By Pat Utomi
There are many still in shock about February 25 and March 18 elections. This is understandable.
In the week before the 20th of February it appeared the Obidient movement had pulled off a miracle and already made good of the first part of the first promise of the Obi/Datti manifesto: To unite and secure Nigeria.
From Sokoto to Sagbama, Lagos to the lungus of Borno, the youth of Nigeria were gyrating to the same beat of the president we need. Were we finally close to the words of our first national anthem, “though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand.”
This was on the heels of what I called a perfect mess; a dysfunctional APC government led by General Buhari had brought misery to a peak in the poverty capital of the world.
The crisis that oiled popular disenchantment; the perfect mess – with no money for exchange in the pockets of plenty, long fuel queues, high insecurity, roof high inflation and unemployment; was increasing the desperation of the people; the right words and passionate preachments of Peter Obi and others in the camp; and the irrepressible support groups taking the streets and share of voice had completely reconfigured how Nigerian political campaigns are supposed to be.
The ring of a new Nigeria is possible began to look feasible and light up the country.
On February 25, a frightened Old guard struck the way it knew best – election results manipulation. INEC had sold, even oversold the new infallibility of the BVAS/IREV tech system. It led many who had given up on the value of voting digging up their PVCs.
When it mattered, the system did not just fail, it collapsed; whether it be a glitch or was tampered with, is left for the tribunals and competent Court to establish. But I have seen mountains of evidence even going back years to the supply of BVAS machines that suggest a capriciously planned and premeditated effort to doctor elections away from the wish of the people as expressed in their vote.
Once hope was punctured by the selfishness of a few, confidence collapsed rapidly and reason gave way to bedlam. All that was needed was for a simple technology to work and all would have heard clearly what the Nigerian people said. Whether it be for good or for bad, this candidate or the other, calm would come and the legitimacy needed for governing would have been conferred. But the simple was not possible.
I called the 20th February moment “when we nearly saved and changed Nigeria.” From that moment to March 18 things had deteriorated so badly in some states, especially in Lagos, Rivers and Kano, that we traveled so quickly from great hope to the gates of Hotel Rwanda.
In three weeks we have gone from visions of a united, hopeful country looking at avenues to a demographic dividend to the gates of Hell. To understand what happened in those three weeks is to understand why Nations fail and others succeed.
Throughout history a number of fascists, demagogues or extremely ambitious people have pursued self-interest in a way that reduces the vision of others through the emotions the political actors played up, and turned those ordinary decent people to conduct they could not believe they were part of. Hitler’s Germany remains a classic example. The one thing that has restrained buckling under to such political actors has been strong institutions. Former US President Barack Obama puts it starkly in his remarks in Accra Ghana. What Africa needs is strong institutions, not strong men. Our strong men are here now and our weak institutions are exposing us to their wrath.
The push of the strongman for power usually is either pushed back by strong institutions and reliable systems (BVAS, IREV).
Strong institutions and values remain key therefore to saving Nigeria and true Patriots are obliged to intensify the struggle as we smell freedom from the hard work of Obidients and the Big Tent in 2023. Nigeria cannot afford the crisis of legitimacy that comes every election cycle. It hurts growth and development and we need to work our institutions to maturity to avoid these negative disruptions.
Until the law is king
With some exposure we all tend to demand progress. Why does that progress come to some and not so quickly to others? This is the great chasm between the rich and the poor; those who respect human life and those who cut it down with impunity and those who have order versus those who are in or seem on the brink of anarchy.
Inquiry into the source of this great divide has engaged Thinkers and Scholars for millennia who have struggled with explanation. An emerging consensus from Historians; Political Scientists and Economists now seems to be that institutions separate the success from the failures of the race of progress for the human race. The British Historian Niall Ferguson audaciously proclaims this in his book on Civilization.
And the rule of law is the mother of all institutions
Sadly we saw the rule of law challenged. The troubles began early with Registering to vote and INEC refusing to follow its law for bureaucratic convenience. The deadlines disenfranchised many. Then it moved to the PVC collection process. The collection process deteriorated and collapsed into a crisis and our worries about INEC preparedness became elevated. I led protests round Abuja for election justice. We urged extension of PVC registration deadlines and The Big Tent engaged in voter enlightenment through press conferences, social media platforms and sponsoring Grassroots organisations.
Then the challenge shifted to PVC collection. We monitored it and found widespread discontent. We urged INEC to reach out to the private sector for help. That mission could be made a civic duty matter that logistics companies and their organised private sector could come in and ensure effectiveness. Every new day it seemed INEC was not much keen on ensuring people collected all the available cards. At a point it became obvious we are dealing with the first salve of vote suppression. We made efforts to draw attention to the lapses by visiting the INEC operating base in Oshodi. INEC turned it to drama and a harvest of insults.
But we all endured waiting for February 25. And INEC failed to deliver on its promise of polling unit up loading by BVAS to IREV. In the face of massive failure or continued glitch to inflict election abuse on citizens the INEC leadership got more arrogant. By the time of the “thief-in-night” announcement of the result of the presidential election most people including the foreign elections observers had lost confidence in INEC.
If Prof. Mahmood Yakubu knew anything about Moral Authority of the intellectual there was a point at which he should have resigned. His stewardship has clearly set Nigeria up for a constitutional crisis.
Our work at the Big Tent drew from past experiences with elections to recognise the role of security agencies in ensuring the right atmosphere for free and fair elections. We continued in advocacy consultations with security stakeholders culminating in a call on the Chief of Defense staff by a delegation I led the week before the election of February 25.
The modest benefits of this effort resulted in some gain on February 25 but the corruption of security agents by leading politicians resulted in bedlam by March 18 and made the elections a complete mess.
The Big Tent started one structure ‘mocked’ as four men in a room tweeting by the establishment politicians.
With a structural style of an organic bulb of complex redundancy we tried to weave a tapestry of quasi-independent support groups, the Labour Unions, affiliated political parties, and Civil Society Organisations. The directorate of the Big Tent, with muscle from the Think Tank began to roll out geographic structures, quietly holding state congresses with the election of State, Local Government and Ward Coordinators. These structures would prove of a great value when local party officials sold out.
A deepening of structures into an ideology based vehicle fed by the New Fabian Socialism that welcomes an entrepreneurial peoples capitalism focused on service to the people and extracting a demographic dividend from our youth bulge with a full employment economy as goal of economic strategy.
In the alignment currently forged on youth power, based in geographies draws strength from the South-South, South-East, North Central and South West has to deliberately deploy a high penetration strategy to the youth of the North-West who are the biggest victims of the incompetence of the old order. Fortunately, our Big Tent campaign council DG Ibrahim Abdulkarim and our mobilisation Czar Ahmed Khalil are both North West champions. They will drive this initiative which we have already flagged off.
Our goal, as the manifesto charges is to unite and secure Nigerians.
The Big Tent is satisfied that it gave impetus to the most issues based campaign since the return to Democracy in 1990. The policy telethons we held, 12 straight hours of television engaging citizens on the policies flowing from the Obi/Datti manifesto were without precedence in Nigeria.
Policy thrust of the Obi/Datti campaign which saw advocacy as never canvassed in political campaigns in Nigeria, and our empaneling of a shadow “cabinet” redrew the map and raised the Bar. We must continue to show the light in that direction.
We owe what was accomplished to quite a few notables, the support groups and Nigerians at large.
Special thanks have to go to President Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and Afenifere, Chief EK Clark, Barrister Poku for their vision of a new Nigeria and the courage of their conviction.
The Ijaw High Command, Ijaw National Council and the Progressive ethnic nationality groups across the country, Pastors, Sheiks and Imams I was privileged to be with in hundreds of hours of meetings proved they were truly shepherds of their flock.
Now that we have all shown we can work together we must roll up our sleeves and ensure that our liberation movement becomes unstoppable.
This is the reporting of our taking stock. As St. Augustine reminds us an unexamined life is not worth living. We have therefore examined our last nine months. So what next? On our front burner right now is returning Nigeria to Democracy, making elections meaningful and providing example of how political parties should be organised.
We must use a combination of research, experience and hard thinking to determine the fears, pains and aspirations of different groups in Nigeria with a view to ensuring inclusion, fairness and justice. The failure to exercise leadership on these matters has been crippling Nigeria’s prospects for growth and development.
A developmental state which is an imperative thrust of the Obi/Datti thrust requires dealing with this key challenge.
Impunity which has become widespread, everyday moves us further down the road to Somalia. It is widespread majorly because consequence management is poor in Nigeria.
What happened to yesterday’s electoral process offenders? So why will the offense not be committed again. The guilty must be prosecuted either at home or abroad. And several incumbent Governors must be in their ranks. The ICC mandate covers this.
As some foreign observers pointed out the INEC collation centre in Abuja was an ongoing crime scene. You have to be deeply partisan not to feel shame about the elections collation and announcement of results.
Fortunately Kenya has given us a good example. The judiciary ordered a re-run and the outcome brought more legitimacy to the emerging Government. I do hope our judiciary whose reputation is coming down in shreds can draw a lesson from Kenya and redeem itself.
But it must then punish offenders. If this does not happen then the essence of institutions in setting boundaries is gone and we can kiss democracy Good bye.
Some called these elections existential. Unless great leadership, maturity and sobriety are on exhibition in the next few weeks we could be knocking hard on the gates of Hell.
May God help us find wisdom!
Professor Patrick O. Utomi is Convener, Big Tent