The Presidency and opposition parties led by the All Progressives Congress, yesterday, took their battle for the 2015 elections to far away Washington D.C., in the United States of America.
A forum on Nigeria’s preparations for the 2015 elections, degenerated to a war of words, after opposition leaders in the country pointed at alleged failings of President Goodluck Jonathan in governance and his sincerity towards free and fair elections.
The forum held under the auspices of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS nearly boiled over after Dr. Doyin Okupe who led the presidency and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, delegation warned opposition politicians not to bring the personality of the president into the forum.
Dr. Okupe who had started by claiming that he would not wash the country’s dirty linen in public, however, expploded when Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the All Progressives Congress, APC, spokesman hinted at the administration’s failure to address transparency issues including the alleged missing $20 billion oil revenue and indiscretions by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC as failings of the government.
“Alhaji Lai Mohammed should not cast aspersions on the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria because if he does that, he knows me and what I can do,” Okupe said as he went on to project the 2011 elections as the best in the country’s history which he said, were only dented by violence inspired by opposition politicians.
Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States, Prof. Ade Adefuye in his summary of the discussions, however, praised the two sides saying that the articulation of the two parties was reflective of the high level of political discourse in Nigeria. He nevertheless warned the two sides not to wash the country’s image in public even as he raised questions about Nigerians coming to discuss their country in the United States.
Okupe had a Senior Special Assistant to the President, Sanya Awosan and Fred Majemite, Political Adviser to the Governor of Delta State on the panel. Besides Mohammed, the APC was represented by Senator Babafemi Ojodu, APC, Ekiti Central. The event was attended by Nigerian professionals, American specialists on Africa and state department officials among others. Among others present at the event were Dr. Usman Bugaje, former senior aide to the vice-president in the Olusegun Obasanjo administration; Mr. Oma Djebah, senior adviser to the governor of Delta State on foreign relations.
The PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Adamu Mu‘azu was excused on the basis of a caucus meeting in Abuja and Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State was similarly excused following the killing of more than 100 persons in the state, last weekend.
Noting the APC’s preparations for the 2015 election, Mohammed pointed at ongoing congresses to choose party officials and the roll out of a road map to lead Nigeria out of the malaise of unemployment, insecurity among other issues bothering on lack of transparency in the management of the economy and the electoral process.
Okupe responding, immediately faulted Mohammed as he said that he did not come to discuss the president’s performance, noting that he had “reservations about discussing our internal problems abroad,” and warned Mohammed, who he had earlier embraced before the commencement of the discussions not to comment on the personality of the president.
Ms Jenniefer Cooke, Director of the CSIS Africa programme who moderated the discussions from that point intervened as both sides tried to showcase the failings of one another. Senator Ojudu was specifically cited the unwillingness of the PDP majority in the legislature to project good bills to consolidate democracy and faulted President Jonathan’s refusal to give assent to the State of the Nation address.
Faulting Okupe’s assertion that the problems of Nigeria should be internalized, Ojudu said: “We cannot be an island of our own”.
Okupe from time to time teased the APC team on what he called the lack of internal democracy, saying that the party was quick to suppress the mandate of parties who won in the last local government elections in Lagos State.
Ms Cooke was forced to intervene after Okupe raised issues on Mohammed’s assertion of the administration’s failures to address the spate of insecurity inspired by the Boko Haram Islamic group.
Noting words of advice from the party to the government, he said:
“Insurgency is not a matter that can be politicised but unfortunately the government of the day has not been able to distinguish between the message and the messenger,” as the opposition politicians faulted the president’s failure to visit the war ravaged sections of the Northeast.
Okupe intervening hollered, “I do not expect you to come to this forum to raise these issues, it is nonsense,” he said.
The CSIS forum continued last night with sessions between the Nigerian politicians and state department officials.
Sessions would also be held today with other democracy building institutions based in America and meetings with senior officials of the Barack Obama administration.
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan has said that he would ensure that no other Nigerian leader suffers international humiliation which the late president, Umaru Yaradua and himself suffered, saying that as long as he remains the president, he would ensure the conduct of a credible and acceptable election in 2015.
He spoke, yesterday , when he received the outcome of the National Stakeholders Forum on Electoral Reform from former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, the Chairman of Ken Nnamani Centre for Leadership and Development.
According to President Jonathan, “there is a lot of noise in the air but definitely the elections will be better because we must put our legs down and make sure that the right things are done.”
While commending the Ken Nnamani foundation for its ‘painstaking commitment’ to examining relevant department of government to strengthen the electoral process, the president assured that he would do everything to ensure that there was credibility in the conduct of election, promising that the 2015 election would be better conducted and more credible than those of 2011.
“Anything about elections, I’m totally committed. And I used my personal experience when I came on board in 2007 as a vice president, and I promised myself that if I have the privilege to oversee elections in Nigeria, we will do better. Bayelsa State is totally a PDP State and I didn’t see how anybody could win election outside the PDP. I had to go to my ward to vote, because everything about politics is local, but at the end of that election I was embarrassed when the international observers complained that there were certain breaches.
“Even though after taking oath of office and the Supreme Court declared us winners, each time one travelled abroad, people ask all kinds of questions that even gets one angry. That was when I promised myself that if I have an opportunity to oversee elections in Nigeria, no other president or vice president should suffer that kind of harassment by the international community.
“That was why the 2011 elections, even though I was candidate, I said nobody should manipulate elections for me that my ambition and the fate of the country are two different things. The interest of the nation is much more superior than any other ambition and I kept faith with that. At least, at the end of that election, it was accepted by observers locally and internationally. And I promise that 2015 elections will be better,” he said.
On the recommendations by the Ken Nnamani Foundation which include the establishment of electoral offences commission, funding of INEC and support for constitutional/electoral reform, the President noted that they were in tandem with government’s thinking and policy.
On the establishment of electoral offences commission, the president agreed that there must be a dedicated body “so that people who commit electoral offences will not get away with it.
“After elections, the matter goes to the tribunal, the only person who loses, is the person who contested that election. Other people who committed all kinds of atrocities get away with them and nobody punishes them. And that is why we continue to have that kind of impunity. That was why my committee at a time recommended this election offences commission, where we stated that whether elections are annulled or not, there must be process of bringing those who have done one thing or the other contrary to expectations to book.
Ignorance is a disease. Why should anybody be afraid of discussing Nigeria’s problems anywhere – in or outside Nigeria? Why did the goverment allow this oversized man to travel out of the country if not to discuss the country?