Last week, the country stood still as the most powerful and influential political heavyweights in Nigeria engaged in verbal war over a comment made by General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) in which he warned against any form of rigging in the forthcoming 2015 general elections. GEORGE AGBA, in this report, presents the media attacks that trailed the General’s statement within the scenario of conventional warfare.
The atmosphere surrounding Aso Rock presidential villa was tense last week. The serenity enjoyed by occupants of the seat of power amidst their busy schedule in attending to matters of state was distorted by a verbal political warfare. Tension was raised, verbal scud missiles were fired both from outside and inside to the extent that in the mind’s eye, one could see them flying like bullets.
It all started with a note of warning by former Head of State, General Muhammadu (rtd), concerning the 2015. Buhari argued that 2015 was going to be war and not a re-match like other past elections in the country should the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) dare to invoke its rigging spirit in the said general polls. Buhari, whose comment might have gone for a mere political statement made in an event where he received his party stakeholders from Niger state, may have bitten more that he can chew. The high point of it all was two parts of the comment where the Conference for Progressive Change (CPC) presidential candidate spoke of blood spilling in 2015 and the federal government being the biggest Boko Haram.
Whether he really meant what he said or he was just a mere victim of emotional tantrums who spoke with no strings attached, is another issue altogether. But the environment (the context of the situation) in which those words found themselves, that is the unhealthy security situation in the country, was enough to overstretch the presidency and the ruling party beyond their elastic limit.
Before the presidency could think of firing its own salvo at the General’s Wadata House, the edifice that houses the ruling party, was already shaking to its very foundation. PDP’s national publicity secretary, Olisa Metuh, at a world Press Conference he quickly convened, gave Buhari a taste of verbal venom when he alleged that the CPC standard bearer was “once again inciting people to take the law into their hands; inciting Nigerians to slaughter fellow Nigerians as he did following the 2011 general elections.
“While PDP cherishes freedom of speech, assembly and association as the custodian of Nigeria’s democracy, we at that same time know that such freedom goes with immense responsibilities. We condemn in no uncertain terms this shameful call for the spill of blood of innocent Nigerians to acquire political power”, he added.
But before Buhari could gasp for breadth and recover from the PDP’s offensive, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan, Dr. Reuben Abati was already swinging a sling packed full of verbal explosives. For Abati, this was not time for jokes. If all along they have been taking him for granted just because since he took up the job as presidential spokesman, he had been threading with caution so as to give an unbiased marriage between ethics of the profession, his integrity and the business of managing his principal’s image, he must show them his other side this time around. At least if you cannot beat them, join them.
Like cannons overcharged with double cracks, he said, “We find it very sad that an elder statesman who once presided over the entirety of Nigeria can reduce himself to a regional leader who speaks for only a part of Nigeria”.
Apart from hitting the former Head of State with the inscription of a serial election loser who “has obviously refused to listen to the Nigerian People, the European Union, the Commonwealth Monitoring Group, the African Union and a multitude of independent electoral monitors who testified that the 2011 elections were free and fair”, Abati queried Buhari’s locus for calling the federal government Boko Haram when “his party’s Secretary General, Buba Galadima, told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in December, 2010, that the Federal Government is underestimating the support base of Boko Haram.
“We now challenge Major General Buhari (rtd) to tell Nigerians what he has done, whether in his capacity as the head of a military junta or in his private capacity, to bring education to vulnerable children. If he cannot live up to this challenge, perhaps he has to reassess who really is Boko Haram”, he added.
But if the presidency and the PDP thought they had fallen the General in the massive attack they just finished launching, they were sadly mistaken. Buhari’s Party, CPC, arrived at the battleground at the nick of time to save him with a counter attack. It implored Nigerians to cross check properly whether it was not President Jonathan that was a sectional leader. In a statement issued electronically by the party’s national publicity secretary, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin in Lagos, CPC argued that, rather, it was the Jonathan-led government that has been foisting a clannish system of government on the country.
CPC alleged that apart from the current government skewing appointments, promotions and patronage in favour of people of the Ijaw ethnic stock in the Federal Public sector, a brazen show of clannishness and ethnocentrism by the president, the October 1, 2010 bomb blast was another eloquent testimony of the manner in which the president had demonstrated his bias in the ship of state.
“But what do we find with Dr Goodluck Jonathan? All the appointees as oil ministers in his two-year reign thus far as president of Nigeria have been Nigerians of Ijaw extraction like himself! Without waiting for any preliminary report from the security agencies, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, as president, told a traumatised nation, ‘it is not MEND!’...and MEND impugned the president’s statement and admitted responsibility”, Buhari’s party stated
It further accused the present administration of encouraging corruption and corruptive activities by siphoning of public funds under the guise of payments for subsidy on petroleum products. “On corruption and sleazy tendency, the Jonathan administration transcends all others before it! Nigerians are still befuddled by the impeachable show of arbitrariness by the regime in expending N2.67 trillion on fuel subsidy instead of the appropriated N240 billion in the 2011 Appropriation Act”, it noted.
The opposition forces were not done with their shelling yet. Just as the presidency and the PDP were managing to pick what was left of themselves from the debris in the aftermath of CPC’s verbal grenades, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) rolled in their armoured tanks to form a formidable allied force with the CPC. ACN said the verbal attacks on Buhari by the presidency and the ruling party was for no other reason than the general’s timely warning against election rigging in 2015.
In a statement issued by its national publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the ACN contended vehemently that the viciousness of the seemingly coordinated attacks by the presidency and the PDP raises a lot of concern regarding their plans for the 2015 elections.
The ACN declared that “We hold no brief for anyone. But it is true that if elections are rigged, as they have been so shamelessly and brazenly done by the PDP since 1999, naturally, people will react, and in doing so it is impossible for anyone to predict how far things can go. This is what, in our opinion, Gen. Buhari warned against. If the presidency and the PDP have no intention to rig in 2015, why are they so worried about the consequences of such action?”
Maintaining that the 2011 general elections remained the most systematically rigged polls in Nigeria’s history, irrespective of the so-called endorsement by some visceral foreign election monitors, it further accused the presidency of using intemperate language in its response to any statement it perceives to be critical of its principal. The party stated “we have said it before and we will like to repeat it: any statement emanating from the presidency must be presidential through the use of civilised and elevating language, rather than beer parlour and unguarded phrases”.
ACN said it was not surprised at the response of the ruling party, since it is becoming increasingly clear to all that nothing good can come out of a party that has wasted all the opportunities that could have made Nigeria a proud member of the international community in the past 13 years.
But what is ACN’s own interest in this political warfare, one may ask? Even before last week’s attacks, presidential spokesman, Abati had since taken the party to the knackers, describing it as a busy body which is always ranting over nothing. Reacting to a question on ACN’s vociferous comment on Jonathan’s transformation agenda, Abati simply said, “You should know that the ACN knows how to say anything and every thing, all in the name of opposition. Even where there is no serious issue, they create mountain out of molehill”.
The recent parley between the leaders of both the CPC and ACN, Buhari and former Lagos Governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu when the former paid the later a visit in Lagos should have been enough signal to the PDP and the presidency that from that very day, they will be confronting allied forces.
Sensing that the damage caused by the political battle was already an absurdity in the eyes of both the Nigerian populace and the international community, the Federal Government, instead of joining forces with the presidency and the PDP, opted for damage control measures by calling all parties to order.
Information Minister, Mr. Labaran Maku, while briefing State House Correspondents after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting last Wednesday, implored politicians in the country to desist from making statements that were capable of inciting violence in the country. Maku pleaded that Nigerians were overwhelmed by the consequences of violence already. This was after he had attempted to parry the question thrown at him by journalists about the pronouncement made by Buhari, in which he labelled the Federal Government as “the biggest Boko Haram”.
Maku cautioned, “The difference between democracy and other forms of government is that democracy is civil. Democracy talks about the rule of law; it does not talk about violence. In no major nations of the world will politicians or parties urge people to go and fight in polling stations or defend their votes or threaten violence because democracy is civility.
“Where you have difficulties, the law provides for you to go to court to enforce your rights. More importantly, we are in politics to develop a country. Without peace and security, you cannot develop any country. Those of us who live in the Northern parts of the country are seeing the consequences of violence, we are seeing the consequences of lack of peace in our community”.
Turning to the media, the minister spoke as if journalists contributed in instigating the verbal political war. He, however sought the cooperation of the media, noting that as fellow stakeholders in maintaining peace in the nation, it would be very good for the media itself to launch a campaign for peace in Nigerian politics or decorum for good governance and for everything that was done in the country’s political landscape.
He said, “At this time, it is not about the federal government; it is the responsibility of all Nigerians, particularly those that God has elevated to positions of responsibility in the polity. I believe if individual politicians make statements that you believe is volatile, then it is important for the media to take them up and make them part of national discourse such that every politician will come to understand that the nation is greater than our ambitions; that the peace and security of Nigeria is the foundation upon which anybody can play politics and that the safety of every Nigerian is the reason why we seek leadership”.