In an era where a freewheeling and dealing section of the civil society threatens to obliterate the pristine foundations of meaningful civic engagements, Nigerians must know there are still exceptional men and women, who have a name to protect.
Every drastic political change precipitates upheavals. That is one enduring lesson from the historic 2015 Presidential election. Observant analysts of Nigerian affairs would notice that one year after the watershed that saw the opposition clinch power at the national level for the first time, various dimensions of the fallouts have continued to dominate the public space. From the grand scale assault on the national treasury by the erstwhile ruling party, to the crisis of confidence now rocking a party that once boasted in a fit of hubris that it would rule Nigeria for 60 years, it is clear that the ramifications of the historic decision made by the Nigerian people in 2015 would continue to grab critical attention for some time.
While the mood of the nation after one year has moved in the direction of tackling the myriad of problems confronting it, there is no doubt that the fallout of the historic outcome of the 2015 presidential poll, would have to be dexterously managed. Nigerians must be alive to the responsibility of documenting the triumph of 2015 by knowing who the heroes are and those who constitute the coalition of villains. The naysayers would stop at nothing to dilute the narrative of the success of 2015 as a way of discrediting the progress that has been recorded.
The economy might not take shape immediately; the challenges of governance might not be tackled overnight. It is however important that the people retain the confidence that they are powerful enough to send any non-performing government packing. In responding to the current shortcomings therefore, the Nigerian people must not make the mistake of denigrating the achievement that was recorded in 2015. A people who could muster the resolve to kick out a sitting government, similarly have the capacity to put social pressure on those currently in possession of state power. This is where Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) come in as platforms for active citizens taking government to task on the dominant issues affecting the people. In 2015, the civil society, alongside a vibrant section of the media stood as critical bulwarks in the onerous task of defending the votes of Nigerians. In so doing, there were some collateral damages; some CSOs which were weak and unprincipled found it difficult to resist the lure of the lucre thrown at them by desperate politicians. As would be gleaned in the indictment by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), several of these so called “election monitors” are being forced to practically vomit what they swallowed from the national treasury. Unfortunately, the fact that the EFCC has so far not named the CSO culprits could be interpreted by the public to mean that all CSOs were in cahoots with those who sought to undermine the supreme voice of Nigerians.
It is therefore crucial that the narrative about the 2015 poll spotlights the patriotic actors in civil society, who in the face of pressures, inducements and threats, remained on the side of the people. Nigeria’s foremost civil society coalition, the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) is one of such shining lights. As if confirming the maxim that a prophet has no honour in his homeland, TMG is being celebrated across the globe, while in Nigeria there is less than passing interest in the feats it recorded in the defence of the people’s votes. Led by its Chairman, the indefatigable and Spartan Comrade Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, TMG during and after the 2015 polls stood firmly to defend votes. It is for this reason that the Commonwealth University in the United Kingdom, and the Institute of Management Consultants recently decorated the leader of the coalition with prestigious diadems. On July 28, 2016, Comrade Zikirullahi will be conferred with an honorary doctorate degree by the Commonwealth University. He was also conferred on May 31, 2016 with the fellowship by the Institute of Management Consultants. This fellowship is the highest award by the Institute reserved for accomplished professionals.
This blaze of glory has however not stopped detractors, many of who are still throwing sour grapes over the 2015 elections, from trying to muddy the waters. Recently, some disgruntled members of the TMG Board claimed they had removed the Comrade from his position as Chairman. The meddlesome Board members concocted wild and unsubstantiated allegations to discredit Comrade Zikirullahi’s sterling achievements. As a firm believer in the rule of law and due process, he has instituted legal action in the courts against the defaming Board members. What Comrade Zik’s traducers have however failed to realise is that the milestones recorded by TMG in the course of his achievement-laden tenure, have resonated far beyond their shenanigans can alter.
For those of us who were in a vantage position to see the undercurrents as Nigerians pressed forward in the march to make history 2015, it has remained abundantly clear that the nation owes a debt of gratitude to fighters like Comrade Zik. In the titanic battle for the soul of the nation between the forces of desperation which give no hoot if the country collapsed and those who insisted on the supremacy of the votes, it was important that those on the side of the people prevailed. Comrade Zik has even gone ahead to chronicle how, in the build-up to the polls, an offer of N2 billion was made to him by the immediate past Presidency to enable it handpick 50,000 agents to pose as citizen observers. The Comrade bluntly rejected the offer; this position has not been denied by those in the then Presidency, who made the offer because they know there is hard evidence to nail them, should they attempt denial. Interestingly, not everyone within the coalition he leads was however happy that a principled stance was taken to reject such mouth-watering largesse.
Where inducement involving the offer of hefty and benumbing sums failed, threats were employed. Where these vile tactics failed to move the key leaders of the principled segment of civil society, there were resorts to taunts and psychologically demoralising attacks, such as telling those bent on defending the votes of Nigerians to stop “wasting their time,” because as the purveyors put it, “nothing will stop” their man from coasting home to victory. It is a testimony to the grit and the battle tested antecedents of a number of these principled civil society leaders that they stayed the course in insisting that the votes of the Nigerian people must determine who governs them. As a product of, and a participant in, the long years of struggles against military dictatorship and all forms of injustice in the Nigerian governance space, Comrade Zik has always paid a heavy price for standing on the side of truth. For a man who has variously survived several sinister plots to silence him, it is clear that his recent traducers would fail again. It has to be so because at all times, the Comrade lets anyone who cares to listen know that he will always be on the side of the Nigerian people, no matter how daunting the odds may seem. In an era when a freewheeling and dealing section of the civil society threatens to obliterate the pristine foundations of meaningful civic engagements, Nigerians must know there are still exceptional men and women, who have a name to protect. While the mushroom segment of the civil society, which makes little distinction between the whims of power grabbers and the need to stand up for the common man attempt to damage the civic space, consistent voices like Comrade Zik’s would continually stand their ground to insist that the right thing be done.
Interestingly, Comrade Zik’s stewardship as Chairman of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of over 400 civil society organisations formed on the eve of the advent of democracy in 1998, comes to an end in a few months. Beyond his principled stance on the 2015 polls, which has invited the ire of his adversaries, his decision to open up the coalition in the spirit of democratic and inclusive participation would remain indelible. For a coalition that preaches democracy and good governance, it did not speak well that some people have remained on its Board since the organisation was founded in 1998. To change this incongruous situation, the Comrade spearheaded an amendment of the TMG Constitution, which was adopted by the organisation’s Annual General Meeting in July 2015. The Transition Clause in Section 22 of the amended Constitution of TMG makes it clear that Board members who have served two or more terms were no longer eligible to stand for election to the Board. Having served two terms of two years each, the Comrade is one of those no longer eligible to stand for election in TMG. This altruistic and selfless disposition has not also gone down well with the dinosaurs on the TMG Board. They have thus sworn to use every means possible to undo this democratic decision. For the Comrade however, the people (TMG members) have spoken clearly, just as he fervently believes that the high court of history will vindicate him.
Armsfree Ajanaku is the Media Manager of Transition Monitoring Group, a coalition of over 400 civic organisations.