Much ado about 2011 general elections

By Muhammad Ajah

The coast is being cleared for the 2011 general elections voyage. Two main clearances to note are the declaration of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida popularly called IBB to vie for the President come 2011 early April and the termination of the controversial Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Professor Maurice Iwu as widely reported on 28th April. But the Nigerian politics of today seems to be comparatively enigmatic than before. This is because in the past the electioneering campaigns would have heated up one year before the main event.

Apart from IBB's declaration, there is not yet any strong declaration of interest to contest the 2011 Presidential poll. Whether or not IBB will withstand the storm of criticism – some being myopic and done out of sentiment and parochial influence only time will tell. The issue of thought is the significant events in the country before the election proper.

Factors responsible for this delay in political gang-ups are quite not unconnected with the tough situation at the Villa. The Presidency has a lot of issues to settle. Normally, it is the principal officer in the country that sets the ball rolling. Those who witnessed the politicking in 2003 and 2007 would admit that the minor players in our politics exercised the greatest patience of not allowing their interests declared until the President had given a nod. What happened to former Governor of Rivers State in this regard remains a history for those who understand politics in Nigeria.

If President Umaru Musa YarÁdua was not in the condition he is today, undoubtedly the story would have been different. Surely, he would have asked campaigners not to distract his focus, though his interest would have been proclaimed to his closest political allies, most of who would ensure that he wins. But as we can see, the Presidency is still contending with issues relating to the ailing President and the nation, especially as speculations are still rife that the president may spring back.

As it is now, no regular politician and serious-minded Nigerian needs to be told that the Acting President is uncomfortable with the sluggish unfolding of events which have in turn made him somewhat uncertain on what to do – whether or not to contest. The constitution ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or the party's gentleman's agreement on zoning of political offices has been a bone in the pudding of the Acting President. According to the zoning formula of the PDP, the north still has the next four years to produce the President of the country. Acting President Goodluck Jonathan is from Bayelsa State which is one of the oil producing states of the South-South geopolitical zone. This means that he cannot contest under the PDP, if he can ever remain loyal to the party. One is yet baffled to hear that the Acting President has not had a physical glimpse of his boss since the arrival of the latter from Saudi in February.

The matter throws a difficult question on the multi-party system Nigeria claims to be practicing. This is because the other parties – over fifty in number – which should naturally form the opposition seem to have been preparing to offer their swansong. It is as if the elections have been conducted and PDP has won. Some party stalwarts are ready to ensure that the Acting President does opposite the PDP commandments, either by destabilizing the party and having his way as former President Obasanjo severally did, or using another platform cum power of incumbency. One year is not far in a man's life, so we can see the wrangling in a man's heart in due course. Let Nigerians support whoever with caution!

PDP as the acclaimed largest party in Nigeria and sub-Saharan region prides itself to be the engine house for democratic demonstration and fulfillment in the country. This claim has been challenged in many ways by Nigerians at both party and opposition levels. Major founding fathers of the party have always been on each other's neck trying to put things in order and criticizing heavily the hijacking of the party by those they describe as outsiders.

Some of the key players in the party during the past regime of Olusegun Obasanjo and who allegedly diverted public funds under their care to sustain the party are now at loggerheads with the leadership. People like former Rivers state governor Dr. Peter Odili, former Senate Presidents Adolphus Wabara and Ken Nnamani, former Speaker Aminu Masari, PDP bigwigs Rochas Okorocha, Raymond Depkosi, among others, are stiffly and readily on the move to reform the party in their own way. Let us watch out for part two of the episode sooner at the Wadata House.

Again, the removal of Professor Maurice Iwu is another clearance for the 2011 general polls. Iwu's heavily criticized five years at the helms of the INEC came to an end on Wednesday 28th April, 2011 when Acting President through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Ima Niboro asked Iwu to proceed on pre- disengagement leave with immediate effect even as Iwu's tenure will constitutionally end on Sunday, June 13.

Who takes over INEC will be known sooner but a good number of Nigerians have continued to suggest patriotic and down-to-earth citizens such as Professor Wole Soyinka, Nuhu Ribadu, Col. Umar and a few others? What if the job is given to an imam or a reverend father who is very much politically grounded?

There are already rallies, grouping and realignments among politicians. The real truth behind Pat Utomi-led mega party would be known. Rallies organized for individual politicians but disguised as for the people are holding here and there. The wonderful part of the electoral reform via Uwais recommendations is the participation of no-party candidates. With this, every Nigerian graduate can contest for the President. But what of the money to be spent? It will be beyond imagination, rather senseless, to win an election in Nigeria of today without spending stupendously.

On 28th April, the day Iwu was summarily relieved of the INEC burdens, the most recent rally held at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Edo State where prominent Nigerians cutting across political parties in the country gathered to examine some of the expectations and modalities to hold credible elections in 2011 through the yardstick of one-man-one-vote. How laudable this would be if it can work.

Governor Adams Oshiomhole who seemed to be the initiator of the project led the governors of the South-South zone: Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers, Chief Liyel Imoke of Cross River and Chief Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa who represented Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, to the political gathering. Former Military President, General IBB, former Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President and current Secretary-General of Organization of Africa Trade Union, Comrade Hassan Sumonu, Lagos-based lawyer and social crusader, Festus Keyamo, President of Campaign for Democracy (CD), Joe Okei-Odumakin, among others, were there.

It was gathered that some prominent Nigerians such as Professor Wole Soyinka, former Lagos State governor Bola Tinubu, National Chairman of Action Congress, Chief Bisi Akande, Osun AC governorship candidate, Alhaji Rauf Aregbesola, Ekiti State AC governorship candidate, Dr. Kayode Fayemi and National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, among others, made a U-turn at the Benin Airport to their homes due to Babangida's presence at the rally. But a question may ask whose interest these people are really protecting. Of course not Nigerians! Those who attended and had the courage to say the bare and hard truth are protecting Nigerian interest. Hypocrites are the chameleons.

Governor Sylva made a very serious point on behalf of the Acting President. Nigerians should embrace democratic ideal of respect for the individual voter, because as he put it, any nation that repels democratic ethics and values cannot develop at a reasonable pace. Rounding it off, he proclaimed, “Where there is no opportunity for one man one vote, there is no accountability and corresponding responsibility. Party elections and party nomination elections should rise to the same level of credibility as the general elections. It will be unfair for candidates to emerge from undemocratic and fraudulent party nomination exercises to contest general elections and win based mainly on the strength of their political parties.”

With all these assertions and pieces of advice which are definitely not new in our politics, we all await party primaries – the greatest and most interesting being that of the PDP. But, methink, the main screening of candidates should be by the common people whose vote or no vote matters in declaring winners. The easiest screening of all before the elections is by this common people whose yardstick of eligibility is the ability of the politician to drop money. It is a fact that the common people constitute the larger percentage of our society. They are easily bought over because of the tough economic conditions they are staged to bear. As justification for collecting money from politicians, they wildly say, “It is our money.” And yet they aid in rigging elections. This is why there has been no free and fair election, no transparent choice of candidates, no party discipline and no democratic spirit in the country.

Muhammad Ajah, a writer, author, advocate of good governance and humanity writes from Abuja ([email protected] uk)