of entry in which money, and not capacity or sense of service, determined the path of politics, an objectionable system emerged, I have indeed argued. So, why would I not be thankful, that no matter the motives of those who are trying to sabotage this flawed civilian regime, an opportunity to begin again may be the result of their effort.

The question is how far back do we go each time in this recursive evolution? I have worked so hard to move Nigeria close to where Ghana reached some years ago, where confidence is established with the system as incumbents are replaced by opposition, and back, in election cycles. To always start afresh when allowing the will of the people to adjust, past errors, is possible. For all one cares, electing anyone but an incumbent, as happened when I lived in the United States in 1980, anyone but Carter (ABC) can lead to something less attractive, but it allows the rejected to clean up their act and possibly return in the next round, the better leaders. For the Americans, depending on your prism, the 1980 election of President Ronald Reagan resulted in the renewal of the American spirit.

But what can we learn from this thing that is repeating itself, one more time, in my lifetime. Why is the desire for power so consuming and make people lose sight of the damage they do to their country when these unsavory power grab games are played.

You wonder do these people see the Al Gores who walk away from election outcomes they could have contested, when they diminish their country after so many years in power. The incumbent vice-president with a majority of the popular vote and a questionable Florida count that affected the electoral college, walked quietly.

I believe a number of things are important to save us all this global humiliation. First, we must make power so much less attractive that only people of capacity, chasing a place in history, should be attracted to the arena. This should mean stripping public office of the excesses of public resources, the trappings of prestige, and the extent of discretion available to public office holders. It must also mean building up civil society to be strong in holding power accountable.

To make civil society a tool for institution building in reducing the motivation for desperation to hold onto power, it should have training on how to test the truth of claims by incumbents. Were such available to the despicable lies about accomplishments of incumbents during the ongoing campaigns would be put through a truth-o-meter which can lead to more care in claims. Watching the campaign adverts, one would think Nigeria was one Eldorado in which all were cheering for more of what we have, something quite different from what the Legatum Report suggests is one of the most miserable places to be born on earth and in which I have been getting less than four hours of public power a day for quite a while. But the media and the civil society continue to disappoint. As I write, I am receiving calls on what the civil society is being compromised with in Wadata House headquarters of the PDP.

I just have trouble understanding how we seem to be able to live with this world of justifying the lie.

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