Thursday, May 28, 2009

Letter to President Yar'Adua (3)

MR. President, your action and inaction in the recent Ekiti electoral fiasco has swollen the ranks of those who doubt the sincerity of your much-touted electoral reforms, given the disquieting disconnect between the ideals you profess and the actions you take. Nothing demonstrates this more eloquently than your treatment of the Muhammed Uwais Report. In the opinion of many Nigerians, the most salient recommendation in that report is the one that transfers the appointment of the INEC Chairman from the President (as presently obtains) to the National Judicial Council. But you are seeking to retain that power of appointment based upon the shockingly questionable logic that 'Integrity is not who appoints the people. It is the integrity of the people who are appointed'. In other words, you do not need to be a person of integrity to appoint those who possess that virtue. So, a thoroughly reprobate boss can appoint a saint. Does this logic belie, then, the time-tested axiom that like attracts like? Talking seriously, Your Excellency, do you expect reasonable Nigerians to believe you when you say this - trust the appointee, not the appointer? And why do you consider integrity so easily discountable as a sine qua non for the person with the power to appoint? Is this a Freudian slip or an abiding plank of your moral and political philosophy?

No, Mr. President, whoever hires the boss is bound to influence his action. This is why the 'I'(standing for 'Independence') in the acronym INEC has been such a gratuitous and tragic lie. The major reason Nigeria has not been able to conduct a successful election since independence is the incestuous closeness between the State House and the Electoral Commission. And it is the kind of closeness which flies in the face of equity: when a President running for re-election is the same person that appoints the electoral boss, can he still pretend to be on equal footing with other contestants in the presidential race? Can the boss so appointed lay much claim to credible impartiality? The provenance and nature of their appointments have been largely responsible for the controversial tenures of past and present overseers of Nigeria's electoral process. This is why Ani, Ovie-Whiskey, and Nwosu, were such hamstrung and compromised umpires? It is why most Nigerians see Maurice Iwu as nothing more than a glorified errand boy of the President and his ruling party? Simple logic, Mr President: the very nature of the appointment of certain functionaries automatically nullifies the 'integrity' which you talk so confidently but so unconvincingly about.

President Yar'Adua, remove the executive stranglehold on Nigeria's electoral process. Let some other body see to the appointment of the INEC chair. It is politically risky and morally wrong for the President to appoint the umpire for a game in which he or his political party is a principal contestant. Letting go of this immoral responsibility will not in any way diminish the awesome powers you already have as President. Genuine democracy is not possible without a truly independent and impartial electoral system. And what's more, the country's destiny depends on the integrity of that system. As I said in my open letter to Chief Obasanjo, your predecessor and benefactor, after the fraudulent polls of 2007, 'apart from occasional religious riots and their ethnic fall-outs, no other issue has brought Nigeria closer to the brink of disintegration than rigged elections'. Your rejection of the salient recommendations of the Uwais Report can only lead this unhappy country further down the precipice of chaos and possible disintegration. Mr. President, it is a supremely serious crime to play foul with a people's commonweal expressed through their electoral choice. The present situation in which the people cast their vote and the rulers have their way is a recipe for avoidable civil strife and instability. It is abominable hypocrisy to chant the rule-of-law mantra in a country where the ballot box is in chains.

And heaping all the blame for Nigeria's political problems on some faceless, nameless monster called 'political class' is as disingenuous as it is untenable. Besides, it is a thoroughly unconvincing cop-out. What kind of 'political class' do you have in mind? Are all members of that class equally guilty, and equally able to hide their crimes? To take a specific example, in the Nigerian situation today, which party is home to a political class that swaggers across the country with such criminal impunity because their being both 'in government' and 'in power' ensures protection by and complicity with state security paraphernalia? Why do the police and security agents always look the other way when ballot boxes are being snatched in favour of the ruling party, your party? Which party's 'political class' have the money to bribe and bulldoze their way around as a result of their federal might and immoral access to the country's resources?

You have pretended long enough, Mr. President. Time to get down to the business of fulfilling the pledge you made at your inauguration some two years ago. The buck stops at your desk, and the world is watching. Nigerians are not fooled by the presidential distance you affect; they are justifiably impatient with the father-of-the-nation, rule-of-law posture which raises no eyebrow at electoral frauds. Having been ruled and misruled by all kinds of masquerades in the past 49 years, we have learnt to spot the face behind the mask. I implore you to ask yourself before you go to bed tonight: is your party, the PDP, helping or hurting Nigeria's fortune by so insidiously working towards turning the country into a one-party state? What would be democracy's fate in that kind of state? How much rule of law would it accommodate? Have you ever pondered the fatal contradictions between the agenda of the party you chair and the ideals and visions of the country you lead?

In the thinking and comments of many Nigerians, you are too slow, too tardy, too vacillatory for a backward country like ours that is in a dire hurry to join the rest of humanity in the 21st century. Though you look very much like a person of temperance and moderation, your political leanings and affiliations portray you as too cozy with corruption, too chummy with the corrupt, too lenient with the sleaze and graft which clutter the veins of Nigeria's body-politic. And oftentimes we ask: how can a decent man find such inexplicable comfort in the company of political skunks and moral cripples? What do they say to one another when they are together? How do they manage to reach their foul consensus? Under your watch in the past two years, Nigerians have become hungrier, sicker, more insecure, more unhinged than in any other period in our history. Their nights are dark (we are still waiting for the promised emergency declaration in the energy sector); their days are dreary. They cannot feel any positive impact of your government on their lives.

Time waits for no one, Mr. President; History is an unbribeable judge. You have already chalked up two years on Nigeria's presidential board. Let not future generations call your tenure 'Nigeria's wasted years'. From every indication, the Nigerian spirit is faster, more ambitious, more purposive, than you and the government you head. The outside world is tired of - and justifiably angry at - Nigeria's seemingly incurable delinquency. Nigeria has borne the burden of the 'big-for-nothing' country for so long now that our necks have shrunk in shame.

Which is why the G-12 does not want us at their summit, and foreign dignitaries shun our door. The world does not celebrate failure, Your Excellency. A thousand slogans cannot re-brand a rotting corpse. President Yar'Adua, time to shed the mask of the dissembling politician and assume the mantle of the statesman who inspires his country to greatness. Going by your behaviour and performance in the past two years, many observers have come to the conclusion that you are incapable of rising to that height. You owe this country and the world a duty to prove them wrong. With my best wishes. Your Compatriot.