Need To Check Govs’ Excesses

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There is no doubt that from proclamation so far made to the public by INEC and EFCC on  preparation for the conduct of the forthcoming 2001 election within the ambit of the new  electoral laws, room will no longer be opened for imposition of candidates on the  populace and for corrupt elements in our society to hold any public office in the three  tiers of government in Nigeria. However, to the consternation of the people, it was  reported in a sickening headline of Saturday Tribune of 25th September, 2010, that “Govs  Plot To Sidetrack Election Act: To Get Party Tickets”.

There are countless instances in the past when governors’ actions that portray  arm-twisting caused untold embarrassment to the country. Going down memory lane, it would  be recalled that former and serving governors actively got involved in the orchestration  of frustration and untold embarrassment that saw to the untimely exit of the former EFCC  Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, from office. The pained exit that undoubtedly became a  talking point in the country and in the international community was followed by threats  to his life and this eventually led to his self-imposed exile from his fatherland for  some time. It would also be recalled that at the onset of the Yar’Adua administration,  when acceptability and credibility problems posed a serious threat to the survival of the  administration, from both within and outside the shores of Nigeria, the governors  resorted to arm twisting tactics by asking Yar’Adua administration to choose between the  valley and the deep sea by either enjoying their support or remove Ribadu from office due  to the discomfort that stared the governors in the face owing to the onslaught against  looting of the public treasury by the anti-corruption agency under Ribadu. To the  greatest surprise of patriotic Nigerians and the international community, the governors  eventually had their way and what transpired between the Yar’Adua government and Ribadu  at the end of the day, though now part of the negative side of the nation’s history, will  linger on in the minds of the people for a very long time.

Nigerians will also not forget in a hurry the dilatory posture of governors and the  hide-and-seek game they played coupled with the confusion and untold embarrassment that  the country witnessed during the prolonged absence of the late President Yar’Adua when he  was away in a Saudi Arabian hospital for medical attention. The incumbent President,  Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who was then the deputy to the late president was shamefully  sidelined on the state of the health of his boss that was surprisingly shrouded in  secrecy by some top government officials and members of the kitchen cabinet of the late  president. To add salt to injury, the governors rather than support the vice president in  presiding over the nation’s affairs in line with the dictate of the 1999 Constitution  which they all swore to uphold, pitched their tent with the then ‘powerful’ first lady,  Turai Yar’Adua who had no constitutional power whatsoever to take control of government  as was the case. What happened thereafter has become part of our nation’s history. The  same governors made a U-turn and abandoned the first lady to her fate and this culimated  in the belated support President Goodluck Jonathan enjoyed from the same governors  immediately he was sworn in as president in line with the constitution following the  death of Yar’Adua on May 5, 2010.

Back to the headline story on moves being made by governors to subvert the new nation’s  electoral laws earlier mentioned, the possibility of them having their way will no doubt  be made difficult by eagle-eyed masses who are already out to stop any move or action  that will run contrary to the laid down electoral laws to which Mr. President has already  given his assent. It is high time the governors realised that President Jonathan is all  out to ensure a credible, free and fair election come 2011. It is also imperative to  remind all the 36 state governors and all politicians in Nigeria about the repeated  warnings that came and are still coming from the international community that the  processes and the final conduct of the forthcoming 2011 election may make or mar Nigeria.  It is therefore expedient for governors to ensure that any act that will portray the 2011  election as fraudulent should in as much as possible be avoided for the survival of the  nation as one entity. A stich in time, says an adage, saves nine.

Rigging of election which no doubt portray politics as a dirty game in our country,  usually begins with stage-managed wards and state congresses by incumbent governors who  usually employ all the state machinery and apparatus at their disposal to ensure that the  people’s candidates are left in the cold while the governors’ and godfathers’ anointed  stooges end up being declared winners andfielded for election.

The non recognition and outright cancellation by INEC of suspicious and inconclusive  party congresses held in eight states in the country, for the time first time in the  history of politics in Nigeria, is laudable. It is hoped that this development would not  only act as deterrent but would send a strong message to all political parties that the  days when kangaroo congresses are organised at any level for handpicking candidates for  election in Nigeria is over. There have been instances when party congresses ended up  producing in-laws of incumbent governors as governorship candidates for the ruling party  to which the incument governors belong. The outcome of any election held under such an  arrangement with imposed candidate can be better imagined, given the attendant rigging  devices that are usually employed during elections in our country

Without gainsaying, there is an absolute need for us to break from the past and start on  a clean slate as far as conduct of elections in our country is concerned. It is therefore  in the light of this that the concerted moves by the EFCC and INEC at ensuring the  emergence of a credible and acceptable election to Nigerians and the outside world, as  highlighted in the Nigerian Tribune of Friday, 27 August, 2010 should be supported and  jealously guarded by all patriotic and well-meaning Nigerians both at home and in  diaspora. In the headline of the newspaper, the EFCC Chairman, Chief (Mrs.) Farida Waziri  made a declaration that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was set to ensure  that the efforts of corrupt politicians who are ready to deploy looted public funds and  illicit funds to gain access to public offices in the country through the forthcoming  2011 election are thwarted despite the fact that such corrupt politicians were already  making and pasting campaign posters all over the place. The INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru  Jega has already given assurance that INEC was fully prepared to give Nigerians a  credible voter registration, which in his postulation, is the foundation for free, fair  and credible polls that Nigerians both at home and abroad are yearning for. In the same  vein, the Niger State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Emmanuel Onucheyo, while  representing INEC during a stakeholders’ forum held in Minna recently, declared that  secondary school students would be barred from handling any election duty due to lack of  requisite experience in handling such important national assignment.

When ward congresses to pick candidates for the local council chairmanship position lack  transparency, the performance of emerging public office holders under the situation can  be better imagined – poor service delivery and absolute loyalty to godfathers – and that  is why the business of local councils in the country, as once decried by the incument  EFCC Chairman, Chief (Mrs.) Farida Waziri, starts and ends with sharing of the accruing  monthly allocations to the councils from the federation account without nothing to show  in terms of infrastructure and social amenities for the people who got them elected into  office in the first place. This age long situation since the inception of full-blown  democracy in 1999 in Nigeria should be blamed on governors some of whom are helpless in  checking the misappropriation of council funds by local council chairmen as governors and  their political mentors also benefit in the  sharing of the councils’ monthly  allocations. It is commonplace to find local government chairmen distance themselves from  the people they are expected to serve but rather spend the most part of their official  time in staying in expensive hotels outside their council areas that they are expected to  administer while some of them spend most of their time clubbing.

The Kogi State governor once openly lambasted local council chairmen in the state over  the habit of abandoning their various councils only for them to waste their council funds  on bills in expensive hotels in Lokoja, the state capital. A report has it that Nigeria  slipped in ‘Good Governance’ ranking by placing a distant 40th out out of 53 countries on  the African continent and 13th out of 16 countries in West Africa. The report further  added that in 1999, Nigeria emerged 35th in the continent. Without gainsaying, this  revelation should be of concern to all stakeholders in the country and should be seen as  a wake-up call for a credible election in Nigeria, without which good governance in the  polity will continue to be a mirage.

To say that the suffering masses are fed up with the manner by which mismanagement of the  council funds takes place in the country as a whole is to say the obvious. In an public  opinion poll on local council administration in Lagos State published by Next newspaper  in September 2010, it was glaring that almost all the respondents decried the abysmal  performance of the councils where they reside. If such a public opinion is carried out in  the remaining 35 states of the federation including my Kogi State, it will surely be the  same story of non performance and sharing of monthly allocations to councils. It is sad  to note that public office holders rather than being accountable to the people give  account only to their politcal godfathers and it is for this reason that embezzlement of  public funds no longer means much in our country. It is unfortunate that our country is  where propaganda and sycophancy have become effective tools for the sustenance of bad  governance and non performance at all levels of governance in our country. If development  in Nigeria since inception of full blown democracy in 1999 is taken into consideration,  it can safely be said that a neglible percentage of the present public office holders in  the three tiers of government in Nigeria will not eligible for reelection into office for  another term or qualified for holding any higher office in the land owing to the soiling  of their hands in the looting of public funds. The bitter truth is that corruption has  become so pervasive that we may have to collectively, as a nation, ask ourselves if we  are not all guilty of the glaring underdevelopment and abject poverty that is staring the  masses in the face despite the abundance of natural resources.

•Odunayo Joseph writes from Mopa in Kogi State.

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