Political watchers believe that the alarm raised by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party over the presence of governors and citizens of neighbouring Niger Republic at the Kano presidential rally of the ruling All Progressives Congress recently is a case of being once beaten, twice shy
With a few days to the crucial February 16 presidential and National Assembly polls in the country, the polity is tension-soaked; and expectedly so. Unarguably, it’s a two-horse race between the two frontline political parties – the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and its major opponent, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. For the two contenders therefore, it’s a make-or-mar election. While the ruling party would like to use the election to make a bold statement that it still enjoys the massive goodwill that heralded its coming, the PDP is determined to prove a point that the APC had abused the confidence reposed in it by the electorate who massively voted for it, and that the whirlwind romance between the president, Mohammadu Buhari, and his erstwhile club of admirers indeed ended a long time ago. More importantly, a win for the PDP would signify that its sins have been forgiven following its public apology to Nigerians by its national chairman, Uche Secondus, for having failed them, and had decided to give it a second chance “to get Nigeria working again” after a woeful performance by its successor. It is against this backdrop one could situate the seeming rising adrenalin amongst the political gladiators across political parties especially in the last few days. The two leading parties in particular have reached for each other’s jugular over sundry issues that have to do with the campaigns and electoral process. The recent hue and cry in the polity was the presence of two governors from the Niger Republic accompanied by hordes of suspected thugs, at the Kano presidential campaign rally of the APC which the opposition, particularly the PDP, found unsettling. Though Salihu Yakasai, media aide to Kano State Governor, Umar Ganduje claimed the two governors came to rally support for the president’s re-election, the PDP is unimpressed, and indeed, outraged. Shouting foul over the development, the visibly agitated party wants the incident probed by appropriate authorities.
The major opposition party, in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said “The APC and the Buhari Presidency must immediately explain the roles being played by Issa Moussa, Governor of Zinder, and his counterpart from Maradi, Zakiri Umar, both of the Niger Republic, who were sighted decked in the attire and official logos of the APC”. He said the nation’s security agencies must also immediately investigate and lay in the public domain the circumstances leading to their presence “ which more or less confirms that the APC has lost all domestic credibility and has assumed a desperate mode”. The PDP posited that the presence of the Niger Republic governors at Buhari’s rally “signposts a direct assault on the credibility of the presidential election”, stressing that the APC had brought in “miscreants” from Niger Republic to aid it in winning the elections. According to Ologbondiyan, “this is particularly against the backdrop of INEC’s plans to allow Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in that country to vote in our elections, a situation that opens the way for aliens to infiltrate as IDPs and participate in our elections.” Even of greater concern to the opposition party was the alleged recent mass creation by INEC of additional polling units which it claimed had not been properly designated. The party feared that they may be deployed for the perpetuation of monumental electoral fraud.
Speaking in the same vein, the national chairman of the PDP said the presence of the two foreign governors had also vindicated his party’s claim that Buhari and his party had been importing foreigners to attend the APC rallies. Secondus explained that “the presence of the two foreign governors is significant in many ways. One, it shows that the President and the APC, like we said, have been importing foreign foreigners to the country to attend their rallies. We have been saying this and I’m happy Nigerians now see that God has exposed them. Their evil plot has come to the open”. Calling the attention of Nigerians to “this assault on our sovereignty” Secondus also called on foreign and developed democracies to take note of this action and hold the President responsible if there is crisis before, during and after the elections.
Secondus was particularly miffed that the minister in charge of internal security of the nation, Abdulrahman Dambazau, was present, stressing that “we know that they are planning negative things ahead of the elections. We just want to warn them not to plunge the country into crisis.” Reactions by the ruling party had been somewhat uncoordinated. While a media aide to Ganduje said the foreign governors came to rally support for the president’s re-election, Garba Shehu, senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, even tried to trivialise the matter, blaming the outcry of the opposition to “a clear act of jealousy”. According to Shehu, the governors came to understudy Buhari’s leadership style. He argued that neither the Nigerien governors nor the APC had broken any law. “So, it’s jealousy. They are panicky and jealous. It should worry PDP that nobody is coming across the border to understudy PDP”, he stated.
As far as Nuhu Ribadu, the Director, Field Operations of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, was concerned, “It is a free world and it is the constitutional right of everyone to be where he wants to be”. Fielding questions from reporters in Abuja at a workshop for volunteers who would serve as canvassers for the party during its house-to-house campaign, the pioneer chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, asserted that “you have no right to curtail anybody from doing what he wants to do. People from West Africa are free to move into Nigeria. We have a protocol or agreement that they don’t need a visa to come into this country”. On the apprehension by the opposition that they could be imported to vote during the elections, Ribadu posited that “I know for sure that they don’t have the vote. But as a free West Africans who believe that someone has done extremely well and decided to identify himself with what they believe in, I don’t think there is anything wrong; and I do n’t think there is any crime committed”.
Apart from the back and forth arguments between the two front liners in the coming elections, other stakeholders have also joined the fray. While the Nigeria Voters Assembly, NVA, seemed to suggest that the PDP was making a mountain out of a molehill, leaders of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBLF, thought otherwise. Mashood Erubami, NVA president, believed there was nothing unusual about the presence of the two governors with Buhari. Erubami, who introduced another dimension to the raging controversy, suggested that it could be coincidental and having to do with the joint efforts between them and the Kano State Government to confront the scourge of insurgency in Nigeria.
As far as he was concerned, “the two governors are not registered voters in Nigeria and there is no possibility that they will mobilise their citizens across the borders without PVC to come and vote in Nigeria. It is unfortunate that opposition politicians always turn red to blue and would want gullible Nigerians to accept their agenda for the truth”. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, also did not believe there was a big deal in the presence of the foreigners at Buhari ’s campaign rally. Answering questions at an expanded stakeholders’ forum it organised in Jos, the Plateau State capital a few days ago, INEC ’s legal officer, Carol Okpe, also dismissed the raging controversy as a non-issue. She said there was no need for any agitation as the law was silent on whether a foreigner could participate in the campaign process for a candidate in an election. According to Okpe, “since the law is silent about it, you cannot hold it as an offense against any candidate or anyone”. But Eddy Erhagbe, a professor of history and international studies, and dean of students, faculty of arts, University of Benin, explained that this is so because “the framers of our constitution and electoral laws never thought that this kind of situation could arise”. He said though campaign rallies could be an all-comers affair, “the only aspect of it that is worrisome is the proximity of people that came from other countries to be part of the event which has, of course, raised concerns as to what their special interest is”. Erhagbe posited that if Nigerians were to be in the United States and there was a campaign rally, and out of curiosity decided to attend, it wouldn’t be too much of a problem. “But I guess that like you’ve mentioned, if they (the Nigerien governors) actually adorned themselves in the regalia or dresses of the party, then that is what will cause concern”. He believed that the development was an alarm to the appropriate security agents to ensure that only Nigerians participate in our elections by taking extra-precautionary measures to properly man and monitor the nation ’s borders during the elections. According to him, the cries of the opposition, like all their other cry of asking for better vigilance, should be borne in mind by appropriate authorities to ensure that the elections are credible.
The SMBLF, in a joint statement signed by Yinka Odumakin, South West; Chigozie Ogbu, a professor, South East; Senator Bassey Henshaw, South-South; and Isuwa Dogo, Ph.D., Middle Belt, aligned with the position of the PDP for an investigation into the matter by security agencies. They described the development as “an affront to our national sovereignty and gross abuse of diplomatic relations”. The leaders are worried that “In a country which has been in the vice grip of accentuated terrorism, herdsmen killings, banditry and kidnapping in parts of the country especially since the advent of the Buhari administration, the kind of unholy philandering between Buhari and foreign interests from regional neighbours suspected of complicity in our internal security challenges, calls for introspection and inquest”. SMBLF drew the attention of the international community to the impairment of Nigeria’s territorial integrity and fragile national security “by the uncanny desperation of the Buhari-led APC to undermine the electoral process, even at the risk of exacerbating our already simmering political situation”.
Political watchers, however, believe that the fear of the opposition could not be dismissed as inconsequential as the ruling party has done given the pattern of voting in the North in 2015. Noting that the PDP, in particular, had every reason to be apprehensive and circumspect, a political observer hinted the magazine that the party had its reservations about the outcome of the last election but was constrained to challenge it in court because of the hasty decision by Jonathan to accept defeat. According to the source, the PDP felt it was robbed of victory with the massive votes returned for the party by INEC in the north, and the circumstances under which the votes were garnered. The PDP and SMBLF, for example, believed that participation by mercenaries from neighbouring countries could have ballooned the figures returned for the APC. Ologbondiyan had recalled how in 2015, Kano State alone delivered 1.9 million votes to the APC presidential candidate “in circumstances devoid of transparency and credulity”. The party’s misgivings were further heightened by a recent declaration by the state governor that Kano would deliver five million votes to President Buhari in the 2019 election. The PDP suspected that this declaration could be predicated on the unfettered opening of the nation’s international borders to foreign political interests.
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SMBLF shared the apprehension of the PDP, recalling also how during the 2015 general elections, there were reports of thousands of people, many of whom were allegedly underaged voters, crossing from Niger Republic, into Kano “through our extremely porous borders to vote in Nigeria’s elections for a particular candidate”. The forum regretted that “unfortunately, the illegality was acquiesced to by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC”. Recent data on the 2015 elections released by INEC may have vindicated or indeed legitimized the position of those raising the red flag in respect of the presence of foreigners at Buhari’s presidential rally. The data, which could have served as a wake-up call for the opposition, showed that at least 13.5 million Nigerians voted manually in the 2015 presidential election though the approved mode of accreditation and voting was the use of card readers. According to an analysis of the data, Buhari, the then candidate of the APC, won in nine out of the 10 most affected states. The analysis conducted by a Nigerian website, The Cable, showed that 68 per cent of votes cast without PVC were in states won by the incumbent president.
A further breakdown of the figures showed that out of the 31,746,490 accredited voters in the 2015 presidential election, 13,536,311, representing 42.6 per cent of voters, voted without biometric accreditation. Curiously, 9,179,989 votes were from states won by Buhari and 4,356,322 votes came from states won by the then incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP, representing 68 per cent and 32 per cent of accredited voters respectively. Buhari won with a narrow margin of about 2,571,759 votes. It is believed in the camp of the opposition that the election was skewed in the favour of Buhari because while in the South INEC officials were battling with card readers that were massively malfunctioning such that even the finger print of the president could not be captured, the North had long resorted to manual voting through the use of incident forms because information to that effect did not trickle down to the southern part of the country early enough. Failure of a card reader to capture a voter’s fingerprint is attributable to two factors – either he/she is not the authentic owner of the permanent voter card presented, or that the INEC card reader malfunctioned.
As the arguments get heated over the February 16, 2019 polls, tempers are flaring as the ruling party reacted to the call by the opposition on the European Union, the United States, and United Kingdom to intervene especially in the Walter Onnoghen issue. Kaduna State governor, Nasir El’Rufai who has the penchant for fouling political air and making inflammatory statements, warned that “those that are calling for anyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for the person that would come and intervene. They would go back in body bags”. The statement which has sparked global outrage, is already jeopardizing the peace accord entered into by the participating political parties in the election with the PDP threatening to review its commitment to the peace pact which is expected to be finally sealed February 13. From all indications, the nation is sitting on a keg of gun powder and only sincerity of purpose on the part of the election managers and other stakeholders can save it from likely combustion.