Nigeria’s ruling political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), does not take prisoners. It identifies a target, individual or institution, and goes for the jugular. It has no time for niceties. It does not pretend. It either gets its way or it gets its way. There is no middle course. Between the party and the President, it is difficult to determine which or who is more brazen and vicious in riding roughshod over Nigerians and their sensibilities. The proclivity of the party and its leader would have counted for them only if we are not in a democracy. But are we really in a democracy? Probably, since we organise something that passes for elections at stipulated periods. It feels more like a rule by civilians. Even that is debatable given that we have been ruled by army generals, retired, for almost 16 of the 23 years since the army surrendered power in 1999. We will return to this to elaborate shortly.
But apart from the foregoing unique trait of the ruling party in our opening sentences, APC shares a lot more things in common with the ousted Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Their affinity is not limited to the notorious and vulgar and shameless exchange of personnel as party leaders. Virtually all the current party office holders in the APC including the chairman and secretary of the ruling party were yesterday’s henchmen of the PDP. They were PDP governors, senators, House of Representatives members and party apparatchiks of every hue. The same for the PDP whose current but embattled chairman was a henchman of one of the legacy parties of APC. And because people naturally do not learn how to use their left hands in adulthood, it means that these elements who are swapping positions between the APC and the PDP will not change their habits and behaviours, the platforms notwithstanding. While in the PDP between 1999 and 2015, they believed they would rule Nigeria for ever or at least for 60 unbroken years as the they stated publicly. Now that they are in the APC, that view has not changed. In APC they believe and proclaim that they are here for the long haul irrespective of how Nigerians feel about what they have done with the power entrusted to them almost eight years ago.
With these same characters in charge at the government and party level, Nigeria faces a clear and present danger. While they were in the PDP at the advent of the so-called fourth republic, they were apprentices in the art of holding onto power for eternity, so to speak. They apparently had not learnt any lessons from PRI. By the way, PRI or Institutional Revolutionary Party was a political party in Mexico which was founded in 1929 and held uninterrupted power in that North American country for 71 years, from 1929 to 2000. The party metamorphosed from National Revolutionary Party to the Party of Mexican Revolution before it finally became PRI on January 18, 1946. In Nigeria, the game plan is shaping out differently but the goal of clinging onto power for long years remains the same. Here the same persons using different political party platforms are digging in. They have gathered experience and lessons from their earlier failed outing under the PDP. They are better equipped. They are determined. They are dangerous. And under the new PDP otherwise christened APC, they started very early to put the building blocks in place to perpetuate themselves in power.
The APC demonstrated from the onset that it was seeking power for the sake of it and its then presidential candidate sought the presidency as a trophy to be won, not as a call to sacred duty of superintending over, and improving the lives of hundreds of millions of Nigerians. That was why immediately General Muhammadu Buhari ascended the presidential throne, he promptly repudiated the party platform and its promises on which he rode to power. As if that was not bad enough, the rank and file of members of the new ruling party kept mum. For many of them the presidency was an end in itself. Even those that some Nigerians thought would raise hell studiously kept silent. Indeed, and on the contrary, quite a number of the leading lights of the APC rose in stout and robust defence of Buhari, claiming that the president had his own agenda for the country. In hindsight they feared for their political lives. They refrained from talking because they were looking forward to the day that it will be turn to scream ‘emi lo kan’. That day is here and their screaming was loud and unsettling on the eve of the party’s presidential primary election two months ago when they believed that they were being schemed out of the contest.
The groundwork for the APC plot to hang on to power for as long as possible was laid very early in the life of this regime. Prof. Atahiru Jega was the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] which conducted the 2015 election in which the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan was defeated by Gen. Buhari. After the election, Jega, who the appointer Jonathan said he never knew nor met before the appointment, reportedly declined the offer from Buhari to serve a second term. Jega handed over to one Ambassador Mohammed Ahmad Wali, a national commissioner in the commission. But Buhari, APC and the fledgling cabal in the Presidency would not have any of it. Promptly, Mrs. Amina Zakari, also an INEC national commissioner who was on the eve of the commencement of her terminal leave, was recalled and installed as acting chairman of the electoral body. Hell was let loose. Zakari was alleged to be a relation of Buhari. Some newspapers did a fact check and concluded that going by the definition of the Cambridge English Dictionary which says that a niece is ‘’a daughter of one’s brother or sister, or of one’s brother-in-law or sister-in-law, then Zakari was a niece of the President since Buhari’s sisiter was married to Amina Zakari’s father.
The plot to make a relation of the President the acting chairman of INEC and possibly substantive chairman was aborted. Prof. Mahmood Yakubu was subsequently appointed while Zakari who was named a commissioner by Jonathan returned to her role. She probably was talked out of proceeding on pre-retirement leave. A few years down the line ,in 2019, the same Zakari surfaced again as the commissioner in charge of the presidential election result collation. Another outcry followed but INEC quickly moved in to explain that her role would be largely ceremonial. It will be important to note that in all the brouhaha, nobody impugned the integrity of Mrs. Zakari who is a trained pharmacist and administrator and public servant.
But APC’s unbridled quest to capture INEC was still alive. In October 2020 in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Lauretta Onochie, a one time personal assistant on new media to Buhari and a card carrying member of the APC was nominated by the President as INEC national commissioner in spite of the express provisions of the 1999 Constitution forbidding such. Again, the daggers came out. There was then no longer any doubts that the APC was determined to make INEC an agency of the executive branch of government. Zakari’s case could be regarded as happenstance, but Onochie’s was brazen. In your face. Though Onochie’s nomination failed to pass the Senate screening but something instructive emerged in the process. Senator Bamidele Opeyemi [APC, Ekiti North] said he saw no reason why Onochie’s former job as Buhari’s assistant should be held against her since the INEC chairman himself Yakuku who had worked for Buhari in different capacities in past had been cleared by the same Senate. There had been no further interrogation of the extent of working relationship between Buhari and Yakubu and how that impacts on the perception of Yakubu’s neutrality as the chair of INEC. The INEC under Yakubu conducted the controversial and hotly disputed 2019 presidential election in which Buhari was a candidate.
Nigeria is five months away from another general elections and the APC and Buhari and their cabal are at it again. On the eve of a consequential election, 19 of 36 states of the country have no Resident Electoral Commissioners [RECs]. Some RECs who had been adjudged by many Nigerians to be firm and upright were let go. In the place of the outgone RECs, the President, Gen. Buhari has nominated 19 persons as replacements after screening and approval by the Senate. And now another round of outcries. Against the prescriptions of the Constitution, some of the new nominees have been called out as members of the APC including one who had aspired to governorship office of a state on the platform of the ruling party while some others have been under the cloud of allegations of corruption. Again opposition parties and civil society organisations are up in arms against some of the nominees. It is instructive that nominations into INEC had not been this controversial until the emergence of Gen. Buhari as President. About 171 days to the presidential and national assembly elections more than half of the states of the federation have no RECs. Late last month a ‘’Joint Civil Society Statement On The Appointments Of INEC Resident Electoral Commissioners’’ was published. It read in part: ‘’Evidence abounds that some of the nominees are either partisan, politically aligned, or previously indicted for corruption’’. It proceeded to name names including a nominee who was an APC governorship aspirant in 2015; another who is the younger sister of APC deputy national chairman; and yet another nominee who ‘’gained notoriety for alleged corruption and connivance with politicians to undermine elections’’. Yet another nominee was said to have been suspended from a sensitive position by an APC state government on alleged grounds of incompetence and corruption about six years ago. These are the character profiles of the individuals Buhari has found worthy to superintend elections in 2023. If this action does not demonstrate a determination by Buhari and the APC to capture and compromise INEC, then it will be interesting to know the purpose for it. This explains why some Nigerians scoffed at the recent promise by Buhari to bequeath credible elections to the country. Buhari does not keep his promises and evidence abounds. Election is not an event, it’s a process. Some REC nominees are tainted and the Senate to screen them is on vacation and we have 171 days to elections. It just does not add up.
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