The level of political tension in the country is extremely high because for the first time in the history of the Fourth Republic, there are significant events and processes that are becoming game changers in the political process. The first issue is the declining capacity of the President to impose his will on “his” governors. During the Obasanjo regime, a couple of Governors have dared him and most of them were made to pay a heavy price. President Goodluck Jonathan has however faced a major challenge from many of his PDP Governors and has been locked in combat with the Governor’s Forum where his attempt to impose a Chairman with personal loyalty to him has failed woefully. As all political pundits know, this is a serious obstacle to the President’s second term agenda as elections and the wheeling and dealing surrounding it are conducted at the state, not national level.
The second issue is President’s insistence on a transformation agenda. Sometimes you get what you pray for and what is unfolding in the country is the transformation of the party system which is being remoulded and indications are that we were moving towards an effective two or three-party system in which one party will not be hegemonic. The recognition of the merger of key opposition parties into the APC creates a formidable opposition platform that could effectively contest for federal power. As if this is not enough transformation, we have also witnessed significant further development with the fractionalization of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) following the emergence of a new faction led by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and seven governors of the ruling party. Many of these governors rule over strategic states – Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, Governors Sule Lamido of Jigawa, Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano, Murtala Nyako of Adamawa, Magatakarda Wammako of Sokoto, Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara State and Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State. The immediate result of this fractionalization is the weakening of the ruling party from within.
The third issue is the emerging noises of the possible impeachment of the President by the National Assembly. Of course it is extremely difficult to impeach a serving president but the on-going transformation of the political system lends credibility to this outcome especially as the leadership of Parliament might not be the best friends of the President even if they are from the same party. It is in this context that a clearly destabilized President Jonathan responded last week by sacking his ministers whose loyalty to their boss might not be absolute. As the loyal information minister, my good friend Labaran Maku, explained over the weekend, absolute loyalty is a condition for being in government.
As the political crisis in the country deepens, some desperate politicians are trying to seek a scapegoat in the person of Professor Attahiru Jega. His “crimes” are quite obvious. His Commission was bold and principled enough to register the opposition APC. Subsequently, the party of Atiku Abubakar’s political friends – the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), was also registered. Finally, the Commission has been insistent that the ruling party must follow its own rules in its congresses and the conduct of party affairs. It is perhaps in this context that a number of attacks against his have increased in recent days.
The Nigerian Pilot of 28th August for example carried a screaming headline – “Exposed! Jega’s Dirty Deals”. The story alleged that Professor Jega owns personal houses in Abuja, which he is renting to INEC. As Jega’s lawyers have already responded to the allegation, there is no point flogging the issue. What I would like to point out however is that the reports all aim to diminish his integrity in the eyes of Nigerians. The Pilot story for example alleges that Jega has introduced a security risk by having personal aids whose salaries are paid for by the UNDP as if Nigeria is not a member of the UN system and as if we do not have every right to benefit from assistance from the organization.
The Sunday Sun of 11th August carried a story about a 300 million naira payment for discarded ballots by Jega which they eventually corrected in their edition of 25th August. The Nation has carried a series of reports, columns and paid adverts alleging that Jega is guilty of flooding key INEC departments with northerners. The latest is a full page paid advert on 9th August alleging that key departments are in control of directors from the North West and North East and drew attention to four departments. What is interesting is that the list of all the 19 directors in INEC and their portfolios and states of origins are posted on the INEC website. The advert only picked the directors from the two cited northern zones and refused to provide the available information on directors from the other zones. You cannot have clearer evidence of mischief.
As the polity continues to heat up as we approach the 2015 elections, more missiles are likely to be thrown at Jega and INEC for the simple reason that they are doing their work well under difficult conditions. Some of the people in power clearly prefer an electoral commission that disregards rules and blatantly supports those in power whether or not they are on the right side of the law. It is precisely because this Commission has been focused on doing the right thing that attempts are being intensified to assassinate the character of its leadership.
The fact of the matter is that the unfolding turmoil in the PDP is a product of the party’s own history. Since the emergence of President Obasanjo in 1999, the President of the country has always imposed himself as the leader, and indeed, the dictator of the party. This type of party culture makes fractionalisation and/or exit as the sole way out for others within the party that have political ambitions. What is happening today is therefore normal and INEC should not be made to bear responsibility for an outcome they played no role in producing. As the President is clearly interested in contesting for a second term, others who want to replace him have to seek alternative platforms or try to takeover the existing one and that is the nature of the political game.
Our political system, and indeed, our country is fragile. Deepening democracy through the conduct of free, fair and credible elections is the most direct route to strengthening the unity and cohesion of the country. Nigerians respect Professor Attahiru Jega as someone who has both the integrity and the technical competence to take us along this path. He should be allowed to focus on his job.