The political atmosphere is getting charged as both the ruling party and the opposition group size up each other in the contest for the ultimate prize in 2015. Who gets the nod? The coast looks messy for now
| By Olu Ojewale | Jun. 17, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
THE much expected fireworks between political rivals ahead of 2015 appear to be gaining momentum. As such, both the ruling party and the opposition are now in the game to outdo one another ahead of the 2015 general elections. In the past few months, the opposition parties, led by the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, and the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, which are fusing into one mega party known as All Progressives Congress, APC, have seen nothing good in the programmes and policies of President Goodluck Jonathan. All the opposition seems to do now is to make the president look incompetent and uncaring. Even the recent declaration of a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states by the president to dislodge Boko Haram insurgents in the north, has received nothing but condemnation from members of the opposition.
One of such criticisms came from Muhammadu Buhari, retired major general and former presidential candidate of the CPC in the 2011 presidential election, who views the state of emergency as an assault on the northern states. Buhari criticised the emergency rule, likening it to waging a war on the northerners. He claimed that the military deployed in the troubled states were killing innocent civilians indiscriminately. Speaking at a Liberty FM Hausa Service Programme, Guest of the Week, on Sunday in Kaduna, June 2, he said that Boko Haram members were being killed and their houses demolished unlike the “special treatment” given to the Niger Delta militants by the federal government.
Buhari, who blamed President Jonathan for failing to tackle the security problems in the country, alleged that the security challenge started in the Niger Delta and that it was the failure of government to tackle it that gave rise to other security challenges. “The Niger Delta militants started it all. What happened is that the governors of the Niger Delta at that time wanted to win their elections, so they recruited youths and gave guns and bullets to them to use against their opponents to win elections by force. After the elections, they asked the boys to return the guns, and the boys refused to do so. Because of that, the allowances that were being given to them by the governors were stopped.”
For many Nigerians the criticism by Buhari was unbecoming of someone who wants to lead a democratic Nigeria. They also criticised the former military head of state for showing ethnic bias in his condemnation of the emergency rule. The CPC, which Buhari heads, had earlier supported the president’s decision, but later followed the ACN to criticise it. Lai Mohammed, the ACN scribe, had described the president’s decision as “lacking in original thinking.” He thus, asked the president to resign if he could not come up with a better idea. Mohammed also argued that the Boko Haram crisis would have ended a long time ago if the use of force was the best option. “We hereby reject the declaration of emergency rule in the three states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, and we call on the National Assembly to also reject it and not allow itself to be used to rubber-stamp a declaration that is largely cosmetic,” Mohammed said in a statement.
The Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, a northern socio-cultural group, also criticised the president for resorting to the use of force to resolve the crisis. The Forum said the emergency rule would render the proposed dialogue with the sect impossible. Although nothing has shown that the military action in the troubled states is unpopular among Nigerians, the opposition has not renounced its stand against it. President Jonathan similarly played into the hands of the opposition May 29, when, during the Democracy Day celebration, he gave an account of his stewardship in the past two years with a booklet in which he enumerated his achievements. He urged Nigerians to read the booklet and develop a fair marking scheme to assess his performance. In their reaction, opposition parties dismissed Jonathan’s assessment of his administration, saying the president has performed woefully.
They also said that Nigerians did not need a marking scheme to assess the Jonathan administration. Both the ACN and the ANPP faulted the president’s assessment of his administration. Mohammed, in a statement, said it was not the business of the opposition to spoon-feed the administration on how to govern, but it was incumbent on the opposition to tell Jonathan that things have been on the downward spiral since he assumed office. The statement said in part: “Mr. President, Nigerians need no marking scheme to know that the rate of unemployment went up, under your watch, to an unprecedented 23.9 percent by December 2011, according to figures given by the National Bureau of Statistics. Today, the figure must be hovering above the 50 percent mark!”
On security, the party said the Jonathan administration has not done well either. “Nigerians need no marking scheme to know that under your watch, security of lives and property, and the welfare of the citizens – the raison d’￪tre of any government – are at the lowest ebb,” he said, adding: “What marking scheme does one need to know that despite the seemingly impressive economic figures being reeled out by your administration, the average Nigerian is worse off today than he or she was before you assumed office?”
Making reference to ONE, the Washington-based global advocacy and campaign organisation, which listed Nigeria and Democratic Republic of the Congo among “laggard countries” pulling Africa back from reaching the millennium development goals, MDG, by 2015, the ACN said all these pointed to the fact that Jonathan has not been doing well. “This global body did not use any ‘Jonathan-style marking scheme’ to name Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Ghana and Ethiopia as the top performing countries in Africa (on the MDGs), even when they are less endowed than Nigeria,” it said.
On its part, the ANPP, which reacted through Emma Eneukwu, its spokesman, said it was not impressed by Jonathan’s assessment. “Performance is like a pregnancy that cannot be hidden. Where did he perform? Is it power, security, job creation, corruption or other infrastructural developments? The President knows that he has failed Nigerians. Note that it is non-performance of the president that pushed him to aggression and fighting imaginary enemies; a performing president moves with an air of confidence knowing that the people are on his side,” the party said.
But the Presidency has fought back. It described the statements credited to the opposition political parties on the mid-term performance of Jonathan as reckless and irresponsible. Ahmed Gulak, special adviser to the president on political matters, said contrary to the position of the opposition parties, Jonathan had achieved so much in the two years of his administration. “The ANPP, ACN, Congress for Progressive Change and other political parties are just making statements that are reckless and irresponsible,” Gulak said. He enjoined Nigerians to ignore the opposition parties and assess the president on his achievements. “Nigerians should be the ones to be talking and not the ACN and others that will never see anything good in this administration,” he said.
Indeed, that seems to be the situation with the opposition, which sees the hand of the ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in their own problems as well. Sometime in March this year, the ACN, CPC, ANPP, and a faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, woke up to learn that two other parties wanted to register with the same acronym they had adopted for the mega party. The merging parties pointed an accusing finger at the PDP.
The spokesmen for both the ACN and the CPC accused the PDP of being behind the proxy parties. Kayode Fashakin of the CPC, said: “We shall show to the Nigerian people nay, the whole world, that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is indeed, in collusion with the ruling party, to extirpate any vestige of constitutional democracy from Nigeria’s political space,” adding that PDP’s subterranean move to scuttle the merger had boomeranged. “They are unaware that their plot to surreptitiously lay this subterfuge as an impediment for the emergence of the new mega party would be unravelled at such an early stage,” Fashakin said.
But Olisa Metuh, national publicity secretary of the PDP, denied the plot or any association with founders of the other parties. In a statement, the PDP spokesman said in part: “our attention has been drawn to unfounded, spurious and vexatious reports making the rounds in some online media claiming that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is behind the identity tug of war by groups claiming the APC acronym … However, in view of the mischievous dimensions these rumours have assumed, especially within a section of the online media, the PDP wishes to categorically state as follows: To the best of our knowledge, no member of the PDP is involved in the formation of any other political organisation, neither are we interested in the activities of any other party.”
The ghost of that accusation and counter-accusation has been put to rest for now as All Progressives Congress, APC, goes ahead with its merger plan and eventual registration later in the year. But what seems to sustain the brick-bats is the determination of the opposition to project the ruling party, nay, President Jonathan in bad light. In fact at the height of the controversy, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and one of the leaders of the APC, called on Jonathan to immediately resign for his failure to curtail the worsening insecurity challenges bedevilling the country. “If it is happening in these other states for some of these years and you have not gathered enough intelligence to nip it in the bud, you have failed, please resign; you cannot continue to blame one IGP or the other,” Tinubu said.
Recently, at another forum, the APC leader told the PDP that it would soon be part of history. “We have left them behind. They will soon be past history. They can’t let their record speak for themselves because it will only say bad things about them,” Tinubu said.
The controversial election of Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State as chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, on March 24, has provided the opposition another weapon to take a swipe at the president and his party. Although Amaechi is of the ruling party, his face-off with the president over 2015 presidential election, in which he is believed to have interest, has made him the darling of the opposition political parties, who pitched their tent with him to defeat Jonathan’s choice. Governor Kayode Fayemi, who had earlier said that the APC governors supported Amaechi to defeat Jonathan, warned in a newspaper interview June 5, that all the governors who voted for Amaechi would resist any action to remove their elected chairman from office.
“To the best of my knowledge, we have only one authentic and legitimate Nigeria Governors’ Forum, which is led by Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, who won the election. Nigerians can see that he was the one who won the election and it is not only the governors who voted for him that could see that… I hope good reason would prevail and I know that discussions are ongoing between elements on both sides and ultimately, it is my humble opinion that we would stop ridiculing ourselves before Nigerians,” Fayemi said.
Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State, the preferred candidate of Jonathan and the PDP, scored 16 votes in the election which Amaechi won with 19 votes. Jang has since opened an office in Abuja, as chairman of the Forum, with Vice President Namadi Sambo and 15 governors who voted for him in attendance. The effect of that division looks like an albatross for the ruling party, which has been grappling with internal revolt against itself.
The party has been experiencing fractures in the South-West and some northern parts of the country over leadership positions and the president’s second term ambition. This prompted Bamanga Tukur, national chairman of the party, to issue a statement on Monday, June 3, that the PDP would henceforth invoke relevant provisions of its constitution to deal with “saboteurs and agents of destabilisation” in its fold. Tukur said: “People say we have crises in our party. It may appear so, but that also shows that democracy is at play in the way we conduct our affairs. We are a family and, like any family, we can disagree and then agree. We have mastered the game. That is the reason we have been afloat.”
He said further: “Everybody is talking about 2015 with the expectations that we must win fairly and transparently. How can we achieve that if certain members of the party go against the rules with impunity, while nothing happens? We have had enough of inconsistencies and loose conducts. Today, we say that must stop, to avoid distractions in our desire to retain power by 2015.”
But the party seems to be dragging itself further into controversy and division. At the Thursday, May 30, dinner held in Abuja, Tony Anenih, chairman, Board of Trustees, BoT, of the PDP, proposed to the party to grant automatic ticket to President Jonathan for the 2015 presidential election. He also said that governors serving their first term on the platform of the party be exempted from the party’s primaries ahead of the next election. “I do not see anything wrong if the party grants automatic tickets to its President and governors, who are seeking a second term. With President Jonathan’s achievements in the power sector and others, I don’t think the party should find it difficult to give him an automatic second term ticket,” Anenih said.
The dinner organised for PDP chiefs at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, which ended in the early hours of Friday, had in attendance Jonathan, David Mark, senate president, Aminu Tambuwal, speaker of the House of Representatives, Tukur, state governors, members of the National Assembly and other party chiefs. Jonathan, in his remarks, boasted that despite the ranting of the opposition political parties, the PDP would continue to win elections in the country.
“They (members of opposition parties) will conspire but PDP will continue to win elections. Nobody should be scared of conspiracy because it will linger in politics. All what we have to do is to work together and resolve our differences and move forward,” he said. The president insisted that the PDP was not about an individual, and therefore asked members to remain united. He said since disagreements could not be completely eliminated, the ability to resolve such differences should be paramount.
Mark, on his part, admitted that the party had some challenges but appealed to all members to ensure that the challenges were put behind them so that the party could retain its position. But for the party to remain united ahead of the 2015 elections, it would have the likes of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar to contend with. Reacting to Anenih’s proposal to give Jonathan an automatic ticket, Abubakar, who is believed to be nursing presidential ambition, kicked against it. In a statement issued by his media office in Abuja, on Saturday, June 2, Abubakar said the principle for which he opposed what he described as a “travesty of democracy” had not changed. “My position remains that as far as the PDP constitution is concerned, any attempt to change the party’s rule to favour the president as a sole candidate in the event of his willingness to re-contest, is unconstitutional. The contest should be open to all desiring to pursue an ambition on the platform of the PDP,” Atiku said.
While acknowledging that President Jonathan is entitled to seek the party ticket in 2015, he, however, insisted that Jonathan should submit himself to a transparent and fair process just like any other party member. And that any attempt to impose the president on the party would be sending a wrong message to Nigerians about its commitment to conduct free and fair elections in the country.
Apart from Atiku, the ACF also picked hole in Anenih’s proposal saying it is undemocratic. The forum in a statement by Anthony Sani, national publicity secretary, said the proposal was clearly against the provisions of the Electoral Act on internal democracy within political parties. “The Electoral Act does not allow candidates by consensus. And that is why even if the candidate is only one; there must be yes or no votes by the delegates,” Sani said, and went further: “ACF has always maintained that democracy may differ in forms. But when it comes to its three elements of liberty, justice and common decency, democracy is the same. So those who seek to redefine the three elements of democracy can as well reinvent the wheel and redefine evil. The ruling PDP controlled government together with our state governors cannot feign ignorance of the fact that their mandate includes providing order and direction for our democracy to grow and mature. Failure to do this will be counted against their leadership.”
In the same vein, Ango Abdullahi, a professor and secretary of the Northern Elders Forum, faulted the recommendation by Anenih that automatic ticket be given to Jonathan and first term governors of the party. Abdullahi said the move was not only undemocratic but was also in violation of the party’s constitution, which provides for primary election. He described the postulation as a desperate move to edge out other presidential aspirants of the party in the run-up to 2015.
Julius Ihonvbere, secretary to Edo State Government and a political activist, described the call for automatic tickets for Jonathan and PDP governors as undemocratic and satanic. Ihonvbere, who was a special adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo, said that the proposal was the usual style of Anenih. “When they are afraid of competition they look for short cut. It is one way of telling people don’t even bother. But that is not in the PDP constitution or in the constitution of Nigeria. And it does not help democratic development, it does not help democratic contestation; it does not help the strengthening of political institutions. If they have performed, their records will stand for them and they will win,” he said.
It appears performance is not the only thing standing between President Jonathan and the party’s ticket. Reports said all the moves launched by him to get northern leaders to support him ahead of the 2015 presidential election appear to have, so far, failed to yield positive results. The president was said to have sent an emissary to the NEF at a meeting in Abuja, recently, but was rebuffed. The northern leaders were said to have told the emissary, a senior presidential aide, that they would rather support one of their own for the next presidential election.
The president’s envoy was said to have told the NEF that the presidency was willing to take urgent steps to correct perceived imbalances in the polity, which the northerners were complaining about, including the threat by Asari Dokubo, former Niger Delta militant, who recently vowed that Jonathan must be re-elected or there would be bloodshed in the country. But the elders were said to have pointedly rejected any appeasement, telling the president’s aide that they were not interested in working with him anymore. “We have seen enough of Jonathan in the last four years or so. We do not believe that there is any more magic he will bring to salvage Nigeria,” one of them was quoted as saying.
“We made it clear to the emissary that if we continued to support him beyond 2015, Nigeria would be thrown into more corruption, insecurity, poverty and misery in the midst of rising oil revenue. We also told the man sent by the president that his actions and utterances are pro-Ijaw and that he could seek new allies from other parts of the country to actualise his political ambition in the next polls,” the source said further.
Despite its own internal problems, the PDP believes that it is better structured than the APC opponent. It said that the merging parties do not have the capacity to hold primaries to choose those who would be contesting on its platform in 2015. It said if the APC held primaries, many of its supporters would be angry with the outcome and this would tear the party apart. “We challenge the opposition also to be bold enough to hold primaries when the time comes. Many of those singing praises of the alliance will be betrayed and victimised by the godfathers and it will dawn on them that they have been deceived,” Metuh said in a statement in Abuja on Sunday, June 2.
But the APC has said it is not afraid of conducting primaries. It said Nigerians believed in it because they know they would not give automatic ticket to any aspirant. Speaking for the APC, Fashakin said the PDP was already afraid of the party even when it had yet to take off fully. “It is good that the PDP is acknowledging that fact that we are going to do primaries. This is different from what you have in the PDP where its leaders are already saying that there won’t be any primaries and that they already know who will be their candidates. Tell them that they do not need to fear and panic too much now. What is, however, certain is that come 2015, Nigerians would say bye-bye to this clueless and visionless regime,” Fashakin said.
The plot to remove the president is not confined only to the opposition political parties. Even within his party, there are some members who have come out with a bill that will make it easy to remove the president without any elaborate processes as spelt out in the constitution. Hence, a Bill seeking absolute power to solely initiate and execute impeachment proceedings against a sitting president to rest with the National Assembly scaled through its second reading on the floor of the House of Representatives, on Tuesday, June 4. The proposed legislation intends to amend Section 143 of the 1999 constitution.
The Bill sponsored by Emmanuel Jime, chairman, House Committee on Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and Yakubu Dogara, a member, aims at removing “ambiguities in the process of removal of the President and the Vice President from office on allegations of gross misconduct and provide for a more transparent and democratic procedure for impeachment and for other matters.”
Indeed, Section 143 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) elaborately provides for the procedure of impeaching the president and, or the vice president, but the sponsors of the amendment argued that there were a lot of defects and ambiguities in the constitutional provision.
Dogara, in his submission, quoted several authorities including the United States constitution, which vests the powers to impeach a sitting president exclusively on the parliament. He argued that one of the defects in the provision was that the only basis to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president as enshrined in the Constitution was for “gross misconduct,” which he said, was not clearly defined.
On his part, Jime said the proposed piece of legislation would address constitutional challenges that the lawmakers were finding difficult to address. For instance, he said in Section 143(11) ‘gross misconduct’ “means a grave violation or breach of the Constitution or a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion of the National Assembly to gross misconduct.” The lawmaker also faulted the provision that the Chief Justice of the country should be the one to raise a panel to investigate the allegations of gross misconduct against the president or the vice president. “How can the Chief Justice, who himself is an appointee of the president be the one to set up a panel to investigate the allegations? he asked.
But opponents of Bill led by Mulikat Adeola-Akande, leader of the House, described the Bill as “totally undemocratic,” adding that laws are made based on specifics of any given society. “Nigerian democracy is still too young to be compared with America’s”, she said. Her opinion tallied with that of Leo Ogor, deputy leader of the House, who cautioned that impeachment proceedings could be used only in extreme cases and that, had been provided for in the constitution. He warned that the proposed amendment would negate the principle of fair hearing as the House “would be the judge in its own case” rather than being the arbiter as expected of it. Other opponents of the amendment said the Bill was aimed at removing President Jonathan from office. This has been denied by the sponsors of the Bill. Even then, the Bill will require the endorsement of two-thirds of the 36 states of the federation to get passed.
Despite the opposition, the Bill has been sent to the Constitution Amendment Committee to do more work on it. But what is not in contention is that Nigerians would want a credible person to lead the country. As for the parties, it is incumbent on them to demonstrate to the electorate they are credible and can deliver.