Onwuasoanya FCC Jones
Whenever Buhari talks about his determination to ensure that the 2023 elections is as free as any election can be, many people are quick to applaud him for trying to write his name in gold as he departs Aso Rock. While I am one of those who believe that many of Buhari’s sins against Nigerians will be forgiven by Nigerians if he makes genuine attempts at ensuring that the 2023 elections is clean and credible, I do not trust the retired military general to keep to his words, and I have not pretended about that.
Rigging elections is not all about ballot stuffing or changing election results at the point of declaring the results. Election rigging starts long before the first ballot is cast in an election. Any action taken to confer undue advantage on one candidate ahead of the others amounts to rigging an election. And outside today’s grounding of Peter Obi’s private aircraft, the President and the APC led federal government has done a lot of other things to confer undue advantage on the APC Presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Yesterday, the Obidient Aircraft which is a branded Private Jet used by the Labour Party presidential candidate for his campaign tours across the country was stopped from flying. Information I got from functionaries of the campaign organisation who were on the trip with Peter Obi revealed that problem started when the crew wanted to file their flight plans but we’re told by airport authorities that they wouldn’t be able to file the plans due to “regulatory reasons”. Consequently, the aircraft was grounded and Peter Obi, his wife and other key functionaries were left stranded in Lagos while the mammoth crowd of Obidients who were already gathered in Ibadan for the campaign rally were almost getting restive when a dangerous rumour filtered into the stadium that some bad fate had befallen the aircraft.
Many people had already come out with their own theories with regards to that incident of yesterday. While some believe that the APC led Federal Government must have been shocked at the crowd that turned up for the rally in Ibadan and decided to make it a flop by ensuring that Peter Obi never got to the venue, others believe that it was the APC Presidential candidate who directly gave the order for “whatever is possible to be done to ensure that Ibadan rally never held, especially, as he had got information that Pa Ayo Adebanjo was to formally present Peter Obi as the candidate of the Yorubas. I do not have any theory on this development but to join Nigerians in condemning the arbitrariness displayed by the APC administration in detaining the aircraft. This was nothing else but using State powers and apparatus of government to attempt to intimidate a popular candidate of the opposition.
These are other ways the President Buhari administration and the APC have started the process of rigging the 2023 elections, even when the President tells everyone who cares to listen that conducting a free and fair election is his desired legacy. Deploying BVAS and all those other promises made by INEC in a bid to boost its credibility before Nigerians would be irrelevant if there is no fair playing ground for all participating candidates and political Parties.
Secondly, the use of public facilities and institutions for APC campaign is rigging of the election. President Buhari should be able to draw a boundary between his powers as a President and his biases as a Party man. President Biden in explaining his delay in declaring an intention to seek second term in office, said that as soon as he declares, his use of public facilities including transportation systems would be curtailed and seriously monitored. This is how it should be, and I believe that our rule books have the right codes regarding such actions by public officials. Using government buildings, government transportation systems, security and other logistics to campaign for the ruling Party’s candidates is wrong and constitutes serious abuse. Recently, the Imo State governor was said to have donated a government building as a campaign office to Tinubu and nobody seems to be talking about it. If a government office has to be given to the candidate of a particular political Party, then all candidates should also receive the same donation, if we must have any confidence in the promise of a free and fair election.
The Ebonyi State governor who is of the APC and also functions as Tinubu’s campaign manager in the Southeast has been acting like a modern day Idi Amin. Arbitrarily clamping his opponents into detention on trumped up allegations, depriving political Parties access to the use of public facilities and other draconian tendencies he has exhibited especially as they affect preparations for the 2023 elections. It goes without saying that a free and fair election cannot take place in an atmosphere of intimidation and where people’s basic freedom is restricted.
Also, there are strong indications that the APC might be relying on using public funds to execute its campaigns. During the APC Presidential candidate’s visit to Imo State, my governor announced the donation of One Billion Naira “by some Igbo businessmen” to the Tinubu presidential campaign without going into details about who these businessmen are and where they really come from. Many are of the thinking that these mystery businessmen might be no other than the governor and members of his cabinet. Some also believe that the governor might have singlehandedly made that donation from either his personal money or from State coffers. I tend to believe the latter school of thought more, because no politician would make a donation without wanting his name mentioned, because donations to campaigns are investments which the donors intend to recoup when the candidate wins election. The reluctance or delay by the EFCC and other anti-graft and regulatory agencies to more closely monitor the sources of APC campaign funds while been very fast to close down accounts run by different support groups of the Labour Party, is a clear evidence that this election is already being rigged by the APC.
Few days ago, President Buhari invited Bola Tinubu to the official flag-off of the oil field discovered by his administration in Bauchi. What was supposed to be an official function of Mr. President was turned to a campaign rally for his political Party’s presidential candidate and other candidates. If this is not abuse of power and brazen manipulation of the upcoming election, then nothing else is.
We can hope against hope that the President will be better advised going forward and that members of his Party, especially, incumbent governors who were elected on APC platform would be able to draw a line between their offices and their Party loyalty. A key thing they must all understand is that funding and logistics for elections shouldn’t come from government and that political party administration should be divorced from governance.