It’s pretty difficult to make a head or tail out of the just concluded elections in Nigeria. According to the twenty plus gentlemen who contested against the ruling party’s candidate, it was the worst election manipulations engineered anywhere in the world. National, Regional and International election observers were simply flabberwhelmed (contraption of flabbergasted and overwhelmed) by the whole thing that many were simply beyond speech.
The Nigerian government and, of course, the ruling party (People’s Democratic Party or DPD) begged to differ. According to the PDP which prides itself as Africa’s Biggest Party, the 2007 elections were simply the best thing that happened to the country since the invention of that potent brew, Ogogoro.
To get a better angle on things, I called upon the Nigeria High Commission at their new offices located at the Airport Area of Accra where the Director of Public Affairs, Alhaji Yisa Dangoro, warmly received me. Over a seafood lunch at the High Commission well-appointed canteen, I tried to pick the spin doctor’s brain.
“Should I congratulate or commiserate with you on your country’s recent elections?”
“Commiserate, what for, Femi?” The PR-man challenged.
“The International Community has denounced the elections as fraudulent and the opposition parties are hollering that it was the grandmother and grandfather of all election riggings.”
“Haba, Femi. What’s new in the opposition shouting rigging after losing lections in Africa? Where have you been all these years?” The PR man was obviously in a nasty funk and he was not entertaining any nonsense.
“Sir, it’s not only the opposition who are crying foul. The local, the regional, the continental as well as the international election observers gave the elections a huge thumb down. I am only trying to find out why your country, not noted for its many positive attributes, is courting more opprobrium.”
“That is not entirely true, and you know it, Femi.” The spin magician protested vigorously.
“No, sir! I didn’t know of a single person apart from the ruling party or the government who have had any positive thing to say or write about the elections. And many commentators have simply been merciless in their criticism which is rubbing badly not only on your country, but also on the whole continent.”
“That’s not true! The chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) described the elections as the best in the annals of elections in Nigeria.”
“That makes a load of difference.” I retorted, bristling with sarcasm.
The PR doctor took offense and remonstrated harshly: “That tone is totally uncalled for, Femi. The INEC’s Chairman is a highly regarded personality noted for his honesty, integrity and impartiality. He is a Professor, too.”
“Now, I’m getting the picture.” I replied, shaking my head.
But the PR guru wasn’t finished. “It should be noted that prior to the elections, the INEC invited all the parties and all accredited monitors to inspect its facilities. And all of them, without exception, gave the INEC a pat on the back. Now the elections are over and done with, the so-called opposition parties, in disarray at the best of times, are crying foul. Haven’t we been there before?”
I decided to change tact. “Sir, I believe that it’s not just the brazen effrontery that so bedazzled Nigerians and foreigners alike, but the almost impossible mathematical feat of the ruling party claiming to have won over seventy percent of the total votes in a country as diverse as Nigeria. It reminds one some former Soviet republics where leaders routinely garner ninety percentage of votes.”
The PR man fumed: “From where do you find your mathematical impossibility? Didn’t you know that the Nigeria’s ruling party is the largest party in the whole of Africa…”
“So it has been rumoured.” I interjected.
“Kai, it’s not a rumour! We are talking facts and figures here, Femi. And it’s the only party whose tentacles reach into every nook and cranny of the land. And then take a look at what you call opposition in Nigeria. Most of them are one-man show affairs. And they are as fragmented as they are incoherent. I will tell you one thing, Femi. Before this day is over, many of the so-called opposition leaders will be calling on the President-Elect to congratulate him.”
“Hmm” I said.
“That’s not all, Femi. Mark my word, before this very day is over, the ambassadors of the so-called International Community will be falling over themselves to have an audience with the new leader. We have had the best elections in our country and what any busy-body thinks of it is her palaver. And don’t forget that we have oil and gas in abundance”
“That surely makes a hell of a difference.” I mocked.
The Alhaji overlooked my mockery: “It surely does. Oil is what keeps the world going on its merry rounds. The elections were not only free and fair but the best candidate by all indications won. Don’t forget that he’s the first university graduate to be elected a leader in Nigeria.”
“Sir, but how could you be so right and the rest of the world are so wrong?”
“Look, Femi. We live in Nigeria and we understand the situation better than anyone. As the giant of Africa, we do not expect everyone to see eye to eye with us.”
“Giant of Africa,” I sneered, “you certainly no longer believes that, do you?”
“By all means,” he screamed, “certainly. Whichever you look at it, Nigeria remains the giant of Africa.”
“Sir, with due respects, your case reminds me of the man who is generally regarded with contempt but who continue to view himself with admiration. Joke’s aside, your inability to conduct an exercise as simple as census or elections negates all your empty boasts of being a giant of Africa. And according to all the indices of development, your country is not qualified to even be called a Dwarf of Africa.”
“Kai, Femi! That’s totally unacceptable! I can understand it if the imperialists West are damning every good thing that we are trying to achieve, but for a fellow African…”
“Look, Mr. PR, why drag any imperialist into the fiasco you call elections. You have to recognize that your badly organized elections reflect also very badly on your fellow Africans. It’s no longer tenable to hide behind African solidarity for your shortcomings. Ghana, Benin and recently Mali, to mention just three small African states, managed to hold free, fair and peaceful elections devoid of the violence and the mayhem we all saw in Nigeria! And your big-for-nothing country organized elections that would shame even a Soviet republic, and you dare call yourself the giant of Africa!”
The PR guru goes into a sulking mode: “We cannot help it if the imperialists and their lackeys do not like our faces. But the simple truth is that no election anywhere in the world is totally free and totally fair. We all witnessed the fiasco in Florida and recently in Scotland. Even a British Minister attested to the fact that there is rigging of elections in Great Britain as well. She said publicly that dead people voted in her own constituency, how about that?”
“Sir, I think that you’re still missing the whole point. We’re not talking perfection her. It is a common saying that those who fail to prepare have prepared to fail. How on earth does your country, which cannot, over the years, organize the logistics of distributing petroleum, hoped to distribute 65 million voting cards within 48 hours which is what you attempted doing?”
“You see,” the PR guru cried like an excited Pastor,” Damn if we do, damned if we don’t. We had to obey the ruling of the Supreme Court that one of the candidates should be allowed to contest. You know that we’d have been flayed had we not obey. And here you are now damning us for…”
“Sir, sir, you are, once again, totally missing the point. The election dates were not arbitrarily chosen. You have had four solid years to prepare. Why did you have to wait until the last moment…”
The PR man banged his fists on his table to interrupt me: “You’re not being fair. We could not have foreseen the circumstances of disqualification and all that. And when an aggrieved participant goes to court, we, as a democratic and law abiding state, have to await the outcome. And this we did in good faith and you are here today condemning us. It is not fair!”
“I must apologize again that you felt that way. What is not fair, in my books, is the election crime perpetrated against the Nigerian people. One your most notable citizens, Professor Wole Soyinka, described it as an electoral coup de tat…”
The PR magician laughed: “Professor Soyinka is not the most objective commentator on the current government in Nigeria. And you should know how those professors of English are given to hyperbole. Why do you think he won the Nobel Prize?”
“Do you count him among those who will parade to congratulate the new leader?”
“Professor Soyinka, you must be kidding. Those types of people are contented just to blow big big grammar. As long as you leave them alone to do their things, they are OK. I was talking about the professional politicians. Those ones are fair feather and they blow with any wind. You can be rest assured that many of them are presently burning copper trying to get through to the President-Elect. They would like to start jostling for Ministerial, ambassadorial and other positions like that. It’s the nature of things.
“But many of them are threatening to call general strikes and others are threatening to go to the tribunals.”
“That’s what the tribunals are for.” The Alhaji dead-panned.
“You do not appear disturbed by the prospect of violence and a general strike.”
The Alhaji permitted himself another laugh. “That’s what I meant when I said that you foreigners have absolutely no understanding of the dynamics of Nigerian politics. Of course, the opposition leaders will threaten fire and brimstone, but I can assure you, and you can assure your readers, that their threat will come to naught. Mark my words. Which Nigerian will come out and put his head on the firing line because of a politician whose children are safely tucked away overseas? It’s you foreigners that give currency to threats by opposition leaders. In Nigeria we safely dismiss their threats as ‘Shakara Oloje.”
“Finally, sir, do you think that the new president will still go after the notorious 419 people?”
“And why the hell not?” The PR man wanted to know.
“Because it is widely believe that his election was the worst fraud ever perpetrated against a people and a nation.”