As it was in the last years of the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo Presidency, when, disturbed more about the need for a peaceful transition than to addressing holistically, the vexed Niger Delta problem, the Federal Government offered militants cash for some ‘dane’ guns not so much required in the insurgent’s sophisticated armoury, amnesty is today, the catch – word to assuage pains of the region.
This time however, what Nigerians are repeatedly told is that the Federal Government will require about 60 billion naira to implement an amnesty package for repentant Niger Delta militants, without acceptable details. The much, President Yar’Adua has obliged Nigerians is the information that the presidential pardon will, among others, include rehabilitation, education, training and re-orientation of the reluctant beneficiaries, in order to make them good citizens worthy of integration into the civil society.
Quite frankly, no sane Nigerian will protest against amnesty for any genuine Niger Delta activists whose non-violent protestations, for years, centred around resource control, but certainly not common criminals who, in order to conceal their shameful antecedents, willfully hijacked the people’s just struggle for the socio-economic integration of the oil producing areas.
The Tide warns that blanket amnesty to militants, by itself cannot address the protracted militarisation of the Niger Delta. Its usefulness lies only in its ability to temporarily halt the hostilities. For instance, no militant had, in the past, willingly surrendered any or all sophisticated weapons in their various armouries, several, had instead have often preferred to save their best for the rainy day.
The option therefore, is to address in a holistic manner, the key issues that have continued to generate and regenerate unrest and for the umpteenth time threatened the economic mainstay of the country. We say so because the blanket amnesty to all ‘militants’, in isolation, without a look at the bigger picture, is not only wrong, it also, in our view, equates to including Area Boys and miscreants in the payment of salary arrears to workers after a trade dispute, because of the violent contributions of the low-lives to the workers’ action.
One of the key issues that ought to engage urgent attention is that of embracing true federalism which will allow the various components of the federation to determine their economic, political and indeed socio-cultural survival using resources available to them. What is indeed required now is for the federal government to lay the necessary framework for states to generate viable and productive economic activities and be made to pay, to the central government, a reasonable percentage of taxes for the management of some institutions on both the exclusive and concurrent lists, like defence, justice, national security, education, the legislature among others.
Without doubt, the relative peace enjoyed by Nigeria before and shortly after independence was grounded in the principle of rewarding hardwork and the quasi-autonomy enjoyed by the regions, which was why in the years of the great groundnut pyramids, palm oil, cocoa, coal, tin and cattle among others, producers were allowed to control their resources.
Regrettably, those who enjoyed the economic independence and boom of those years are some of the same who continue to under-estimate the Niger Delta people’s ability to fight for their right, by continuing to argue that oil is a natural gift and should not be seen as any state’s exclusive endowment, even when membership of what became Nigeria was by forced amalgamation, nay choice..
Intrinsically, it is very tempting to believe that the Yar’Adua administration is not ready to correct that faulty argument and instead, appears to favour the interventionist option of addressing the Niger Delta question by simply scratching the surface.
This is indeed why The Tide shares the position of the Rivers State Government that the right things be done, first and foremost, which in our view, does not include granting amnesty to criminals in the ranks of genuine activists.
What is most paramount, as voiced by Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, through his Deputy Tele Ikuru at the stakeholders’ meeting with the Federal Government Amnesty Committee held last Tuesday at the Presidential Hotel, Port Harcourt, is for the federal government to embrace the tenets of true federalism by allowing states and oil bearing communities the relief to directly negotiate with multi-national investors, control their own resources and contribute an agreed percentage to the centre according to their worth. That way, the states can take responsibility for their internal security and separate activists from common criminals.
In addition, The Tide insists that the various stakeholders and civil organisations, that for years have championed the non-violent agitation for the socio-economic integration of the region, before its militarisation, be invited and dialogued with, in order to work out viable options, and not to parley exclusively with the militants and their legal counsels.
We say so, because we know, based on familiar antecedents that without proper dialogue with all concerned, an even more violent militancy will emerge later if not sooner. Now, is the time to prevent that.
Ekiti Poll: A Post-Mortem
At last, the 2022 Ekiti State gubernatorial election scheduled for June 18, 2022, to elect the next governor of the state has come and gone. Former Secretary to the State Government, Abiodun Oyebanji, of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was declared the winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Oyebanji attained victory for the APC by a 30 per cent margin over first runner-up and Social Democratic Party (SDP) nominee, former Governor Olusegun Oni.
Recall that the primaries were scheduled for between January 4 and 29 with the All Progressives Congress nominating Oyebanji in a direct primary on January 27 while the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) nominated former Commissioner for Environment, Bisi Kolawole, in an indirect primary on January 26. Both primaries were beset by accusations of candidate imposition. However, Oni, who came second in the PDP primary, repudiated the results before leaving the party to accept the SDP nomination.
Nigerians, particularly indigenes and residents of the state, have been sharing mixed feelings about the outcomes since they were declared. According to political analysts, the PDP’s defeat was caused by candidate imposition and internal issues, while the ruling party won the poll based on party reputation and the achievements of the incumbent governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi. According to another set of public and political affairs observers, the ruling party won the election because of the approbation of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the APC presidential candidate.
Information from observers disclosed that the general election was characterised by its incredible logistical organisation and peaceful voting, despite a turbulent campaign period marked by notable interparty clashes. By the early morning of June 19, collation had been completed and results declared. In total, Oyebanji obtained about 187,000 votes and 53 per cent of the vote as runner-up Oni received around 82,000 votes and 23 per cent of the vote while Kolawole came third with over 67,000 votes and 19 per cent of the vote. The ruling party won in 15 of the 16 local governments, and the SDP candidate only in one.
Before the ballot, 989,224 persons were registered to vote, according to INEC. An aggregate of 36.94 per cent of this group took part in the election. This means that the decision was determined by less than half of the registered voters. Qualified voters must carry out their civic responsibilities diligently. Sadly, those in the state, particularly youths, who used social media to express their opinions about the election were unable to mobilise themselves for physical voting. The result suggests that elections cannot be won through social media platforms.
A few unique things about the 2022 Ekiti governorship ballot are that it is the first election to be conducted by INEC under the new Electoral Act 2022, as well as the Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections, 2022. It was also the second time INEC would be deploying the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) device statewide after the November 6, 2021, Anambra State governorship poll. Thankfully, unlike in Anambra, the equipment worked satisfactorily in Ekiti.
Many accredited journalists and observer groups including the electorate have commended the election as being free, fair, inclusive, credible and peaceful. INEC has been further lauded for getting the logistics right, as most polling units were reported to have opened by 8:30 a.m. when the voting exercise commenced. Electronic results transmission was effective. Again, INEC was fast in vote tallying and subsequent declaration of the election results. It could be the fastest gubernatorial poll conclusion in our history. This is a further confirmation of the efficacy of the electronic transmission of results.
An election monitoring group, under the auspices of Yiaga Africa, has described the governorship election as transparent and fair enough, going by statistics generated by over 500 ad hoc staff deployed on the election day. Also, the Centre for Democracy and Development said its data from election observation from the state indicated that 86 per cent of INEC officials arrived at their polling units by 8:30 a.m.
BVAS was also said to have worked optimally, although few people could still not be accredited. It is also heartwarming that the electoral body was able to provide assistive devices for persons with disabilities and that priority voting was accorded to the elderly, nursing mothers, and pregnant women. The acceptance of defeat by the PDP’s candidate yet underpins the credibility of the poll.
However, Ekiti 2022 was not all about successes. Although it is said that INEC is yet to get the redistribution of voters into the polling units right, unlike in Anambra and FCT Area Council elections where the commission said there would be no deployment into some polling units because they had no voters, there was no such thing in Ekiti. Regardless, there was lopsidedness in the redistribution exercise. Instead of having a maximum of 750 voters per polling unit, some units still had between 2,000 and 3,000 registered voters.
Furthermore, there was unbridled and open use of money by politicians, and their agents to buy votes as other routes of election manipulation, especially in votes transmission by INEC, appear blocked by e-transmission. There is a need to make scapegoats of those who commit this heinous offence. It is both an economic and political crime to engage in vote-trading. It has been criminalised by Sections 121 and 127 of the Electoral Act 2022. Under the law, both the giver and the taker are complicit and could go in for 12 months imprisonment or a N500,000 fine or both.
Nevertheless, we commend the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for the arrest of some mercenaries deployed by political parties to buy votes. We urge the anti-graft and security agencies to investigate and prosecute all citizens involved in electoral fraud, especially those implicated in vote-buying. We equally applaud the professionalism of the security agents who worked tirelessly to maintain peace on election day. They should remain non-partisan and professional towards the Osun governorship election next month.
Both the Ekiti people and INEC deserve gratitude for their resilience and commitment to a non-violent, free and fair election. Specifically, we encourage the voters to sustain their participation in the electoral process beyond the elections by holding political parties and candidates accountable for their campaign promises. INEC should always uphold the principles of transparency in all elections in the country. In all, the Ekiti governorship election sets a new benchmark for the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
2023: Now That Primaries Are Over
After all the drama of the last few weeks leading up to the presidential primaries within the political par-
ties in Nigeria, we now know who the presidential candidates are for next year’s election. Nigerians have learnt so much as our politicians crisscrossed the country searching for votes. As a result of what happened, it was discovered that some Nigerians no longer want their children or wards to be doctors or engineers. They would rather prefer them to be party delegates.
Although many Nigerians did not see money exchanging hands, there is a strong presumption that party delegates were ‘richly rewarded’ for their votes. Surprisingly, while the primaries lasted issues affecting the ordinary people did not feature prominently in the exercise that had on display the ruthlessness of the political class — the unconscionable and vulgar assault on the sensibility of the people with the way money became the main defining factor on who occupies which office.
The presence of security agents, in particular, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), at the convention venues, designed to be a smokescreen, however, meant nothing to these politically exposed persons who allegedly dared the anti-graft agency to stop the despicable jamboree in its immensity. In other climes in which democracy is important, this behaviour is sufficient to put an end to anyone’s political career.
Still, Nigerians looked on askance, helplessly pondering in their minds if ever this charade will end, so they could go on with their lives devoid of the insensitivity of those they have the misfortune of regarding as their leaders; those who eat their corn and throw the chaff in their faces. This has challenged the viability of the constitutional democracy that the nation has embraced as a system of government and administration.
Oddly enough, in our opinion, unemployment and, in fact, the economy in general, during this period, no longer dominated the media space in search of solutions. Insecurity began to be romanticised and talked about in a cavalier manner, suggesting that, perhaps, the ruling class appreciated the climate of uncertainty that has been the bane of peace in the country. Even the protracted closure of the nation’s universities took the back seatas those responsible for resolving the impasse were more intrested in seeking for the office of president of the country.
These troubling realities make the forthcoming general elections a defining moment for the country, which raises the need for a thorough and insightful search for who will preside over the affairs of the country after President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. This search has since begun for the political elite, hence, the intra-party tussle for the party ticket. While this is a party affair, Nigerians have witnessed how aspirants seeking to govern the country have crossed its length and breadth, talking to their delegates.
The Tide is dismayed that politicians appear to play as Nero while Rome burnt. A look at the polity today shows a near-failing state whose socio-political systems and cultures are collapsing hard and fast. Unfortunately, this is about more than just politicians. The so-called “masses”, comprising the broad spectrum of the Nigerian electorate, are complicit. What is important for them is being paid handsomely for the unpatriotic work they do.
These are the same people who were part of the infamous “cash for vote” case. They are those who choose to look the other way as members of the watchdog institutions, refusing, for whatever reason, to hold the political class to account. They are also the delegates who showed far more patriotism to the foreign currencies than to the country. However, there is every cause to believe that all is not lost. Some candidates, like Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, have displayed genuine desire for a better Nigeria.
As the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) formally declares Nigeria’s political space open for campaigns by candidates flying the flags of the respective political parties at the presidential, governorship and various legislative levels in a few months, what are Nigerians expecting from the candidates and political parties? Do we expect a resort by the candidates to vulgar abuse, indecent and indecorous words, exchange of inanities or presentation of ideas to solve existing national challenges, planning for the future and novel concepts of a societal organisation?
There is no doubt that Nigerians would like to see a firm commitment by political parties and their candidates to meet the challenges they face. The problems we are confronted with in this country are already well known. Unlike in the past, we do not expect to see candidates give superficial explanations to the issues or romanticise the concerns for cheap sound bites. We believe that the quality of election campaigns is a precursor to the quality of governance when a winner emerges.
Consequently, political parties must question the health sector, which is grossly underfunded, as well as almost every sector of the economy and society. How will the new government raise fresh and, maybe, novel funds to invest in the sector? Will we have special intervention funds or budgetary funds to improve the facilities? What are the short to medium and long-term health plans? In addition to universal health coverage, what are the ways and the logistics of realising this dream?
Education as the cornerstone of societal development needs should also be considered with urgency. How will the party extend ingress to education at all levels while strengthening the quality and content of the curriculum? Are we constructing new institutions, particularly universities and polytechnics, or are we growing the capacity of existing institutions? Which is less or more costly to implement? What is the plan for hiring workers at higher education institutions?
One of the main challenges facing the Nigerian economy is the high unemployment rate and low electricity supply in the industrial sector. For many decades, successive governments of the country have made futile attempts to fight unemployment. There is no doubt that power has an effect on unemployment rates in this country. Therefore, candidates have to tell Nigerians how they hope to improve electricity generation and ensure that the industrial sector is given a higher priority in the supply of electricity if the high unemployment rate is to be abated.
Insecurity has been a major obstruction to foreign investment in the country. Nigerians would like to hear from candidates who aspire to lead how they will manage this threat. This challenge must be adequately examined by political parties and their candidates seeking power if the nation is to witness positive developments. A complete list of challenges is not conceivable. This is just a cue to the candidates and political parties to concentrate on the fundamental issues.
Every election is a referendum, and the 2023 election will be a critical one. Not for the reasons some politicians have said it is. It will be a referendum on whether Nigerians are ready to make the necessary sacrifices to have the kind of leadership they yearn for; a leadership that will guarantee a better future not for them alone, but for their children and posterity. Or will they opt for a continuation of the pervasive shame and sham? Of course, 2023 will tell.
VP Choice: Reflecting Nigeria’s Secularity
By the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) timetable, all political parties fielding presidential candidates must have named and submitted their vice presidential nominees by the latest last Friday. The heated discussion engendered over the past week was the joint Muslim-Muslim ticket and its likely impact on the electoral victory of any party that adopts the option. The matter has raised fresh apprehension in the country already divided along religious and ethnic cleavages.
For the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party and most other parties, there is no anxiety about the issue because the candidates and their running mates have been chosen from the two domineering religions of Christianity and Islam. Specifically, Atiku Abubakar, a Muslim from the North, has picked Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, Governor of Delta State, and a Christian from the South.
The same, however, cannot be said about the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) which has a Muslim presidential candidate from the South-West. Normally, and going by convention, the candidate is generally expected to choose a Christian running mate from the North to balance the geopolitical permutations and to create a feeling of belonging to most ethnic and religious groups in the country. Alas, that was not the case.
The APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has already named Ibrahim Kabiru Masari as his running mate for the 2023 elections. A chieftain of the party, Kabiru Faskari, confirmed this during an interview. He said, “Ibrahim Kabiru Masari is our vice presidential nominee. He was the Welfare Secretary of the APC under Oshiomhole (former national chairman of the party). He is a well-known politician in Kaduna State, and his name has been submitted.”
Faskari further explained that picking Kabiru, who hails from Katsina State, did not violate the country’s laws as against the clamour for a Muslim/Christian APC ticket. “He is young; he represents the youths and is grounded in politics and was even a national official of the APC. He is quite close to the presidential candidate and has been with him for a very long time.” According to the APC chieftain, the decision followed wide consultations and the party needed a person from a region with a large voting population.
Although the ruling party claimed it was putting Kabiru as a placeholder to beat INEC’s deadline for presidential candidates to submit the names of their running mates, many believe that the party’s explanation is intended to hide behind a smokescreen. This decision has now placed the APC at a crossroads, even as leaders of Christian pressure groups, and defenders of the rights of people, fly in and out of temper over the issue.
Regardless, there have been pockets of support for a Muslim-Muslim ticket by politicians including Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai; former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, who said he would back Tinubu if he chose a Muslim running mate; former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu; and Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) who believe that what matters in the choice of a vice president, more than religion, are his “credibility, integrity and competence.”
Conversely, the Nigerian Youths Coalition (NYC) stated that any such plan would amount to the APC “beating the drums of religious war” while the Coalition of Arewa Forum for Good Governance (CAFGG) believes any such arrangement would “increase crisis across the country” and that it should be jettisoned “in the interest of equity, justice and fairness.”
Since the present political dispensation from 1999, politicians and their parties have deliberately avoided fielding the same religion ticket. The only exceptions were in 1983-1985 when the then Major-Gen Muhammadu Buhari and late Major-Gen Tunde Idiagbon, both Muslims of Northern extraction, held sway as military Head of State and deputy; and in 1993 when the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) presented a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket in the persons of the late Chief Moshood Abiola from the South and Alhaji Babagana Kingibe from the North.
Unlike the 1993 scenario where the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) supported the Muslim-Muslim ticket, the association has come out strongly to denounce any such arrangement. Its position is buttressed by glaring facts that Nigerians of the Christian faith have suffered more than any other group from the insurgency, terrorism, kidnapping, raping and outright killings that have become the order of the day, particularly in the last seven years of the present government.
The point at issue is an imposition of a ticket that may arouse disaffection at a time such as this when an outgoing leader has badly mismanaged the country’s fault lines that aspiring leaders are claiming do not matter. This is tragic in the extreme when we should be scrutinising the quality of the agenda and indeed manifestos of our presidential candidates. It is not a good legacy for the Buhari administration.
Nigerian politicians have invariably exploited the polity for voracious reasons and consequently obliterated the finesse of the country’s sophisticated diversity. The level of mistrust and suspicion between the two major religions in the country has become so high that it has made it implausible, unrealistic and unwise for any political party to field a same-religion presidential joint ticket.
Therefore, in line with CAN’s position, we reject the Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket of the APC and other political parties in the country. The outcome of this insensitive act will be disastrous. The same religion ticket is a threat to the fragile peace and unity of Nigeria. With Nigeria’s trajectory and its challenges, it is crucial for political parties not to further polarise the country by opting for Christian-Christian or Muslim-Muslim presidential combination.
Imagine how terrible it will be if, in present-day Nigeria, there are two Muslims in power. Even the extant Nigerian Constitution promotes ethnic and religious balance. So, if any political party attempts a Muslim/Muslim ticket, it will be doing so at its peril. Tinubu’s running mate should be a Christian from the North; Abubakar Atiku’s running mate should be a Christian from the South, while Peter Obi should take his deputy among the Muslims from the North. Anything contrary means the defaulting political parties bother less about Nigeria’s unity.
Buhari’s crass failure to secure the lives and welfare of Nigerians as required of him by the Constitution is responsible for the clear division, suspicion, and lack of trust encompassing opposition to a Muslim-Muslim ticket. The President’s party, the APC, or any other for that matter, should desist from heightening the tension in the polity by attempting a same-religion presidency configuration. Such is simply out of tune with the current reality in the country.
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