JUST BEFORE BAYELSA BURNS
When I recall Prof. Chinua Achebe's rejection of the recent national honour given to him by President Goodluck Jonathan on the basis that those things that made him reject the offer during the era of former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo are still there, my mind quickly raced to Bayelsa State where the incumbent governor, Timipre Sylva, is being treated as a political orphan by the interest groups and the powers that be in and outside the state.
Interest groups and the powers that be are not interested in Sylva's candidature and therefore, they must do everything possible, whether fair or not, to stop him. This, they have done by their overt actions and silences.
What is confusing is the fact that they are yet to make public the 'sins' of Sylva that made him ineligible for the People's Democratic Party (PDP) primaries held recently in the state under tight security and heavy presence of security agents as if the state is in a war situation. But, not many people are surprised at the unfolding drama of absurd in Bayelsa State. What the PDP is doing in Bayelsa state is not new.
It is their stock in trade. They did it in Imo and Rivers states in 2007. And what happened afterwards is now history. But the PDP can never learn from history. We know that almost all the political parties in the country at present lack internal democracy, but that of the PDP is so brazen. Though, the party has comfortably regarded this high level impunity as handling a 'family affair,' the matter has gone beyond the 'family affair' epithet. Nigeria is, clearly stating, not one family and the PDP, which prides itself as the biggest party in Africa cannot belong to the much touted family under an umbrella, whether tattered or not.
It is unfortunate that the PDP went ahead to conduct the primaries in Bayelsa despite a court order not to do so. Based on their own interpretation of the court order the PDP carried out the primaries in which one of the candidates and an incumbent governor was excluded. That is a clear manifestation of impunity and lack of internal democracy the country's political system is undergoing since 1999. It is interesting that Sylva went to court to challenge the illegality of that sham primaries said to have been conducted with tacit support of big forces outside the state.
Accusing fingers have been pointing at Aso Rock but President Goodluck Jonathan has denied such allegations. Some of his acolytes even went ahead to explain that his absence during the primaries shows that he was disinterested in the outcome. If his absence can be safely explained that way, how can the deployment of troops in Bayelsa state during the primaries be explained? What of his silence on the matter? In fact, there is more to what is happening in Bayelsa than people can rationalize and explain in a jiffy. What is happening in Bayelsa is a travesty of democracy. It should be condemned by all lovers of democratic ideals. It is also a mockery of the ideals of democracy.
Granted that the president has a say in who governs his home state, such a right must be exercised in a fair manner. Jonathan can even vote for a candidate of his choice at the primaries if he wishes to do so. There is nothing wrong in that. He can even participate in the voting proper come February 2012. But in all fairness, the PDP should not exclude any candidate from participating in the party's gubernatorial primaries. It should not impose a candidate on the people. The right to choose a candidate during primaries rests with members of a political party. It is never the preserve of a few powerful people in the party as the Bayelsa case has so far demonstrated. Political parties in the country should be in the forefront of protecting our democracy. They should see that internal democracy obtains in their conducts. Impunity and imposition of candidate as the PDP has done now in Bayelsa State is against the grains and spirit of democracy.
It is capable of igniting a crisis of unimaginable proportion that can even spread to other parts of the country if not well handled.
The democratic space should be open to every Dick and Harry provided they are qualified to be voted for. Nobody should be denied this right simply because some people no longer like his face. Hatred is never a factor in this matter. Personal vendetta and settling old scores should be ruled out.
While the party has the right to determine who represents them at any election, let the wishes of the members of that party be respected in the exercise of such right. What happened in Bayelsa primaries is a negation of such right. The Bayelsa aberration must be corrected. The injustice of that primaries cries to heaven for a redress.
Handpicking of individuals through phony primaries as was the case recently in Bayelsa is an affront on democracy. It is antithetical to all known democratic norms. The laws that guide party primaries should be obeyed holistically and not selectively. What is good for the geese should also be good for the gander. I am happy that Sylva has challenged this aberration in court. He should pursue it to its logical conclusion. It is good that he did not resort to self help as some other people in his shoes would have done. Since the court is the last hope of the common man, let it handle the matter dispassionately so that justice will prevail.
It is worrisome that some of our politicians do not want to play the political game according to the rules including those whose ascendancy to certain positions today were canvassed on the basis of equity, justice and politics of inclusion as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. In this column, I have always advocated that people should not be denied access to power just because of their place of birth or ethnic background. I seriously campaigned for Jonathan's presidency based on this conviction and belief. That is why I am now making this case for Sylva. Today, it is Sylva; tomorrow it can be you or another person. We should not condone injustice because it is happening to another person. Let us operate on the mindset that injustice to one is injustice to all.
The Bayelsa problem should not be left for the PDP alone. President Goodluck Jonathan should as a father of the party and the nation allow the rule of law to prevail in the matter. He should play a leading role to ensure that all the candidates are given a level playing ground in Bayelsa primaries irrespective of his personal interest or wish. He should allow public interest override his personal interest. After all said and done, the choice of who among the candidates that becomes the governor of the state come February next year will largely depend on all Bayelsans. Whether a candidate is imposed or not, the right to chose who governors the state belongs to the people of Bayelsa and not a few people at the corridors of power. This is where the role of INEC becomes very crucial. If it conducts every poll fairly, nobody should be afraid of imposition.
It is not good that Bayelsa is being gradually set on political fire and warfare because of the inordinate ambition of a few people. The state should be saved of this impending anarchy that Achebe complained about. Nigeria should be saved from undemocratic elements within our midst and those who derive pleasure playing dangerous politics of exclusion. For a peaceful Bayelsa, let all the candidates under the PDP be given a level playing ground. Nothing will be lost if this is done.