IN THE NAME OF DEMOCRACY: A PLEA TO MY COUNTRYMEN BY BARR KENNETH OKONKWO

Bar Kenneth Okonkwo
Bar Kenneth Okonkwo

Democracy has been universally accepted to mean the government of the people by the people for the people. On independence, Nigeria was bequeathed with a flourishing democracy by the British colonial masters. The quest and struggle for independence was largely fought on peaceful democratic principles.

We had a very acceptable constitution that recognized our diversity and ensured the practice of true federalism. The component units were healthily competitive and without oil, we were an emerging African economic power. Indeed, even the Colonial masters on independence described Nigeria as a potential super power nation and the land where the sun never sets.

However, when the British departed, we had only one major threat to our Democracy � Elections. How do we organize elections that will be free, fair and credible enough to be accepted in order to prevent violence and the eventual truncation of our democracy.

Historically, the first Republic was truncated as a result of violence resulting from a rigged election predominantly from the South West of Nigeria. The same scenario happened in 1983, when the administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari was truncated by the Military led by General Muhammadu Buhari. The violence in the South West was the main reason for that Coup

Each time the Military came in, they promised a brighter future for us but eventually left us worse than we were before their incursion into politics. The worst aspect of military regimes is that they even leave the military institutions weakened, demoralised, divided and segmented in order to ensure that no military colleague will be strong enough to overthrow the current regime. The gradual and intentional neglect of our military over the years by military regimes is what we are suffering today in our war against Boko Haram and other insurgents. Can you imagine if Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, Col  Dimka, Gen Muritala Mohammed, Gen Aguiyi Ironsi, Major Gideon Orka, Major General Mamman Vatsa and so on were still alive and had completed their career as professional Soldiers. These men were the best of the military around the world and so much excelled in their military profession that they won international accolades. Aguiyi Ironsi was awarded the rank of Major General by the International community because of his excellent performance during peace keeping missions across Africa. So was Dimka, who had the record of scaling under the lowest barbed wire during his training in NDA, Mamman Vasta was the best poet the military ever produced. There was one thing common with all of them. They were the best of the Military that were consumed by the Military itself. So the military regime is a regime that spares nobody including itself. My belief is that denying a person of his life or freedom without due process of law is the worst form of corruption. This makes military regimes and other undemocratic regimes the most corrupt regimes despite the purported spartanic and hypocritical lifestyle of their leaders when they venture into power. This also makes my belief in democracy with all its flaws unshakable.

We are now at the threshold of another election in 2015. I must congratulate Nigerians for allowing democracy to flourish for an uninterrupted period of 16 years. This success did not come about as a result of free and fair elections conducted by successive regimes but it came about from the sacrifices of statesmen who forsook their rights for the benefit of the whole nation. The Yorubas in 2003 lost five out of six states to the ruling PDP in circumstances which they described as not being free and fair. Yet unlike what they did in the 60�s and 80�s that earned them the wild wild west, they forsook violence and allowed the elections to stand for the general good. In 2007, the opposition parties in Yoruba land, after some legal gymnastics, captured 3 more states, leaving the PDP with only 2 states and by 2011, the whole states in Yoruba land were in the hands of the opposition. This is the beauty of democracy; it redresses injustices over a period of time. The change cannot be automatic. . Example when Obafemi Awolowo in the sixties perceived that the elections were not free and fair, it was said that he organized a violent overthrow of the government and ended up being jailed in the very popular  �my hands were tied� judgment. The crisis precipitated by the violence led to the Coup of 1966 which led to the counter coup of July 1966 which led to the civil war which resulted to the loss of over a million lives. Everybody lost.

Again in 1983, Chief  Obafemi Awolowo believed that the elections in the South West were rigged: By his body language even when there was no evidence he authored the violence, there was equally no evidence that he proactively did anything to stop the violence. The violence in the South West led to the end of the Civilian regime of Alhaji Shagari and everybody, except the beneficiaries of Shagari�s regime, hailed the incoming military regime of General Muhammadu Buhari as liberators. It took only few weeks for the late Sage�s house to be ransacked and vandalized by the regime of Buhari in a bid to get incriminating evidence against him. This regime, because of its high handedness was overthrown by the regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida in 1985 and was also hailed as a liberator. Gen Ibrahim Babangida, for no reason whatsoever, banned the late Sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo from contesting elections for life. This put final paid to his eternal ambition to govern Nigeria even if it is for twenty four hours and left him with no further motivation to live. He concluded by saying that �the worst civilian government is better than the best military government�. I wish he realised this in the sixties, and encouraged that fledgling democracy to survive. He would have had the opportunity to contest elections for more than 7 times and who knows, maybe he would have won.

2015 is unique in various ways. This is the first time the Nation is having two strong parties that evolved on their own, contesting elections. What a great democratic achievement! This is the first time Nigeria will be conducting elections while the federation is at war. What a great democratic challenge! Hence my plea to my countrymen to accept the results of the elections as declared by INEC without violence and use lawful means to seek redress in the case of any perceived injustice.

I will make the plea to the different major segments of the society-

– TO THE POLITICIANS

Politicians are the major gladiators in a democracy. They make policies, offer themselves to be voted for, occupy the seat of power and determine the destinies of the Nation and the individual citizens. Their actions or inactions determine the success or failure of democracy.

In Advanced countries, politicians are known to make sacrifices before, during and after elections for the survival and prestige of their nations. During the American Presidential elections of year 2000, Governor George Bush and Vice president Al Gore were the Presidential candidates of the Republican Party, Democratic Party respectively. After the elections, Al Gore won the popular vote while George Bush won the Electoral College vote. Constitutionally, whoever wins the Electoral College votes becomes the President. To make matters worse, the Florida state elections which became the deciding factor was believed to be manipulated in favour of George Bush by his brother Governor Jeb Bush of Florida. It took America fifty days, instead of one day to resolve this crisis. There were court cases that reached the American Supreme Court. America became a laughing stock in the comity of nations. After the judgment of the American Supreme Court, Al Gore though he disagreed with the judgment, accepted it and conceded victory to George Bush and saved America the shame and ridicule.

In Nigeria, the case is different. Most Politicians are impatient, callous, destructive and selfish. It is either they win or the process be truncated. They engage in politics of do or die. In our recent history MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) won the Presidential election in 1993. The National Republican Convention (NRC) engaged in a fierce campaign to annul the election. Their Presidential candidate, Alhaji Tofa refused to concede victory. Eventually, General Ibrahim Babangida, the then Head of state, annulled the election. The annulment brought a lot of chaos in the country that swept IBB aside and eventually led to the emergence of General Sani Abacha as Head of state. General Sani Abacha killed some of the Politicians, jailed some of them and forced some into an unwilling self exile. The call by politicians for the truncation of democracy after they lose is always self destroying. They always erroneously think that any intervening force will remove their opponents and replace their opponents with them, only to find out belatedly that the intervening force takes over power to fulfil its own agenda.

We are now on the threshold of general election 2015. For all intents and purposes there are circumstances which already exist that can form the basis of controversy after the results of the elections are announced. The insurgency in the three North East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa and the inadequacy of the permanent voter�s card are just some of them. The only thing remaining is whether we can find enough political statesmen who can disagree with the results but accept them for the general good of the nation

My plea, therefore, to Politicians is that they should eschew the call for violence, mass action, bathing dogs and baboons with blood, forming a parallel government, making the country ungovernable just because the results did not favour them. In this regard, the peace accord signed by all the parties where they pledged not to be violent after elections is welcomed. I pray they see it through

-TO THE YOUTHS

The youths constitute the bulk of the workforce of the nation. They are the energy, beauty and pride of any nation. The health and power of the youth today determine the future of the Nation.

In Nigeria, the decisions of the leaders affect the youths positively or negatively and invariably the future of the nation. The bulk of the insurgents today, whether Boko Haram or Niger Delta militants are all composed of youths and they arose as a result of the actions or inactions of the leaders in power.

My plea to the youths is to imbibe this admonition by the President of Nigeria, Dr Goodluck Jonathan which states that �no politician�s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian�. As a politician myself, I can tell you that majority of politicians are selfish. They will pay you to be a thug but pay their children�s school fees to study abroad. They will pay you to die for them but will pay for the best hotels abroad to keep their children if war breaks out.  In this coming 2015 elections, they have recruited majority of the youths to roast, kill, destroy, bath the dogs and baboons with blood and make the country ungovernable if some of them lose the election. My question is, during the electoral violence of 2011, which category of people were killed-youths. While you die to fertilize their ambition, they nurture their own children to succeed them in their various offices. Please when they call you again to cause trouble after elections, refuse or ask that their own children should lead the uprising.

-TO THE MILITARY

The military reflects the strength and dignity of the nation. No Nation can attain a super power status without a strong, loyal and courageous military. The US became a super power today because of the steadfast dedication of its military to the protection of its democracy and wading off external aggression. Also, USSR, China, Britain, France are nations whose military assisted their rise to international prominence.

In Nigeria, our military has been known to be the most powerful force in Africa from independence. The numerous military incursions into politics weakened this great institution to the extent that during Abacha�s regime, officers were framed up or set up for treasonable offences and condemned to death. Mutual suspicion among soldiers was so high that barrack life collapsed amongst them.

By 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo retired all military officers who had held political offices before that date. This further led to the depletion of the finest of officers among the soldiers.

My plea to the military today is that they should stay away from politics. This will enable them focus their attention on their constitutional duty of protecting the territorial integrity of the nation. I have no doubt in my mind that the military is always lured into incursion in politics by politicians who lost elections or fell out with the system. But they should resist this satanic lure as this would lead to destroying itself eventually

The 2015 elections will present peculiar challenges to the military since they are engaging the Boko Haram insurgents and may also be called in to secure the elections. They should not lend themselves as agents of rigging and must ensure that there is no violence after elections. Love of country and its constitution should be their priority rather than blind loyalty to any candidate.

-TO THE CLERGY

The clergy constitutes the Pastors, Priests, Prophets, Imams and all the classes of men that can be classified as servants of God by whatever name its religion is called.

The essential duty of the clergy in governance was summarised by Apostle Paul in his admonition to men of God. He said �I exhort therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty�. (1 Timothy 2:1-2). I want to believe that other religion have similar provisions in their sacred books.

In Nigeria, unfortunately, our men of God have become more political than the politicians. It has become a regular feature to see our Priests, Prophets, Pastors, Imams use their pulpits to propagate the agenda of hate against candidates and parties. They make dubious prophecies which create the basis for violence when such prophecies fail to come to pass.

I remember when one �man of God� prophesied that Obasanjo will die before assuming office in 1999. The fear created by that prophecy led to a riot in Oshodi which led to the death of some people and prompted Obasanjo to make that famous statement �I dey kampe�  He went on to govern for 8 years.

I believe that the rise in Islamic fundamentalism leading to an unprecedented violence against fellow Muslims and other innocent people has its roots in hate sermons of some Imams and their persistent message of intolerance to other beliefs

My plea to them is to stand fast in the calling wherein they are called. Even if the politicians are bad and the people sin, it is their duty to plead with God to show mercy, forgive the people and heal their land (2 chronicles7:14)

CONCLUSION

It may be by divine providence that our 2015 elections is slated to commence on February 14th, 2015. A day set aside by the whole world to celebrate love. Saint Valentine was said to have made a supreme sacrifice for love. We can do the same in Nigeria. Love covers multitude of sins. We must use the power of love to overcome the power of violence and destruction after our elections.

As I pointed out earlier, we have numerous challenges today that can naturally question the validity of the elections but we are praying to have politicians who are willing to disagree with the results but accept them for the general good. They must remember the admonition of Winston Churchill that �the statesmen lose control immediately the guns begin to fire.�

I make this plea in the name of democracy  
E-mail goalprong@yahoo.com

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