The certificate issue almost led to a constitutional crisis on the eve of the Presidential Election. General Mummadu Buhari has consistently maintained that his High School certificate is in the custody of the military. He was scorned and vilified by the PDP. Several Radio, TV and newspaper advertisements ran, days on end, calling him a liar, a cheat, an illiterate. Presidential spokespersons, namely: Dr. Doyin Okupe, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode and Dr. Reuben Abati all took turns to ramp up the “Certificate-gate”. They saw this as their ace against Buhari. As all these efforts failed to resonate with the public, they engaged all manner of surrogates to file lawsuits hoping to find any willing and purchasable judge who would disqualify Buhari. The man himself possesses unassailable integrity and honesty, tested over decades. There must be a thorough investigation on how some in the military became complicit in this travesty. There must be accountability.
Meanwhile, Jonathan is being hailed now as the “New Mandela” of Africa for conceding defeat after he was rejected by the Nigerian electorate. I am astounded and feel insulted that we are being sold a bill of goods that a “Statesman” status is conferred by simply conceding an electoral defeat. Never mind that the new “Statesman” presided over a totally failed and massively corrupt administration, coopted all the security agencies to thwart the democratic process in many despicable ways at every step of the way; trying to stop the use of PVCs, Card Readers (designed to eliminate all forms of electoral fraud), including violence and massive vote rigging on Election Day. In the South-South and South-East States, in full view of the security agencies, polling officials were video taped filling out ballot papers and result sheets. Bags and bags of dollars from public coffers were doled out in public view to many “ethnic brokers” to buy votes. Paradoxically, Nigeria just recently made the dubious list of “extremely poor nations”, with a over 70% rate.
In Ekiti and other states, touts were recruited and given military and police uniforms to intimidate and brutalise voters in order to assure victory for the ruling party. The world watched a last ditch effort by the incumbent party to derail our democracy. While the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega was announcing the last batch of the election results, lo and behold, (Jonathan’s) former Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, (Elder) Godsday Orubebe, appeared and held the nation/world hostage in an orchestrated last ditch ploy to stop the announcement and render the election inconclusive. They expected the security forces to engage him and all hell would break loose in the room and then his touts in the Conference Centre, outside and in the States would readily cause mayhem. Thanks to the steely disposition of Jega, otherwise Nigerians would have been telling a different story today. Mr. Orubebe was not a lonely wild wolf on the prowl. He was acting from a script, which came out of a meeting held the previous evening and chaired by PDP elder “statesman”, former Minister Edwin Clark, also a political Godfather of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Apologists are arguing that President Jonathan deserves to be hailed as a Statesman for saving Nigeria from violence and also for setting an example for Africa on how to concede when defeated. Some are even more bizarre to suggest that he should be awarded a Nobel Prize! Obviously, Nigerians are glad that he, egged on by the insane sycophants and self-centred praise-singers, did not act foolishly in an attempt to truncate the process. But having said this, please let us not get carried away, totally out of context and proportionality. The incumbent created a situation ante, which led to a context in which the whole world was forced to hold its breath.
The question we must ask is this: when you contest an election and you lose, are you not supposed to concede? Why is this an extraordinary feat deserving of a Nobel Prize, regardless of his extremely anti-democratic record leading to the elections? Incumbents in other African states have lost elections, conceded and left office in Benin twice. Didn’t President Diouf of Senegal lose and concede to Wade? Didn’t President Wade of same Senegal lose to Macky Sall and concede? Didn’t President Thabo Mbeki bow out, without a whimper, when he was defeated by Zuma in the ANC convention? Incumbent parties have lost elections in Ghana and all hell did not break loose. Come to think of it, didn’t President Olusegun Obasanjo, a military Head of State, hand over to a civilian regime in 1979? It is even more noteworthy for a military regime to voluntarily surrender power to a civilian dispensation, given its monopoly of the instruments of violence, than from one “democratic” dispensation to another.
I can understand it when the Western world hails Jonathan’s concession as an earth-shattering event because in their usual condescending way, they don’t expect higher standards from us. Foreign observers will usually adjudge African elections to be “free and fair, by African Standards” no matter how flawed. We are often judged by a minimalist threshold. But it is more painful when we ourselves begin to tout the same nonsense and judge ourselves by the same threshold and expect to be taken seriously.
This whole issue has become a total distraction from what was a courageous and remarkable effort, against all odds, by the Nigerian electorate to reclaim their mandate. That should be the real story, not on President Jonathan’s concession, whose administration and party had turned the whole electoral process into a war-like exercise in which they were determined to hang on to power by any means necessary. Nigerians must continually ask how we got to this point where we are willing to award a Nobel Prize just for conceding a defeat. It is because we are relieved that we averted a conflagration because the incumbent was determined to stay on by hook or crook? Or because when pressured by the “big boys” and the enormity of the defeat he did the right thing at the nick of time, especially after the “Orubebe Show of Ignominy” had failed? We are glad nevertheless.
Some are claiming that he could have clung on to power had he chosen to hang on. I argue that every action of the administration, including the earlier postponement of the election, suggest otherwise. The electorate had spoken thunderously and the world community, in unison, had warned, in no uncertain terms, that the will of the people must not be subverted. Most of the average members of the security agencies would not have acquiesced in any forlorn attempt at foolishness. Evidence: the president lost decisively in the polling units in the army and police barracks, as well as those in Aso Rock, the seat of power. The appetite for ‘Change’ was voracious and insatiable.
We must not forget that many were brutalised, imprisoned, even died before, during and after the elections just for daring to exercise their constitutional rights, in what is supposed to be a democracy. We must not forget that these are the real heroes before we are affected by collective amnesia in the quest to move on quickly and forget the ugly past. Not so soon please! We cannot say “Never again”, if we chose the convenient path – The Big Lie!
Professor Okeychukwu Onyejekwe was African Governance Expert at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).