Nigeria: Long Road to Freedom

By Jude Atupulazi

In the aftermath of the 2003 governorship election in Anambra State, with a certain Dr Chris Ngige being declared the winner of that election by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the presumed winner of that election, also a certain Mr Peter Obi, had decided to challenge the loss of his mandate in court. Though everybody, including the goats, chicken and perhaps cows, which were in the state then, knew that Obi won the election, Obi’s decision to challenge the result in court had been laughed at. To many, it was a grand waste of time by a man who seemed not to understand the power of incumbency, especially when that power was backed by a ruthless godfather.

But Obi had refused to be undaunted as he tenaciously pursued his mandate which he was sure was stolen. One year passed; the second year also came and passed, but the matter was still in court; the tribunal to be precise. While Obi used his personal resources to pursue his mandate, Ngige used government funds to defend his victory.

At this time, Ngige, a clever man, had been steadily warming his way into the hearts of the people. Coming at a time when the salaries of civil servants, especially teachers, were owed, he became an instant hero by offsetting them. He also started constructing roads, forcing people to declare that they didn’t know there was money in government.

At this time too, many people were beginning to forget that the governorship of Anambra State was still in contention in court. Those who knew, pitied Obi. Some led delegations to his house to plead with him to see ”reason” and forget the matter, especially as the man who took his seat was doing well. Some of the groups who pleaded with him at one point or the other included the traditional rulers, town union heads and the Church. In fact, a Catholic bishop once told Journalists in Nnewi that Ngige’s election was a happy mistake, meaning that Obi should forget it since the usurper of his mandate was seemingly doing well. Even some of Obi’s closest allies had left him by this time, including the national chairman of his party then, Chief Chekwas Okorie. At a visit to Ngige at the Governor’s Lodge, Okorie had urged Obi to let go or else he would be on his own! All these people predicated their stand on the fact that no sitting governor had ever been toppled in court in the history of the nation up to that point.

On the eve of the tribunal’s judgement, I was in a taxi talking to someone on the phone about the judgement. After speaking with the person, the taxi driver had asked me thus, ”Is this man still in court? Why doesn’t he want to go home and rest?”

All those years what kept Obi going was what he explained as the future of the children of the state. Whenever people or groups had come to ask him to forget his mandate, he had told them that it was not about Peter Obi but about the future of the children of the state. He argued that if he let go, the kind of impunity that enthroned the usurper government would remain. But he could have been speaking to himself as no one believed him.

Then one morning, the earth of the state shook. The tribunal sacked Ngige and declared Obi the winner of the long forgotten 2003 governorship election. Ngige appealed and lost again. This time it was final and he made way for Obi. Ngige’s membership of the ruling party did not save him.

Today, it is déjà vu once more for Obi. As the presidential running mate to Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, he was part of the movement to unseat the incumbent government of Muhammadu Buhari whose government has been much maligned. Many Nigerians had prayed and hoped that Atiku would win for the simple reason that no one could be as bad as Buhari whose government failed on almost all counts. But against all odds Buhari emerged winner, or so INEC said.

But feelers from across the country indicated that what was announced wasn’t what the people expected and accepted. The party in the receiving end, the PDP, rejected the result and disclosed intention to go to court, claiming that it had enough evidence to nail APC and recover its mandate.

Now, while some people are hailing PDP for using a civilized means to go about the recovery of its mandate, others are rather asking PDP to forget it and forge ahead ”in the interest of the nation”. But this is where my anger lies.

You see, there is this penchant by Nigerians to quickly and conveniently ”forget”, especially when they are not directly involved or will not benefit from something. Thus, even when they know that what they want people to forget and not challenge is bad, they still go ahead to sing that familiar song. They do this because they fail to see the larger picture.

But let me remind them that if Obi had not pursued his mandate to the end, perhaps a certain Chris Uba would still be trampling on hapless politicians as the undisputed godfather of the state. But the outcome of Obi’s challenge put paid to all that and today many can aspire, contest and win elections in this state.

Obi’s victory in court then had also opened the gate for some other aggrieved candidates who would eventually also reclaim their stolen mandates. It was obvious that slowly Nigeria’s democracy was taking a turn for the better. Under former President Goodluck Jonathan, it got even better. For the first time, INEC started churning out what looked like real election results. Opposition parties began to beat incumbents and the then president (Jonathan) never wasted time in congratulating those opposition parties and their candidates. The same Jonathan accepted his own defeat and called Buhari to congratulate him, declaring that he would not challenge it in court. Yet, this is the same PDP that the incumbent administration loves to malign as killing Nigeria.

Now, under APC, the gains made by the country in democracy are slowly being lost again. Under Buhari, most elections have been declared inconclusive, especially in states or areas where the incumbent party is not faring well. The APC has almost invariably won in the re-run elections. The Osun governorship election sticks out like a sore finger.

In the last presidential poll, Nigerians saw how APC thugs harassed voters and burnt ballot papers in perceived PDP strong holds and nothing was done. Not that people expected much to happen as under the Buhari Administration, everyone knows that some people are saintlier than others, especially when they belong to Buhari’s APC. That is why any politician who is spoken to by the EFCC immediately teams up with APC and their sins will not only be promptly forgiven, but they will be declared saints.

To say that the APC is no better than the PDP they are spending money to suppress is to pretend. Indeed, it is certain that given the rate at which APC is going about things in Nigeria, the country is tottering dangerously on the precipice of anarchy.

The APC Govt has muscled the judiciary with the sacking of Onnoghen who before then was the chief justice of Nigeria. This was after the same APC has northernised the country’s armed forces, such that the Hausa Language may be the official language used at the nation’s Security Council meetings.

Buhari, having surrounded himself with his kinsmen in the armed forces, moved to get a non-compliant Onnoghen out of the way. It was after he had appointed an Hausa as the chairman of INEC. The Onnoghen matter was Buhari’s last throw of the dice. Now, the thinking is that Buhari, knowing what kind of agenda he had, began early to weave his intricate web patterns to ensure that nothing stood in his way for a second term. With the way the last presidential election was conducted, it seems that Buhari is well on his way to achieving his agenda.

This is why some people do not have faith in the judiciary, believing that voting is one huge waste of time. It is indeed difficult to argue against that. But then, such was the situation in 2003 when Obi set out to regain his stolen mandate.

The chances of PDP succeeding in court may be little, but winners never quit and quitters never win. No matter what plans Buhari has to ensure victory in the court, we all know that it takes a courageous and sincere judge or judges to throw people like Buhari out if they fault their victory. A Supreme Court nullification of his victory will send Buhari packing and once it happens, there’s nothing he can do about it.

In life there comes a time when one’s cup becomes full. It is only natural. Buhari may look insurmountable right now but so did Abacha look. Nigerians should therefore desist from giving up easily and learn to go the whole hog in pursuit of their rights. That is the only way to stop impunity.

As the court begins to hear the case brought before it by PDP, we should brace up for a long battle, believing that the end will justify our patience. The road to freedom is always long and tortuous.

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