From Tinubu to Obasanjo and Buhari


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From Tinubu to Obasanjo and Buhari

May 8, 2003

Office of the Executive Governor of Lagos State
Lagos State


Your Excellency General Olusegun Obasanjo
Your Excellency General Muhammadu Buhari:


Our dear leaders,

I find it necessary to write you this open letter at this very critical period in the history of our country.

This  year's election to effect a civilian to civilian political transition no doubt marks a watershed in the chequered history of democracy in Nigeria. Not many people were convinced that we could successfully carry out the exercise. Many openly expressed the fear that we were doomed to repeat the failures of 1963, 1983 and 1993. By now, the cynics would have expected the country to be up in flames with widespread violence and the military getting set to stage a comeback. But we thank God that the various elections have been conducted peacefully nationwide. That, in itself, is a great achievement for which we must be grateful to the Almighty.

Yet, we cannot pretend that all is well and we do not have a burgeoning crisis on our hands. There have been widespread allegations of malpractice, irregularities and outright rigging in the aftermath of the elections. This is of course natural in any democracy. The important thing is for such grievances to be resolved peacefully so that they don't lead to the disruption of the entire system.

The two of you, our respected statesmen, have taken divergent positions on the election. One of you, General Buhari, along with a number of other candidates, has outrightly rejected the results and called for the cancellation of the elections in specified places. You have called on the international community not to recognize the government of President Obasanjo and even threatened to make the country ungovernable after May 29. On your part, Mr. President, you have naturally maintained that the election was free and fair and have gone ahead to celebrate your 'overwhelming' mandate.

I think there is need for both of you leaders and statesmen to review your positions and make necessary compromises in the interest of the nation.

Afterall, democracy is not about uniformity of thought or unanimity of opinion. At the core of democracy is the right to disagree, and very strongly too; to engage in heated debate and healthy dispute; to hold opposing views without allowing dissent to degenerate into enmity, hatred and violence.

Luckily, both of you are soldiers - Retired Gentlemen/Officers. As members of the military profession, you swore to protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria with your lives if need be. Indeed, both of you fought prominently in the Nigerian Civil War to keep Nigeria one. You were ready to sacrifice even your very existence for the country's cohesion.

If you offered to make the ultimate sacrifice for Nigeria's sake between 1967 and 1970, what sacrifice can you not make now so that the blood of the millions who died during the war to keep Nigeria together will not be in vain? Moreover, you are not just ordinary Nigerians. You have both had the opportunity of presiding over the affairs of Nigeria in the past as heads of State. You therefore have greater stakes in the survival and success of Nigeria as a viable and prosperous nation. You have both contributed too much to the building of Nigeria to watch her disintegrate under your very eyes through a needless and avoidable crisis.

I have no doubt whatsoever, General Buhari, that you have a point in vehemently criticising the perceived irregularities and malpractices in the election. Afterall, you came second in the Presidential Election garnering a substantial 12 million votes. The truth, however, is that it is impossible to have completely hitch-free elections anywhere in the world. Even in the United States of America, the most sophisticated democracy on earth, we all witnessed the controversy that characterised last presidential election.

In the Lagos State governorship election, for instance, I am convinced that there is no way the PDP could have had the 700,000 votes it was said to have scored. Here is a party, which was barely able to make it in only two Local Government Councils on Saturday, April 12 - suddenly "winning" five local governments within a week! I could easily challenge the results especially as the PDP in Lagos State has been making wild and misleading claims on the basis of the exaggerated votes it was said to have scored. But I have chosen to let sleeping dogs lie in the larger interest of peace and the stability of our nascent democracy.

This, General Buhari, is the path I urge you to take. The path of sacrifice in the national interest. Even those who criticised you in the past as a ruthless dictator must agree that you have made a strong point for democracy by coming out to contest the election. You have helped to send the strong signal that the path to power is through the freely expressed will of the people and not the barrel of the gun. Your entry into the race rejuvenated the ANPP and invigorated the process. You gave the incumbent a run for his money and contributed symbolically and concretely to strengthening the country's democratic culture.

I urge you, General, to build on this achievement rather than embark on any course of action that may hurt the country and erode the goodwill you have garnered for yourself. Yes, there were irregularities in the election. Yes, President Obasanjo may not have been re-elected with the number of votes claimed, but the truth is that even if fresh elections are held today, he will still most likely win no matter how slim the margin. The election, no matter how imperfect, therefore, largely reflected the will of Nigerians.

My suggestion, General, is that you accept the results as the verdict of the people and the Will of God. Remain vehement in your condemnation of the malpractices but accept the outcome all the same in the larger interest of Nigeria. That way, you will have written your name indelibly in the country's annals as a statesman. You should then channel your energies to helping to identify and effect necessary reforms in the electoral process to guarantee truly free and fair elections in future. If you ask me, I will not say that you should even challenge the results at the tribunal. That process can be as bitterly fought as the election itself and at the end of the day leave the polity as fractious and heated as ever.

On your part, Mr. President, yours is the challenge of statesmanship. This moment, as you said yourself, calls for magnanimity and humility in victory. I urge you to reach out to General Buhari and other aggrieved candidates. Go to them if need be. Do not believe those who may be asking you to disregard those who are aggrieved. Do not dismiss the allegations that there were malpractices outrightly even though it is notin doubt that you would still have won even if there were no malpractices.

I suggest that you consider setting up a high-powered commission made up of credible Nigerians to investigate the just-concluded elections with a view to identifying and blocking loopholes in the electoral process. For instance, how accurate and credible is the voters' register?  What do we need to do to eliminate distortions in the register? Are there any loopholes or distortions in INEC's data base? How do we correct these? What do we need to do to enable critical institutions in charge of the electoral process function more efficiently and impartially in future?

I am convinced, Mr. President, that once you are seen to be sincere in your commitment to eliminating identified lapses in order to ensure better elections in future, even the most ardent critics of the election will be more re-assured.

These, Mr. President and General Buhari, are my humble suggestions that I believe will reduce the political tension, elimination, acrimony and promote the peace which we all need for the socio-economic progress of our fatherland.


Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu
Executive Governor, Lagos Stat


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