Buhari, Yakubu, Atiku And The Death Of Trust By Tunde Olusunle
POLITICS DIGEST- If anyone had prophesied the retention of Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) in that office to which he was appointed late 2015 by Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president, beyond 2019, he would have been pilloried as a false prophet. Yakubu, a professor of political history and international relations was on the staff of the Nigerian Defence Academy, (NDA), Kaduna before his appointment to that office. We run a country which naively confers seriousness, integrity and respectability on people, simply on the basis of their often padded and advertised curriculum vitae. Just being a professor and coming from the geo-religiously “correct” extreme of the country, privileges certain people for consideration and appointment into specific offices, and the accrual of benefits therein.
The 2019 general elections under review, spontaneously donned the regalia of Nigeria’s most controversial and contested polls in all ramifications, in recent political history. It was dogged by systemic tardiness, orchestrated disjointedness and simulated discombobulations. Electoral materials were wilfully conveyed to the wrong states and addresses, as part of a grand script for the authentication of premeditated dubiousness. Despite the mammoth mobilisation of Nigerians, many to their countryside abodes at great individual risks and costs, Mahmood Yakubu and his colleagues blatantly stage-managed the postponement of the polls by one full week. This was a rarity, even in the days of Nigeria’s earlier politics. To be sure, since I became an avid follower of Nigeria’s electoral politics back in 1979, the 2019 elections were the most treacherous and tragic I ever witnessed.
The four-year stewardship of Nigeria’s outgoing president who ran on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, (APC), had done more than enough with its gross and aggregate performance, to be determinedly denied a second term. The hydra of insecurity; crass nepotism; reinvented religious bigotry; widespread unemployment; rudderless governance; prevailing hunger, had collectively inflated and inflamed palpable anger, on the borders of gargantuan conflation. It was this level of mass disaffection which propelled Nigerians to the 2019 elections, with the belief that their permanent voter’s cards, (PVCs), will be deployed convey their collegiate disaffection and to effect the much desired political change.
Nigerians seemed to have been sold on the assurances and reassurances of Mahmood Yakubu and his team, which promised to deliver free, fair, transparent and credible elections. Mike Iginni, one of the more principled and forthcoming resident electoral commissioners, serially admonished Nigerians to keep faith with INEC. Buhari was televised warning thugs and touts who made themselves available to do the biddings of their political overlords, by snatching ballot boxes, to write their epitaphs. As Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria’s armed forces, the president had issued explicit orders to the troops to give effect to his pronouncements. Nigerians genuinely thought Buhari, whose pre-election alias in 2015, was *Baba mai gaskiya,* meaning “the honest old man,” could very truly be trusted. Buhari subsequently retired to his country abode in Daura, Katsina State, to participate in the polls. In response to a question en route Daura about what his reaction would be if he lost the election, Buhari gruffly retorted “nobody can unseat me.” He promised not to return to Abuja after the election, if he was truly trounced.
As poll results began to trickle in, however, there were vivid indications that Buhari was in for a hiding. Technology has availed us the privilege of keeping up real-time with developments across the world, from our handheld devices. Figures filtering in from across the country indicated that the scales might have been tipped in favour of Buhari’s major challenger in that election, Atiku Abubakar. Atiku, Nigeria’s Vice President in the Olusegun Obasanjo regime between 1999 and 2007, flew the flag of the major opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), in that 2019 presidential election. Democracy was being deepened, Nigerians assumed, if a sitting president, from credible figures obtained from the server of the electoral referee, INEC, could be ousted at the ballot for a second time in four years.
Buhari hitherto, held the bragging rights to this feat, having displaced his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, at the 2015 elections. There were actually celebrations across the land as Nigerians absorbed the plausibility of the incumbent president’s displacement afterall. The PDP had hoped for truly impartial declaration of results on the strength of its performance at the polls. The party was, however, shocked by the turn of events. Ballot boxes had seized in several places; many were stuffed with ballot papers which were previously thumb-printed. Figures had been changed with correcting fluid in several instances; electoral officers had abducted and transplanted in the homes of noveau riche political dons to serve their ends.
There had been shootings, across the country culminating in casualties, the maimed and the summarily despatched. At least in one instance, a helicopter was procured and deployed to hover over the skies of Lokoja, the Kogi State capital and to fire at voters from the skies! A new expression “inconclusive elections,” was launched into the nation’s political vocabulary. It was the APC’s terminology, borrowing from the parable of the ram which takes a few steps back, to launch out with greater ferocity. It was the party’s disingenuous formula for bidding time, albeit for a few days, for the perfection of its manual for large-scale electoral thievery. Suddenly, INEC’s acclaimed server for which billions of naira was budgeted, which was procured and duly hoisted, magically vanished!
Unknown to the APC and to INEC, the PDP operated a discrete situation room, (SR) from where it downloaded information from the very same disappearing server. The location of the SR was presumably tracked by state intelligence and severally breached by the gun-wielding operatives who repeatedly harassed and unsettled staff of the SR, impounding documents and equipment. A particular minister from the south allegedly took over the APC’s counterpoint to the PDP’s SR concept. Figures were reportedly tweaked in barefaced re-enactment of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s lyrics in his “Unknown Soldier” classic and, with its unforgettable refrain about “government magic,” which “turned red into blue, and the electric bulb into candlelight.” Buhari suddenly felt comfortable enough to return from his hibernation in Daura where he promised to confine himself if he lost the election. This was after industrial-scale mischief and shenanigans had been perfected in his favour.
Elsewhere, public officials who cherish their integrity and good name, who find themselves in such quandary of overwhelming malfeasance, of such sticky, messy situations, throw in the towel the morning after. By his calling as an academic and professor who was reportedly the “first northerner to earn a first class in History,” Yakubu is at liberty to choose whichever institution he prefers to serve, either at home or abroad. But not in Nigeria, where public office opens the water tap of limitless access to filthy lucre. It has been proposed that in Nigeria’s 62 year trajectory, the Buhari administration has most probably thrown up more “overnight multibillionaires” than all previous regimes put together. A former service chief has thrown his hat in the ring for the coming gubernatorial contest in Bauchi State, on the platform of the APC. A very senior principal officer in the nation’s parliament is vying for the governorship of his state in the south south zone. He reportedly whispered to some confidants that he has a private vault in excess of a dozen billion naira to prosecute the coming contest. This, regrettably, is the reality of the legacy Buhari is leaving.
If blundering public officers like Mahmood Yakubu are so bereft of shame and conscience as not to send in their letters of disengagement after such unpardonable betrayal of public trust, they get summarily fired by their employers. As has become his trademark, however, Buhari is unable to cast his search net broadly and widely, to ferret and discover better qualified Nigerians to man several government ministries, agencies and departments, (MDAs). So, rather than launch deep to unearth our contemporary Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealas, Arunma Otehs, Amina Mohammeds, Akinwumi Adesinas, Chukwuma Soludos, and so on, Buhari simply gifts Yakubu a fresh five year term! Reappointed in October 2020 in overt, maybe obvious compensation for “a job well done the previous year,” Yakubu should be in office until late 2025. Yakubu’s blighted profile, further sullied by reports of international elections observers, was not enough to restrain Buhari from further foisting his favourite son upon hapless Nigerians.
Yakubu conned Nigerians momentarily to forget his wrongdoings from the 2019 elections, as he embarked on reforms to bequeath on Nigeria, more believable, more admissible and more acceptable polls. The off-season gubernatorial elections conducted by INEC in Edo, Ekiti and more recently Osun states, demonstrated that we can do things right with requisite commitment and willpower. The innovative Bimodal Voter’s Accreditation System, (BVAS) deployed in Ekiti and Osun for instance, ensured that people’s votes truly counted. Popular investment of emotion, physical exertion and invaluable time expended by voters at the polls, were not rubbished by electoral roaches, rats and robbers. INEC had just proven that poll results from my unit in Omowa-Mopo, Isanlu, would be uploaded instantly for the world to glimpse. This revved public expectation and faith in the electoral process, to unprecedented heights.
Buhari seemed resolved to play the “born again democrat” he postured he was in those frantic days when he accepted every known ascription, to burnish his chances. As often as he could, he reiterated to Nigerians that extant shortcomings of the electoral process had been rejigged. Nigerians could go to sleep as he was resolved to bequeath a legacy of visibly honest electoral transition. Buhari enjoined Nigerians to vote for candidates of their choice at the polls, warning hoodlums to steer clear of polling zones on election day. If Buhari set out to do that which was right and proper, he faced treasonable opposition from within his party. Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State repeated on several television interviews he granted, that it was not Buhari’s duty to reassure Nigerians about how the elections would pan out, but to campaign for the candidate of his party. It was therefore a reluctant Buhari who got dragged around the campaign grounds of Bola Tinubu, presidential flagbearer of his candidate, presenting him to wary party supporters.
*BUHARI, YAKUBU, ATIKU AND THE DEATH OF TRUST*
*By Tunde Olusunle*
If there’s one Nigerian with irreparable integrity deficit today, it has to be Mahmood Yakubu. But he would thereafter be allowed to prosecute the most expensive, most corrupted, most opaque, most odious presidential election, in the subsisting Fourth Republic, Saturday February 25, this year. That exercise was a colossal shame and momentous tragedy to democracy and popular governance. On the scale of what Nigerians witnessed at the presidential polls, Mahmood has no business, absolutely none, remaining on his seat. More appropriately, he should be cooling off in the very same luxury accommodation where Nnamdi Kanu, the self-styled leader of the Independent Peoples’ of Biafra, (IPOB), has been a VIP guest for nearly two years now. The very fact that he will yet prosecute the gubernatorial and state assembly polls, is further evidence of our unseriousness as a people and as a nation.
INEC has been preparing for the 2023 electoral cycle since the last polls in 2019. Yakubu’s INEC budgeted a dizzying N400 Billion for the polls. That is the 2023 budgets of Osun, Ekiti and Yobe states, put together. Trainings, further trainings, skills acquisition programmes were organised for INEC personnel and election day operatives, before the polls. Simulations and test runs were carried out to bring Nigerians at par with the so-called innovations, improvements and new technologies to be deployed for the polls. It was an ecstatic polity which anticipated a new dawn in the manner our elections are henceforth conducted. The world was also an interested party in the preparation for, participation by our people, and prosecution of the polls *per se.*
Despite our diminished diplomatic capital especially in the last decade, the world continues to view Nigeria seriously because of our age-old global ratings. The quality and diversity of talent, scholarship, genius emanating from Nigeria and illuminating the world’s skies, is also reason the world is not giving up on Nigeria as yet. And so, election observers in their numbers, including highly regarded former presidents and prime ministers, were detailed by notable international bodies to monitor the polls. Photographs of luminaries like Thabo Mbeki, Uhuru Kenyatta, John Mahama, Bai Koroma, Boni Yayi, former presidents of South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Benin Republic among others, have featured prominently in Nigerian dailies in recent days and weeks.
Yakubu, however, delivered a monumentally flawed election, Saturday February 25. Ultimately, it will very surely be light years away from the 2019 fraud, which the straight-thinking, know was won by Atiku. For starters, select information technology experts on the staff of the organisation, were reassigned days before the polls. Election materials and polling officers reported late in several instances, at the polling zones. Despite the previously pronounced “restriction of cash” by Buhari to mitigate vote-buying, the trend became even more pronounced at the recent polls. Identifiable people like a local government chairman in Kogi State, seized a polling station aided by uniformed policemen, chased away voters and electoral officers and destroyed ballot boxes.
Buhari himself was a major offender at the Saturday February 25, polls, having contravened relevant sections of the electoral law. Upon thumb-printing the ballot paper for his preferred candidate, the president displayed the ballot paper, not only to other voters in his unit, but to Nigerians in general. Buhari was captured real-time perpetrating such irresponsible illegality, in contravention of *provision 122 (1) of the Electoral Act 2022.* The section says: “Every person in attendance at a polling unit including every officer charged with the conduct of an election and his or her assistants and every polling agent and candidate in attendance at a polling station or at the collation centre, as the case may be, shall maintain and help in maintaining the secrecy of the voting.” Subsection (4) of this section prescribes committal to prison for three months or a fine of N100,000, or both, to violators of this law. As though by previous rehearsal, Abubakar Malami, Buhari’s justice minister, committed the very same offence in his polling unit in Kebbi State. Malami, is reputed a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN), and the nation’s chief law officer.
As military president, Ibrahim Babangida nullified MKO Abiola’s victory in the historic *June 12* 1993 presidential poll. Among the contentious grounds for the annulment of that election, was that as candidate of the Social Democratic Party, (SDP) in that election, Abiola donned a national dress bearing the logo of his party to his polling unit. This was in contravention of electoral provisions, even at that time. Thirty years later, Buhari is remorselessly trailblazing “top to bottom” disdain and disrespect for rule of law, in a government he supposedly heads. By the day, it gets clearer that Buhari actually coveted the presidency not to leave a glorious imprimatur of altruistic service, specifically. Rather, the office is to him, a personal trophy to assuage his erstwhile sense of loss arising from his 1985 ouster, by Babangida and company.
And so, Nigerians were taken through that wholesale charade at the presidential polls. The BVAS equipment could upload the results of the national assembly polls, but could not do same for the presidential poll, held same time with the parliamentary polls! Mahmood Yakubu was at it again, apparently. The server had been intentionally and deliberately recalibrated not to receive the results of the presidential election. Initial results were not looking good for the candidate of the ruling party, thus the panic to disable the server. For the second time in four years, INEC and its notorious server had been deployed for the wilful and criminal subversion of popular will.
Local and global disclaimers and condemnation have come from observers at the levels of the Economic Community of West African States, (ECOWAS); the African Union, (AU); the Commonwealth and the European Union, (EU). This is not excluding various non-governmental organisations, (NGOs) and world powers including the United States of America, (USA) which has loudly described the election as below par. The cooked-up results of Nigeria’s presidential election has been announced Wednesday February 28 and a winner, Bola Tinubu of the APC pronounced. INEC has since presented to him the *Certificate of Return.* Disaffected candidates and parties have been enjoined to “go to court.” This new expression has gained currency in recent weeks, irrespective of the serially demonstrated toothlessness of the judiciary within the context of our own governance system. On the social media lately, a sticker purportedly emanating from East Africa has been trending. It says: “When a thief tells you to go to court, just know that his brother is the judge.” “Go to court,” Nigerian-style therefore is like telling the aggrieved to go to hell or to Golgotha as the case may be. His fate is most probably, previously sealed.
Curiously, very worryingly, since the declaration of the poll outcome, there has been no celebration, no jubilation anywhere. The streets are mute, the national space in mournful, graveyard quietude. Our people in the south west are famous for ever raising the bar when it comes to partying, revelry and ceremonies. There’s typically *no dulling,* to appropriate from the vocabulary of the street, for our compatriots from the Yoruba country. Not many reports of dignitaries, home-based and foreign are queuing up to congratulate the “president-in-waiting” and have photo opportunities with him, are trending. What is going on? The president-elect from what we’ve seen thus far it is, who has been going about, gleefully showing off his certificate to Buhari, to the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akinolu, and similar dignitaries.
I’ve just seen this skit on the social media, where Tinubu was described as “INEC-elect!” There is also this joke also on the social media about the fact that Tinubu seems to love the ownership of a certificate so much, despite his inability to produce just one credible and identifiable sample, as prerequisite for eligibility at the polls. Back to back now, Nigerians have elected two presidents who could not present the constitutionally prescribed certificate of most basic academic qualification, the West African School Certificate Examination, (WASCE) ordinary level certificate. This is one of the precedents the inglorious Buhari regime has set for Nigeria.
I’ve heard in certain quarters, that the chicanery and evil machinations which attended the presidential election, was a coordinated plot to deny Atiku Abubakar of outright victory. Evidence from raw scores from over 160,000 polling units across the country, point to the unassailable lead of the former vice president. Atiku has fought many legal battles all the way to the Supreme Court of Nigeria, excelling in almost all his judicial interrogations of the Constitution and other laws. The world must not forget Atiku’s lion-hearted opposition to the third term ambition of his former principal, Olusegun Obasanjo, which remains at the subsisting beef between both men, till this day. The gentle and genteel Atiku believes the rule of law should be enabled to develop the needed tap roots to guide the evolution of our democratic system. Many of those running for elective offices unencumbered today, are beneficiaries of Atiku’s selflessness in years past.
Atiku may yet be president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Olukayode Ariwoola, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, (CJN), and his colleagues have a responsibility to prosecute a totally unbiased adjudication of matters arising from the election. Atiku’s ultimate ambition and desire, has always been to witness in his time, a country that works for everyone. In his quiet corner as a private citizen, Atiku by the day, addresses issues and problems which are otherwise commonplace and should have been dispensed within the structures of a functioning, functional polity. Talk about “the individual as mini-government.” The issues emanating from the polls will surely go all the way to the apex court in the land for in anticipation of
dispassionate arbitration. The blatant, daylight rape of democracy on Saturday February 25, 2023, must not be allowed to stand. We must get to the core of the most recent electoral brigandage, aided and abetted by INEC, if we must be taken seriously as a country, and if our country deserves utmost loyalty from its people. Justice in this conundrum must be very well served and be seen to be so served.
*Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author, is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE)*