ROAD MAP TO CREDIBLE ELECTIONS
On June 23, pro-democracy activists at Onikan Stadium, Lagos Island, demanded for good governance and the upholding of human rights.
What prompted the Onikan assembly tagged: Mother of all rallies, might not be unconnected with the nomination of a university don, Professor Attahiru Jega as the new helmsman at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The rally, which was well-attended, was aimed at setting agenda for the incoming new hands at INEC towards a free, fair and credible elections that would usher in a new vista in Nigeria's political and democratic landscape.
The rally was organised by the Save Nigeria Group (SNG), under the leadership of the maverick preacher and Founder of The Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare in collaboration with the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform (CODER), under the leadership of the former Secretary-General of the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Mr. Ayo Opadokun.
The common refrain on that occasion was how votes of the electorate would count, and how genuine winners would assume office without any form of hindrance.
As early as 8.00am, guests and representatives of various groups as well as speakers had besieged the stadium with placards where various inscriptions calling on both President Goodluck Jonathan and Jega to conduct credible elections in 2011.
And all the speakers unanimously agreed that, the first step towards achieving that, is that the current voters' register must be totally overhauled to pave way for a credible one that would contain only the names of Nigerians.
The speakers were Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nasir El-Rufai, Action Congress (AC) National Chairman, Bisi Akande, former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Alani Akinrinade(rtd), Lagos AC Chairman, Henry Dele Ajomole (he represented Asiwaju Bola Tinubu),Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, Mr. Solomon Asemota (SAN), African Democratic Congress (ADC) presidential candidate in 2007, Prof. Pat Utomi, Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA), governoship candidate in Lagos State, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, spokesman of Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Mr. Yinka Odumakin, who served as the Master of Ceremony (MC), a legal practitioner, Bisi Adegbuyi, publisher of Ovation Magazine and Presidential aspirant, Chief Dele Momodu and Campaign for Democracy President, Dr. Joe-Okei Odumakin as well as other representatives.
Debo Adeniran led his Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) to the rally, Razaq Olokooba also led the Coalition of Yoruba Self-Determination Group (COSEG) while Joshua Eyitayo Zaccheaus and Francis Osali Orgor led Pragmatic Leadership Forum (PLF) to the event as President and Secretary respectively.
All the eminent Nigerians present on the occasion insisted that INEC should, as a matter of urgency commence compilation of a fresh voters' register, asserting that it is the basic requirement for free, fair and credible elections.
Two topics of discussion were, free, fair and credible elections and demand for a new voters' register.
Gen. Akinrinade, who set the ball rolling said voting to choose leaders was the inalienable rights of every citizen of Nigeria, warning that anybody who obstruct thats in 2011 would be pushed out of the way to true democracy.
True election, he said was to put people in office and remove them through the same process if they failed to perform, stating that 'members of the National Assembly are exchanging blows because we did not vote for them.'
In his speech, Prof. Soyinka, who lamented that people don't seem to appreciate the power they have by voting, warning that this time, people should make sure that their votes count by not allowing anybody to snatch them.
According to Soyinka, anybody whose vote does not count, was not better than a slave. He urged the civil society to insist that the vote of the people counts so that they would feel like whole human beings because it is a slave that does have voice and will.
While stating that sitting down at the stadium and discussing, was not enough, the Nobel Laureate advised that people should make sure they register to vote, that no one should thereafter be allowed to deny people of their right. On Prof. Attahiru Jega, Soyinka said 'I trust Jega. I believe in him. The civil society is behind him. The whole world is behind him and watching him.' He had the same words for President Jonathan, adding that he should restore the rights of the people and his government should not drag the country back to the sad past.
He called for bringing to book, those who have committed treason against the Nigerian people in the past, insisting they should not go unpunished. Part of the punishment suggested by the Nobel Laureate is forfeiture of property among other sanctions to serve as a deterrent to others. He later adopted the slogan invented by a youth at the event which was, Register, Select, Vote and Protect (RSVP).
Former governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who urged Nigerians to register when Jega assumed office declared unequivocally that '2006 voters' register stand rejected,' just as he regretted that 'the problem is that perpetrators of electoral fraud are allowed to go scot free.' This house, Tinubu sermonised, 'must not fall.'
Mallam El-Rufai, said that the best election ever conducted in the country was the annulled 1993 polls, regretting that since then, others have been progressively worse.
And to right the past electoral wrongs, El-Rufai urged Nigerians to stand up collectively to make sure that the 2011 election is better. The former FCT minister believes that it could be done within four months, asserting that with a strong will and determination, a computerised voters' register is possible before the elections.
He accused the Prof. Maurice Iwu-led INEC of wastage, reminding that in 2006, a company contracted to produce computerised voters' register delivered about 52 million voters cards out of which INEC distributed only seven million, lamenting that the remaining ones were gathering dust in warehouse.
El-Rufai therefore, urged the people to compel INEC to distribute the rest for the owners to update them.
Also speaking, Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola said there is need for a new voters' register that would restore peoples' confidence in the nation's electoral system, adding that technological advancement has made the process very easy.
Fashola lamented that at a time the country should have consolidated on its democratic gains, it is still bringing out its older generation who had been in the forefront of democratic struggle to protest inimical policies of government, adding that younger generation of the country was gradually giving the world erroneous impression of a country that sends its elders to war.
Fashola urged Nigerians to embrace the clarion call by the leaders for a new voters' register, adding that it was time Nigerians saw elections as picnic and a day for fun rather than taking the day as a day to deploy security agencies to scare the voters away from polling stations.
Earlier, the convener, Pastor Bakare, who came to the stadium with his wife, Laide and all his children, said the era of electoral malpractices was over. He noted that the trend is responsible for the nation's poor leadership.
He also called on all eligible voters to file out to register at any area where it would be convenient for them to vote on the day of election. The CD President, Dr. Joe-Okei Odumakin wanted the present voters' register become a relic of past history, saying nothing short of a new register would be acceptable to the people of Nigeria.
Chief Akande said it was the inalienable right of the people for their votes to count, positing that it is through that, that people could put their choice candidate in office and remove them through the same process if they failed to perform. Prof. Pat Utomi expressed delight that 'the redemption time is here at last,' regretting that 'we have been taken for a ride for too long and the time to stem the trend is now.'
While declaring that the solution to the problem is simple, the ADC chieftain said it is just to sensitise the people to know that registering and voting are their rights. According to him, there was a precedence in June 12, 1993 election that was annulled by former military President Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
Others spoke in the same vein, but the convener of the SNG Pastor Bakare urged Nigerians to reject Babangida who, he reminded, unjustly annulled the most credible election ever conducted in Nigeria.