A security red herring and election postponement

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Just as Samuel Johnson in April 1775, said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, so has security, in the heated pre-election setting of Nigeria, become the ultimate red herring wielded to postpone a much-anticipated February 14, 2015 Presidential election, in particular. It was at the Chatham House in London, that Colonel Sambo Dasuki, the National Security Adviser (NSA), first let out of the bag, the idea of a postponement of elections, based on the incomplete distribution of Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs).

There was a huge wave of indignation rejecting the idea of a postponement across board, but it was to become clear that the maneuvering was central to the political survival of the PDP and the Jonathan administration. Not even repeated assurances from INEC, the election management body itself, would convince those who needed the postponement. An orchestrated campaign was launched, especially in the media, leaning on a select group of individuals.

Nationwide appeal

Nigerians saw what was unfolding before them clearly; the opposition’s campaign, but especially the nationwide appeal of APC presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, had gathered a remarkable momentum. Everything had been hurled at the man, from the kitchen sink to the vilest forms of propaganda. On the other hand, the PDP seemed to have lost steam, if it ever gathered any.

It had promised an issues-based campaign, but it all narrowed down to demonizing the person of General Buhari. President Jonathan and his PDP strategists became Buhari’s most effective recruiting agents, because the more they hurled abuses and vile propaganda, the more popular their nemesis seemed to have become amongst voters, as results of several polls conducted even by President Jonathan’s supporters, were returning.

Presidency PDP panic mode: The presidency and the PDP entered a panic mode and the campaign for the postponement of the elections by six weeks was ratcheted up. It was the only lifeline! When the National Council of State gathered last week, its members read the national mood correctly; they refused to back the plan for elections postponement. INEC stood its ground, insisting that it was better prepared for the 2015 elections, than the 2011 polls, which circles around President Jonathan always proudly cite, as being free and fair. But there was the ultimate red herring, still to drop on the lap of an expectant nation, and what appeared from their perspective, a stubbornly independent INEC: security!

Jega-cartoonThe nation’s security apparatus suddenly realized that these were the best moments to confront and crush Boko Haram. What our gallant forces could not achieve in five years was now to be accomplished in six weeks! And to underline the seriousness of the situation, the offensive was set to commence on February 14th, the date Nigerians should have been queuing up to elect our next president.

Effectively, as many leading lawyers and commentators have concluded, INEC was hamstrung and effectively, a ‘coup’ was carried out against the democratic process. After a whole day of consultations, INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, addressed an expectant country, to announce the postponement of the elections for six weeks, just as the leadership of the security forces had requested. Jega said that: “There are quite a number of issues in the conduct of elections, the most critical of which is security matter which is not under the control of INEC”. Of course, on Constitutional grounds, INEC was within its remit to postpone the elections, forced as it had been by circumstance. It was the political context of the postponement, which has triggered the worry of politicians and citizens alike.

It seemed clear that for President Jonathan’s corner of what is shaping up to be a titanic fight, there was an imperative to slow down the Buhari momentum. Earning the extra six weeks was therefore a vital lifeline from their standpoint. Elections are a very expensive venture, and the opposition does not have the limitless funds available to the PDP and President Goodluck Jonathan.

Someone who knows a thing about the numbers told me at the weekend, that so far, President Jonathan’s camp has not really spent much of the dedicated campaign funds available to it. This six-week window will likely be used to claw back some of the momentum just as it is hoped that the Buhari campaign would see fatigue set in, especially financially. But there is a multi-pronged project to be accomplished in the six weeks timeline.

VANGUARD newspaper of Monday, February 9th, 2015, listed “a two-pronged war”; the first is to “stop Muhammadu Buhari…from contesting the election with Jonathan and the replacement of the INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, with a less independent-minded person”. Jega is considered by presidential hawks to be “too independent-minded and ‘uncooperative’ despite being given the job on a platter of gold by the president’s men”. Jega was similarly described as “rather too ‘difficult’ to deal with, having not allowed himself to be dictated to by anyone since assumption of office like other appointees of government”.

Many interests

In truth, there are too many interests that must dread the emergence of a Buhari presidency and each of these interests and collectively, would be hoping that the six-week window would be sufficient to somehow damage Buhari sufficiently, as to make him unelectable. On the other hand, they must also be scared stiff, that nothing they throw at the man will dent the feeling for change that has gripped the country, and which Buhari has come to symbolize for many Nigerians from South to North.

The free wheeling heists of the past six years have finally reached a denouement and those who have profited handsomely to the detriment of Nigeria are in panic mode. The red herring of security has pushed INEC to postpone the elections, but the disappointment and angst trailing the decision have weakened President Jonathan’s position at home and abroad.

It is their next step that will determine the fate of Nigeria’s democratic project. The NSA Sambo Dasuki has assured that there will be no more postponements and Boko Haram camps will be taken out within the six-week lifeline, to allow safe elections. But what if that does not happen, would we be headed for a constitutional crisis? What might really be on the horizon for Nigeria? Eternal vigilance remains the price of liberty. It is possible to reclaim our country if we are determined to!

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