Is this war or election?
By Ikechukwu Amaechi
Is Nigeria preparing for war? This is the question that should concentrate the minds of all well meaning citizens as the echo of federal government's sound bites of war gets louder. Many Nigerians who thought they will go to the polls next month to elect leaders who will superintend the affairs of their country in the next four years are beginning to wonder what the ominously loud drumbeats of war has in common with the exercise of their inalienable right of franchise.
Could it be that while the people are busy preparing for elections, the government is indeed preparing for war? Why would the 2007 elections be "a do or die affair" for the president and his party?
When Chief Ojo Maduekwe, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) secretary recently described politics as a muscular game, where might is always right, and where the end must justify the means, many who see him as a rabble-rouser ignored him. Ojo's infantile exuberance when commenting on otherwise important national issues could be a natural put-off.
But it is high-time Nigerians took the likes of Maduekwe and their pronouncements on the elections serious. Truth be told, while Nigerians are busy preparing for the polls, those whose duty it is to ensure that the elections are credible and reflect the true preferences of the people, are laying ambush, waiting not only to subvert the will of the people but also to kill and maim those who dare challenge the impending electoral heist.
Anybody who is in doubt should ponder over these ominous signals from the highest reaches of government.
Penultimate week, Inspector General of Police, Mr. Sunday Ehindero, reportedly disclosed that the Federal Government had taken delivery of a large consignment of weapons to boost the capacity of his men to firmly contain "cases of insecurity in any part of the country during the electioneering period."
According to the report, these weapons include 40,000 pieces of AK-47 assault rifles with 20 million rounds of ammunition; 30,000 K-2 rifles with 10 million rounds of bullets and 10,000 units of Baretta pistols with two million rounds of bullets. This is beside the order for the purchase of more bullet-proof vests, helmets and additional rounds of ammunition for other calibre of firearms, which the police boss hinted had already been ordered.
In the eight years of Obasanjo's presidency, Nigeria has ignominiously descended to the Hobbessian state of nature where life is short and brutish. If the government had armed the police with these weapons, their capacity to safeguard the lives and property of Nigerians would have been greatly improved. But the people are of no value to the government. What matters to them is their continued stranglehold on the levers of power for perverse motives.
Again, on March 17, the federal government announced it had placed all security and law-enforcement agencies on "full alert," in a bid to "ensure a successful transition to a new democratic administration on May 29, 2007."
The statement signed by Mrs. Oluremi Oyo, Obasanjo's media aide warned parents not to allow their children to be used as cannon-fodder for anyone's selfish ambition.
"This administration will deploy all the powers and forces available to it to guarantee the peaceful and secure conditions necessary for the general elections to go ahead as planned. No individual or group should test the will of government on this matter."
Whenever I hear what government officials say concerning this election and the apparent militarisation of the process, I ask myself whether this election is different from those conducted in some African countries in the past decade that led to the defeat of the candidates of the ruling parties.
To be sure, conducting free and fair polls, even in African standards, is no rocket science. And nobody should insinuate otherwise. What matters most is the sincerity of purpose and sense of responsibility of the leadership. Like I have always argued, the ability of a country to practice democracy has little or nothing to do with the age of the country. Nigeria is not re-inventing the wheels of democracy. Some people have done that aeons ago and the rules of the game are obvious.
The countries where there have been successful transitions are those where leaders were able to rise above partisanship and repudiate politics of self. There comes a time when a leader transits from the status of a politician to a statesman. Unfortunately, this fact seems to be lost on Obasanjo; hence the tension in the country.
In the year 2000, Ghana was at the same political crossroads Nigeria finds itself today. Flight-Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings who first came to power in 1981 through a military coup and subsequently won multi-party elections in 1992 and 1996 was constitutionally barred from a third term. His party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) fielded the vice president, Professor Atta Mills for the December 7 presidential poll. Professor Mills was challenged by six other opposition candidates including John Agyekum Kuffour, the candidate of the New Patriotic Party (NPP).
It was a high value election. Rawlings had initiated valuable reforms, which turned around the gloomy fortunes of the once beleaguered country. He had built a legacy that was neither a fruit of propaganda nor contentious in any way. To that extent, he could lay claim, no-matter how spurious, to having reasons not to let go the presidency. But he did.
Shortly before the election, Rawlings admonished Ghanaians on the need to eschew violence and respect the will of the people. Speaking at a special prayer and music celebration by the Fresh Anointing Christian Centre (FACC) in Accra a week to the election, Rawlings said: "Whatever decision that would emerge should be respected by all and not even if it is not according to our expectationsÔÇŽI will not be in a position to say that the will of the people is right or wrong even if it goes against my expectations and wish, I believe that God has a purpose of teaching us a lesson. I will respect the judgment of the peopleÔÇŽI pray that all would be peaceful and that the choice we make is from the heart while in the booth and not street violence."
Immediately after the election, Rawlings expressed satisfaction and congratulated Ghanaians for recording another democratic success. Reminded that his reform programme stood the risk of being thrown overboard by the new government, he said: "They are at liberty to make whatever changes they want and no one would be able to stop them because they came to power through the will of the people." He only appealed to his would-be successors on Vibe FM, an Accra based radio station to make a clear distinction between what programmes needed to be changed and which needed to be maintained.
Compare this statesman-like demeanour and humility of a man who has every right to lay claim to the "founder of modern Ghana" to Obasanjo's haughty vow not to hand over power to anybody that would not continue with his poverty-enhancing reforms.
Even when none of the seven presidential candidates could win the constitutional 50 percent plus one mark in the first ballot, Rawlings did not interfere with the run-off election held on December 28, 2000, between Kuffour and Mills. Kuffour, a man who had led the Grand Alliance that comprised his party and the People's Convention Party (PCP) to challenge Rawlings in the 1996 presidential won and today, Rawlings lives happily amongst his people, his legacy remains intact and Ghana is on a seeming irreversible march to economic prosperity.
More dramatic was the case of Benin Republic where a 54-year-old independent candidate, Dr. Thomas Yayi Boni won the presidential election last year by defeating a veteran politician Adrien Houngbedji. In the first round election held on March 5, 2006 and contested by 28 presidential candidates, Boni polled 32 percent of the votes while Houngbedji of the ruling Party for Democratic Renewal scored 25 percent. In the run-off election held two weeks later on March 19, Boni won with almost 75 percent of the votes and was sworn in as president on April 6, 2006.
Before his election, Boni was relatively unknown in political circles. Perhaps, if he had sought the ticket of any of the political parties to contest the election, none would have obliged him. He was a banker but his people wanted a change. President Mathieu Kerekou did not vow not to hand over power to him because he was an outsider. He did not put any stumbling blocks on his path. He simply respected the will of the people.
Now, both Rawlings and Kerekou are men who at a time exercised absolute powers in their countries as military heads of state. They transmuted to civilian presidents by contesting and winning multi-party elections. After serving out their constitutional terms, they conducted internationally acclaimed free and fair elections where their political parties lost. They didn't stockpile arms to threaten and intimidate the opposition. No candidate was banned. The army was not called out on the streets to ensure that favoured candidates won the elections.
So, why is Nigeria's case different? Why are we insisting that Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe must be our role model, rather than Rawlings and Kerekou? Why is Obasanjo bent on making Nigeria the butt of all international jokes? Why can't we accomplish without much ado, simple things that are taken for granted in other countries? Why is our country so unfortunate?