Opinion

Simon Kolawole: Marching On To 2015 Positively…

At a time when Ebola has struck the fear of God into us, it is difficult to find positives around. Someone is coughing or sneezing beside you and you are worried. You don’t want to shake hands. You are washing your hands 20 times per minute. You don’t know if the guy sitting next to you has had a secondary contact with Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian-American who brought the merciless death agent to the country. Suddenly, you realise that some things you hold on to in life are not as important as you think. Life is so brittle. You begin to think Ebola is worse than Boko Haram. The terrorists kill instantly, most of the time. Ebola kills slowly and painfully over a stretch of days.
But then, life goes on. We’re still watching movies and football, and discussing politics and economics. We even held a governorship election along the line – and this forms the basis of our discourse today. For a minute, I was afraid the All Progressives Congress (APC) was going to reject the result of the August 9 governorship election in Osun State. Why? Part of the reasons the party is in court over the Ekiti election is “militarisation” – that “unacceptable and illegal” presence of soldiers on the streets during an election. With the “militarisation” of Osun, I was afraid APC might reject the result and head for the tribunal again. Just kidding. Nobody ever goes to the tribunal after winning an election. You only file a petition if you lose. If you win, the election was free and fair, even if there was “militarisation”. If you lose, you were rigged out. That is how it works.
Seriously, I never had any big doubts about Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola winning the Osun governorship election. Mind you, it had nothing to do with my admiration and respect for him, which I have never hidden. In truth, I consider him to be the best governor the state has had since it was created in 1991, not simply because of what he has achieved but also the direction of his policies and programmes. But I started having doubts about his re-election when I heard he was owing salaries, pensions and compensations just a few months to the election. In any case, it has ended well for him and he has my congratulations.
The Osun election has set me thinking about Nigeria’s progress yet again. On the one hand, I was very sad that we needed maximum security to achieve a peaceful election. Maximum security is still better than what we had in Bauchi in 2011 when youth corps members -along with many other defenceless Nigerians -were murdered in cold blood during the presidential election. If only we had this sort of “militarisation” then, maybe those young souls would not have been murdered. But how can we say we have conducted a free and fair election if we have to deploy maximum security to achieve it each time? That is a big question mark -but we can still be thankful that we did not have to bury anybody, at least.
On the other hand, I was happy with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over the conduct of the election. Its chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, has come under intense pressure and criticism over the years, but I have never doubted his integrity. It is one hell of a job, the type I would never recommend that anyone should do in a fiercely bitter political environment like ours. After the fiasco that was the Anambra governorship election last year, Jega came out, raised up his hand and said INEC performed poorly. This is a rare display of honesty by a Nigerian public officer. But, trust Nigerians, we latched on to his honesty to declare him incompetent and asked him to go. That could be why public officers never openly admit their faults in Nigeria. They would rather say “I have no regrets”. In a civilised society, there should be nothing wrong with accepting your vulnerability and promising to make amends.
INEC looks better organised now, but I have my worries about the ability of the body to handle elections in 36 states and FCT simultaneously. Conducting governorship elections one state at a time is a different proposition altogether. That luxury will not be on the shelf in February 2015. The optimist will say if it could be done in one state, it could be repeated in other states. The pessimist will say it is practically impossible for the electoral body to deliver the same level of efficiency in 36 states at a time. The experience from previous general elections is not in favour of optimists. That is why many observers are not carried away by the success of INEC in, most recently, Ekiti and Osun States. I would rather see this as a challenge for INEC. It still has time to duplicate its success next year. It is all about good planning.
Meanwhile, I know it is criminal to give any credit to President Goodluck Jonathan. The popular narrative is that he has never done anything good -and can do no good. But having witnessed five governorship elections since 2011, I would say, with some caution, that we have moved from where we found ourselves in the past -the era of hijacking ballot boxes, massive thumb-printing and falsification of results. True, we have battled with late arrival of materials, late voting, mixed-up voter register and a large dose of logistical nightmare, but I am seeing less and less of sexing-up of figures which used to be our main headache in times past. In fact, not one soul has been lost in any election since 2012. There has been no report of violence or falsification of results. I’m loving it.
Okay, I am aware that the PDP candidate in Osun State, Dr. Iyiola Omisore, complained of “pre-election manipulation” by an INEC commissioner. Maybe he had a point, I don’t know. I suspect he was just trying to be a copycat, stretching very hard to match APC in the propaganda game. His allegations looked so weak to me that I did not even giving them a second look. Nevertheless, it is not that everybody agrees that the five governorship elections I’ve been talking about were free and fair -there were allegations of “photochromic rigging”, “rigging from source”, “scientific rigging” and such like -but on the balance, I have heard many non-partisan observers conclude that the elections were decent and the results were reflective of the reality on the ground.
Even though I am delighted with what I have seen so far, I am not too eager to conclude that the 2015 elections will be like the ones we’ve been holding since 2012. But I am hopeful. Hopeful that the era of multiple thumb-printing, ballot-hijacking and vote-falsification has become history. Hopeful that the new-found zeal of Nigerians in trooping out very early in the morning to vote will not die down. Hopeful that the security agencies will continue to provide only security, and not rigging, at polls. Hopeful that we will find a new lease of life. We must overcome our demons and move on to confront the other challenges tying us down as a nation.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS

STRIKING AND SACKING
In my reckoning, doctors come next to God. They save lives. Unfortunately in Nigeria, we do not give doctors the level of comfort and encouragement they need to do the job. Unfortunately, too, doctors have forgotten that saving lives is more important than anything else – so they go on “indefinite strike” at any given opportunity. And it is the poor people that suffer the consequences all the time. President Goodluck Jonathan has curiously followed Governor Babatunde Fashola’s example by sacking all resident doctors. Will it solve this strike problem once and for all -like it did in Lagos? Watching…

BRING BACK OUR BOYS
I was about to ask which is worse -Ebola or Boko Haram -when I heard the news that the insurgents have kidnapped 100 young men, in fact most of them boys, in Doron Baga, Borno State. You can guess quiet conveniently that these young men are going to be conscripted into the terror army. It may suggest that Boko Haram is running out of foot soldiers. However, the biggest hint is that we are still far away from victory over these militants. Our military is recording victories here and there, but we are not near shouting ‘Uhuru’ yet. Sad.

ADAMAWA DRAMA
Hon. Ahmadu Fintiri, Adamawa speaker who became acting governor after the impeachment of Murtala Nyako, has indicated interest in running for the governorship in the October 11 bye-election. I can’t believe this. The man is supposed to be a caretaker -that is why constitution says election must be held within 90 days. Now he wants to, opportunistically, hold on to power. We are now beginning to see the evils associated with selfish impeachment. If Fintiri succeeds, other speakers who want to become governors will have a fast track: impeach the governor and deputy and grab power by any means possible. Bizarre.

ATM SHYLOCK
Nigeria is a special country. In other countries, regulators work hard to protect consumers from exploitation. But the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), under the leadership of Mr. Godwin Emefiele, is turning things upside down. He has just directed banks to start charging non-customers for using their ATMs. This charge was abolished by the banks themselves three years. Banks that are already declaring billions of naira in profit every year while their MDs fly in private jets all over the world are about to get richer, courtesy the ruthless CBN. In whose interest? Disgusting.

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Article written By Simon Kolawole, and Culled from Thisday Newspaper.. Email: [email protected]

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