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‘Go to court’

By Onu John Onwe
23 March 2023   |   4:27 am
Go to Court”, three words sentence, advisory as it innocuously appears or if you like a command usually given by rogue politicians to their victims of rigging, and generally majority of politicians in Nigeria are rogues sums up the substance of politics in Nigeria.

Tinubu, Atiku, Kwankwaso and Obi

“Go to Court”, three words sentence, advisory as it innocuously appears or if you like a command usually given by rogue politicians to their victims of rigging, and generally majority of politicians in Nigeria are rogues sums up the substance of politics in Nigeria. What is politics and what is the end which politics seeks to achieve in Nigeria?

These posers can be answered by trying to define what we mean by politics. Ordinary dictionary (Chamber 21st Century Dictionary), meaning of ‘politics’ is that it is “the science or business of government.” The more realistic definition by that same dictionary says ‘politics’ is the “moves and manoeuvers concerned with the acquisition of power or getting one’s way…” I think it is this definition that suits Nigerians’ understanding of what politics is all about.

Politics in Nigeria has been about the players’ inordinate ambition and determination to get through in realisation of their ambitions or goals against all every legal strictures for clean electoral system. According to one prominent military general and politician, it is “do or die” to win an election as it is commercial gambling and a loss is more of a death sentence. Politics of “do or die” has become a tradition in Nigeria as Britain that formed Nigeria and laid the culture of politics designed a kleptocratic system that cannot be anything but ‘do-or-die’ affairs.

Let’s be clear of the fact that ‘politics’ has always been part of human nature only that partisan politics was not a cultural thing to African consensual political system. Nigeria, until British colonialism like other colonised countries, with their received cultural facts like law, culture and language were introduced by the colonisers to transform the socio-cultural and political life of the colonised society. Even in Britain and USA that Nigerians usually give as examples of beacons of democracy and constitutionalism, started their political tradition with consensual political system as opposed to adversarial politics.

In Britain, political division happened out of religious schism over Catholicism in 1679 between the supporters of King James II and his opponents. The supporters of King James II, who favoured Catholicism were pejoratively identified as the ‘Tory’, a term previously reserved for Irish highwaymen (robbers) while the protestant opponents of King James II, largely nonconformist, reformist and mercantilist were led by Shaftesbury as ‘Whigs’.

From this political schism broad based political parties were formed as the Whigs created the Liberal Party while the Tory formed the Conservative and Unionist Party. In USA, politics was consensual until after the revolution when as a result of the debate of the 1787 Constitution the founding fathers divided into broad based factions namely, the Federalist and the Anti-Federalist. After George Washington’s tenure as president, the factions coalesced as full-blown political parties with Alexander Hamilton leading the Federalist that favoured strong central government while Thomas Jefferson led the Anti-Federalist baptized as Democratic Republican Party.

In Nigeria under British colonialism, received British political culture birthed partisan politics that led to the formation of the Lagos Youth Movement later renamed National Youth Movement and Southern leaders such as Ernest Ikoli, Samuel Akinsanya, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, H.O. Davies, and others were members while Herbert Macaulay founded and led the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). It was in 1944 that a broad based political party, the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), was formed by fusing together Herbert Macaulay-led Nigerian NNDP and breakaway faction of the National Youth Movement led by Azikiwe.

These Southern nationalists-led political parties were nationalistic and rabidly anti-British colonialism and wouldn’t mind doing anything to get Britain off Nigeria’s back. In reciprocity, Britain hated these Southern nationalists who they considered “political upstarts” and held them and their parties in contempt. The NCNC and its nationalist activities woke up the British officials to the reality that a leadership not amenable to British influence would likely succeed it after the end of colonialism.

To avert this prospect and eventuality, Britain resuscitated its already outlined political objective of using the traditional institution (Indirect Rule) to create a leadership for Nigeria. So, it woke up the tribal sentiments already simmering underground by infusing it into politics. It gingered its secret service agents to wake up the slumbering tribal giants and by 1957, the Mutaneen Arewa was created in the North marching up to form the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) while Awolowo leading other Yoruba leaders embittered over Azikiwe’s role in the National Youth Movement crisis formed Egbe Omo Oduduwa in Western Region.

If Azikiwe had played good politics by remaining true to his nationalist credentials by not pandering to the hoax sold to him by the British Intelligence led by Governor John Macpherson who promised him Nigerian leadership if only he toned down his radical ideas and disowned the Zikist Movement, perhaps the trajectory of Nigerian political journey would not have derailed into the present darkness that started in 1951. The Zikist Movement was formed by four Nigerian journalists (Abiodun Aloba, Kolawole Balogun Nduka Eze and MCK Ajuluchukwu). They were sacked by their Lebanese newspaper proprietor as a result of pressure by British colonial government angered over the journalists’ nationalist activities and proselytizing in their newspaper.

The Zikist Movement chose Azikiwe over every other Nigerian nationalist because of his nationalist credentials and the movement tied Britain down with its militant activism which was geared to stultifying British agenda of foisting a favoured neocolonialist leadership on Nigeria which leadership would ensure the entrenchment of neocolonialism after British departure. Against this political dynamics, Azikiwe fell for British bait and got trapped when he agreed with British Governor Macpherson on his minimum conditions of disowning the Zikist Movement and cooperating with the colonial government on its decolonisation policies.

Azikiwe in executing his own side of the bargain started distancing himself from the Zikists and in the final separation from Zikists, he rejected their invitation to chair one of its conferences in 1948, and when the colonial government of Governor Macpherson descended on the Zikists for holding the conference, Azikiwe condemned and dismissed these young Nigerians as “fissiparous lieutenants and cantankerous followers.” Latching on Azikiwe’s betrayal and denunciation, British colonial government descended on the Zikist Movement, which it proscribed and banned.

The death of the Zikists exposed Azikiwe to political danger as the bulwark and galvanising role of the youth for his NCNC was lost to him and from that point he lost critical factor going for his national acceptance. The Northern People’s Congress and the Action Group that sprang up from the tribal ferment played up every sentiment that was contrary to nationalist politics and by 1951 when the politics of peopling the regions ensued Britain preserved the North for the NPC while it skillfully divided the West against Azikiwe in favour of Awolowo who became the Leader of Government. Having been destabilised and rendered politically impotent in the West, Azikiwe scurried back to the Eastern Region to precipitate crises in NCNC and government leading to the displacement of Prof Eyo Ita and other politicians. From that stage, Azikiwe became “man-must-wack” and political desperado and to him, anything goes.

But it was at the 1956/59 general elections leading to Independence in 1960 that the present politics of “do or die” took root and has not ceased from being the political currency. In the 1956/59 general elections, Britain had resolved to transfer power to the NPC with Tafawa Balewa as the prime minister. To realise this British objective, the governor-general, Sir James Roberson mobilised resources human and material to prosecute the elections with a determined resolve to return NPC as the ruling party. For NPC, financial resources of the native authority’s treasury were utilized to fund the activities.

To give the NPC national outlook, Governor Robertson mobilised British colonial civil servants that were mainly in charge of the electoral system as presiding and returning officers to deliver the favoured candidates across the country. It was the bid to execute that nefariously criminal duty that British civil servants, Harold Smith being one was designated electoral officer in the Eastern Region. The votes of the Northern Region were unquestionably assured and dedicated to deliver the candidates of the NPC without fail. Where the trouble lied was in the Eastern and Western Regions where Azikiwe’s NCNC and Awolowo’s AG held sway.

In order to garner some votes sufficient to deliver some friendly candidates from opposing parties allied to NPC but opposed to both NCNC and AG, Governor Macpherson had to intervene to browbeat British civil servants in charge of the electoral process to rig the election in favour of the favoured candidates. Harold Smith conscientiously objected to this British subterfuge.

Report of Harold Smith’s conscientious objection to rigging of 1956/1959 elections reached Sir James Robertson (Governor-General of Nigeria). He was livid with Mr. Smith’s seeming impertinent and impetuous objection that he decided to see Mr. Smith personally. In the meeting with Harold Smith, Governor Macpherson tabled the British Crown’s interest in installing a ‘friendly’ first indigenous independent government in Nigeria and that Mr. Smith alongside other British colonial civil servants had been ordered to rig the elections in favour of candidates in Eastern Region who were allied to the Northern People’s Congress.

After listening to Governor Robertson, Smith pointedly refused to be part of the British’s Crown’s conspiracy to subvert the will of the people by rigging the election. Mr. Smith pointed out to Governor Macpherson that what he had asked him and others to do was a crime against the British Crown and laws of nations. Governor Robertson was jolted by this young British officer, an Oxford trained graduate conscientious objection to British Crown order and he wanted to be sure Mr. Smith understood the implications of his disobedience to British Crown’s instruction to which Smith told him he was well aware but that he would not succumb to royal blackmail and intimidation to commit treason against the young state Britain was trying to create.

Being adamant after Governor Robertson made all kinds of promises of mouthwatering benefits he stood to gain by joining other compliant British colonial civil servants to execute the subterfuge. Sir Robertson also presented Mr. Smith the consequences of Smith’s refusal to rig the 1956/59 general elections in favour of NPC. One, Sir Robertson made it clear to Mr. Smith that refusal to comply with his order amounted to disobedience to British Crown which itself was treason.

Second, being a young man not yet married but just starting life, the consequences would be insufferable. The first punishment was that he would be dismissed from British public service and would not be employed anywhere else in British Commonwealth and he would be monitored and never be allowed to present his case in public and no news media would publish or broadcast his ordeal.

After the litany of royal strictures and impending punishments, Mr. Smith stood his grounds against joining Governor Robertson to rig Nigeria’s 1956/59 elections in favour of Northern People’s Congress. Expectedly, Governor Robertson succeeded in rigging the 1956/59 general elections in favour of the NPC. Mr. Smith was accordingly dismissed from British colonial civil service and was shut out and virtually declared persona non grata in Britain and in the British Commonwealth and dominions.

Britain introduced parliamentary democracy, which works on the ability of the party or parties to command a majority in order to function in the parliament. By NPC’s 134 seat to be combined strength of NCNC and AG’s 162 seas, a coalition of these two parties would have been called to form the government but Governor Robertson cut them short even before the conclusion of election by calling Tafawa Balewa to form government against the reservations and protests by Azikiwe and Awolowo. What riles every right thinking Nigerian is that not only was this crime the source of Nigeria’s rigging culture it was a deliberate act of infusing kleptocratic principles in Nigeria’s democratic system which subverts the state and its legal order. This is the origin of Nigeria’s rigging culture.

The tap-root of Nigeria’s corrupt electoral system emanated from this Britain’s subterfuge in Nigeria. Having been installed as rulers through criminal electoral system, the succeeding indigenous rulers led by Northern People’s Congress headed by Tafawa Balewa embraced the same rigging regime to foist itself and its allies on Nigeria. It was this rigging culture and its collateral damage to Nigeria and society such as violence and suppression of opposition in the exercise of their electoral franchise that led to the Western Region crisis and eventual overthrow of Balewa government which culminated in the Biafra War.

The impunity flowing from rigging culture introduced by Britain has bred and sustained ‘do-or-die’ politics. Shagari government in 1983 rigged with impunity to ride roughshod over Nigeria. Rogue politicians drawing from this criminal culture of rigging with impunity would either kill their opponents without any legal consequences or rig them out and taunt them to “go to court” knowing that the judiciary has been sucked into the vortex of the electoral quagmire, corruption and debauchery.

When President Umaru Yar’Adua admitted that 2007 presidential election was flawed and worked hard to reform it, he was being honest and conscientious. He began the process of reforming Nigeria electoral banditry, which his successor President Goodluck Jonathan accomplished to make it possible for General Muhammadu Buhari to defeat him even as an incumbent. Till today, Buhari is still shocked that President Jonathan supervised an election and allowed the will of the people to prevail.

When General Buhari became president, he boasted that he and his party, APC have taken over rigging instruments such as INEC, security agencies and the courts, and their opponents were then at their mercy in their exercise of the criminal electoral power. Since 2015 when Buhari took over government, the electoral system has been bastardised as even more bizarre electoral crimes, such as open vote-buying, suppression of voters/opposition, outright writing of fake results were introduced and where APC lost elections, INEC would tweak the system to default into “inconclusive” election to enable APC rework its arsenal to grab victory.

This new electoral culture of rigging was sustained under General Buhari who frustrated every attempt to reform the electoral system until he used the corrupt system to return himself to power in 2019 general elections after sabotaging its electronic transmission of results from pulling units by delaying collation of results for almost a week during which INEC cooked up a result returning Buhari to second term.

Of course, aggrieved opponents, especially, Atiku Abubakar was cynically dismissed and asked to “go to court.” Mr. Atiku went to court and expectedly the trial court (Court of Appeal) dismissed his petition concluding that he neither proved substantial noncompliance nor disregard of Electoral Act. Buhari, a victim of flawed electoral system forgot his troubles once he became a beneficiary of a clean, fair and free election in 2015 by allowing rogue and kleptocratic politicians and INEC officials led by Prof. Mahmood Yakubu to foist on Nigerians a corrupt electoral system since 2015.

So, when President Buhari, as opposed to his pre-2019 adamant refusal to accede to electoral reforms by rejecting signing the Electoral Bill later repented to allow the reforms by signing the 2022 Electoral Act, Nigerians heaved a cynical sigh of relief. When in 2022, Buhari started a singsong of leaving a legacy of clean, free and fair elections, Nigerians were still cynical and doubtful but some including this writer, though skeptical nevertheless gave him benefit of doubt as he reasoned that it is possible that having failed disastrously in all sectors of Nigerian political economy perhaps a legacy of clean electoral system might just be his redemptive ticket to the portals of history.

As Buhari coupled his signing of the Electoral Bill into law with public proclamations that he would not allowed anybody to intimidate Nigerians with money and violence, Nigerians were still skeptical but the consistency and stridency of Mr. Buhari’s presidential promise forced many people to believe him as governments of Nigeria have serially abused Nigerians and raped democracy to make them perpetually cynical of government’s intentions and actions.

It was under this state of national cynicism that Buhari held the 2023 presidential and national assembly elections on February 25, 2023 and every promise made by Buhari turned a dud promissory note. The INEC failed to conduct the elections according to its guidelines by uploading the accreditation and results into its electronic portal but instead embraced manual processes, which are liable to compromise and subversion. After the elections, which have been marred by violence, intimidations and outright fakery and forgeries of the polling units’ results.

The opposition parties led by Peter Obi’s Labour Party and Atiku’s PDP have condemned and rejected the outcomes of the elections. Against the backdrop of this national grief on the calamity and subversion of the sovereignty of the people, the ruling party, APC and their president, Buhari could only offer them a challenge tantamount to ‘do your worst’, ‘lick your wounds’ or at best, ‘go to court’ to ventilate your grievances, afterall lurking in the government’s and APC’s minds is the knowledge that the court has been cowed through executive intimidations, blackmails and detentions.

So, what can it do to invalidate INEC’s false results favouring APC? So, to the aggrieved opponents, and subjugated Nigerians, the government and APC have challenged and taunted them to ‘go to court’ or do your worst, impliedly declaring, “we stand ‘gidigbam’, ‘unshakable’ and ‘undefeatable’.” Who can cancel APC false electoral victory not to talk of removing the beneficiaries after inauguration on May 29, 2023? Which power is that that can do the undoable?

Dr. Onwe is curator Hopebay Library,
4B, Ogoja Road, Abakaliki.