Buhari must arrest erosion of confidence in Nigeria’s 2019 election
In a matter of days from now, on February 16th, Nigeria’s presidential election would be underway. By all standard, that election is a deciding election; so critical to Nigeria that lives and fortunes, unity and progress and development of Nigeria depend on it.
In the history of Nigeria’s democracy, there has never been a time Nigerians intended to participate in the electioneering process like they did for the 2019 election. More than 77 political parties are fielding candidates for the election. 31 political parties fielded presidential candidates. That is to say that there are 31 presidential aspirants. This is the hugest as far Nigerian political participation is concerned.
Hitherto floundering opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) struggled through the court to stabilise and surprisingly conducted primaries which all members accepted. Other opposition parties and candidates also nurtured their ambitions through the ranks, hoping that the will of the power would happen through the ballots.
There had been faith in the process leading to the election until recently. Fears for the credibility of the general elections started late last year after the conduct of Ekiti State Governorship election. There was palpable interference in the process through vote buying. International and local election observers noted that there was undue interference. The ruling party clamped down media houses which reported under dealing in the process. Eventually, the candidate of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) was elected and returned. The opposition party, the PDP, went to the election tribunal, hoping to find justice.
Second was the conduct of Osun State Governorship election. After the election, the opposition party won. But the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said the PDP did not win properly or clearly; that there was a need for a run-off. The ruling party won the run-off by some laughable margin. After all hues and cries, the candidate of the ruling party was declared elected and returned by the INEC. Again, the opposition went to the election tribunal, hoping that the court could grant them some fair hearing.
Concerned stakeholders have cried out, alleging plans by the ruling government to rig the 2019 elections. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo in a recent pubic letter warned that President Muhammadu Buhari wanted to thwart to collective will of the people and urged the world to stand up in defence of democracy in Nigeria. Obasanjo was not alone in this. Other well-meaning Nigerians joined in the calls.
Then comes the forceful suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and immediate swearing in of his purported replacement. Both local and international bodies have expressed displeasure and concern over the manner the CJN, Walter Onnoghen was removed and replaced. But Nigerian government has refused to budge.
A lot of things depend on the Judiciary. If the Judiciary is cowed, it will be right to say that the whole country is cowed. That is why the whole world seems to be concerned about the Judiciary.
The United States reacted to the suspension of Onnoghen. In a statement on Saturday, January 26, 2019 the US embassy in Nigeria said it had taken note of widespread criticisms that the suspension is illegal.
“The Embassy of the United States is deeply concerned by the impact of the executive branch’s decision to suspend and replace the Chief Justice and head of the judicial branch without the support of the legislative branch on the eve of national and state elections, “ the statement read.
“We note widespread Nigerian criticism that this decision is unconstitutional and that it undermines the independence of the judicial branch.
“That undercuts the stated determination of government, candidates, and political party leaders to ensure that the elections proceed in a way that is free, fair, transparent, and peaceful â€“ leading to a credible result.
“We urge that the issues raised by this decision be resolved swiftly and peacefully in accordance with due process, full respect for the rule of law, and the spirit of the Constitution of Nigeria.
“Such action is needed urgently now to ensure that this decision does not cast a pall over the electoral process,” the statement ended.
In a seperate statement, the UK Government also reacted to the suspension of Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Muhammdu Buhari noting the reactions of prominent Nigerians especially the Nigerian legal profession.
In a statement published on the British High Commission to Nigeria’s website on Saturday, January 26, 2019 the UK Government said it calls for peaceful solutions to the apparent constitutional crisis.
“The British High Commission expresses serious concern over the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria. We have heard a wide range of credible and independent voices, including in the Nigerian legal profession and civil society, who have expressed concern over the constitutionality of the executive branch’s suspension of the chief officer of the judiciary.
“We respect Nigeria’s sovereign authority and its right to adjudicate on constitutional provisions but as friends of the Nigerian people, we are compelled to observe that the timing of this action, so close to national elections, gives cause for concern.
“It risks affecting both domestic and international perceptions on the credibility of the forthcoming elections. We, along with other members of the international community, are following developments closely.
“We encourage all actors to maintain calm and address the concerns raised by this development through due process, demonstrating their commitment to respecting the constitution and the impartial administration of the rule of law.
“We further urge them to take steps to ensure that elections take place in an environment conducive to a free, fair and peaceful process,” the statement ended.
Also, in its reaction, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) expressed concern over the process and timing of the suspension.
Its statement reads:
“The European Union was invited by the Independent National Electoral Commission to observe the 2019 general elections.
“The EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) is very concerned about the process and timing of the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Walter Onnoghen, on 25 January.
“With 20 days until the presidential and National Assembly elections, political parties, candidates and voters must be able to have confidence in the impartiality and independence of the judicial system.
“The decision to suspend the Chief Justice has led to many Nigerians, including lawyers and civil society observer groups, to question whether due process was followed. The timing, just before the swearing in of justices for Electoral Tribunals and the hearing of election-related cases, has also raised concerns about the opportunity for electoral justice.
“The EU EOM calls on all parties to follow the legal processes provided for in the Constitution and to respond calmly to any concerns they may have.
“The EU EOM will continue observing all aspects of the election, including the independence of the election administration, the neutrality of security agencies, and the extent to which the judiciary can and does fulfil its election-related responsibilities.”
Also, a presidential candidate, Olawepo Hashim, criticised the president’s action, calling for urgent international sanctions against Mr Buhari and his administration officials.
Mr Olawepo in his statement said Mr Buhari has plunged Nigeria into dictatorship.
“This is a clear indication that we have returned to full blown dictatorship. Following the suspension of the Chief Justice of the Federation, we are seeing full-blown dictatorship in Nigeria. It is an abyss, an aberration and a clear violation of our laws.
“We will not allow Nigeria fall into dictatorship anymore.
“I call on all lovers of Nigeria and lovers of democracy and the international community to immediately impose sanctions on officials of the executive arm of government, their families, including their friends and associates,” Mr Olawepo said.
But Buhari has called all concerns by the foreign bodies, meddlesomeness. Nigerian government has said it refused any foreign ‘interference’. This calls for a concern. The current body language of Muhammadu Buhari is worrisome. This is the same body language of African dictators such as Yahayah Jammeh of Gambia who was forced out by African leaders, including Buhari to give way for Adama Barrow.
We like to reiterate that Buhari is taking wrong steps. Nigeria is strategic and important to both Nigerians and outsiders. One illusion that anybody could habour is to think that everyone would fold their hands and watch one individual destroy the heritage that all have laboured to build. That may be the illusion in the heads of the ruling party in Nigeria. However, we like to state again that the sooner Buhari arrests the current erosion of confidence in the conduct the coming elections and set Nigeria again on the path of democracy, the better for everyone.