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Like Obama, U.S. envoy Symington cautions Nigerians against infantile political behaviour

By Anote Ajeluorou
15 February 2019   |   4:25 am
Once again, it is the season of messages to Nigerians and its leadership on the need for civilized electoral behaviour. And since those who run the affairs of Nigeria have failed to grow the country to maturity and adulthood, a community of nations....

U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Stuart Symington

Once again, it is the season of messages to Nigerians and its leadership on the need for civilized electoral behaviour. And since those who run the affairs of Nigeria have failed to grow the country to maturity and adulthood, a community of nations (not unlike a village collectively raising a child in typical African fashion) will continue to act as its guardian and join hands in raising her up, otherwise she continues to remain an infant needing to be repeatedly given knocks on its head to behave properly.

Former American president, Barrack Obama, was one such village elder, who berated Nigeria in a message he delivered specifically to Nigerians shortly before the 2015 general elections when former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan contested against incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. That message is believed to have changed the fortunes of that electoral outcome. Jonathan has since alleged in his book My Transition Hour that Obama’s address and other overt and covert actions and inactions of the American president cost him the election.

Just a few days to the 2015 elections, President Obama had, in a video message, told Nigerians and her leaders, “For elections to be credible; they must be free, fair and peaceful. All Nigerians must be able to cast their votes without intimidation or fear.“I call on all leaders and candidates to make it clear to their supporters, that violence has no place in democratic elections. And that they will not incite, support or engage in any kind of violence before, during or after the votes are counted. I call on all Nigerians to peacefully express your views.

“I am told that there is a saying in your country; to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done. Today I urge all Nigerians, from all religions, all ethnic groups in all regions to come together and keep Nigeria one. And in this task of advancing the security, prosperity and human rights of all Nigerians, you will continue to have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”

It is obvious that President Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) party have taken Jonathan’s accusations to heart by taking a hostile approach to any message, be it of encouragement or the need for proper electoral behaviour, from the international community. Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir el-Rufai’s ‘body bag’ gaff that amounted to hate speech, delivered to international observers on their perceived roles, stemmed from that narrow reading of events.

However you look at it, Nigerian leaders continue to behave badly. The honorable example of bowing out set by former President Jonathan seems lost on them in less than four years. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its government, led by Buhari, have, in only three years, behaved worse to the opposition than when People Democratic Party was in power in 16 years. Sometimes disguised as anti-corruption fight, APC has deployed everything in its arsenal to run the major opposition party out of town. The kind of freedom APC enjoyed as opposition it promptly denied its main opposition challenger.

Although not as vociferous as APC was when in opposition, PDP has managed to heckle APC with its constant appeals to the international community to call the ruling party to order. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s open letter asking Bahuri to also bow out for incompetence is a source of worry for the ruling party. Obasanjo’s international stature ensures that the international community would listen keenly to him and act in concert with his claims on APC and Buhari. Significantly, PDP’s loud cry over APC’s alleged plans to rig the 2019 polls has also attracted the attention of the international community, which desires civilized conduct of Nigeria’s election on Saturday and beyond, and the desirability of the outcome being the expressed wishes of Nigerians..

This would seem the exact replay of 2015 scenario, where APC also took its campaign to the international community to prevail on Jonathan for free and fair polls. However, that APC now finds it abhorrent that PDP is also making similar appeals that provided it the level playing field that brought it to power smacks of hypocrisy and double standard. While it favoured APC the party hailed it as conforming to international best practices. But now that the tables have turned, APC finds the position of the same international community belligerent towards it.

This year, however, President Donald Trump can’t be bothered with Nigeria’s electoral problems, as he has his Mexico border wall issues to contend with the opposition Democrats in Capitol Hill. Not just that, he had given his verdict on Africa and its people last year when he made what could be termed hate and racial speech by pronouncing the continent as ‘shithole’. Of course, he specially reserved his characteristic frankness for Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari when he referred to him as ‘lifeless’ when he visited the Whitehouse, and would not bother himself with any form of democratic exercise being conducted in such a president’s country.

And so Trump left the unenviable task and message to his ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Stuart Symington, to deliver to a country, which has some of the greatest assets on earth, yet chooses to remain backward and continues to behave like an infant needing to be taught and berated before it does the very elementary things that enable her greatness right.

According to Mr. Stuart Symington, “These elections are a remarkable experience for every Nigerian and for every citizen to express their will. What the United States hopes to see in your elections, in this year of 2019, are elections that are free, fair and credible, transparent and above all peaceful.

“In this process, I know one thing: it is important for the citizens of Nigeria to personally take part, beginning right now by making sure you know what your rights are.”Symington charged Nigeria’s politicians and security forces not to influence the outcomes of the polls “in a manner that is not in accordance with the law. On election day you won’t affect unless you vote. It is important that you work together so that you make sure your vote is counted.

“As we get ready for your elections, one of the most important things is that there should be a level playing field, meaning that no officials, no security forces, no electoral officials, no politicians seek to influence you in a way that is not consistent with Nigerian law.
“In a nutshell, one thing, know your rights; number two, vote and exercise them; number three, if you work for the government or if you work for a party, make sure you remember that it is your responsibility to act consistently with the laws.”

Characteristically, APC and its government have come out to shout down the U.S. ambassador and berate him for his message, saying Nigeria does not need any such advice to conduct free and fair election that its incumbent is set to win. While the party hailed America for delivering such message when it was in the opposition trenches, it finds such message needling as the ruling party and its recipient.

But the international community has made it clear it will brook no infraction of the electoral contest, with a stern warning to the principal actors of all parties in the contest to behave. With Nigerian leaders’ legendary inability to fix the many problems facing the country, it will be seen how violators will fare in the face of such threats. The leaders’ penchant for medical tourism and other businesses abroad are specific targets the international community has hinted at, with travel ban topping the list.

For much of Africa’s consistent, bad electoral behaviour, the international community seems ready to do battle for and on behalf of the Nigerian people who have always been at the receiving end of bad electoral outcomes, as they are thereby denied the dividends of democracy. This is why the international community’s subtle threats to Nigerian leaders to behave conform to their desires for electoral outcomes that tally with their wishes.Of course, a child that refuses to learn useful lessons at home will always find strangers knocking some home truths on his head. Perhaps, it is only through outsiders’ interference that Nigeria will learn how to grow great, both electorally and otherwise.