BY CHRIS GYANG
“Please what is happening?” “Are we not going to be allowed to vote in this local government election?” “Please this problem should be solved so that we can vote candidates of our choice!” “There is no need to vote since only one political party will be contesting.” “This is not an election since it has already been rigged in favour of one political party.”
These were the anguished frustrations of Plateau State citizens in the anxious days preceding these local government elections organized by the Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission (PLASIEC), funded by the Plateau State Government. They were afraid that the judgement barring the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from contesting the October 9 polls would deny them their constitutional right to participate in this cherished democratic process.
But their wildest nightmares have turned into a crushing reality. PLASIEC is conducting the elections without the participation of the main opposition PDP. The overwhelming hopes of the people, some of whom had enjoyed the luxury of electing their chairmen and councilors since 2015, have been mercilessly shattered.
Again, Plateau State is setting another odious record in political ignominy for the world to see. Those politicians and other Nigerians who gain from this travesty because their consciences died long ago would tell you that this had also happened at other times.
Perhaps. But not in this fashion where a whole generation and millions of eligible voters are so flagrantly disenfranchised and their other rights squashed in one fell swoop. Even in war, certain moral principles are upheld to demonstrate that man still clings to some pieces of decency. This is supposed to be more so on the political turf where politics should be seen as a passionate pursuit that seeks to enhance and uphold the general good and welfare of all citizens – without the undue influence of deleterious factors.
And even if something of this nature had happened before, does it make this mass disenfranchisement permissible? Even justifiable? Defending these actions with the past infractions of others only compounds the problem; makes it knottier and deeply entrenched.
Unfortunately, this has become the norm in the current dispensation where the Buhari government takes morbid pleasure in comparing the number of victims of insurgency under its watch with what prevailed in the past in a desperate attempt to shore up its abysmal record in that and other departments of governance. No wonder, violent crimes and lawlessness have become the order of the day all over the country.
THE JUDICIARY/ A GOVERNOR IN LIMBO
Yes, the courts could be at the centre of the adjudication that led to this state of affairs in Plateau State. To be sure, we hold our legal system in high esteem because we believe that it is the last resort and hope of the common man. And it is the pillar upon which our democracy rests.
Yes, the judiciary, universally symbolized by that iconic blindfolded lady wielding the sword of justice, is no respecter of persons and strictly abides by the cold letter of the law. But sometimes, the outcomes of its judgements arrived at through sound, diligent, dispassionate and critical examination of facts can be manipulated by self-serving individuals and interests to the detriment of the people and society it seeks to serve and protect.
Could this be the case in Plateau State today where a local government election is being held with the majority of the citizens willfully disenfranchised? As we contemplate this, we should chew over this statement by the retired legal luminary, Justice Daniel Longji: “I can confidently say that the judiciary is just an appendage. People want the judiciary to be impartial but it cannot be impartial because it is an appendage of government. I say this very openly and I have no regret saying it…. And if you dare give judgement against the government…. I said I have no regrets, but if wishes were horses….” (TODAY’S CHALLENGE, February, 2020).
That said, even the most brutal law is sometimes tampered with mercy. There is also what is known as the spirit of the law. But the case that ultimately led to stopping the PDP from contesting the election was essentially sensitive.
It was sensitive because it had resounding political ramifications. And because of the volatile nature of Nigeria’s politics, it had to be handled with utmost caution.
But the Plateau State acting chairman of the APC, a beneficiary of that court judgement, gloated: “The PDP shot itself on the foot.” Sadly, and unknown to him, it is the soul of Plateau State that was shot with a poisoned arrow. And the wound may take a long time to heal. He proceeded to paint the glorious scenario of his Party recording a landslide victory! In his reckoning, the courts had finally paved the way for the APC to dominate the political space.
Governor Simon Lalong later expressed the same sentiments when he addressed APC members at a rally in Shendam to flag-off campaigns for the local government polls. He proclaimed: “I am very optimistic that we will sweep the elections because we don’t have opposition in Plateau State.” For them, therefore, the fact that the main opposition party was not participating in the vote did not take away the inherent joy that comes with winning an election keenly contested with worthy rivals on a level playing ground.
It is this warped sense of accomplishment and braggadocio that is fueling the feeling among citizens that some undue pressure may have been mounted on the judiciary. Also, this may go a long way to confirm the position of critics who had hitherto maintained that the Lalong administration has always been afraid of conducting free and fair local council elections for fear of woefully losing.
This is because, first, his performance in critical areas such as infrastructural and economic development and maintaining peace have been extremely dismal. Second, his image as an appendage of the core North, as demonstrated by his actions as the so-called Chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum and self-serving political maneuvering, has further pushed his estimation to near zero in the eyes of citizens who see themselves as unapologetically belonging to Nigeria’s Middle Belt region.
Third, the internal crises in his APC have so torn it apart that the person who has always controlled its key structures had to part ways with the governor and was well prepared to go against the APC had the local government polls not been restricted. Therefore, edging the PDP out of the fray has proved to be a massive saving grace for Governor Lalong as it offered him a soft-landing.
JOS NORTH DISCONTENT/ CORE NORTH AGENDA
It must be pointed out that this disenfranchisement of Plateau citizens would rankle most in the minds of the people of Jos North, Jos South, Riyom and Barakin Ladi local government areas. While other parts of the state had the benefit of voting for their council chairmen and councilors in 2018, elections were shelved in these four LGAs due to security concerns. Ever since, they have been ruled by APC loyalists appointed by Governor Lalong.
Just as they were optimistically looking forward to massively participating in the current electoral process, their hopes have once more been dashed. But prior to this, political analysts had argued that the Lalong administration had cited insecurity for not conducting elections in those areas chiefly as a ruse.
They point out that the state government had always known that it would not win elections in those LGAs because they remain solid strongholds of the opposition PDP. They therefore contend that the current trend may just as well be a continuation of that policy of denying them their franchise in order for the state government to avoid a crushing defeat.
There are still others who believe that Governor Lalong exhibited an acute lack of political acumen when he approved elections in these four LGAs (and Bassa) even when their security situations were still very teneous, to say the least. They especially point to Bassa and Jos North which were rocked by eruptions of bloody violence in August which necessitated the imposition of a twenty-four-hour curfew, which has now been relaxed to between 10pm and 6AM.
As things stand today, four of these LGAs are effectively under curfew. Yet Governor Lalong wants council elections to hold therein mainly because the coast is clear for his APC to have a field day.
However, the governor is facing stiff opposition in Jos North LGA from within his own APC. He is accused of hand-picking and imposing a non-indigene, Alhaji Shehu Bala Usman, as the Party’s flagbearer over and above other members belonging to the three indigenous ethnic groups of the area who had also bought forms for the chairmanship position. Apparently, APC loyalists here are also smarting from the excesses of Governor Lolong just as their opponents in the PDP and other citizens of the state.
The Jos North APC is now demanding for the conduct of a free and fair primary election to elect a chairmanship flagbearer in accordance with its constitution. In the alternative, they joined other individuals and groups in calling for the cancellation of the polls on the grounds of the state of insecurity in Jos North alluded to above.
But, against all odds, the governor is bent on installing Alhaji Usman as executive chairman. Critics claim that he cannot backtrack now because he must fulfill a pact he entered with the Hausa/Fulani settler community to hand over the council leadership to them for ‘favours’ rendered him. There have also been unconfirmed reports that the long-term plan of the Hausa/Fulani settler community is to carve out an emirate in Jos North to serve as a launching pad for the Islamization of other parts of the state.
This is seen as part of the core North’s overall agenda, presently vigorously pursued by the Buhari government, to make other parts of the country subservient to the Caliphate. The Federal Government’s open support for killer Fulani herdsmen’s litigations against Southern Governors’ enactment of anti-open grazing laws is a clear matter in point.
It is very obvious from all of the above that the proposed October 9, 2021, Plateau State local government elections have served to shatter the hopes of Plateau citizens, even beyond political party lines. The elections have also exposed Governor Lalong’s penchant for subordinating the common good of citizens to his own personal will and ego, no matter the consequences to both his own APC and the opposition PDP. But, above all, the elections will further deeply polarize the good people of the state in a most unprecedented manner.
But it is heartwarming that the PDP approached the Court of Appeal with its grievances. This is a positive sign that a segment of the political class still believes in the ability of our temples of justice to uphold the rule of law and protect the integrity of our democracy. Despite the outcome, democracy still looks forward to better days ahead.
Even in this thick atmosphere of despondency, growing out of a collective feeling of shattered hopes, and mutual suspicion, brought about by our fractured unity, there is a glimmer of hope that out of all these may yet emerge a stronger democratic Plateau State – and Nigeria.
(GYANG is the Chairman of the N.G.O, Journalists Coalition for Citizens’ Rights Initiative – JCCRI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)