Friday Discourse (186)
The 2007 Milestone
We were all apprehensive of 2003. The nation was afraid that what happened to the First and Second Republics would happen to the present one: the incumbents will rig elections, there will be mass unrest leading the military to eventually take over. The fear was realized but the consequences did not follow. Instead, a new culture has emerged: the incumbent, henceforth, is allowed the licence of misconduct by the indolence of Nigerians; that whatever he does to succeed himself, things will sort themselves out, one way or the other, especially if the scenario resembles that of 2003 in all its major respects.
Presently, 2007 is approaching with great speed, confronting us with new challenges. In 2003 the problem was self-succession through rigging elections; we did not cross the hurdle, we bent down and passed through it. In 2007 we will be battling with five hurdles of different heights. To continue as a nation we just have to cross over some, knock down some, and for the final one at least, as in 2003, bend down a bit and pass through it.
First, there is the allegation that Obasanjo is contemplating being a life-president. It is a widespread fear engendered by our recent history both as Africans and as Nigerians.
Second, the doctrine of power shift will be put to test: will it prove to be a genuine device of fostering national unity which can stand the test of time or a deceitful tool that was expeditiously employed to exclude a section of the population from power?
Third is relocation of contention from its previous province of inter-party contest to the destructive intra-party battle for the PDP presidential ticket. That is working on the assumption that the allegation regarding the self-succession of Obasanjo is false.
Four is the roles of ethnicity and religion which often overlap in most part of the country. Will the a Yoruba and Christian President be allowed by ethnic chauvinists of his zone and fundamentalists in his religion to hand over power to, say, a Muslim candidate from the North?
Five is the obvious: after the issue of PDP presidential ticket is settled, the next thing will be elections which will certainly be rigged with greater degree of impunity than in 419, 2003. Its certainty has already cultivated a level of apathy never witnessed in the history of our political development. We now feel that 2007 elections will be decided in 2006 – at the point when the ruling party concludes its primary elections. Fewer Nigerians will come out to vote than in 2003 for the foreknowledge of the rigging that will take place.
In the above five respects, 2007 will be another formidable milestone to pass. Let us take the issues one after another. Regarding the self-succession of Obasanjo, though I have once written on its possibility, there is still a substantial amount of doubt. It is normal for any person in power to come under pressure at then end of his tenure, both from his psyche and from beneficiaries of his position, both persuading him to yield to the survival instinct. Thus, he is pushed to make the mistake of sitting tight, like did many African leaders, until he dies or forced to step aside, for welcoming a decline in their fortune is not among the habits of men. And what fortune could be bigger than sitting at the helm of the second, sorry the third, most corrupt government on earth and a member of OPEC for eight consecutive years?
But the 1999 constitution has limited the emperorship of Mr. President to a maximum of two terms. In spite of the great incompetence he successfully demonstrated and the willingness of Nigerians to vote him out of power at the end of his first tenure, he was able to device means of securing a second tenure. The requirement of amending the constitution to ensure his life presidency, as I once said, is an easier task than rigging 2003 election.
Look at it this way: the Senate is largely, though not thoroughly, a horde of people selected – not elected – the PDP. That takes care of the 2/3 requirement at the national level. In the states, the President will only need to conscript the governors into the amendment, extending their tenures indefinitely. They will in turn prevail on their houses of assembly, the members of which, like the senators, were largely selected during the last elections. PDP already has the 2/3 requirement of states of the federation. All it takes to effect the amendment at both levels is Ghana must go which the government has unlimited quantities. Once the deal is good, I doubt if the legislators will hesitate to grant the indulgence of the President and his governors.
The President will be under pressure to extend his tenure not only from the individuals surrounding him but also from his ethnic and religious constituency. They may not like to forfeit unlimited access to, or tenancy in, Aso Rock. What will determine their fate will not be the constitution but strength of Mr.President’s character. Will he be foolish, like his predecessors, to succumb to such primordial pressures or will he, in consultation with history and conscience, disobey their precepts and follow the examples of statesmen in other parts of world? It is too early to say whether the president would cave in. Rather, one would prefer to remain within the prefecture of naivety and anticipate that he will behave like a gentleman; that despite the clear possibility of changing the constitution easily to his benefit, he will renounce the arguments of such interest groups and, instead, abide by the belief that Nigeria is more than his personality, that it will not cease to exist once he leaves Aso Rock.
Now based on this optimism, we can go further to speculate on who Obasanjo may allow to succeed him. The Vice-President is a natural candidate and so far the strongest aspirant within the PDP. He will contest the primaries but his success will depend on winning the minds of four people: the person of the president, his ethnic group, his religious denomination, then persuading the South-South to abandon the same ambition. If the Vice President can gurarantee the interests of the four – and I wonder what morality will prevent him from doing so – he will have little headache with other groups.
Former President Ibrahim Babangida is widely believed to be the chief contestant against the Vice-President. However, I do not share the belief that he indeed wants to contest for reasons I mentioned in some of my previous writings. All he is interested in, as would be any person in his position and record, is to maintain his relevance in politics such that his privileges are assured, his person secured, and his interests protected. And the best way to ensure those is not by keeping quiet but by winning a bargain using his influence. One of the ways is supporting people like Marwa or tacitly expressing interest in the Presidency himself, simply to rattle the Vice-President and achieve a handsome bargain.
As I said earlier power shift as a viable tool for fostering national unity will be on trial. It is 2007 that will tell the North whether it was deceived into trumpeting its doctrine since 1993 or it was a genuine formula of sharing power between our federating units. Both the Southeast and the South-south are expressing their desire to secure the presidency in 2007. This is expected in a democracy. I am in fact surprised that nobody from the southwest is making such noise so far. What I find difficult to fathom is whether the two regions are basing their desire on the premise of power shift doctrine or what the parties in Nigeria call zoning. It is clear that the power shift doctrine is based on the conventional bipolar taxonomy of the country into North and South.
The South-South may go as far as using oil as a weapon to capture the presidency. The zone may step up campaign of economic sabotage, making it difficult for oil companies to operate and hoping that the country will yield as the North did to the media onslaught from Southwest before 1999. How the North will reclaim power based on the conviction of the South is thus a major hurdle in 2007.
Finally comes the hurdle that was skipped in 2003, mass rigging of election using various devices that included, but not limited to the following:
1) deliberately poor compilation of voters register
2) delayed registration of political parties
3) incapacitating INEC through under funding
4) murder of opposition candidates
5) appointment of PDP stalwarts as resident commissioners
6) sponsoring campaign of calumny using religion and ethnicity
7) reshuffling of police commissioners and security directors
8) printing and usage of fake ballot papers and election result sheets
9) calculated scarcity of ballot papers
10) outright thuggery on election day
11) ceaseless campaign of terror on voters
12) murder of innocent citizens
13) arrest of opposition candidates and leaders on election day and thereafter until election results are announced
14) using billions of public fund to bribe agents of opposition candidates and purchase their votes
15) bribing INEC officials, police, etc.
16) arm-twisting INEC to announce results different from the ones registered or to rescind its earlier declaration of result
17) silence over the rigging from constituencies of the incumbent
18) connivance of the international community and their haste to recognize the elections as free and fair
19) decline of the masses and opposition leaders to employ mass action as done in Ukraine
20) hypocritical appeal to seek redress in court
21) debilitating delay in concluding the case against the malpractice until the incumbent who perpetrated the rigging has completed his tenure or until he dies as it once happened in an appeal in a gubernatorial election,
These are the five hurdles that we must cross before 2007. The reader may pause and think of the future of democracy if the nation fails to cross over them in a convincingly scrupulous manner. If we have the time next week, such implications willld be the subject matter of our discussion next week.