Human rights and post-2019 presidency

Casting a vote during Nigerian elections. Photo The Guardian

At the weekend, I got into a very lengthy conversation with my younger brother currently based abroad and who left Nigeria when his life became endangered by open threats made by some Islamists responsible for the spate of violent attacks targeting largely Christian communities in the North of Nigeria. Our conversations centred around the deteriorated security situations not just in Nigeria but in a lot of regional neighbouring communities making up the West African nations otherwise known as Economic Community of West African States. 

There is also no doubt that Nigeria is the epicenter of the expanding frontiers of Islamic terrorism. But what really triggered this mutual but frank dialogue was the emergence on Sunday noon of the erstwhile vice president Alhaji Abubakar Atiku as the official standard bearer of the largest opposition political party in the sub-Saharan African region – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Other notable Nigerians who are flying the presidential flags of some of the newly registered political parties include the former Vice President of the World’s Bank and erstwhile Education minister, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili; former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and a Professor of Economics in a U.S. based university, Dr. Kingsley Moghalu and the former governor of Cross Rivets State, Mr. Donald Duke. 

Emeka, my very brilliant younger sibling is a philosopher by academic qualification and an illustrious human rights practitioner.  He is one of the intellectuals backing and participating actively and constructively in the agitations for self-determination in Nigeria of the Igbo nationality as coordinated by a completely peace loving and unarmed group of human rights activists – Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). In addition to threats of death from government agents involved in the enforced disappearances of reputable opponents of the political status quo in Nigeria, Nigeria has become polarized alongside ethno religious fault lines. 

This highly cerebral philosopher brother of mine was basically concerned about the re-emergence as president for a second tenure of one of Nigeria’s most divisive and bigoted political leaders – the retired Army General Muhammadu Buhari in the year 2019 general elections. Put differently, Emeka asked to know the post-2019 human right agenda of the President who would emerge if a transparent election is conducted. His question is how the Nigerian people can basically safeguard the sanctity of the forthcoming election given the notoriety displayed by the central electoral governing and management council known in law as the Independent National Electoral Commission.

His anxiety about the lack of credibility of the current head of the independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is also shared by millions of Nigerians who watched with considerable trepidation as the electoral umpire rigged the recently held Osun State governorship poll.

Two United States senators, Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have raised concerns about the credibility of elections in Nigeria following allegations of political interference in the latest governorship polls. Coons and Booker said in a joint statement that though the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had been commended by observers for its conduct of the recent polls, concerns remained about the prospects of free and fair elections in the country.

The statement read, “As members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we are troubled by reports of incidents of political interference and intimidation of voters, journalists, and civil society observers in Nigeria by some security agencies and political party supporters. Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and a key U.S. partner on the continent. “While domestic and international election observers have credited electoral authorities for their administration of elections thus far, we are concerned about the prospects for a free, fair and credible democratic process in Nigeria in light of recent interference by government security forces on peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, as well as ongoing security threats and communal tensions in several regions of the country. “General elections in February 2019 will be an important step for Nigeria to consolidate democratic gains achieved in the last two decades since the transition from military to civilian democratic rule. We are watching the parties’ primaries with interest, and we call on party leaders, electoral authorities, security officials, and all Nigerians to respect the political process and safeguard free, fair, credible, and peaceful elections that reflect the will of the people.”

Recall that governorship elections were held on September 22 in Osun State and won by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) after initially being declared inconclusive by INEC after PDP led. After the voting on September 22, the candidate of the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ademola Adeleke, had won the majority of votes. He was followed by the APC candidate, Gboyega Oyetola. But INEC declared the election inconclusive and conducted a rerun on September 27. After adding up the votes, Oyetola was declared winner by INEC. The failure to declare PDP the winner is extra constitutional because the constitution says simple majority is the deciding factor for electoral victory in that category.

INEC had also awarded the APC victory in an earlier controversial governorship poll in Ekiti State on July14. In both elections, PDP and other opposition elements alleged foul play and interference by the ruling APC. The worries expressed by these two United States’ parliamentarians cuts across the feelings of millions of Nigerians who have similar sentiments that there is no assurance that the electoral panel will be transparent and ready to conduct a free, fair, peaceful and transparent general elections come 2019.

As observed by these Americans, the interferences into the election come majorly from the security forces. The apprehensions that the current heads of the internal security team will compromise the election finds supports in the fact that almost all the current heads of the different armed security institutions owed their unmerited retention to the current president who is desperate for a second tenure.

There is therefore the imperative demand that the fuller intents of Section 158 (1) of the constitution is respected which means that whatever measures that are needed to be enforced to guarantee independence of the electoral commission should be put in place. Whereas the fundamental concern of my younger brother was on who is best suited to restore national stability and the security of lives and property of Nigerians, it is as clear as the early morning sunrise that the Buhari–led administration has failed in the discharge of the primary duty of government.

The primary duty of government as enshrined in Section 14 (2) (b) of the constitution is as follows: “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” It is a fact that hundreds-of-thousands of Nigerians have left the shores of Nigerian since the emergence of the current government just as those who had earlier left due to security threats have found concrete, genuine, verifiable reasons to remain where they are or risks their lives by returning at this material time.

In Benue State alone, more than 1,500 persons have been killed in the last three years due to the bloody insurgency of armed Fulani herdsmen who enjoy the protection of the current administration. Plateau state has been in turmoil due largely to the violent insurgency of armed Fulani herdsmen. Southern Kaduna and Nasarawa neighbouring Abuja has had their shares of these murderous and targeted killings of Christians.  Both in words and action, key functionaries of the current government have clearly backed the activities of the armed Fulani gangsters. 

The minister of Defence was quoted as blaming the anti-open grazing laws in Benue State for the bloody attacks by Fulani herdsmen. Dan-Ali the Fulani born minister of Defence had told state house reporters that the blockage of cattle routes across the country is the remote cause of the killings by herdsmen. “Whatever crisis that happens at anytime, there are remote and immediate causes. Look at this issue (killings in Benue and Taraba) what is the remote cause of the farmers’ crisis? Since the nation’s independence, we know there used to be a route whereby the cattle rearers take because they are all over the nation. If you go to Bayelsa or Ogun, you will see them. If those routes are blocked, what do you expect will happen? These people are Nigerians. It is just like one going to block the shoreline; does that make sense to you? But the immediate cause is the grazing law.”

Mansur Dan-Ali, in the aforementioned thoughtless statement has demonstrated the callous insensitivity of the Buhari’s administration to the violence unleashed on Nigerians by armed Fulani herdsmen.  This also shows why the major organisation backing the Fulani herdsmen known as Miyetti Allah Cattle Owners Association, has yet to be declared a terrorist group even when they back the killings.
To be continued on tomorrow.
Onwubiko is Head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

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