I saw the postponement of the presidential election coming the moment the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), made his ex-cathedral declaration at the Chatham House in London. By publicly casting doubts on the preparedness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at a time the commission said it was ready, Dasuki had put the credibility of the polls in jeopardy were it to be conducted on February 14 as earlier scheduled. It therefore came as no surprise that the service chiefs would come up with their “Advisory”, through the same Dasuki, that they needed six weeks to defeat an insurgency they had been fighting for years with mixed results.
However, now that the elections have been shifted forward, the only person I worry for is President Goodluck Jonathan. In all his private and public engagements last week, INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, kept emphasizing that his commission was even more ready for the 2015 polls than it was four years ago and that the misgivings from the military/security chiefs represent the only impediment to conducting the polls as scheduled. He stated the same in his 12-page memo (with annextures totalling another 20 pages) presented to the Council of State meeting last Thursday which I am privileged to have read.
Since the NSA and the service chiefs are appointees of the president who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, it was Jonathan’s call that was being conveyed to Jega that, in view of some extenuating circumstances, the elections could not go on as scheduled. Yet the real winner in this debacle is Jega because, truth be told, INEC cannot claim to be ready given the problems with the management of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) distribution. But to the extent that the elections were rescheduled under the pretext of what many would consider no more than security subterfuge, if things go wrong within the intervening period, Jega now has a strong alibi to fall back on: his hands were tied.
For us to understand the current situation, let me put out the figures as presented by the INEC chairman to the Council of State. As at February 4, according to Jega, of the 68,833,476 Nigerians registered to vote, 45,098,876 persons had collected their PVCs representing 65.81 percent. What would happen to the remaining 34.19 percent of prospective voters was the issue in contention.
Here is the breakdown given by Jega at the meeting: of the 1,396,162 registered voters in Abia State, 1,073,799 had collected their PVCs, representing 76.91 percent; of the 1,559,012 registered voters in Adamawa, 1,073,799 had collected their PVCs representing 80.68 percent; of the 1,680,759 registered voters in Akwa Ibom, 1,328,714 had collected their PVCs representing 79.05 percent; of the 1,963,173 registered voters in Anambra State, 1,222,002 had collected their PVCs representing 62.25 percent; of the 2,054,125 registered voters in Bauchi, 1,745,441 had collected their PVCs representing 84.97 percent; of the 610,373 registered voters in Bayelsa, 386,125 had collected their PVCs representing 63.26 percent; of the 2,015,452 registered voters in Benue State, 1,132,187 had collected their PVCs representing 56.18 percent and of the 1,934,079 registered voters in Borno, 1,320,667 had collected their PVCs, representing 68.28 percent.
Similarly, of the 1,175,623 registered voters in Cross River State, 859,690 PVCs had been collected representing 73.13 percent; of the 2,275,264 registered voters in Delta, 1,556,476 had collected their PVCs representing 68.41 percent; of the 1,074,273 registered voters in Ebonyi, 714,351 had collected their PVCs representing 66.50 percent; of the 1,779,738 registered voters in Edo, 1,062,370 PVCs had been collected, representing 59.69 percent; of the 732,021 registered voters in Ekiti, 496,536 PVCs had been collected representing 67.83 percent; of the 1,429,221 registered voters in Enugu, 761,185 PVCs had been collected representing 53.26 percent; of the 881,472 registered voters in FCT, 464,769 PVCs had been collected representing 52.73 percent; of the 1,120,023 registered voters in Gombe, 873,698 had been collected representing 78.00 percent; of the 1,803030 registered voters in Imo, 949,921 PVCs had been collected representing 50.23 percent and of the 1,831,276 registered voters in Jigawa, 1,460,620 PVCs had been collected representing 79.76 percent.
Also, of the 3,407,222 registered voters in Kaduna, 2,976,628 PVCs had been collected representing 87.36 percent; of the 4,975,701 registered voters in Kano, 3,190,417 PVCs had been collected representing 64.11 percent; of the 2,827,943 registered voters in Katsina, 2,245,303 had collected PVCs representing 79.40 percent; of the 1,470,648 registered voters in Kebbi, 1,232,357 PVCs had been collected representing 83.80 percent; of the 1,350,883 registered voters in Kogi, 773,197 PVCs had collected representing 57.24 percent; of the 1,142,267 registered voters in Kwara, 738,594 PVCs had been collected representing 64.66 percent; of the 5,905,852 registered voters in Lagos, 2,267,039 had collected their PVCs representing 38.39 percent; of the 1,242,267 registered voters in Nasarawa, 995,068 PVCs had been collected representing 70.75 percent; of the 2,014,317 PVCs in Niger, 1,250,379 PVCs had been collected representing 62.07 percent and of the 1,829,534 registered voters in Ogun, 666,752 PVCs had been collected, representing 36.44 percent.
The situation was no different in other states. Of the 1,524,665 registered voters in Ondo, 824,715 PVCs had been collected representing 54.09 percent; of the 1,407,107 registered voters in Osun, 995,562 PVCs had been collected, representing 70.75 percent; of the 2,415,566 registered voters in Oyo, 1,205425 PVCs had been collected representing 49.94 percent; of the 2,001,825 registered voters in Rivers, 1,899,041 PVCs had been collected representing 58.44 percent; of the 1,611,929 registered voters in Sokoto, 1,310,003 PVCs had been collected representing 81.29 percent; of the 1,340,652 registered voters in Taraba, 1,079,333 PVCs had been collected, representing 80.51 percent; of the 1,099,970 registered voters in Yobe, 824,401 PVCs had been collected representing 74.95 percent; of the 1,495,717 registered voters in Zamfara, 1,495,717 PVCs had been collected representing 69.92 percent.
Those were the figures reeled out by Jega at the Council of State session. Interestingly, while so much focus is on the president, I understand that the people who actually were desperate to have the elections postponed were the PDP Governors, especially those of them who would be leaving office by May 29. Because of the way many of them had mismanaged the party primaries in their states, it would be difficult for their anointed successors to win if the president loses and that accounts for their desperation.
However, there were also misgivings by the presidency. If the presidential election holds this Saturday as earlier scheduled and the president wins, many believe that it would be easy for the opposition to reject the outcome, especially if the margin of victory was less than the number of prospective voters who were not availed their PVCs. On the other hand, if the election went on and the president lost narrowly, it would be difficult for him to abort such a concluded process even if he had convincing arguments that he had merely short-changed himself. The conclusion drawn was that INEC is not ready for the polls.
So before the Council of State meeting, the position of the president, and that of the party, was that the elections should be postponed. The argument was that by virtue of Section 132 (2) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, there was time to make adjustment. The Section provides that “an election to the said office (presidency) shall be held on a date not earlier than one hundred and fifty days and not later than thirty days before the expiration of the term of the last holder of that office.” That was the subtext to the Council of State meeting.
At the meeting, Jega presented his report, reiterating that he was ready for the polls. The first person to speak after his presentation was the NSA, Dasuki, who harped on the renewed efforts by the Multinational Forces to dislodge the Boko Haram insurgents and the need to shift the elections forward. The service chiefs and the Director General of the Directorate of State Security (DSS) followed with similar presentations. With the floor now open for discussion, Buhari was the first to fire a salvo against the idea to have the elections rescheduled. He said all the reasons adduced by the military do not warrant postponing the elections, especially when, according to him, soldiers have minimal role to play in the election process.
With Buhari done, the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, presented what appeared a detailed position of the APC as to why the elections had to go ahead. He looked at the possible implications of such a postponement from both the legal and political prisms, with the conclusion that it would not bode well for the country and the president. However, the Cross River State Governor, Mr Liyel Imoke countered Fashola’s arguments with what also appeared the PDP position as he went beyond the issue of Boko Haram to that of the preparedness of INEC. Some of the issues he raised included the “lopsidedness” in the distribution of PVCs nationwide, the fact that the Card Readers to be used by INEC had yet to be tested and that the electoral officials to use them have not even been trained.
At that point, according to sources, Jega sought to respond and was given the floor. He explained that most of the misgivings being expressed have been factored into INEC plans. He, however, added that it was unrealistic to expect a hundred percent turn-out of voters at elections as there is no such thing anywhere in the world. To this, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Godswill Akpabio reportedly countered that Jega was wrong. Akpabio said there is a difference between people who may choose not to vote even if they have PVCs and those who cannot vote because they have been denied what ordinarily should be their rights. He said elections cannot be credible in situations where millions of people could not get what would enable them to exercise their franchise.
In asking INEC to go ahead with the polls since the commission said it was ready, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, added that the advisory role of the Council of State does not extend to election matters. To that, the president, who had evidently been well-briefed, drew the attention of Tambuwal and that of the meeting to the Third Schedule (Part 1) of the 1999 Constitution, especially Section B (6) which states that the Council of State “shall have the power to (A) advise the President in exercise of his powers with respect to the…(4) the Independent National Electoral Commission (including appointment of members of the commission).”
In his own intervention, General Ibrahim Babangida argued that since INEC said it was ready for the polls, the real issue before the Council was on what to do about the four states where the security agencies said they needed more time to deal with the insurgency. Babangida now asked whether it was feasible to conduct elections only in 32 states. The president interjected quickly that such election would end in fiasco. I have it on good authority that some people in the administration had suggested this idea to Jega in November last year and he said any such election that excise a section of the country would not pass the test of credibility or even for that matter, legitimacy. So the president knew that succumbing to such an idea would be politically suicidal for him and he rejected it outright.
However, from the way the meeting went, it was evident that positions had been taken along party lines. At the end, the responsibility as to what to decide was pushed to INEC but the real drama was announcing the “decision” arrived at because for all practical purposes, nothing was decided as to whether or not the elections should go ahead or be postponed. With Governors Olusegun Mimiko, Rochas Okorocha and Bala Ngilari asked to brief the media by the president, the three rushed to the press room to grab the centre chair. Mimiko got there first and said no decision was taken and that INEC would consult and announce whether to postpone the elections or not which was the most accurate position as to what transpired.
However, immediately Mimiko stood up and they all appeared to be leaving, Okorocha grabbed the chair that the Ondo State Governor had been sitting on and also started to brief the State House correspondents. He said the Council had decided that the elections should go ahead. While that was not a true reflection of what happened, that was the slant reported in the media, which to be honest is a reflection of the mood of the public.
I understand that some people within the administration had toyed with two options. The first was to get the elections postponed (as it has happened) and that explains why many believe the military was used to derail the process, even if there were other compelling reasons for it. The other option, also canvassed by some hawks within the administration was to invoke Section 135, subsection 3 of the 1999 Constitution which states: “If the Federation is at war in which the territory of Nigeria is physically involved and the President considers that it is not practicable to hold elections, the National Assembly may by resolution extend the period of four years mentioned in subsection (2) of this section from time to time; but no such extension shall exceed a period of six months at any one time.”
While I am not sure that the president was aware of the plot, the calculation of those who were canvassing this position was that with majority of the National Assembly members having lost out in the primaries of their parties hence not coming back, many of them would jump at any arrangement that offers them a six-month “extra time” to continue to perform their very lucrative “oversight functions.”
Fortunately, the president dispelled all the fears and insinuations in his media chat last night. He categorically stated that what is paramount to him was to secure the country, conduct credible elections and that if he loses, he would hand over to whoever is elected by Nigerians. I don’t think anybody can fault him on the basis of what he told Nigerians last night. However, many Nigerians feel concerned that the military is unwittingly being dragged into partisan politics. And nothing demonstrates that more vividly than the manner in which the Army dabbled into the certificate controversy involving the APC presidential candidate who incidentally was their former commander-in-chief.
Buhari had averred in an affidavit he deposed before an Abuja High Court that all his certificates were with the Secretary, Military Board, while submitting his Form 199A to INEC. But in an unsolicited but sinister intervention, then outgoing Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier-General Olajide Laleye, called a press conference to announce: “The Nigerian Army does not have the original copy of his (Buhari) West African Examinations Council, WAEC result or a certified true copy.”
Laleye, who said the briefing was necessitated by a deluge of requests from civil society groups and the media among others, over Buhari’s eligibility for any political office, went on and on to cast doubts on the credibility of the APC candidate before he ended by saying: “What I have said here is what is contained in his service records’ personal file. We have not added or subtracted anything.”
Since Laleye was waving to reporters a copy of Buhari’s military record, it was dishonest of him to say he neither added nor subtracted anything. For instance, a letter dated 13 June 1980 from Major General DeWITT C. Smith, Commandant of the United States Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania to then Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff, Lt General Alani Akinrinade, is also in the file Laleye was waving to the reporters and he did not mention it because it would not help his hatchet job. I crave the indulgence of readers to reproduce it in full:
“Once again it is my distinct pleasure to comment on the performance of a Nigerian Army Officer and also to report to you that Brigadier Muhammadu Buhari proved to be a most distinguished Fellow. He graduated with the class of 1980 on 9 June and while we do not have a class standings, it should be pointed out that his performance was outstanding in every respect.
“So that you may better understand the environment in which he worked and studied, let me briefly describe our academic program. The ten-month course, designed to prepare students for senior command and staff positions and to promote understanding of the art and science of land warfare, is the basic academic effort undertaken by all US Army War College students and serves as the basis for more specialized efforts during subsequent phases of the curriculum. During the common overview, the student examines the elements of national power in relations to specific issues which directly affect national security; studies defense management and decision making to include leadership and management of operational activities and the human dimension of command; and, considers the military planning and operations in key global regions.
“The advanced courses provide for study in greater depth on a wide variety of subjects to meet the individual professional needs of our students. During this phase, Brigadier Buhari concentrated on those subjects and areas that could contribute the most to his professional development. He took four courses for credit—‘African Realities and Prospects’; ‘Middle East Political Dynamics’; ‘Problems of Modernisation’ and ‘Comparative Communism’ and audited three other courses– ‘Defense Decision-making’, ‘Analytical Techniques of Management’ and ‘Fundamentals of Automatic Data Processing’. In addition, he arranged on his own to visit US Army facilities where he could further his professional understanding of logistics management.
“Brigadier Buhari is a man of extraordinary aptitude who demonstrated a broad knowledge of current international problems. His keen interest, sense of responsibility and solid grasp of strategic implications of the important global issues marked him as a key member of any student seminar. In fact, he was at his best in the ‘give and take’ environment of our seminar group discussions where students are encouraged to express their views even though they differ from the group consensus.
“A well read, articulate professional who demonstrated a vast range of knowledge in strategically related issues, Muhammadu was an active and contributing member of his seminar group. He could be counted on to weed through the peripheral issues and irrelevant discussions to identify the source of discussion or misunderstanding, and make appropriate proposals or recommendations to keep the discussion properly focused. His views and opinions were often sought, consistently on target, and highly respected by his contemporaries. He has an outstanding ability to isolate the key issues and facts and, where appropriate, propose recommendations which kept the discussion focused on the central topic.
“Brigadier Buhari’s thorough understanding of the major issues in the United States and the world reflected obvious research and analytical facilities far exceeding the majority of his contemporaries. His written efforts were ‘first rate’ and noted for their outstanding quality of research, logic and communications skills. Brigadier Buhari’s oral presentations consistently reflected those gifts of mind and bearing which are essential in command or group endeavors. His individual presentations were of exceptional value in that he avoided vague generalities and focused on the issues which involved hard, detailed choices.
“Throughout the course, Brigadier Buhari displayed a thorough understanding of the substantive issues at stake, together with a remarkable ability to deal with a wide range of complex issues simultaneously. He is a broadly-oriented officer who doesn’t channel his energies into narrow areas but rather seeks to improve his overall understanding of international issues. Muhammadu is intellectually curious, cooperative and does not hesitate to state his own views. He is also a good listener and always took account of what others had to say. Muhammadu’s ability to ask relevant and probing questions, his political sensitivity and intimate knowledge of current political-military problems made him one of the key motivators in his seminar group.
“Brigadier Buhari demonstrated an exceptional understanding of the complexities of military strategy and the process whereby forces to support a particular strategy are developed. He is a most perspective, intelligent individual who contributed a great deal to the seminar based upon his experiences in the Nigerian Army. Muhammadu was consistently able to provide the seminar group with a non-Western perspective and a surprisingly broad strategic view of the world. He was able, on many occasions, to effectively contrasts his own Army’s command and management philosophies and practices with the United States Army’s in such a way as to be beneficial and educational to all.
“Muhammadu is a most personable and engaging officer who earned the unqualified admiration and respect of his colleagues. His sociability and high ethical standards set him apart and when coupled with his other personal attributes mark Brigadier Buhari as an individual who will continue to be a significant contributor in his chosen profession. Muhammadu is a natural leader with an abundance of intelligence and broad experience and he demonstrated a rare capacity for continued development and growth. More so than other officers in his positions, he continually strove to improve his knowledge of his profession and to develop those skills required to contribute to the Nigerian Army in the future
“Brigadier Buhari was an active participant in the extra-curricular activities of the student body. In addition to his activities with his seminar in sports competition, he volunteered to be an assistant coach at a junior-level soccer team. He generously supported our community relations program by speaking on several occasions to groups in the local area. Muhammadu, his lovely wife, Safinatu, and his young family were actively involved in the social life of the College and were a credit to Nigeria.
“In sum, Brigadier Buhari’s wisdom and incisive and analytical mind identify him as being capable of discharging increasing degrees of responsibility in an outstanding manner. His insights into rather complex issues and ability to tackle the problems at hand indicate that he has exceptional potential in the armed forces of Nigeria and is worthy of the trust placed in him by your government.”
It is difficult to believe the American General was speaking about the same APC presidential candidate that we see on the campaign train but I have an idea of what may have happened to Buhari over the years. Before I do, I need to reiterate that I am still not a fan of Buhari not only because I have issues with his stewardship as a military Head of State but also because I believe the APC presidential flag-bearer is at heart a very parochial man. I guess Buhari has always been like that because even as an 18 year old, in his handwritten “application to sit for the RNA Qualifying Examination”, Buhari began like this: “I have the honour to apply for regular service in the Royal Nigeria Army. My name is Muhammadu Buhari and I am a Fulani…”
However, there are three things I can glimpse from Buhari’s military record. One, he improved himself tremendously in the course of his professional career because seven years before that strong testimonial from the US, as a Lt Colonel, he was just another “average Joe”, going by another testimonial from the United Kingdom. Two, something must have happened to Buhari after he was toppled as Head of State in 1985 such that we no longer see most of the intellectual attributes credited to him when he was in his thirties and forties. Three, it would seem Buhari has always been a man of integrity right from his youth because of the way words like “honest”, “sincere”, “straight-forward” are frequently used for him by his superiors at different times.
As a Lt. Colonel in the Nigerian Army between January and November 1973, Buhari attended the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. Of the 186 participants, nobody made a distinction; 18 were considered “above average” while 54 were considered “high average.” Buhari was among the 111 other participants that were given the “average” grade.
In his report, the Chief Instructor, Brigadier HW Kulkarni wrote on Buhari’s Knowledge and Ability: “A sincere and hard-working officer who is keen to learn. Has an average intellect. He possesses a working knowledge of his own Arm but his knowledge of other Arms and Services is just adequate in its extent and application. He can comprehend the implications of most of the situations and has imagination and commonsense to arrive at generally reasonable solutions. He can express himself adequately. Has shown keen interest and benefitted from the course.” On Buhari’s Character and Personality, the instructor wrote: “Tall, slim and well turned-out, Buhari is a quiet, unassuming and honest individual, with a mature and balanced outlook. Subdued by nature, he does his best for his team. Accepts criticism willngly. He is polite and somewhat shy; however, he mixes freely. Physically, he is quite fit.”
The final remarks came from the Comandant of the College, Major General SP Malhotra who wrote of Buhari: “Of average intelligence, Buhari is sober and balanced. Straightforward, simple and mature, he expresses his views freely when asked. Keen to learn. Sociable, though somewhat shy. Pleasant and cordial.”
I have brought out the foregoing because they are all in Buhari’s military record in possession of the Army yet the former spokesman would only release what he thought would damage the APC presidential candidate without considering the harm he was doing to the very institution he was speaking for. As Obasanjo, Akinrinade and several former military leaders have pointed out in recent days, dragging the military into partisan politics bodes ill for our country and that is where the element of gamble comes in as we approach the rescheduled elections.
To the extent that the responsibility for the peace and security of the nation rests on the president, it is important for him to look beyond the immediate to what he envisions as his place in history. While the president should work towards winning the rescheduled election, I strongly recommend to his handlers Chapter 22 of Robert Greene’s book, “The 33 Strategies of War” where the author borrowed from the thesis of the great German General, Erwin Rommel who once made a distinction between a gamble and a risk.
According to Rommel, both involve an action with only a chance of success but with risk, if you lose, you can recover whereas it is not so with a gamble where “defeat can lead to a slew of problems that are likely to spiral out of control”. Therefore, while some form of risk-taking is allowed in statecraft, a gamble is a different matter altogether and we can look at two cases that should help us in distinguishing one from the other.
First, a certain Obasanjo was spending his second and last statutory term in office as Nigerian president when he decided to procure a third term by bribing the lawmakers to amend the constitution. When he failed, Obasanjo, who was all the while hiding behind one finger, retreated and told the world what he has kept repeating: he never sought third term! Today, the former president has recovered from the fiasco such that, as the de facto “leader of opposition” to the Jonathan administration, he could even bag the 2014 Leadership Newspaper Man of the Year award!
On the other hand, you have a Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso who came to power in a military coup in 1987 and was first elected to a seven-year term as president in 1991 after resigning from the military. In 1998, he secured a second mandate in another sham election. But before the term could expire in 2005, he got the legislature to change the Constitution so he could seek a fresh five-year term which he won. He was re-elected for his second (and what was to be his final) term in 2010 but in October last year, Compaore started another plot to have the term limit removed from the Constitution so he could continue in office. The people kicked and the same military that he had been using to trample on their rights turned against the dictator. So within a matter of three weeks, Compaore, whose tenure was actually to expire in November 2015, was forced to flee his country in disgrace last October and is now a fugitive in Morocco.
Now to the message: Both Obasanjo and Compaore sought to hang on to power beyond their legitimate mandates but while the former was clever enough to know when he was beaten and retreated, the latter thought he could force the issue, oblivious to the fact that the world has changed. At the end, the tyrant of Ouagadougou was exposed as just another bloody coward who got a bitter lesson he would never forget from the same people he had oppressed for 27 years. The difference: Obasanjo took a risk, Compaore went for a gamble!
The pertinent question now is: Why is gamble not a recommended option for a political leader? Now I can close my argument with an “Advisory”, not from Dasuki this time, but from Greene: “With a gamble there tend to be too many variables to complicate the picture down the road if things go wrong. The problem goes further, if you encounter difficulties in a gamble, it becomes harder to pull out—you realise that the stakes are too high: you cannot afford to lose. So you try harder to rescue the situation, often making it worse and sinking deeper into a hole that you cannot get out of. People are drawn into gambles by their emotions: they see only the glittering prospects if they win and ignore the ominous consequences if they lose. Taking risks is essential: gambling is foolhardy. It can be years before you recover from a gamble, if you ever recover at all…”