Full text of a communiqué issued by the Association of Nigerian Scholars in the Diaspora on February 18, 2019, USA.
The Association of Nigerian Scholars in the Diaspora (ANSD) like, many other Nigerian organizations and Nigerians at large, was highly disappointed that the first in the series of this year’s elections, the presidential and National Assembly elections, were postponed with barely five hours before balloting began last Saturday. This postponement caused severe hardships to many Nigerian voters and candidates. Voters were eager to cast their ballots and candidates were looking forward to receiving the mandate of the electorates.While we may wish to believe that INEC acted in the best interests of nation, the manner in which the postponement was done was inescapably untidy. After assuring the nation that it was ready to conduct the elections, INEC’s last minute decision to abort the process on February 16th left much to be desired. The efficiency under which elections are conducted constitutes an important mechanism for candidates and the electorates to repose confidence in the electoral process. INEC’s sudden postponement feeds conspiracy theories on manipulations and ulterior motives behind its conducts.
This is unfortunate as INEC had conducted several free and fair elections under the Buhari administration. In fact, INEC’s prior unscrupulous handling of the past elections was laying an important foundation for concluding that the era of coming to office in Nigeria through a sordid electoral process was at an end. We urge INEC to take all steps to ensure hitch-free elections next Saturday and during the subsequent elections. All Nigerians have a duty to support the organization as it carries out one of the most solemn obligations of a democratic political system, the holding of free, fair and credible elections.
As a patriotic organization, we have watched and heard with alarm, unguarded statements by former President Olusegun Obasanjo on the forthcoming elections. Obasanjo has all but condemned the elections as already rigged in favor of President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC). He has made this condemnation without a scintilla of evidence. If Obasanjo’s statements on the elections were made from a non-partisan perspective, one could forgive him and say that his statements as misguided as they have been, were ill-advised but good intentioned. That is not the case.
Obasanjo has been actively campaigning on behalf of Atiku Abubakar, one of the leading presisential candidates. In fact, Obasanjo’s zeal for the Atiku candidacy creates the impression that it is Obasanjo himself who is the candidate of the PDP. This is really strange. Obasanjo had renounced partisan politics, tore up his membership card of the PDP and had sworn never to support Atiku Abubakar in his perennial quest for the presidency. In a country that takes religions very seriously, Obasanjo even told the country that God would never forgive him if he supported Atiku’s quest for the presidency.
Despite his outright condemnation of Atiku both as a candidate and as a person, Obasanjo has now fully embraced Atiku and has urged Nigerians to vote for him. Obasanjo has every right to change his mind on Atiku. He equally has a right to announce that he has forgiven Atiku. What he has no right to do is to forgive Atiku on behalf of Nigeria whatever transgressions Atiku committed against Nigeria when he served as the vice-president under Obasanjo.
It is up to Nigerians to determine who to forgive and what political retributions await those who abuse public trust. Nothing confers on Obasanjo the right to arrogate to himself who to forgive on behalf of the nation as a whole. Obasanjo’s service in the military and his leadership of Nigeria, first as a military head of state and later as a democratically-elected president, does not confer that weighty responsibility on him. It is particularly odious for Obasanjo to make an about turn on Atiku and to manufacture allegations against the Buhari presidency in aid of Atiku’s candidacy.
In his book, My Watch, Obasanjo categorically described Atiku as “corrupt, a thief, looter and someone with shadowy ancestry.” Obasanjo’s turnaround that a man he has so publicly excoriated is suddenly the best person to lead Nigeria can be dismissed as a comedy designed to elicit national guffaw in these times of tensions and anxiety over the elections but when it comes to determining who ought to govern Nigeria, Obasanjo does not joke around. Since he himself was elected president in 1999, Obasanjo has had a big role in choosing who Nigerians must vote for or reject at the polls.
This time, President Buhari’s wide acceptability has made this moot. For the first time, Obasanjo has found, to his chagrin, that Nigerians do not need his assistance in choosing their president. In apparent anger, Obasanjo now trots out Atiku as the man Nigerians must vote for. If Obasanjo genuinely believes in the Atiku candidacy and uses truth to sell that candidacy, we would applaud him for returning to the political process, selling Atiku on false allegations is as uncharitable as it is mischievous.
More egregiously than supporting a man he had earlier condemned and asked Nigerians to stay away from, is his impugning of the electoral process in aid of the Atiku candidacy. His baseless accusation that President Buhari intends to rig the election is highly irresponsible and unbecoming of someone who fancies himself and is sycophantically referred to as the father of modern Nigeria. Obasanjo has charged, again without any iota of evidence, that President Buhari had hired collation officers who are conditioned to “manipulate the polls and submit fictitious results.” Given his status as a two-time leader of Nigeria, Obasanjo should not resort to palm-wine bar level gossip on weighty national issues. Discrediting the electoral process does not advance the Atiku candidacy.
Even if Obasanjo’s false allegations were to help Atiku win, Obasanjo’s disparagement of the electoral process will create legitimacy for an Atiku administration. An election whose outcome is influenced by character assassination of a candidate that one does not like is as egregious as one which rests on ballot snatching, manipulation of results and illegal voting. Nigeria’s democracy cannot stand on either type underhanded illegalities.
Even more shocking is Obasanjo’s casting of aspersions on the integrity of the police and security forces. Obasanjo has alleged that these pillars of our security and safety will be used by President Buhari to rig the elections. Again, this is an allegation manufactured from a whole cloth. Seeing INEC and the police and security forces as tools for stealing the elections in favor of President Buhari is as reckless as it is unbecoming of a former Nigerian president. It would seem that Obasanjo’s personal pique against President Buhari has led him to a wholesale condemnation of most of the pillars of the Nigerian state. This may suit Obasanjo’s version of the Great Man Theory of politics which sees the president as the repository of knowledge and wisdom.
A true democracy cannot be erected on such a slippery terrain. True democracy requires credible, efficient and effective functioning institutions. Such institutions must be designed and operated to improve the welfare of citizens and guarantee them safety and prosperity. It is worthy of note that the National Assembly which Obasanjo had earlier castigated and excoriated as peopled by rogues is suddenly the most virtuous political institution in Obasanjo’s estimation. The only explanation lies in the fact that the leadership of the National Assembly has constituted itself into an anti-Buhari beachhead and all of a sudden, Obasanjo now touts members of the National Assembly as paragons of morality.
Obasanjo has cast himself in a mold in which he inflexibly opposes everything President Buhari supports and supports everything Buhari opposes. Even when President Buhari takes principled stands on national issues that have wide appeal, Obasanjo comes out to condemn them. The most illustrative example of this was his condemnation of the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen. Despite the fact that what Onnoghen is standing trial for at the Code of Conduct Tribunal are weighty allegations that have brought the judiciary into public opprobrium, Obasanjo saw the suspension as a calculated attempt to hijack the judiciary and compel it to aid his baseless and spurious allegation that President Buhari would rig the elections.
It is curious that President Buhari’s handling of the Boko Haram terrorism which has won praises from both Nigerians and the international community and which Obasanjo himself had appreciated in the past is now, in Obasanjo’s condemnation of everything Buhari touches, seen as part of a sinister plot to keep President Buhari in office.
Obasanjo’s hypocrisy is well-known. He condemns what he himself had done in the past. He reads ulterior motive into any action by governments that have come to power since he completed his two terms of the Nigerian presidency in 2007. Since Obasanjo’s actions as president were cloaked in selfish motives, Obasanjo sees other people’s action from that perspective. He not only had two full terms, he tried to effect a constitutional amendment to enable him vie for the presidency on the expiration of his second term. Since that effort was courageously thwarted by Nigerians, Obasanjo seems to be in a perpetual bad mood against any president who as much as aspires to win a second term in office.
In Obasanjo’s eyes, it does not matter that such a president is doing a good job or is accepted by the majority of Nigerians, in Obasanjo’s eyes, only a person endorsed by him is good enough to lead the country. Nigerians might possibly have acquiesced to Obasanjo’s wish to determine who to lead the country but Obasanjo’s judgment on this score has been quite disastrous for the country. Nigerians are not going to surrender their hard-won freedom to elect leaders of their choice Obasanjo even when Obasanjo relies on false allegations and mischievous innuendoes to attempt to hoodwink them.
Obasanjo has refused to maintain a dignified silence on issues that the majority of Nigerians have already decided. He must speak on all and every issue. Since his pronouncements are always designed to disparage other leaders for nothing more than Obasanjo’s own personal piques, we urge Nigerians to discount his latest attempt to sell the Atiku candidacy. It is particularly offensive that Obasanjo is selling the Atiku candidacy by making wild and irresponsible accusations against the Buhari administration.
We urge all Nigerians to come out massively to exercise their franchise on February 23, 2019. Nigerians have a right to judge for themselves who best to lead them. Obasanjo’s crude attempt to market Atiku through fake allegations and discrediting the pillars of democracy must be exposed for what it is. A selfish mission cloaked in artificial piety and patriotism.
Nigeria deserves a leadership committed to tackling, head on, the major issues confronting the country. High on this list are corruption, insecurity and youth unemployment. On these issues, the Buhari administration has made giant strides. Boko Haram no longer controls any Nigerian territory. Social investment programs such as the N-Power, TraderMoni and the school lunch program have made positive differences in the lives of many Nigerians. Similarly, while the struggle against corruption is by no means finished, the massive recovery of hundreds of billions of Naira from convicted thieves of the commonwealth are important achievements that must be applauded by all patriotic Nigerians. Nigerians must reject Obasanjo’s ill-motivated attempt to discredit the forthcoming elections.
While it is the patriotic duty of all Nigerians that our elections must be conducted efficiently and effectively with the goal of producing a credible outcome anchored on freedom and fairness, we must reject Obasanjo’s attempt to discredit the election simply on the basis that his favored candidate may not be elected. Such a stand is a disservice to Nigerians and the country’s democratic process.
Prof. Bitrus Paul Gwamna
Prof. Pita Ogaba Agbese