Musiliu Obanikoro

Recently, Canada recorded a conviction under its extant Elections Act. In that case, which is now under appeal, Michael Sona, a Conservative Party campaign staff got a nine-month jail sentence and a year on probation as a result of his role in the so-called “robocalls” incidents. The robocalls refer to automated calls that targeted opposition party supporters and falsely advised them of a change in their designed polling centers. The objective was to frustrate and, conceivably, disenfranchise citizens who would have voted for rival parties. The judgment text and newspaper reports of this landmark decision demonstrate the judge’s stern view of Sona’s conduct. He called the robocalls scheme an “ill-conceived and disturbing plan” and a “callous and blatant disregard for the right of people to vote”.  No member of the Parliament or any other serving politician has been cited, directed or indirectly, in the robocall affair. In fact, before any politician could be linked to such an affair, it is the custom in the Canadian clime that they will be the first to resign, and submit themselves to the legal consequences of their misconduct.

But consider the “Ekitigate” whereof an alleged audio record of political conspiracy that plausibly influenced the outcome of the gubernatorial elections in Ekiti State has surfaced. The Ekitigate is associated with leading members of the ruling party, including cabinet ministers of the federal government.  So far, responses from majority of the individuals cited have been quite jerky. Initial denials of the audio recording and lame attempts at disputation of the authenticity of the voices of dramatis personae have given way to incoherent narratives over the context and motive of the meeting at Spotless Hotel, Ado-Ekiti venue of the alleged recorded exchanges.

The President’s response has been typical. The suggestion was that the audio record was fabricated for political motives. Not surprisingly, there is no appetite to conduct an investigation on the part of the presidency, not even to clear the President whose errand, one of the actors claimed to be running in the alleged election rigging controversy. It is convenient for the government to claim that the whistle blower is required to substantiate his allegations; notwithstanding that he is now on self-imposed exile.  But the authorities conveniently forget that they can also provide the whistle blower assurance of security and personal safety. In his interview with Sahara TV, the whistle blower claimed that he fled the country out of fear for his life. In the same interview, he claimed that his younger brother has been victimized by the military whose personnel were also alleged to be part of the Ekitigate.

Time again, when the President has the opportunity to address the issue of corruption in Nigeria even as a mere discussion point, he is wont to trivialize it. From the President’s worldview, it is either that small theft is not corruption or that the issue of corruption is blown out of proportion by the media. I am still imagining what quantum of corruption would be satisfactory for the President to appreciate that corruption is an albatross in the country he is presiding over. And it is hardly surprising that the impunity label has stuck with this presidency like a stamp. While the President is inclined to make a political capital of his modest and humble background in one step, in another he progressively remains disconnected with the reality and feelings of the Nigerian people.  

The president has recently nominated Mr. Obanikoro, an erstwhile minister and a pivotal party cited in the Ekitigate shenanigan. Obanikoro vacated his ministerial position for a shot at his party’s nomination for the governorship ticket for Lagos State, which he lost. Calling him back to the cabinet was at attempt to soothe the political bruises of the opposition PDP in Lagos State arising from Obanikoro’s defeat in the party primaries. He has since withdrawn his threat of court action against his party over the primaries. Elsewhere, this form of kiss-and-make-up attracts serious sanction. In Ontario, the Premier’s (Nigerian equivalent of a State Governor) deputy chief of staff is currently accused of inducing a former nominee of the ruling provincial liberal party in a recent by-election to get him to step aside from running for the election. The Premier’s senior staff was allegedly caught on tape suggesting that the Premier was disposed to assist the non-preferred candidate to find a job. The allegation is already a subject of investigation by both the Provincial Police and Elections Canada. In Nigeria, the Ontario’s situation would be preposterous. Mindful of context and political culture, I am not suggesting a political transposition. But in relation to Nigeria, the Ontario scenario paints a portrait of sharp contrast.

Admittedly, the President nominated Mr. Obanikoro before the Ekitigate came into the open. For all purposes, the Ekitigate is now a distraction requiring the ruling party, the presidency and all parties cited to clear the air on the matter that refuses to go away.  The most sensitive thing for the President to do is to withdraw the nomination since Obanikoro has not honorably declined the nomination himself. Without staking hope on senators’ ability to follow through, so far, the senate has twice failed to allow the ministerial nominee – himself a former senator – the privilege of the usual “bow-and-go” confirmation ritual.  Opposition party senators have frowned over Mr. Obanikoro’s nomination in view of the Ekitigate. Yet it does not seem the presidency is getting the message.

By the way, how many months would Obanikoro serve as a minister before the elections and inauguration of a new government on May 29, 2015? Why would this president continue to take Nigerians for granted? Why would he continue to even alienate a segment of Nigerian constituency, especially those outside the partisan political fray, who might yet be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt? When will this presidency perceive a political opportunity and seize it, even one that could not cost it anything? Why chose impunity over integrity? President Jonathan should withdraw the Obanikoro nomination and, for once, show respect for the Nigerian people.  It is too late already, but better late than never.  

Follow me on twitter: @oguamanam_chidi

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