THE LEGEND BEKO
Dr Bekolari Ransome-Kuti (popularly simply called Beko) is a legend and prodigy. His unquantifiable contributions to human rights, rule of law, democracy and defence of the common man and woman cannot be forgotten.
He is in the pantheon of legends such as Chief Gani Fawwhinmi, SAN, SAM, Dr Tai Solarin, Comrade Ola Oni, Prof Ayodele Awojobi, Dr Bade Onimode, Chief Chris Okolie, Chief Kanmi Isola-Osobu, Prof Omafume Onoge, Aminu Kano, etc.
Born 2nd August, 1940, to the illustrious family of Revd. Israel Oladotun and Chief (Mrs) Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Beko attended Abeokuta Grammar School, Coventry Technical College and Manchester University. He graduated as a Medical Doctor, but he is best remembered as a social critic and Human Rights Activist. His life changed when he beheld soldiers under Obasanjo’s military junta storm the night club (shrine) of his brother, irrepressible Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, destroyed the place, including his clinic and brutally injured his revered mother, the first woman to ride a car in Nigeria, and who fought British colonial rule, harsh taxation of women and helped enthrone Nigerian independence. She never recovered from this trauma and state-sponsored harakiri which is believed to have led to her untimely death. Fela, the Abami Eda was later to cry lyrically,”they kill my mama, they kill my mama, she is the only mother of Nigeria…..”
Beko later became Chairman, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Lagos branch, and Deputy National Chairman, NMA. He frontally campaigned against lack of drugs in Nigerian hospitals and sale and consumption of expired drugs. So much were the anti-military activities of Beko and his brother, Fela, that that in 1984, Fela was detained and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by the general Muhammadu Buhari military dictatorship. Beko was also jailed and his NMA was banned by the general Muhammadu Buhari junta. He was later released in 1985 when Buhari was deposed by General Ibrahim Babangida in a military coup on August 27, 1985.
Beko was a founder of one of Nigeria’s early human rights organizations. The first and foremost was pioneered by my humble self and Dr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, Clement Nwankwo, Richard Akinola, Abdul Oroh and Emmanuel Erhakpotobo. It is called the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO). Beko’s organization is called is called the Campaign for Democracy (CD). I later founded the Universal Defenders of Democracy (UDD), now known as Universal Defenders of Justice Initiative (UDJI), a human rights organization with which I secured injunctions against the death sentence passed on General Zamani Lekwot who had been sentenced to death by an IBB special military tribunal on the Zagon-Kataf brouhaha. I also used the human rights organization to secure an injunction on the “Kuje 5” that involved Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Beko Ransome Kuti, Baba Omojola, Femi Filana and Olusegun Miyegun.
It was launched by legendary Justice (Dr) Akinola Aguda in April, 1992, with Emeka Ihedioha (former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and currently PDP governorship candidate of Imo state) and others. In 1998, I joined Gani Fawehinmi and others to found the Joint Action Committee of Nigeria (JACON), the conglomerate organisation with which we finally pushed out the military. Gani Fawehinmi was the National Chairman and I was the National Vice Chairman (Publicity and Publications). I have been in the struggle since then. Alluta Continua Victoria Ascerta.
In 1995, a military tribunal under General Sani Abacha sentenced him to life imprisonment to curb his anti-military activities. Amnesty Internation (AI) adopted Beko as a “Prisoner of Conscience”. He was only set free in 1998 after Abacha died a mysterious death in Aso Rock Villa.
A fellow of the West African College of physicians, leading figure the British Commonwealth Human Rights Committee and Chairman, Committee for the defence of Human Rights (CDHR) and Executive Director, Centre for Constitutional Governance, Dr Beko died at about 11.20pm at 65, at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Lagos, on 10th February, 2006, from complications of lung cancer. He is survived by an only son, Brigadier-General Enitan Ransome-Kuti.
It is this iconic Nigerian we are remembering and honouring today with this lecture, whose title is very apt in these trying times.
“When the account of the ages are etched into the Cosmos, let those who exist long after us, note that this was one of our darkest hours.”
Dr Beko Ransom Kuti, would, if he were with us, be in the trenches and on the streets today on account of the darkest hours Nigerians experience today. We will forever remember Beko for his consistency, patriotism and love for his country.
For years, Nigerians have obsessed over ensuring that the process of the country’s democracy reaches an optimum level where the interests of the nation are most pivotal. Beko fought for the enthronement of genuine democracy, respect for human rights, rule of law and good governance.
At every election cycle, this obsession reaches its peak as candidates, political parties and the electorate extol the values of democracy and the importance of making every single vote count.
This obsession with free and fair elections has been the catalyst for countless electoral litigations that have resulted in numerous overruled election results and court-appointed rulers.
With the way elections have been conducted in Nigeria over the past two decades, it is correct to say it has never been smooth sailing. The country’s history with electoral irregularities has informed Nigerians’ fervent vigilance towards electoral conducts as the February 16 and March 2, 2019 general elections approaches in a few days.
Judging by recent events, there might be a genuine reason to worry about the sanctity of the nation’s so-called democracy. Which some cynics have understandably called Civilian government.
If you look at the name, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), what it means is that it is expected to be independent in its activities and not be dictated to. But, unfortunately, the reverse is the case. It is obvious that the powers that be dictate to the present day INEC, unlike Prof Attahiru Jega during his time. They tell them when and where to cancel elections or declare them inconclusive, even if the election was adjudged to be free and fair by the observers. Today, many of the INEC officials are partisan politicians and have their own candidates. So, in such a situation, what do we expect? What happened in Ekiti State governorship election and the recent Osun State elections show that INEC is likely being compromised. So, something serious needs to be done to check that.
ELECTION AS A DO-OR-DIE WAR
Some of us remain skeptical because of the unanimous finding of social scientists over the years that in developing countries, the conduct of elections is an ordeal. A good example is Kenya where in less than three days after the December 27, 2007 polls, no fewer than 500 persons died as a result of violent demonstrations over the conduct of the process. As at today, many years after the election, peace is yet to return to Cote d’Ivoire as many citizens are being killed daily following unending clashes between the two rival political parties that contested the November 28, 2010 election. The situation in Nigeria has not been different. Intra-party feuds and violence against dissenters and opposition are rife.
Richard Joseph in his study of ‘Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria’ aptly posits that our electoral process is always reduced to a “Hobbessian state of war”, making it seem as if political violence is both a culture and an article of faith for Nigerians. On his part, Claude Ake described a typical Nigerian election as “an all-consuming business” in which the end justifies any means. Of course, no one was taken aback by Omo Omoruyi’s dismissal of the famous June 12, 1993 election as “a complete betrayal of the democratic rights of Nigerians.” Unfortunately, the experience of the 90s has not changed. Just before the 2003 elections, a bike-riding assassin shot dead a governorship aspirant in Ogun State. In Edo State, thugs invaded the precincts of a meeting called by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), to settle an intra-party squabble and killed three persons. A Resident Electoral Commissioner, Chief Philip Oloruntoba, was shot dead in his house in Lokoja, Kogi State, by unknown persons. That same year, a group of persons yet to be identified till date set ablaze the national secretariat of the then main opposition party- the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Since then, the political war has not abated. On December 3, 2010, no fewer than three persons were killed at a political party’s local government congress in Oyo State. In Akwa Ibom, an aspirant, Dr. Akpan Akpanudo was shot dead on January 3, 2011 after participating in his party primaries for the State House of Assembly.
The incontrovertible reason for such a high level of unwholesome political behaviour is the fact that the Nigerian political system is premised on election as a zero-sum game where the winner takes all. Consequently, the average Nigerian politician is dangerously desperate to win an election at all cost. When a bomb exploded at the official lodge of Governor Chris Ngige of Anambra State on December 1, 2004, the leader of those opposed to the governor had this to say: “My mistake for which I ask for understanding stemmed from my belief that election is like a battle and since all is fair in war, I believed that the end justified the means in an election.”
FEARS ABOUT THE COMING ELECTIONS
The United States Government has expressed fear that the Nigeria’s general elections scheduled for February 16 and March 2, 2019 are likely to be characterized by violence. It said the conduct of the elections could have significant consequences for the democratic trajectory of Nigeria, West Africa, and the entire continent. The US, however, said the public disturbance that the elections would cause might not be “large-scale nationwide conflict” but “localized violence.”
The US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, disclosed this in his presentation during the US Congress hearing on Nigeria’s forthcoming elections in Washington DC in December 2018.
To varying degrees, every election in Nigeria’s modern history has experienced violence. In Nigeria, all of the elements of Timothy Sisk’s expansive definition of electoral-related violence have occurred:
“acts or threats of coercion, intimidation, or physical harm perpetrated to affect an electoral process or that arise in the context of electoral competition. When perpetrated to affect an electoral process, violence may be employed to influence the process of elections—such as efforts to delay, disrupt, or derail a poll—and to influence the outcomes: the determining of winners in competitive races for political office.”
Nigeria’s history of electoral violence is, for many, an unfortunately accepted fact of life, and cannot be viewed in isolation from the many social and economic inequalities, ethnic and religious divisions, and structural weaknesses such as corruption and weak state capacity. While many conventional risks of election violence endure, including the willingness (or not) of candidates to accept the results, the use and abuse of state power to unfairly favour incumbents, and the ease with which young people can be mobilized towards violence, a simplistic narrative that violence is ever present and inevitable, obscures important contextual changes in Nigeria since 2015. Despite the risks, serious violence in 2019 is not inevitable, even if that possibility seems great.
Across the states in Nigeria, as well as across socioeconomic classes and political persuasions, opinions about Nigeria’s key electoral actors are strikingly common, reflecting a broader narrative of mistrust and uncertain confidence in state institutions. Of all the state’s institutions, peaceful elections in 2019 are contingent on the performance of Nigeria’s INEC. Given the relative success of the 2015 elections, INEC is expected to deliver credible elections again in 2019. Any regression from the level of performance achieved in 2015 could lead to violence because Nigerians will view the failings not as a result of incompetence but as deliberate attempts to frustrate the will of the voters.
In 2015, with incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan peace-fully conceding defeat even while votes were still being counted, and expectations of widespread violence going largely unrealized, INEC was viewed as having organized a peaceful, successful, fair, free and credible election. Its achievement then set the bar reasonably high for the 2019 election cycle. Many Nigerians have expressed the view that INEC should at least match the standards it set in 2015, and any regression could set the stage for violence. It is obvious that there will be no voter’s apathy in the coming elections, especially now that the electorate has seen that change through the ballot box was possible. Furthermore, widespread disappointment in the current government will be enough motivation for some citizens to participate more actively in the electoral process and, consequently, to offer a competing explanation for trajectories of voter turnout.
In any election, the people determine the outcome, but when the electoral umpire decides to be partial, then it will naturally determine the outcome of elections. At every election when the government in power is poised to see free, fair and violence-free elections, it goes on to whatever length to get every party in the contest to behave well and act according to the rules of engagement. That however does not always guarantee that all parties will behave well, including the government itself. For instance, despite all the advertised desire of General Babangida’s government to bequeath a good election, it went ahead to sabotage the same election which has been variously described as the best fairest, freest and election ever held in Nigeria. But, till date one thing is certain, if one particular party behaves well, it can actually check or dampen the impact of the misbehaviour of other party or parties. But if that same party decides to misbehave, it is not certain that the other parties can sufficiently contain its impact. That party is the electoral umpire which in Nigeria is called the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The truth is that in many elections in Nigeria, the electoral umpire holds the ace. Their ability to determine the election is influenced by the discretion they can exercise. Perhaps in sophisticated and automated systems where voting and/ or results collation are done electronically, their ability to do harm would be minimized. But in less developed and analogue systems like ours, where collation of results from the polling booths to the national collation centre is done manually, the capacity of the umpire to do harm is grossly accentuated. That this umpire has the capacity and perhaps the looming propensity to work along this dangerous path is imminent. This conclusion is drawn due to a couple of baffling false steps recently taken by INEC. The Electoral umpire has recently displayed a tendency to work at cross purposes with its major parties in the contest- the political parties. INEC is showing strong headedness, not willing to listen to the political parties except perhaps to only one- the one in power. If INEC desires to superintendent over a peaceful, free and fair election, it cannot feel unconcerned with the concerns of the 91 parties that make up the CUPP.
CAN INEC DELIVER CREDIBLE ELCETION?
One major concern is Amina Zakari. Whether she has marriage, consanguineous, blood or water relationship with President Buhari, should not be the only issue. What is important in a democracy is that if a significant segment of the electorate opposes any decision, then they must be listened to. Already, the leading opposition parties have drawn international attention to their objections and the stubbornness of INEC. The parties are not requesting that she be removed as a national commissioner, but just that she be reassigned. Is that too much sacrifice? If that is done, it would amount to essentially complying with good corporate governance practices because there is perceived conflict of interest. In many advanced nations, she would naturally recuse herself even if nobody raised any objection. That is where honour means much. Not here.
Another striking concern is that INEC is re-writing the guidelines for conducting the elections without taking the parties into confidence. They have just been presented with a fiat accompli. And now the parties are protesting. In 2015, accreditation was first completed and the number of accredited voters announced before voting started. That way, voters and party agents watched out for over voting and that helped in some way to deliver a good election. But now, INEC says accreditation will go on simultaneously with voting. There are certainly pros and cons for either procedure. But, why would INEC not sell these to the parties before firming up the guidelines? As far as I am concerned, this amounts to breeding unnecessary controversies and contradictions which are souring the relationship between the parties to the contest even before the contest begins. Thus, from the look of things, INEC will determine the 2019 elections and must be prepared to bear the full consequences, positive or negative.
Prof. Mahmood Yakubu led-INEC owes Nigerians a duty to remain impartial and truly independent in the conduct of the 2019 elections. It must ensure that the massive rigging that occurred in the last Osun State gubernatorial election does not reoccur in the 2019 elections, especially in the Presidential election holding, all things being equal, on 16th February, 2019.
With the keen interest that Nigerians have displayed with regards to the February 16 election, INEC need not be told that if it is biased in favour of any political candidate or political party in the conduct of the 2019 elections, it would surely plunge the whole country into post-election turmoil. Peace should reign in Nigeria. But, injustice threatens peace because justice grows in the crannies of peace. No justice, no peace. Therefore, INEC should do justice in order to save Nigerians from the agony and tragedy of post-election violence. And the only way INEC can do justice is to organize a free, fair, transparent and credible 2019 elections devoid of the scientific rigging witnessed in the last Osun State gubernatorial election.
A great multitude of Nigerians have been pauperized and imperiled in the last four years. Consequently, they are seeking liberation from their pauperization and anguish. As a matter of fact, they want to live again as human beings. Because of this, the outcome of the 2019 elections is crucial to them. The truth of the matter is that the people are clamoring for a real change. They are not ready to tolerate any election rigging this time. So, they are keeping an eagle eye on INEC. Thanks to members of the international community. They also are watching INEC. They have told Nigeria to organize a free, fair and credible 2019 elections or incur the wrath of the international community. For purpose of emphasis, INEC must be impartial in the conduct of the 2019 elections.
Unfortunately, Nigerian people are being treated with utter contempt and opprobrium as if they are slaves to their political leaders. Now that the February 16 election is approaching, some people erroneously believe the elections have been won and lost even when the voting, at the polling booths are yet to take place. The impression being given is that the people do not matter.
This is completely unacceptable, abhorrent and obnoxious! In our representative democracy, power belongs to the people, not the President, let alone INEC. Put differently, sovereignty by virtue of section 14(2) (a) and by virtue of our presidential democracy, resides with the people. The American founding fathers aptly put it when they stated that “Governments are instituted among men deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed”. Therefore government simply means government with consent derived from the people. This consent flows from the radical equal rights of all men. If we are all equal and if sovereignty resides with the people no politician has a right to rule without the consent of the people.
WHAT INEC MUST DO
Consequently, INEC has only one option which is to organize a free, fair, transparent and credible 2019 elections. INEC must live up its name as an “independent” electoral body. It should allow the will of the people to prevail in the conduct of the 2019 elections. Notwithstanding the fact that INEC Chairman, Prof Yakubu has been going about saying INEC is out to organize a free and fair 2019 elections, the political parties and most members of the public are afraid that the 2019 elections would be rigged in favour of the ruling party. This fear is anchored on the premise that the INEC chairman hails from the same ethnic enclave as President Buhari. This is the first time the head of our electoral body is coming from the same ethnic group as the sitting President of Nigeria. This is why many people are entertaining fear that the INEC Chairman would manipulate the results of the elections in favour of his kinsman. It is instructive to note that the INEC Chairman is not the only key political appointee of Buhari from his ethnic group. Many other Buhari’s key political appointees including the Service Chiefs hail from President Buhari’s ethnic enclave. Recently, in an interview, President Buhari defended this kind of parochial appointments
on grounds that the appointments are based on merit and that he wants his appointees to be 100% loyal to him, and, by extension under his control. The implication of this is that if the INEC Chairman Prof. Yakubu is under the control of President Buhari, it is unlikely that the latter would allow the former to announce an election result that would be unfavourable to him. It is crystal clear that the President has surrounded himself with pliable appointees who can easily dance to his tune. One can see how a few weeks to the Presidential election, he is assaulting the independence of our judiciary by illegally removing Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen from Cross River State in order to replace him with Justice Tanko Muhammed from Bauchi State.
As a watch man and as an Ambassador of Peace, I plead with INEC to save our country from any impending calamity that injustice may provoke. Our nation looks forward to February 16 as an opportunity to decide their fate. The people will revolt in the event of any imposition. As I said at the beginning of this paper, when the account of the ages are etched into the Cosmos, let those who exist long after us note that this was one of our darkest hours. Prof Mahmood Yakubu and his team must not allow us enter any dark system. We are not asking too much from INEC other than requesting that it carries out its constitutional duty with all sense of commitment and conscientiously too. Any attempt to rig the February 16 election will be likened to Chinua Achebe’s illustration of a foolish man who challenged his chi to a fight after he had eaten and filled up his stomach. Definitely, such a man is doomed to fail!
Insecurity is already no doubt one of the greatest threats to us as a people in Nigeria, and our democracy today. Section 14(2) (b) of the 1999, Constitution states that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. One is left to wonder whether security in the country is given the priority attention it deserves.
The general elections will certainly have a far reaching impact on the government in power and our practice of democracy in Nigeria. How INEC performs its functions will therefore have an effect on the security situation in the country.
Being the Dr Beko Ransom-Kuti Annual Memorial Lecture Delivered By Dr Mike A.A. Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, FCIArb, Ph. D, L.L.D, Constitutional Lawyer and Human Rights Activist.