To operate in Nigeria today as a newsman is not easy. Daily you’re confronted by challenges which threaten to undermine your job. Your job can be undermined by way of ownership, by way of fear, or by way of censorship. But sometimes, it can be by way of compromise. In all of this, society is the loser, especially if the media is hemmed in.
Currently in Nigeria, it appears the fear factor is gagging the press, so much so that the voiceless are no more being protected. Take the case of the Bill on Hate Speech before the Senate which seeks to have purveyors of hate speech hanged. Coming in a country which supposedly practices democracy, it is more than shocking and a throwback to the dark days of military dictatorship.
The worrying thing is that this Bill is coming at a time a lot is going badly wrong in the country; a time when you have no right to cry when beaten, unless you want to be hanged. Thus, it appears as though no one is speaking up again.
The recent governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States have left sour tastes in the mouth. Those elections are anything but how elections should be conducted. But winners emerged, with President Muhammadu Buhari even congratulating them and advising the losers to go to court. And that’s as if salvation still lies in our courts today.
Despite the glaring anomalies in those elections, the noise one would have expected from neutral parties is not coming. Even the election monitoring teams are not telling the world in clear terms what they saw. Of what use then are they when they cannot lead the protest against sham elections, such as was seen in the presidential poll? Do they just go there for the fun of it?
The unfortunate fact now is that the government of the day is fouling things up and nobody has the guts to raise a finger.
True, the media talks, but such talk appears either timid or half-hearted; hardly the panacea for the problem staring us in the face at the moment.
But last Monday, my mood was lifted somewhat after I read a daring and blunt piece by Mr Casmir Igbokwe of The Sun Newspaper on the Kogi election. The piece showed that the press can still tell the truth to the leadership; no matter how hard it may be. I quickly sought his permission to reproduce his piece in this column.
Bello and Desecration of Nigeria’s Democracy
By Casmir Igbokwe
Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, is a political mistake. In civilised societies, his type does not get close to the corridors of power. But in our own society that celebrates warped values, he is hailed and crowned as a messiah. That is why the All Progressives Congress (APC) not only presented him for a second term in office but also helped rig him back to power in the November 16 election. He is prancing about now with a tainted certificate of return. But what his second term portends for the people of Kogi State still wears a hat.
Oftentimes, people clamour for power shift to the youths. They point to the fact that in some countries such as France, leadership now revolves around the youth. Bello is a young man. In fact, he is about the youngest governor in the current dispensation. But his performance in office puts question marks on the avowed ability of youths to outperform recycled old men in power.
In Bello’s Kogi, dividends of democracy are a far cry. Civil servants, in particular, are owed many arrears of salary. In September this year, teachers in the state urged the governor to pay them 39 months salary arrears.
Some of those who could not bear the situation committed suicide. A typical example is a director in the state civil service, Mr. Edward Soje. He was owed 11-month salary arrears. In 2017, he took his life barely 10 days after his wife gave birth to a set of male triplets after 17 years of childlessness.
Almost one month to the infamous governorship election, the Kogi State House of Assembly illegally impeached Bello’s deputy, Mr Simon Achuba, for alleged gross misconduct. This was even when the impeachment inquiry against him found him blameless. Despite the illegality, the state Chief Judge swore in a new deputy governor in whom Bello and the APC are well pleased.
One major achievement of Bello is that he is an avid supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari. He vigorously campaigned for the President’s second term and did not mince words to tell whoever cared to listen that there was no vacancy in Aso Rock. Perhaps, his return to power is a reward for his loyalty and commitment to both Buhari and the APC.
Nevertheless, the election that returned him to power was a grand defecation on the altar of our democracy. There were serious allegations that security agents aided party thugs to snatch ballot boxes, intimidate and harass voters and electoral officials. Violence, vote buying and killing of innocent people held sway. About six people reportedly lost their lives in the state. Reports have it that even police helicopters hovered round in some centres to scare away voters and clear the way for some men in tinted cars to move in and snatch voting materials.
This is why a coalition of civil rights organisations described the election as a “major dent to Nigeria’s democratic process.” They called for its outright cancellation. But who will cancel the election of the anointed one when Miyetti Allah said his victory was well deserved? Even President Buhari has already congratulated him. He asked aggrieved parties to go to court.
Which court, if one may ask? There is total loss of confidence in the judiciary as presently constituted. The lamentations of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will take it nowhere. I don’t see the party getting any justice in the courts.
What is particularly painful is that Bello’s supporters are not magnanimous in this questionable victory. They have inflicted terror and anarchy on the people. In a particular painful incident, some thugs suspected to be loyal to the ruling party, invaded the house of the PDP women leader of Wada Aro Campaign Council, Ochadamu Ward in Kogi and burnt her alive. The crime of Mrs Salome Abuh was that she did not support Bello and the APC.
Her manner of death last Monday was horrifying. The spokesman of Wada/Aro Campaign Council, Faruk Adejoh-Audu, said the hoodlums shot sporadically, chanting GYB 4+4. The thugs, he added, “surrounded the house, bolting every exit and escape from outside. They then poured petrol on the building and set it ablaze as other terrorized villagers watched from hiding. She reportedly attempted to escape through a window but was prevented by the metal burglary proof and gunshots with bullets raining in her direction. The blood-thirsty thugs waited, shooting and watching with relish while Mrs Abuh cried from inside the inferno until her voice died out.” It was alleged that some other houses were also burnt.
We are gradually going back to Stone Age atavism. In 2011, about 800 people reportedly died in different parts of the North after the presidential election of that year. Incidentally, the election was between Buhari and former President Goodluck Jonathan. The 2019 general elections held between February and March also witnessed the killing of scores of innocent Nigerians.
Regrettably, the police always come out with their usual cock and bull stories after which they probably retire to their bases to drink kunu and ogogolo. On the just concluded Kogi and Bayelsa violent elections, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, blamed the incidents on fake policemen. This was despite deploying 66,241 officers to the two states for the election. The conventional police officers were complemented by Police Mobile Force, Special Protection Unit, Counterterrorism Unit, Special Forces, Intelligence Response Unit, Special Tactical Squad, Mounted Troops and so on.
Adamu was proud to tell Nigerians that politicians had sewn military and police uniforms for thugs. He gave his own men tags to distinguish them, but did nothing to apprehend those without tags. So both genuine and fake police officers operated freely without qualms. What a country!
By the way, has there been any resolution of the allegation levelled against Bello last year that he was involved in the importation of military items? And why is the case of his involvement in double voter registration still in court even after the election?
The more we look, the less we see. On Mrs Abuh, Governor Bello’s spokesman, Kingsley Fanwo, vomited the usual cliché: Those responsible for the atrocities would be brought to book. Story!
My prayer is that the spirit of this woman will haunt the evil doers for life! since many Nigerians now see prayer as our last hope, let me also join to pray that our politicians begin to see governance as service; not just a meal ticket, or a means to grab wealth for generations yet unborn. Until we change our mindset; until we reform our electoral and political systems; until we begin to severely punish electoral offenders; and until the president signs the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law, people like Bello will continue to desecrate our political and electoral system.