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Editors' Take

Editors' Take

Political Cynicism: Notes From The Field Reuben Abati

Whoever came up with the wise saying that Nigerian politics is dirty deserves an award for perspicacity. I have just returned from that dirtied, muddled up, confused, uncertain, unpredictable zone of Nigerian life and society with truck loads of stories in my head and enough impressions in my mind to last me another life-time. As you may be aware, I was deputy governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the just concluded 2019 general elections in Ogun State. It was quite an experience.

Before now, I had followed President Goodluck Jonathan to every nook and cranny of Nigeria during the 2015 presidential campaign. I also served previously as a member of the Governing Council of Olabisi Onabanjo University (2003-2007), member of the Board of Lagos State Security Trust Fund (2007-2011), and official presidential spokesperson (2011-2015). But I can tell you that the major lesson I have learnt in the last few months is that there is a serious difference between theory and practice in Nigerian politics. The reality of Nigerian politics puts a lie to what they teach us in graduate school, in all those seminars we attend across the world and what we experience as political appointees. Nigerian politics does not follow the rule book, the theories or what the book-makers say. This thing we call democracy, which Nigeria returned to in 1999, after mass protest and frustration with military rule, is not exactly the same democracy that they have in either the United Kingdom or the United States. Professional scholars of the subject may need to embark on a closer interrogation of a special sub-set called Nigerian democracy. Its features, post-1999, are unique.

Before now I have written about the violence that we encountered. In one piece, I reported how we narrowly escaped death and killing in Sagamu and how our campaign vehicles were vandalised. We later took the matter to the police and the Magistrate Court. We are still in court. On another occasion, in Abeokuta, after visiting the Hausa community in Abeokuta North, some of our vehicles were again vandalised. I didn’t even bother to report the incident. By then, violence had become the new normal, not just in Ogun State but across the country. With reports of persons being killed in Rivers State, gunshots in Lagos and mayhem in some other parts of the country, it would have been foolhardy to whine about broken vehicle windscreens.

But we eventually had our real taste of violence when we visited Itori in Ewekoro Local Government just two days before the election. We went to see the Olu of Itori and his chiefs, and the people of Itori, to solicit for support. It was like going to the Lion’s Den. We had a good meeting; everyone was civil. Indeed, everything went well until area boys took over the streets and started attacking the Oba’s palace with stones and other weapons. We were told to ignore them and the meeting went on, but as time passed and dusk descended, the same people who had told us not to bother, started advising us to hurry up and leave the community. We learnt that Itori and the entire Ewekoro Local Government is Governor Ibikunle Amosun’s stronghold. The previous day, we were told, members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) were not even allowed to campaign in the community. They were chased away with a volley of bullets.

This time, we were better prepared. Our security men went after the Itori hoodlums. They chased them into streets and disarmed them. They also launched a rainfall of gunshots. The Itori boys ran when they faced superior fire power unleashed by a combination of policemen, Civil Defence forces, vigilante groups and the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC). The vigilante men were valiant. They dared the hoodlums. They overpowered them and seized their weapons. Axes and guns. One look at the kind of axes that had been arrayed against us, a decent person is likely to faint! We left that community surrounded by a combined team of courageous men who led us to safety. I thought I was somewhere in Syria. When I got home, I could not sleep. My feet were hurting as if someone had set them on fire. I had body ache. My heart was palpitating. It was as if someone was playing a rhythm of gunshots in my head. I had to ask Wale and Egunje to go and help me buy Lexotan tablets. When they got to the pharmacy, they were told that Lexotan is a prescription drug and that a doctor’s prescription would be required. I don’t know how they managed the situation, but they brought a tablet which helped to calm my nerves and I slept. At that point, I lost interest in the campaign. I kept seeing images of a shining axe. It was the kind of axe that would break any bone.

Decent and serious-minded persons would continue to avoid Nigerian politics if we do not curb the menace of violence. Should decent persons summon the courage to go into politics, they too may help to deepen the culture of violence in an attempt to protect themselves. The first thing a Nigerian politician considers is how to come out of the process alive. In this last elections, persons were killed in Rivers. Oyo State became a hotbed of reprisal killings. Properties were destroyed in Kano… Yakubu Mahmood, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is not in a position to say that he did a good job. On March 9, the people were so scared and disappointed, they didn’t even bother to turn out in large numbers. The international community is relieved that in spite of everything, Nigeria, West Africa’s most strategic country, did not implode. I get the impression that Nigerians themselves are calm because the worst that they expected did not happen. They are glad to still have a country.

I have also learnt that Nigerian politics is all about money. You can talk about poverty index on television and in writing and quote those figures from the usual sources, but when you go onto the field of politics, you are bound to confront the reality of the poverty that has turned the Nigerian electorate into an endless community of beggars and cynics. The tragedy of Nigeria is the impoverishment of the people and the total collapse of values and dignity. Everywhere I went, people begged for money. They were not interested in policy documents, or campaign leaflets or gift items. They just wanted cash, raw cash. I ran into hordes of young men who earn a living by belonging to neighbourhood gangs and cults. They are not interested in any talk about development and progress, many of them are college graduates by the way, they just want money to buy “drink and smoke.”

The Nigerian political elite, the professional wing that is, has over the years destroyed this country. The political field is peopled by hypocrites who exploit the people’s poverty. The people themselves have become dangerously cynical. When we campaigned on the streets and gave exercise books to mothers and their children, we were told: “Ko si owo, ko si ibo” – “no money, no vote.” Nobody was interested in exercise books! If people said as much as hello, they wanted you to pay for it. There were endless requests for mobilisation fees, transformers, vehicles and all kinds of things. Two days to the election, the situation became almost unmanageable. I was asked to pick up bills at drinking joints. People stopped by and asked for money to “enjoy the rest of the evening”. Others came with requests for money to pay hospital fees, to take care of a newly born baby, to bury a relative, or to make a girlfriend happy. One political associate told me that every request was valid because as far as the Nigerian people are concerned, only a thief goes into politics and it is better to “take their own share” before the election.

The real problem with Nigerian democracy must be the people themselves. I don’t yet have the the full picture in other parts of the country, other than Oyo State where the people seem to have voted according to their conscience. They taught Governor Abiola Ajimobi a lesson. They made it clear to him that careless talk is not a virtue in politics and that arrogance has serious consequences. But in some other parts of the country, like Ogun and Lagos States, money played a major role. The people collected money. They voted according to the size of their greed. If you don’t have money to throw away and close your eyes while doing so, may be you should never venture into Nigerian politics as it is today. I get the impression that the people do not trust their political leaders and the politicians. There may be slight differences here and there in terms of this affective and cognitive immersion in the Nigerian political process, but for the most part, the people believe that all politicians are the same. I was shocked by the level and size of cynicism that I saw.

Courtesy Premium Times                                                                          

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Editors' Take

Peace In Defence Of Democracy Alpheaus Paul-Worika

The presidential candidates of the contesting political parties have pledged their commitment to peace in defence of democracy and nation building, as they signed the long expected accord for a peaceful 2019 general election.

The world still thinks very highly of Nigeria and we should take advantage of it and not let ourselves down. Even with the mudsling in the political arena, with party supporters throwing stones at chieftains and propagandists spewing hate speeches, Nigeria is still a great country.

This is what it means to be elected to head a special committee of the United Nations. In demonstration of global confidence, Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Prof. Tijjani Muhammed-Bande was re-elected to chair the UN Special Committee on peacekeeping.

The special committee which has a total of 147 countries in peacekeeping mission includes countries such as Canada, Argentina, Poland, Egypt and Japan. Its mandate, to review the entire United Nations Peacekeeping operation is a very ardours and gigantic task, and consideration for the job goes beyond competence.

Nigeria can no longer be a pariah nation in the global political community. It suffered that fate under late General Sani Abacha and the effect was not palatable. The prompt return to democratic rule by Abdulsalam Abubakar made him one of the most respectful Nigerian leaders at home and abroad.

Nigeria’s presidential elections have been rather testy with tinges of desperation that inflame the passion of voters to cast their ballot in fear. In the 2015 election, the tension was palpable and required the intervention of very eminent and respectable personalities and institutions to restore voter-confidence for public safety.

In a very significant event whose importance can only grow further, incumbent president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, his foremost challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, and a motley of other presidential candidates signed a peace accord that was facilitated by former United Nations Secretary General, Late Kofi Annan, representatives of the United Nations Security Council, traditional and religions leaders among others.

In a rare show of commitment to prevent electoral violence, before, during and after the elections, the candidates reaffirmed their loyalty to the Nigerian Constitution and to avoid acts that would endanger political stability and national security; and also place national interest above personal and partisan concern.

It was a peace parley that bolstered public confidence and every Nigerian; including the candidates themselves were satisfied.The maxim,“my ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian” reverberated and the echo defined several perceptions.

It manifested in the quick acceptance of the election result by Dr. Jonathan even before the formal declaration of the victor by INEC. With hindsight, that act of sportsmanship by the former president was an uncommon leadership trait by African leaders and Nigeria is a proud beneficiary of that legacy.

Former United States president, Bill Clinton who was billed to deliver a key note speech and witness the signing of the peace accord this year declined because he didn’t want the exercise to be politicized. Too bad for the time. Bill Clinton is a huge value to the peace process. The organizers understand the impetus he would bring to the event.

We should build on the 2015 peace deal and not play games with the relevance of mutuality and concord to orderly conduct.

Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir, El-Rufai ruffled not a few feathers when he alluded to foreign interference in the elections and threatened body bags as a repercussion. Quickly, the PDP threatened to withdraw from the accord it had signed for a peaceful election in Kaduna state.

El-Rufai did not withdraw his threat to foreigners (who interfere). He explained away what was said on a public television. The Federal Government also said the governor speech was in the country’s interest. The sensitivity of the words at a time like this matter.

And at the PDP rally in Port Harcourt, the party’s presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s allegation about Buhari’s statement in Zamfara state added to the apprehension. According to Atiku, Buhari had called on voters to enjoy a good harvest, eat well and fight. Festus Kayamu, spokeman of the Buhari campaign defended the president’s comment as a usual joke that did not mean a call to arms.

And at the APC rally also in Port Harcourt, Rivers State former Governor and Director-General of the Buhari campaign, Rt Hon. Chibuike Amaechi’s statements have provoked several comments by the state government and stakeholders.

Peace sustains hope. In a free and fair election. Election should not be a time of war; to sing and remind us of death. Ensuring non-violent polls begins with the leaders of the political parties accepting to be honourable, to play by the principles of the constitution and the electoral act and guidelines.

We can surpass the legacy of 2015 by being honest and keeping our security agents and INEC officials from harm’s way not by sloganeering but by insisting on probity rather than show of force.

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Editors' TakeOpinion

Ezekwesili The Last Days Of Endorsements Alpheaus Paul-Worika

In the last days of electioneering, we experience fever pitch activities of desperate politicians. With less than 10 days to the presidential elections,   this is a very critical period; the time football enthusiasts refer to as injury time in a must-win or must-not-lose match. It requires all manner of tactics to overcome the opponent. Endorsement is an age-long technique in electoral contests  and comes with a certain freshness. Its admixture of a semblance of popularity and inclusiveness gives its brew a compelling aroma and a bitter taste in the bud long afterwards.

Only a handful of politicians fail to reckon with this gambit. Former minister of Solid Minerals and Education, former World Bank vice president for Africa and 2019 presidential candidate of the Action Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Dr. Oby Ezekwesili is finding it difficult to understand what this is about. Right under her rose, while still deep in  her campaign outreaches and preparations to wrest power from the siamese twins of transactional politics, members of her party in a rather ominous brand of politics had negotiated something and decided to endorse President  Muhammadu Buhari for a second term.

Lamenting the betrayal and contempt of her party members, Ezekwesili, did not succeed in concealing her disappointment as her emotions failed her. She wiped her eyes as her voice quivered. She wondered how she could drop her presidential ambition for a ministerial position when she had rejected several offers for same position by past and present administrations. How could she be so convinced to be the party’s standard bearer while members of her party had their mind elsewhere.

 Not being a typical Nigerian politician, her foray into the electoral contest had actually astounded many Nigerians and elicited mixed reactions about her capacity to deal with intrigues  of political correctness and due process. Most professional politicians do not have scruples about what happens to whatever names they had made in the course of their various endeavours. These category of politicians have given Nigerian politics its peculiar flavour. To be a successful politician is to live a fallacy and move about gaily in a turncoat. To survive blackmail, you are expected to keep a long distance from this politics. But that is the trick.  Those who are afraid of a healthy political competition deliberately provoke those with strength of character into certain acts of misjudgment to expose their vulnerability.

Ezekwesili, the transparency amazon saw the blackmail and quickly returned to herself, perhaps back to her role as a vociferous activist and global economic governance analyst. But she has learnt some lessons that would enrich her experience about her dear country and why things are less predictable even with the clear indicators.

Hopefully Ezekwesili will see more clearly in the next complex of days why a very patriotic coalition of mentally and morally strong Nigerians is required to restrategise in the nation’s true interest. While that option needs consideration, this is the season of endorsement and so much humour go with it.

The joke seems to be who can get better and more valuable endorsement groups. And the canvassers are working to beat deadline. The vice presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr. Peter Obi, was criticized by a priest for not making appreciable contribution to the Adoration ministry. The Catholic Priest, Rev. Father Mbaka  later visited President Buhari. The purpose was not very clear but religious leaders are usually not left out of these endorsement visits.  Imams, Alfas, prophets and various organizations flaunt some names and get passage through the corridors of influence into important circles of target personalities.

Many ethnic leaders overrate their influence and consider their endorsements as critical to the victory of any political contender. Consequently we witness political drama of sorts by pro and anti endorsement camps. Some members of Miyetti Allah, a formidable group of Fulani herdsmen that had never hidden their support for President Buhari’s second term, recently endorsed the PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. PANDEF, AFENIFERE, OHANEZE, and NEF in a new kind of simultaneity, announced their endorsement of Alhaji Atiku.

Amidst these ethnic endorsements, the brickbats are flying. Former governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, Director General of VON, Osita Ikechukwu and others have flayed the Igbo leadership and assured their patrons that the endorsement is inconsequential. Niger Delta youths disagree with PANDEF just as there have been divergent views in other ethnic groups. No matter. The Atiku camp is upbeat. His campaign director general, Senator Bukola Saraki says the endorsement means national acceptance of Atiku and total victory for the PDP.

Association of prostitutes and an association of white witches have reportedly endorsed Alhaji Atiku after their meetings (in a coven). Pray, what if not as a moral dampner, will prostitutes’ and witches brazen endorsement do for a candidate. Certain endorsements actually add nothing if not damage the reputation and chances of the intended beneficiary.

Dozens of ex-military officers including APC chieftain, Bubar Marwa  endorsed Prresident Buhari perhaps as counter to the support Atiku is said to be enjoying from retired Generals Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, Theophilus Danjuma etc. It does not matter that the co-ordinator of the endorsement is a political acolyte. National Union of Local Government Employees, a union of civil servants in the third-tier of government also endorsed the president. Wither the neutrality of the civil servant in politics.

Endorsement has become so much a part of our politics that we are determined to get foreigners to also be a part of it. Prominent members of the major political parties travel overseas to America, the European Union, United Kingdom and international agencies to get their endorsement even when the interest of western nations is transparent electoral systems with norms and values. Now we have come nearer home to our neighbours in Niger with two governors in the campaign of a candidate. What happens to diplomacy if their preferred candidate is not returned. Their presence at the podium was beyond the endorsement threshold notwithstanding the attempts at justification. With endorsements you can’t imagine the magnitude of desperation we have to endure, and for our cerebral Oby, the betrayal is beyond fathom.

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Editors' TakeOpinion

Law, Morality And Youth Circle Alpheaus Paul-Worika

The brouhaha over the allegations of corruption against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, his suspension from office and the prompt swearing in of a substitute has polarized even lawyers more than it ought to unite them. As labourers in the temple of justice, lawyers are well versed in the issues that are already in the public domain and for which all manner of persons have become emergency and uninformed commentators.

Arguments about the proprietary of critical political decisions often dovetail into contentious issue of what should prevail in the contest between law and morality. This avoidable distraction takes the shine off what should be the gain from a dialectical engagement. Nobody wins in a contest between law and morality because both principles are too close to call and what separates them is emotion which determines every standpoint. With law and morality, there can hardly be a winner or a loser. And that is what politicians feast on.

While lawyers quote various sections of the law and express divergent opinions ironically in defence of the law; and laymen highlight moral points of view, the politicians strike mortal blows to the system confident that there will be enough cacophony to douse the effect of an unpopular but suave political decision.

So, Justice Onnoghen is out and Justice Tanko Mohammed is in. And while we await the outcome of the National Judicial Council’s seize of the matter, Onnoghen is not in charge anymore and Mohammed will continue to act as being in charge while the political puzzles are fitting properly.

In this debacle, the Nigerian youth remains a poor spectacle. The protests for and against the suspension of Onnoghen were carried out by youths, some without adequate understanding of the real issues for which they were called out to the streets.

Some of the protesting youths said Buhari was a dictator while others said Onnoghen was suspended because he was caught-red handed with dollars.

The prevailing scenario more like a debacle has offered a window for opportunists to express themselves and their convictions and even earn something that can put food on the table for a while. But this is the sour point. Youth do not raise vital and critical questions about anything anymore. They only seek to rent their services to the highest patron. This apparently explains why the fight against corruption should intensify with few weeks to the general election, when allegations of corruption against people even in the president’s cabinet have remained mere allegations.

It remains a curious subject that despite petitions against the Minister of Transportation, Rt Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, he remains the director-general of the Buhari Campaign Organisation. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said President Buhari has given approval for the prosecution of Babachir Lawal, former Secretary to Government of the Federation, yet Osinbajo had said that the president did not know about Justice Onnonghen’s arraignment. The list of accusation is too long and in the public domain.

With youths making up over 55% of Nigeria’s population, the desired impact of their vantage position as critical stakeholders is infinitesimal. Rather youths have formed a wide circle of jesters that are expending their great potential in comic relief. Inappropriate use of youth energy has serious implications for economic and social development. It misled our president to declare that the youths are lazy. It has also created a groundswell of ready footsoldiers for political thuggery and various forms of criminalities.

A trending post in many Whatsapp platforms is the story of youth in the struggle for Nigeria’s independence. All the frontliners in the anti-colonial struggle were youth. They mobilized themselves into a united front as they focused on their goal. There were excuses around but they elected to ignore them.

In the face of daunting challenges, the predilection to substance abuse has intensified. Over 14% of persons between the ages of 15 and 64 are addicted to cannabis, tramadol and other narcotic substances.

Nigerian youth are strong and resourceful, and should bring their immense courage and creativity into the social mix, to put an end to the political game that treats them as pawns and touts and savages.

The elections may be at the heart of the ongoing political struggle that seem to pitch Nigerians against one another in various circles; but the youth must rise above political patronage and challenge the institutions that seek to undermine their capacity and progress.

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Editors' Take

Ultimate Tutorial: How to Take Better Selfies For Group

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Editors' Take

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