News - Viewpoint - December 4, 2022

SUNDAY MUSINGS 2023: Another Motion Without Movement?

By Innocent Okon

The build up to Nigeria’s Presidential elections next year has all the trappings of a Nollywood movie script. The characters and the shooting location are the same. The only difference appears to be that the response this time around is not as predictable as it used to be in years gone by! The 2023 episode appears to be wrapped in suspended animation.

In recent times, I get my thrills, drills and frills from occasional interactions with internet freaks called Netizens. They are so called because they are not only social media savvy, but addicted to the mad frenzy of the internet. They are Millennials. More interested in the future than the past. And incurably optimistic that Nigeria can offer more than she does without any resort to primordial oxygen supply from divisive reservoirs of religion, tribalism and prebendalism!

It’s a fledgling class movement that has found an accidental political actor in a man outside their generational belt called Peter Gregory Onwubuasi Obi, who is running with his mate,Yusuf Datti
Baba-Ahmed, under the banner of the Labour Party. Both have a horde of followers across the country and around the world who go with the unique identity of ‘Obidients’. They want Nigerians, particularly the youth to be “obidient” and “yusful”.

A few days ago, I had an encounter with ten of them who are professionals in their different fields of endeavour. Each encounter was as revealing as it was exciting. They took turns to tutor me on their conviction and pecuniary sacrifices they have made so far without expecting any reimbursement from any organisation or their Principal, Obi. They can be audaciously cynical and temperamental sometimes, so you need to canvass your position with measured gentility.

Members of this “Obidient” group are mostly Nigerians who never saw the civil war. Some were not in existence when the Second Republic was put to birth and how elections are seen and interpreted by politicians in our clime. During my last parley with them, I observed that their hope for free, transparent and credible elections is anchored on the promise by the election umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), of electronic transmission of election results and the availability of android phones for Mobilisation of supporters of the different candidates. I never attempted to persuade them to add caution to their hope. I only advised them that Nigeria’s political history needed to be visited, even in a hurry to hazard a guess on the many permutations of what the outcome could be.

In 1983, National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was the ruling party. President Shehu Shagari was running for a second term. The economy was down, though not as bad as we have now! There was an outcry for a change as we are hearing now. The Chairman of the party, Chief Augustus Meredith Adisa Akinloye, on a political soapbox in Ibadan told Nigerians that there were two parties in Nigeria, NPN and the Army. To Akinolye, the NPN represented the civilian arm of the country’s political constituency, while the Army occupied the military wing.

The elections that followed after the campaigns were excessively rigged, creating the enabling atmosphere for the Army to return to civil governance in the last night of December 1983.

It was the obscene manner and style the said elections were rigged that prompted the sage of Nigerian politics and the leader of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Chief Obafemi Awolowo, to openly remark that he might not witness democratic elections in his lifetime.

His prophecy came to pass as he passed on while the Minna born self-acclaimed ‘evil genius’, the Maradonic military President, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), was still tinkering with political models for Nigeria through a select committee called the Political Bureau.

Still on the history lane, in 1993, there were two political parties created by IBB – the Social Democratic (SDP) and the National Republican Congress (NRC). Both were jostling for power professing different political ideologies imposed by the government. While the SDP pursued the socialist leftist political ideology, the NRC professed the republican capitalist political ideology.

The chairman of NRC was Chief Tom Ikimi, an Architect by profession. At many fora on the political campaign trail, Ikimi would translate the surname of the Presidential candidate of NRC, Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa to mean “TAKE OVER FROM Army”. When the party lost the Presidential election that year to the SDP, Ikimi did not hesitate in supporting the annulment of that election. As a compensation, Ikimi was later appointed Foreign Affairs Minister in General Sani Abacha’s military government the same year!

While gunning for a second term in 2003, Olusegun Obasanjo became so desperate to bring his South West ethnic constituency into PDP. Addressing a rally in Ogun State, he unconsciously stated that the coming election was “a do or die” affair. And so it turned out as all Alliance for Democracy (AD)-controlled states, except Lagos were taken over by the PDP in an election foreign observers expressed strong reservations over its fairness.

Since the past must be probed for better understanding of the present and informed extrapolations into the future, the alarm bell is ringing again for those with ears to listen!

At a recent rally in Kano, the Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu, was quoted as saying that the APC will win Kano state by “hook or crook”! When his statement raised more dust to create concerns for the credibility of 2023 elections, his spin-doctors seized the moment to panel beat the statement into shape to meet civil standards! But if history has the ability to repeat itself, then this is a clarion call to explore ways of defending the integrity and finality of our ballot and ensure all votes count.

The new Electoral Act may not deliver credible elections. Android phones may mobilise thousands to the polling units, but may not guarantee the authenticity of final results! It is high time, the Labour unions, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and Civil Rights’ groups formed special technical committees to study the proposed conduct of next year’s elections by INEC with a view to discovering where and how it could be compromised with the help of insiders and desperate political actors.

The Obi-dient generation must also take this national assignment seriously! Those who are telling them that elections are won with “structures” may mean more than organising the Party apparatchik to vote.They have not run out of ideas of making elections mere quadrennial rituals in Nigeria. I strongly recommend WOLE SOYINKA’s play: THE LION AND THE JEWEL, as a must read, for lessons on how old primitive wisdom can conquer urbane challenges.

Okon, a journalist and lawyer, writes from Uyo.

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