Emmanuel Adoke

The disqualification of Buhari ahead of the 2015 presidential election would have destabilised the opposition coalition confronting the PDP. The massive build-up of opposition forces whose rallying point was the person of Buhari would have collapsed like a pack of cards if Bello Adoke had towed the line of those whose self-interest was always far ahead of national interests.

The loss of PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan to APC’s Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 presidential election was an event foreseen and foretold by clear minded patriots. By March the 28th when Nigerians turned out in millions to make their democratic choice on the presidential ballot, Muhammadu Buhari’s rating was higher than Goodluck Jonathan’s, as public opinion was overwhelmingly in his favour. Goodluck Jonathan suffered a devastating perception crisis as his administration was associated with widespread corrupt practices, alongside economic and financial crimes – acts that were blamed for Nigeria’s poor state of development. With unanimity of opinion among the majority of Nigerians that corruption was responsible for the state of Nigeria’s developmental inertia, all hopes for rescue was believed to rest in a disciplined and incorruptible personality.

That person was Muhammadu Buhari, a man with a reputation of discipline and incorruptibility. Buhari’s reputation was further enhanced by his consistent attempt since 2003 to get elected as president of Nigeria against every incumbent PDP president. His lack of compromise, like some other opposition figures, with the then ruling PDP portrayed him as a man who truly desired good governance for his fatherland without the prospect of corrupt self-enrichment. Expectedly, Buhari won but with a narrower margin than was anticipated. Nevertheless, the loss of an election by an incumbent at the centre to an opposition candidate, marked an important milestone in Nigeria’s democratic experience. The 2015 presidential election certified that Nigeria’s democratic experiment had outgrown its nascent stage into maturity, in a manner that works for Nigeria. Muhammadu Buhari, who turned out a hero of democracy, was to find his closest rival at that presidential polls, Goodluck Jonathan, rivalling him once again for the top spot as a beacon of democracy. With the historic phone call conceding defeat and congratulating him for a well-deserved victory, Jonathan emerged from the rubbles of defeat to share the spotlight with his rival also as a hero of democracy. Buhari achieved it; Jonathan actualised it.

However, revelations by a former insider in the Goodluck Jonathan administration but now APC spokesman, Bolaji Abdullahi, presents refreshing perspectives to issues surrounding Jonathan’s rise to and fall from power. The former minister of sports, whose book On a Platter of Gold chronicles events and the roles of important dramatis personaes before, during and immediately after the 2015 historic presidential polls, have revealed Goodluck Jonathan an unwilling hero, while bringing to public knowledge some unusual heroes of Nigeria’s democracy. By the account Abdullahi, former President Goodluck Jonathan is a good natured and simple man who found himself unprepared for the dirty dealings in the cesspool of the shark-infested water of Nigeria’s political landscape. His mild mannered nature was clearly taken advantage of by hawks milling around the seat of power, whose self-interest came before national interests. The desperate attempt by some of his supporters to get the PDP to reject the outcome of the 2015 presidential election, even after its candidate had conceded defeat, signposted Jonathan’s incurable indecisiveness.

This move, which was championed by Godswill Akpabio, was successfully rebuffed by the then chairman of the PDP, Ahmed Adamu Muazu. By this singular act of refusing to do anything, at such a critical time, that could compromise the democratic choice of Nigerians as freely expressed on the 28th day of March 2015, Adamu Muazu secured a spot on the list of Nigeria’s heroes of democracy. The feeble and botched attempt, as dramatised by Godsday Orubebe, who was clearly acting out a script written by a concert of sinister agents of retrogression, to derail the smooth transition process right inside the collation centre was another indicator of Jonathan’s weakness in the face hawks within his supporters. Thanks to then inspector general of police (IGP) Suleiman Abbah, another unusual hero of democracy, who showed loyalty to the Nigerian nation and its constitution above loyalty to the person of the president, by refusing to play the unpatriotic role of withdrawing security from the INEC chairman and also effecting his arrest during the Orubebe drama. Thoroughly manipulated by agents of darkness, Goodluck Jonathan easily comes across as a weak man who lacked the capacity to do good or evil decisively.

Democracy is hinged on constitutionalism and nourished by the rule of law. Bolaji Abdullahi reveals Jonathan to be afirm believer in the sanctity of the constitution and the primacy of the principle of the rule of law. In putting to practice these lofty beliefs, the president found in his minister of justice and attorney general of the federation Mohammed Bello Adoke a natural ally. An uncompromised constitutional purist, Bello Adoke, who was widely acknowledged but despised by some in the Federal Executive Council for his constitutional sanctimonious rigidity, played certain key roles in the build up to the 2015 presidential election that went a long way to define the eventual outcome. One of such occasions when Bello Adoke maintained a hard line stand on the side of the constitution, was when a declaration of state of emergency in the Boko Haram ravaged North-Eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa was being considered. The manner of state of emergency that was being contemplated was not an ordinary one.

In a clear breach of the constitution, as interpreted by judicial pronouncements at the highest level of adjudication in the land, the three governors of the states affected were to be suspended with sole administrators appointed to take charge of their states. This move, which was more for political expediency than for security measures at combating the raging Boko Haram insurgency, received considerable support in council but Bello Adoke was resolutely against any such move. In addition to the fact that all three states were strongholds of the opposition, the governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima was believed to be the primary target of this punitive move. Shettima’s relationship with Jonathan was somewhat fractured on account of the former’s open lamentation of the inadequacies and incapacity of Nigeria’s security forces in prosecuting the war against terror – an act that was considered by the Jonathan administration as underappreciation for federal government’s effort in a largely self-inflicted crisis. Fortunately, former President Jonathan heeded the wise counsel of the attorney general and constitutionalism prevailed over political expediency.

By far the most crucial role played by the former attorney general was over the question of Muhammadu Buhari’s school certificate. As Buhari’s candidacy was an existential threat to the continuous hold on power at the centre by the PDP, several plots were hatched to stop him by all means, one of which was to get Buhari disqualified through a judicial pronouncement on the basis of his inability to produce original copies of his academic credentials. Buhari had deposed to an affidavit of loss of the documents in his official documentations, with relevant bodies including his alma mater, Katsina College, acknowledging the authenticity of his claims of graduation. Despite these clear facts, members of the Jonathan political family, prominent among who was Segun Mimiko, decided to make political capital out of Buhari’s certificate saga by pushing hard for his disqualification. Again the former attorney general rose to the occasion and advised against any such attempt at disqualifying Buhari, as that will go contrary to the provisions of the constitution. Bello Adoke strongly argued that based on the available facts there was no basis for Buhari’s disqualification. With this uncompromising stand on constitutionalism and rule of law, the winning candidacy of Buhari was allowed and Nigeria’s democracy survived the possible upheaval that may arise. What Bolaji may did not reveal was Bello Adoke’s resolve on each of these occasions to resign from the government if the constitution was violated.

The disqualification of Buhari ahead of the 2015 presidential election would have destabilised the opposition coalition confronting the PDP. The massive build-up of opposition forces whose rallying point was the person of Buhari would have collapsed like a pack of cards if Bello Adoke had towed the line of those whose self-interest was always far ahead of national interests. If the rule of law was allowed to be compromised by Bello Adoke, chances were that the historic election in which an incumbent lost to the opposition in a clear sign of a mature democracy would never have happened. The larger implication of this impunity, if allowed, would have been an opposition fatigue, considering the fact that the APC coalition was the most formidable opposition force in the history of Nigeria’s democratic experience. The resulting apathy on the part of Nigerians, if such armada of opposition was allowed to sink by disqualifying the captain, would have allowed the PDP a smooth sail to rule ad infinitum. By putting Nigeria first above personal interests and helping to preserve as well strengthening its constitutional democracy, Bello Adoke is an unusual hero of democracy.

Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through dahirumajeed@gmail.com.