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Published On: Tue, Sep 16th, 2014

Free, fair elections possible, but on two conditions

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By Wumi Akintide

Politicians all over the world, quite often, say one thing for public consumption but do entirely different things behind closed doors. The outcome is one step forward and two steps backward which ultimately means retrogression, if you get my logic. Those politicians figure out what they think the public wants to hear and they just tailor their messages accordingly.  The observation is not just a Nigerian problem but a global one.

The few wise among politicians, however, prefer not to pull a fast one on the public and their own conscience. I see the public pronouncement of President Jonathan to shoot for a legacy of free and fair elections in Nigeria from that prism. His heart is in the right place without any question , but I think he is still not up to par with the passion and the commitment needed to  obliterate election rigging in Nigeria because even in America voter suppression, like we witness in Ekiti and Osun, is a  subtle form of election rigging.

That some of our politicians see Americans doing it makes it right or justified in their convoluted minds. I draw that conclusion based on President Jonathan’s track record so far but I still give him credit for following the Yar Adua mindset or preference rather than that of Obasanjo who once made the unfortunate statement he should forever regret that Nigeria is still not ready for free and fair elections.

There are a few things President Jonathan still needs to do, to be taken seriously on his promise to wrestle election rigging to the ground in Nigeria. His low tolerance level for blatant corruption sends precisely the wrong message because corruption is the twin sister of election rigging. You cannot fight one and leave the other. Getting his party to deviate from its mindset to want to rig every election is a Herculean task that only a President with a mind of his own can achieve.

It is not a mission President Jonathan can accomplish if he is out to please everybody because some in his party and the opposition profit from the malady and they don’t ever want to see it go away.

The President has to be willing to sacrifice his ambition for re-election by all means and at all cost, if that is what it takes to get the job done. A President who does that may be unpopular for a season like Abraham Lincoln when he first passed the Emancipation Proclamation Law in America. Likewise, FDR’s signing of the life-changing Social Security Bill initially faced stiff opposition from the Republicans in US congress and even a few of his party leaders.

Ronald Reagan also encountered widespread opposition when he chose to go forward with his amnesty program for illegal immigrants in America. US supreme court Chief Justice Robert, who routinely voted as a conservative surprised, and indeed angered many conservatives, when he cast the deciding vote in ruling Obama care as legitimate and constitutional.

Barack Obama has his lowest approval polling of 40 per cent or lower today because of his courage to sign into Law the Affordable Healthcare Legislation that passed the US Congress by the narrowest of margins due to stiff opposition from the Republicans who have since made 55 attempts to repeal the Law and have since been threatening to impeach Obama because they hate to see a black President take the everlasting credit for such a monumental law affecting the lives 46 million Americans.

They instinctively knew that their hopes to regain the White House was forever doomed, if Obama and the Democrats were allowed to take all the credit. Rather than join with the President to improve some of the provisions of the Law, they think total repeal is the way to go. That is part of the reason I keep predicting the Republicans have gone mad. They do more harm to themselves. They are just too blind to see it.

Obama would go down in history as one of the greatest American Presidents if he goes ahead to add his comprehensive Immigration initiative by executive order since the Republican-controlled Congress in their foolhardiness, is never going to pass the Legislation.

To be a great President Jonathan has got to be willing to stand up for what is right for the country regardless of how that stand may affect his political fortunes and ambitions.  He is already President of Nigeria and nothing is going to change that even he is President for only a few months like Ernest Sonekan or Abdulsalam Abubakar who was President for just one year.

Jonathan should sometimes find the courage to overrule some of the hawks in his party to do what is right for Nigeria. He should have the courage to let his party know he is President of Nigeria and not President of the PDP alone. They may disagree with him for a little while, but he would go down in history as a great President. Jonathan should realize that any good he does to Nigeria is really self-serving because he is part of Nigeria and he has no other country to call his own other than Nigeria.

If Jonathan is seen to be non-partisan in some of his actions as President, he guarantees for himself a pathway to victory in 2015. He has to distance himself from some of the excesses of his party men and nominees for public office like Obanikoro, Iyiola Omisore, Fani Kayode and the current chairman of Police Affairs who deliberately violated the electoral Law in Ekiti and Osun States in the name of the President. They think the best way to please the President is to be more Roman-catholic than the Pope by doing things they think the President would appreciate. The President can drastically redeem his image.

I respected late President Umaru Yar’adua and I still do because he was candid and humble enough to admit his own election was flawed and that he was going to do something about it. He actually did a few things to assure Nigerians he truly meant business. His decision to give back to Lagos State its entitlement from Federal allocations that Obasanjo’s has refused to pay, was one of such gestures. He refused to influence the Judiciary in deciding any of the cases referred to it by the election tribunals.

Unlike Obasanjo, he gave the judges a free hand to make their rulings. Yar’adua did not subscribe to Obasanjo’s impunity in intimidating and punishing the opposition parties in Nigeria just because he could. Umaru did not buy the argument of Obasanjo that the PDP has a right to forever rule Nigeria thereby creating a one-party dictatorship. Obasanjo made the self-serving determination that Nigeria is not yet ripe for the kind of Democracy practiced in places like the United Kingdom and the United States.

President Jonathan cannot retain his popularity and appeal with the PDP if he wants to be a change agent as he professes. His selection of Professor Jega to lead the INEC was one of his best decisions as President because many Nigerians knew that Professor Jega was a radical who would not be easy to push around or micro-manage. I give Jonathan kudos for sticking to his guns and for allowing Jega a free hand to do what he has to do to ensure credible elections in Nigeria.

The last two elections in Ekiti and Osun have shown that Nigeria is making progress and that is something Nigerians should celebrate and be proud of. We still have a long way to go, however, but we are making progress. Professor Jega should be allowed more time to sanitize our conduct of elections like he has already started to do.


Dr. Wumi Akintide is on linkedIn

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