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My fears, hopes about 2019 elections – Part 2

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Opening Remarks by INEC Chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu at the ongoing National Briefing Of Accredited Observers (Domestic and Foreign) for the 2019 General Elections.


Media ­ men were harassed, beaten and some had their cameras smashed. From all indications, the most critical factor that would make or mar the 2019 election is the neutrality or otherwise of security agencies.
  
Nigerian political history shows clearly that the most destabilizing forces in the country’s polity are not the so-called hoodlums and those officially labeled as “criminals”. Those who destabilised the country’s democratic institutions are the military big-wigs as well as high and mighty in the society who rig elections. Electoral malpractice in Nigeria has never been initiated, planned or financed by poor peasant folk or so-called “party thugs”. It is the exclusive preserve of the rich and powerful, government functionaries, electoral officials and law enforcement agents.
  
Another powerful group that poses a great danger to democracy in Nigeria is herdsmen militia which became the single most lethal terrorist group since June 2015. The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) which measures terrorism world-wide reported in December 2018 that between January and September 2018, herdsmen militia killed 1,700 Nigerians which is six times more than those killed by Boko Haram terrorist sect. The seeming relative silence of herdsmen militia in the run-up to the 2019 election cannot be taken to mean that the militia men have suddenly been reformed. Their seeming silence poses unspeakable dangers to democracy and the Nigerian state.
  
I fear that democracy would be further stunted in the country if the security forces interfere in any way with the democratic process. In the absence of unfettered freedom of Nigerians to choose their leaders, the country could most likely not only go back to the dark days of military rule, it might slip into full-blown fascism. Where free and fair elections are scuttled, aggrieved individuals and groups would definitely protest. In such a situation, there might be likelihood of bloodshed. Experience shows that any face-off between Nigerian citizens and their military almost always results in bloodshed.

My worst fear is that if the present cabal that controls the Nigerian Presidency succeeds in imposing itself on the people in the election, the country might slide into the unexpected. This is because there is a powerful class of religious supremacists in the country who see President Muhammadu  Buhari as their last chance to conquer the country to serve their group interest.  Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State recently expressed the desperation of this class when he issued an ominous threat to foreign election observers during a live discussion on National Television Authority (NTA). He said among other things: “Those that are calling for anyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for the person that would come and intervene, they would go back in body bags.”  (Solomon Fowowe, El-Rufai threatens death on foreigners that interfere in Nigeria’s elections, The Guardian, February 6, 2019)
   
Governor El-Rufai is not a road-side hoodlum. He is a member of a well-organised class of powerful Nigerians. His threat was not a Freudian slip. As Senator Shehu Sani of Kaduna State wisely advised, Governor El-Rufai’s threat should be taken seriously by Nigerians and the international community. My fear in this regard is aggravated by the fact that at the present time, most Southern economic, political and religious elite are not conscious of powerful undercurrents propelling their country towards a destination that is antithetical to democracy. They read the lips rather than the actions of political leaders and are therefore are easily misled.

 
My hopes for Nigeria
In spite of grave threats to the democratic process in the country, I have high hopes that Nigeria will survive the dangers which it faces and take its rightful place as Africa’s leading light and pearl of the Black World. My optimism is based on the robust moderating, stabilising and developmental credentials and plan of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the election, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and his running mate, former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is a Fulani and also a Muslim, like his APC opponent. Therefore, on the score of ethnic and religious sentiment, both candidates neutralise themselves to a large extent. There is nothing in the political turf of the country to suggest that Buhari enjoys superior popularity among Fulani or Muslims in general. A significant difference is that the two candidates present sharply different personalities and political outlooks. In contrast to President Buhari, Atiku Abubakar is of a liberal political persuasion, urbane and at home in diverse ethnic, cultural, economic and social groups in the country. He exudes an accommodating personality which is more relevant to a multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-religious country like Nigeria. He has never been known to display religious bias in his public life.
  
From all indications, the two candidates are poised for an epic electoral battle on February 16, 2019 but it goes beyond them. For example, President Buhari is an avowed opponent of political restructuring while Atiku Abubakar is a well-known advocate of political restructuring to restore true federalism in the country. Therefore, those who insist on the status quo in the country are most likely to support Buhari while those who desire positive change in the country would support Atiku Abubakar.  Atiku’s political agenda is germane to the political temperament because pro-democracy activists in the country have consistently warned that if the country failed to restore federalism on which it was founded, it could skid into disorder and possible violent exit of entrapped nationalities. On balance, the forces of political restructuring have an edge over those of political stagnation. For example, The Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) Africa recently predicted that Atiku will win the February 16 presidential election. Another international source, Williams and Associates also predicted that Atiku would win the presidential election, based on field work it carried out in the country.
  
In the past few weeks, the international community, notably, the USA, EU and UK have expressed strong desire to see that the elections are transparent, free, fair and credible. Most Nigerians are happy that there would be unbiased foreign observers to monitor the election for the consolidation of democracy in the country but the desire for fairness in the elections seems to have drawn the ire of some Buhari apologists. This prompted a threat by President Buhari’s right hand man, Governor El-Rufai. The second term election syndrome of Nigerian presidents may have afflicted the Buhari camp. This is even more serious as a former military dictator of Nigeria whose democratic credentials are in question is seeking a second term. Happily, most Nigerians are poised to move democracy forward and would foil any attempt at an electoral coup masterminded by enemies of democracy on February 16. Nigeria is on the threshold of rediscovering itself at the 2019 General Election.
Concluded
• Biose, former university teacher and human rights activist, is National Coordinator, Team Niger Delta for Atiku/Obi


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