A Ballot On The Right Hand, Cudgel On The Left


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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A Ballot On The Right Hand, Cudgel On The Left



Sonala Olumhense



culled from GUARDIAN, November 12, 2006


Last week, Ibrahim Bademasi Babangida, widely-known in Nigerian politics as IBB, again jolted himself into the political consciousness of Nigerians. He obtained his party's presidential nomination forms, an activity treated by the media as one of considerable significance.


For those who forget quickly, IBB was the man who led Nigeria from 1985 to 1993. During that period, some Nigerian citizens, including this writer, say that IBB single-handedly rewrote the history of our nation - in the downward direction.

Some of us swear that IBB's greatest contribution in office was the nurturing of the phenomenon of corruption. IBB began his era of infamy by choosing to restructure Nigerian politics from the ground up. Repudiating the past, he breathed life into two political parties that were supposedly designed to offer the people a choice. One party was "a little to the right," the other, "a little to the left."


So successful was his scheme, into which billions of Naira was invested, that in 1993, Nigerians who had invested their energies and hopes in the process were rewarded with the most credible elections in the nation's history. It was then that IBB, who had evidently hoped that the process would collapse, permitting him to continue in office, annulled the elections, crumpling the results like a soiled piece of paper.


This is why it is something of an irony that, 13 years later, as the nation struggles from some of the problems that he personally inflicted upon it, IBB is investing in the same political process that he infamously scuttled. I hear he expectes to contest the election, hopes that it will be free and fair, and that somebody will not annul it and send him either to oblivion or to his death.

To which I say, only in hell! Nigerians may look indifferent, maybe even completely stupid sometimes, but they are not.

Only in hell will IBB fearlessly and confidently campaign for office throughout Nigeria, and not only survive that process, but actually win. Only in hell will he spend his untold, unspoken-some say, unspeakable-wealth on behalf of himself, and win. Only in hell will IBB ride to Eagle Square on May 29, 2007, and ride back out as the President.


This does not mean that I count him out. He may yet have help, including that of his friend, President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has himself offered us not one reason to trust him further than we can yell a collective "No!" into his ears. As Nigerians now know, unless each puts his hands-palms up-on top of a table, nobody ought to trust that each has five fingers, nor that they are all present.


Oh yes, IBB may have help, including the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). To begin with, the Chairman of INEC, Professor Maurice Iwu, has declared that he will not permit foreign electoral observers, as though their role went beyond helping to ensure that voting is what it is said to be. Monitors are not needed, he has said pompously, because Nigeria is a sovereign state, not a banana republic.


To make matters even more interesting, INEC began its much-awaited voters' registration on October 25. Right away, it began to appear more laughable than one of those television "Night of 1000 Laughs." Despite its much-talked about preparedness, INEC reportedly deployed only 33,000 of the Direct Data Capturing Machine for our 120,000 polling booths nationwide.

Even that number was not proving to be of much use. In some centres, registration officials did not know how to fix the machines when there was a problem, and some of them reported software glitches. In Yola, the machine still required 15 attempts before obtaining a usable picture of the man.


More often, however, the crisis was not software, but hardware: the batteries that were said to be capable of an eight-hour life routinely ran out faster than an IBB campaign speech. Registration officials had no spares, either!

These problems, by the way, are in addition to the usual menu: officials arriving late, lack of materials, and public ignorance of registration procedure. I am sure that Professor Iwu has thought the entire situation through, and dismissed any fears he can complete the registration exercise at the end of this month, or organize credible elections in a few months. Last Tuesday, instead of being in the trenches, he was personally drafting a politically-correct condolence note in response to the ADC air crash.

Somewhere, IBB is probably just smiling through that large gap in his dentition. He certainly does not sound worried, for which he probably has a good reason. He has been "threatened" by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC), but he has yet to exhibit any pangs of fear. Indeed, he has practically asked the Commission to get behind him, and the Commission has so far failed to get in front of him.


This suggests that IBB knows something the rest of us might not. He is innocent until proven guilty, but it might well be that he is confident the EFCC, despite its big talk in front of cameras, will not bite you unless you are biting President Obasanjo. Either that, or IBB has somehow received the reassurance that the bad news the EFCC has been promising some aspiring office-holders will not be extended to him.


The immediate meaning of this would be that even before the EFCC publishes its sleaze scorecard, IBB already knows he is a free man. Regrettably, this is the current image of the Commission, a character it was never expected to have. The blame would have to go to the EFCC Chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, who says far more than he achieves, and promises more than he delivers. At this point, Mr. Ribadu is as much a danger to the political process as those he putting in front of the firing squad.

In this one respect, IBB is right; no Nigerian ought to be made to look guilty in public if he is not, or if he knows his way around. IBB belongs in one of those categories and no other.


There are other reasons to worry about 2007, including the Nigeria Police. One of the trophies Obasanjo brandishes around the world as a symbol of the success of his so-called anti-corruption drive is that former Inspector-General Tafa Balogun was found guilty of corruption. Of course he does not tell the world that a man who was found to have embezzled so ruthlessly received only a jail term of six months. Six months is not even enough for a man in Kirikiri shake hands with his own boys that were sent there for not parting with appropriate checkpoint percentages.


In any event, the Nigeria Police is in worse shape today than before 1999, and before it was used as a key instrument for election rigging in 2003. Is the Police capable of supporting credible elections, or will it be fighting for favored candidates and parties?


Speaking of credibility, the Obasanjo administration has continued to lose whatever drops of it remained. While IBB was penning "Presidential candidate" under his name last week, the story was breaking worldwide that OBJ's key assistant, Nnamdi Uba, had been indicted in the United States for laundering money by means of the presidential jet. Worse still, a part of the loot was used to buy equipment for Obasanjo Farms.


This revelation is fully in step with the picture of an ethical vacuum in the presidency that Atiku Abubakar has been trying to describe, a vacuum that sees presidential aides making routine forays to official bank accounts like Super Falcons attackers in front of the Cameroon goalkeeper. The President, I hear, will soon be taking his credibility crisis before the Senate Committee probing the Petroleum Trust Development Fund account. Not exactly the ideal work-day plan of an "anti-corruption" crusader.

It is the moment of truth for the Nigerian voter. If he does wish to rid himself of his shackles, he must plan, and be vigilant. In the back of his head, he needs an extra pair of eyes, one of which must stay awake. In his left hand, he must refuse to be denied of that voter's card. In the right hand, I recommend a cudgel.


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