The phone rang twice, and the unusually soft voice of ‘Pere Keni’ beckoned: “Ambassador, come quickly.” It was a moment of tension and anxiety, exactly 8 years ago. The distance of about 5 kilometres was like a day’s journey. Alas, I entered the New Banquet Hall to meet a most sombre and starless ambience; far from the usually relaxed cocktails and merrier throngs. There was Oga, calm and more reflective than usual. Breaking News: “I have called MB to congratulate him already. It’s over. We will not make it. I have to save this country and avoid bloodshed. Go and join to write my speech.” The rest is history.
The Nigerian General Elections 2023, now at cockcrow in the year, has come. For a country of the aggregate bigness and weight as Naija, this, in contrast to most polls of its type, is one of the outstanding events of the time.
But then, the moment comes with mixed cares for all, young and aged. For many, celebratory eruptions but for now few alike, these are days of most troubling thoughts and distressing emotions. Generally, for every winner, especially after a season of unprecedented hardworking and thrilling campaigns, often involving uploading of every financial resource, victory is well deserved, INEC is fantastic, and worthy of global praise. In contrast, most losers, even when no oracular means needs consulting to ascertain what occurred, INEC is evil, deserving highest censure.
Beyond the extremities of co-mingling emotions and outbursts are the ominous foreboding of darkness. This is due to the fact that, once defeat or electoral loss appears apparent, enters the high pitch calls, appallingly from some of the most enlightened, setting the stable on fire by brimstone and mortar. Surprisingly, some of the calls exude from those in the cosy comfort of their adopted homes offshore or gated and protected fortresses in Nigeria.
Early in the day, Nigeria’s political elite need to remind themselves of many things. Amongst many others are:
1. LIFE AFTER THE POLLS: Elections, in the case of our country, come after intervals of four years. In between and obviously, thereafter, majority of the actors will survive through life. Beyond mere existence is the fact, that most political leaders, continue to meet up in life’s purposes and pursuits with each other than most ordinary people will do. In the places of worship, at various levels of national events, at social events or in the plump comfort of VIP sections at airports and not least at Harrods store in London or in Dubai, their unwind destination. In some very interesting cases, their children and those of their chiefest acolytes end up in arranged nuptial locks. So needless, bring down the old order. After all, after just 4 years, there is opportunity to try again and again, thereafter. Abraham Lincoln, (1809-1865) one of the greatest figures ever in world history, was an epitome of failure and quiet resistance until he became President of the United States in 1861 and 1864. Here at home, President Muhammadu Buhari, only became elected President on his fourth attempt in 2015, defeating an incumbent. Those who hope to enter into the election ring must see the value of the cycle as a scheduled sporting activity and not an end in itself.
2. THE IMPERATIVE OF APPRECIATING GOD’S MERCY. In God’s awesome dealing with men, most of our politicians happen to be children of ordinary people, the humblest of folks. Then in the unquestionable and unfathomable display of His Sovereignty, especially in choosing leaders, the Almighty exalts men. Many are greatest in their chosen professional life, captains of industry and men and women of great material well-being. And then there are Counsellors, Special Assistants, Special Advisers, Commissioners and Chairmen. Others get opportunities to become Ambassadors, Ministers, Senators, Governors, Vice Presidents and even Presidents. Yes! It is worth pondering how gracious, kind, and merciful the Almighty has been in a country of over 200 million people. Even more spectacular are the thoughts of more possible show of benevolence from God Almighty if one is able to resist the temporary temptation of inciting anarchy, disorder, and maybe even bloodshed! Or is there no trepidation and frightening realisation of offending the Almighty whom all creeds recognise as the author of peace.
3. SO WILL OGA’S SONS JOIN PROTESTS? It is most appalling to hear people in positions of authority talk about “The Boys.” Indeed, some are already calling for commencement of active engagement by “The Boys.” The fellow human beings so characterized seldom include the sons and daughters of the rich and influential. No, please. Such must stay far away from the fray, from the maddening crowd, and definitely away from conflicts. “The Boys” must come from Ajegunle in Lagos or Nyanyan in Abuja, for example. Sure, from the slums and backwaters of Sokoto, Ibadan, and Port-Harcourt, amongst others. For sure, the selfish and parsimonious people will see nothing wrong in inciting and conscription of “The Boys,” themselves products of the loins and wombs of the poor as cannon fodders. Despicable, condemnable and contemptuous! In the same way that Nigerians showed great abhorrence for election rigging and vote-buying, there is a need for mass rejection of post-election crisis and disorder, using “The Boys.” As responsible good neighbours’ keepers, all must be willing to prevent our hapless youth from putting their lives in harm’s way.
4. WHAT THE LAW CAN DO? A social phenomenon, the Law has many varying, straddling and at times polemical definitions. But a simple lexical worth would render it as “the system of rules which a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and which it may enforce by the imposition of penalties.” Nigeria and country upon country have relied on The Law as the ultimate arbiter of human conduct and existence. It might not have worked satisfactorily and sanctimonious at all times. But in the long run, the law works in dignity and serenity of its order. In 1979, it worked well for Chief Richard Akinjide and his NPN to clinch power. Ditto, just to mention a few, former Anambra Governor and now LP Presidential Candidate Peter Obi in 2007, Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State in 2007, then Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osunin 2010, the “Miracle Governor”, Governor Senator Douye Diri of Bayelsa in 2020, Governor Bello Matawale in 2020 and Governor Hope Uzodinma in 2020. Our Presidential candidates and their crowds should therefore maintain the peace and head to the courts. Who knows, justice may be dispensed much faster and more easily than through other non conventional options.
GOING FORWARD: THE GEJ EXAMPLE.
From the above, our cherished leaders, Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu, Peter Obi, Rabiu Kwankwaso, and the 14 others and their political clans need to learn from the distant and the immediate past. In 1979, Chief Awolowo, who scored 4.9 million votes coming close behind President Shehu Shagari with 5.6 million votes, went to court to challenge the verdict over the question of national spread. Relatedly, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, with his own 2.8 million votes and came third, exercising needed restraint, opted to go into a ‘coalition of the victorious’ sharing the spoils of office.
Just yesterday, in 2015, Goodluck Jonathan, the 14th President of Nigeria, yielded to incumbent President Buhari. Besides prematurely conceding defeat even when the final results were not yet announced, he stood down the decision of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, to go to court to challenge the result. Beyond that, he issued instructions for his campaign billboards, posters, and campaign paraphernalia to be removed immediately from all villages, towns, and cities in Nigeria. He was true to his much-hackneyed dictum: “The blood of no Nigerian is worth my political ambition.”
GEJ, as he is also sobriqueted in some circles, went into a brief period of quiet hibernation and re-emerged into the open stream of global toast and relevance, becoming an itinerant goodwill aambassador and peacemaker. Today, he rides the tide of world stage statesmanship as a humanist of a special genre, perhaps more than most other Nigerian and African leaders.
Let’s all brace up for a peaceful and prosperous Nigeria after the elections, regardless of whoever ultimately emerges. Let’s move on with life and keep building a progressive nation.
Dr. Igali is a retired Ambassador and Administrator