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The changing pigment of Nigeria (II)

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Musings by Garba Shehu

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How did Alhaji Lawal Kaita miss being the elected Governor of the old Kaduna state, and in his place, Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa ended up in the State House in 1979?
Many readers, I am sure, will recall that the two candidates, the first being the candidate of the defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN, and the second, on the radical platform of the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, ran a breath-taking race, so close that the final verdict of who emerged as winner was down to Malumfashi, the last of all the local governments to complete the results.
When counting was complete, the NPN candidate, Lawal Kaita, was proclaimed as the elected Governor. But just as the victory horns began to sound and the drums were beating, the police’s official representative at the Local Government counting centre showed up and protested the verdict. He said to the returning officer that that result would not stand because the collation was completed in his absence. There and then, with this single voice of an Inspector, (no, someone said he was an Assistant Superintendent of Police), the victory was annulled and a recount was ordered. As it turned out, Balarabe Musa emerged as winner in the Local Government and therefore overall front-runner and elected Governor, instead of Lawal Kaita who was earlier declared the winner.
But because providence had written it down that Kaita would be the Governor of that large and enormously endowed state, he emerged as the victor in an election outcome with a poetic aroma, four years after, in 1983. He ran the state for three months before the military threw the politicians out of office.
A second account I picked up from an associate of Alhaji Kaita differs slightly from this one. According to this credible individual, the annulment of the election of the NPN's candidate was ordered from the very top nearly twenty-four hours after the results were first released.
According to this account, the then Number Two person in the State House, Dodan Barracks, General Shehu Musa Yar'adua, ordered the cancellation of the results because, as this source told me, he could not stand the chance of Kaita, a man openly in dispute with his father, the late Matawallen Katsina, assuming the position of Governor. Consequently, Kaita was stripped of his victory a few hours after the military-backed Kaduna state Administrator Alhaji Abu Gidado, had personally visited to congratulate him on his emergence as the Governor-elect.
The earlier account was not rendered to de-construct or re-construct history but to illustrate the level of integrity among people and institutions in Nigeria at that time, to provide a basis for comparison with that which obtains at the present time.
A point of striking interest here is how, for instance,  the armed forces of this country accused civilians of corruption and the rigging of elections, and used that as a basis for overthrowing elected governments. As in other parts of the African continent, the regimes arising from those coups were tagged as “corrective administrations,” meaning that they had come to right those wrongs that the civilians had perpetrated. The irony of what is happening today is that the army and the police have become so enmeshed in election rigging that they have turned it into a perfect art. No election took place since 2003 without footages of armed policemen and soldiers snatching ballot boxes to aid rigging being shown on U-tube and the international TV networks. As I write, election petition tribunals all over the federation are inundated with evidence of rigging either aided, or directly presented, by the actions of the police and the armed forces. Unable to carry themselves or behave with correct dignity, the armed forces have lost the moral high ground to preach transparency in elections when they are active players in their subversion.
While it is true that the years that followed independence were packed with fraud, conspiracy, corruption, election rigging and violence, the armed forces that came forward to “rescue” the nation have always and in almost all cases ended up being worse than the civilians they have replaced. With corruption rising to become the number one industry in the country, the military and police have abandoned their high ground to join the fray. They are actively predatory about money. Nobody can possibly overstate the wanton cruelty, wickedness and corruption with which fellow military men are treated by their superiors than the incident two years ago in which top ranking officers stole the stipends payable to junior ranking officers and other ranks on foreign assignment in Liberia. When the soldiers resorted to street protest having not been listened to by their Commanders- some of whom have obviously had a hand in the theft of their allowances- the soldiers were arrested and court-martialled for mutiny. But for the nation’s vibrant press and the Nigeria Bar Association, these soldiers would have been serving long but unjustifiable terms in prison. They have since been freed and the thieving officers are now either serving term or de-ranked or even dismissed.
A few weeks ago, soldiers were dismissed for engaging in kidnapping the father of Mikel Obi, a prosperous Nigerian playing soccer abroad. Policemen are currently on trial in Zamfara and Kano states for raping little girls. At the close of last week, the Legal Aid Council in Bauchi cried out that a nursing mother had been raped in police custody in Ganjuwa Local Government Area. So, yes, while there is a sense in saying that the 13-year old Fourth Republic is the longest reign of democracy marked especially by the transfer of power from one ruler to another, really the point to also ponder is whether the military intruders, discredited by their own hands, deeds and actions, have the moral credibility on which to ride to power. On the basis of this alone, the armed forces are no longer entitled to their wrongful but pre-eminent position as a rival force to the country’s political establishment.
The much-talked about free and fair elections will mean nothing if members of the police force and the military are not politically neutral. Enforcing security shouldn’t justify the involvement of soldiers and policemen in election fraud. Nothing endangers peace worse than the direct or indirect participation of security men in election rigging. There was a case in Katsina in 2007 when a Divisional Crime Officer (DCO) was shot by a fellow police officer for allegedly short-changing him in the sharing of money dished out by a political top shot. Incidents like this put a big question mark over the impartiality of our uniformed men to protect the integrity of elections.
But the worst thing about this country is that governments seek to weaken rather than strengthen institutions and processes. Nigerians like to build and destroy. A period of anarchy follows every new administration at all levels of government.  A new President or Governor spends all his energy destroying the deeds of his predecessor in office and this is almost always true even where succession is on the same party platform or, as we saw recently, belonging to  the same electoral ticket. Yar'adua people will tell you that 95 percent of the job of convincing Nigerians to accept the deregulation of petroleum prices was completed by the former President before he kicked the bucket. The new, perhaps not so new man, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan stopped the process because it was an unpopular policy. Two years down the road, the government of Goodluck Jonathan has seen the need for the removal of subsidy and has embarked on the campaign albeit afresh.

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