By this time next week, Nigerians would have filed out to elect who will preside over their affairs for another four years. Irrespective of the pretences of the other so-called presidential candidates from some unknown parties, the “battle” is strictly a two-horse race between Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate, Goodluck Jonathan and All Progressives Congress’s candidate Muhammadu Buhari.
About two weeks ago, both candidates along with the other filler candidates signed a peace pact: to maintain the peace and ensure that both they and their followers will do nothing to disrupt the peace of the country, before, during and after the elections.
Although it was such a great gesture, I did not attach much importance to it. I did not believe that the pact will work, as politicians often say one thing and do quite another. The peace-pact signing ceremony was thus meant to sell the impression that they are all for peace. Incidents of the last ten days have proven otherwise, thus confirming the fears of insincerity I had.
I have been very troubled by three developments: the several incidences of violence, the flight from the north and the campaign for a shift in the elections. None of them is a lesser devil.
Let’s take them one-by-one. The signs of violence had been there. It was only being managed. With several attacks on party offices in Rivers State, with many posters and banners of a particular political party torn and pulled down, it was clear that it is only a matter of time and the hen will come home to roost.
President Goodluck campaign train has been attacked severally in the north: Plateau, Katsina, Bauchi and Taraba States. He even narrowly missed being hit by a suicide bomber in Gombe during the week. For fear of unpredictable danger and violence, he had to cancel his campaign in Yobe State.
This is damn sad and condemnable. The impression it gives is that the president, a southerner, cannot campaign freely in the northern part of the country, just as his APC counterpart, Gen Buhari, a northerner, has been campaigning unchallenged in the southern parts of the country. It is even more ironical that the attacks at the president have essentially been in states controlled by the PDP. What is the implication of that?
If the northern miscreants will not allow President Jonathan to freely campaign in the north, what becomes of the electioneering process, if, in retaliation, the miscreants from the south also disallow Buhari from campaigning in their domain? Will democracy not be circumscribed and imperiled thereby?
The voices of condemnation against these pockets of violence have not been impressively loud. It therefore sends the signal that much as they proclaim peace on the stage, they have and can unleash violence.
Related to this is the issue of homeward flight of southerners residing in the north. For days running, there have been headlines and images of southerners fleeing back home from the north. There is palpable fear that no matter how the election goes, there will be violence. And that as it had always been in the past, the southerners will be massively attacked.
This is scary! So, in droves, southerners have been fleeing to their home states. Beside the dire safety concern, lies the point that in fleeing home, they are most likely not going to participate in the elections, as they may have registered in their abodes of residence and not in their home states.
Indeed, the spectre of violence generates fear and discomfort. It strips the nation of all the dress-ups of a united country, if southerners cannot feel safe and free in the north and probably vice versa. Why should elections tear us apart?
Twenty-two years ago, we journeyed through this odious path with the June 12 experience. Many people fleeing from the unknown met their deaths on the highways either through road accidents or armed robbery attacks. Are we back to that perdition? Deus avertat!
But if all the above are managed and steered out of danger, what shall we say of the 16 political parties who addressed a press conference on Tuesday asking that the polls be postponed till sometimes in March or April?
As a political reporter, I recall how on the eve of the June 12 election, the notorious Association of Better Nigeria (ABN) rushed to a court presided over by late Justice Ikpeme, well after official hours, and secured an order stopping the June 12 elections. The momentum of that election was in full swing and so the election went on, ignoring the midnight order in the hands of the ABN maverick chieftain, Francis Arthur Nzeribe. But that order became the hammer by which the election was pulled down, albeit mischievously, by all those who never wanted the polls to hold.
In the present case, there are already court cases flying up and down. In the days ahead, the pronouncements from the courts will be more telling.
But the 16 political parties, purporting to speak on behalf of “the Concerned leaders of political parties” endorsed the call for postponement of the polls. What stake do they have or hold other than flocking along as also-rans? Do they have any following in actual fact? Not even a poster of any of their candidates (if any) anywhere? What kind of political leaders are they? I dare say that some of them tagged on to the presidential race with the hope that should there be financial largesse as it happened in the past, they will benefit therefrom. Otherwise they have shown no singular sign of seriousness in a contest that is largely seen as a two-party contest. They even threatened to boycott the polls if their request was not granted. Really? What if they do not boycott? What will their participation amount to other than lengthening the ballot paper and further confusing little-literate voters? They should be told to zip their threats and hide their heads in shame. Voters don’t know them. Why are they crying more than the bereaved? If the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it is ready for the election, why are the so-called 16 political parties pretending to be more concerned than INEC?
Thankfully too, Last Thursday, the Council of State did not support that the February 14 polls should be postponed.
All said, many Nigerians believe the elections should hold and peacefully too.
Already, I have started seeing headlines like, “On February 14, we stand”, a reminder of the political lingo—On June 12 I stand”. So, let the polls hold. And let the rules be followed. God Bless Nigeria!