By Kehinde Bamigbetan
The commencement of the screening of the presidential aspirants on Monday was received with relief by many doubting Thomases who had sworn that an aspirant would be imposed as flagbearer by presidential fiat.
The screening calmed such frayed nerves and rebuilt confidence by showing that the journey to free and fair primaries where all the aspirants would compete has finally begun.
The screening came with its expected controversy over how an aspirant was feebly or strongly screened or why the panel, led by a seasoned bureaucrat, excellent governor and experienced party apparatchik Chief John Odigie Oyegun looked in awe as Asiwaju Bola Tinubu shared his vision of a better and brighter Nigeria based on the gubernatorial mission he discharged creditably in Lagos State.
With the unofficial recording and release of the screening, excitement took over the airwaves, social media and beer parlours where gossip and imaginative embellishments of the wonderful performance of the Asiwaju were consumed with beer, spirits and isi ewu.
What nobody bargained for was the dampening incursion of the Commander-in-Chief, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari who returned to Nigeria after a few quick trips abroad, into the seamless flow of the screening glee.
The incursion turned out to be an urgent intervention into what seemed to be perceived as an aberration, that the process of determining the flagbearer has been going on without the critical input of Mr President in his capacity as the Leader of the party.
His words:” As I begin the final year of my second term as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and leader of the Party, I recognize the compelling need for me to provide stronger leadership to the Party under this transition process and to ensure that it happens in an orderly manner.”
The concept of the President as the Leader of the party is one of the erroneous legacies of the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, an egregious misapplication of the military command mentality to party politics that buried the conventional principle that the party, not the presidency, is supreme.
I recall a session with the late Second Republic Senate Leader, Dr Olusola Saraki during one of his engagements with political editors in his home in Ilorin.
“Oloye” as he was popularly hailed by his teeming supporters, told us how President Shehu Shagari sat in meetings of the National Party of Nigeria’s caucus which Chief Meredith Adisa Akinloye, also of blessed memory, chaired.
Resolutions were taken and the president was obliged to execute them.
It is necessary to emphasise this tenuous basis of Mr President’s tenacious intention to raise a red flag and cause a rethink of his disposition to the party as an institution for subjugation.
Equally dangerous is the tendency to elevate the misnomers and abnormalities of our current civil dispensation, whose proclivities to derail and abort the democratic tenets, values and ideologies it is meant to nurture and consolidate, to standard practice.
According to Mr President: “Similarly, second term Governors have been accorded the privilege of promoting successors that are capable of driving their visions as well as the ideals of the party.”
Whoever wrote this for Mr President has done the handsome old soldier a lot of injustice! The President must not be made to admit to being an accessory to the offence of second term governors throwing their weight over the democratic process, sabotaging the sovereignty of the people and subverting the democratic process.
The President is expected to take the famous position of ‘hear no evil and see no evil’ as regards these unfortunate distortions of our nascent republican democracy. To publicly endorse them is unpresidential; to turn them into a rampart for committing a similar anomaly is incredible.
The Nigerian Constitution came about because we loathed monarchies whose control of the executive, legislative and judicial powers oppressed us and trampled on our rights. We inserted a section on fundamental human rights in the Constitution because we seek to belong to the Free World that the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights birthed. The future of our ongoing transition from civil rule to democracy cannot be determined by a practice in which second term governors are given the licence to subvert the role of the party and the citizens on the pretext that they have a vision that must be forced on the people.
But it soon becomes clear why the president has chosen this route. Read the revelation:
“In keeping with the established internal policies of the Party and as we approach the Convention in a few days, therefore, I wish to solicit the reciprocity and support of the Governors and other stakeholders in picking my successor, who would fly the flag of our party for election into the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2023.”
In short, Mr President, in seeking “reciprocity”, seeks to alienate the fundamental rights of members of the All Progressives Congress, already delegated at proper congresses nationwide, and arrogate these rights to himself, under a nebulous concept of Leader of the Party, to choose his successor on their behalf.
It is important that the Independent National Electoral Commission, the guardians of the sanctity of the franchise at the foundation of the popular-democratic, electoral transition, must hasten to advise Mr President on the toxicity of this proposition and the consequences of rendering constitutional processes for internal party democracy fatuous.
For the APC, its members and its lovers who are looking forward to and tracking how the screening process will lead to transparent presidential primaries on June 6 and 7, this speech must be a scary nightmare, a provocative souvenir of the military in politics.
What remains clear is that the cause of this desperation to abridge the rights of party members, restrict the choices before party members and transfer the power to choose to the “Leader of the Party” is the fear that one aspirant, that towers above others, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu will emerge as the APC presidential flag bearer in a free, fair, transparent presidential primaries.
Mr President, please prove us wrong. Let all the flowers bloom on June 6!
It is not a mere coincidence that the address came on the occasion of the visit of the Progressive Governors Forum. With a few of its members already on the presidential hustle, the president wasted no time in making them the bull’s eye of this target practice.
First, he reminded them that, by supporting them to choose their successors, they were already comrades in arms and were not expected to whisper a whimper in opposition to his intention.
Second, the presidential adventurers among them stand to gain from acquiescence. Who knows, one of them may be lucky.
The situation makes one chuckle as the mind goes down the memory lane for a bear hug with the Maradona of Minna, the evil genius who crashed the career of many Third Republic politicians by playing on their greed for power. As he banned, unbanned and then banned them from participating in his transition programme, they sheepishly ran his obstacle race till he caged them in two parties!
This reminder is important because those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it. The PGF has no excuse. It should not support any notion noxious to the successful presidential primaries of the APC on June 6 and 7.
It must, respectfully, inform Mr President that the horse he seeks to stop has left the stable; the train has left the station.
As the Yoruba put it, Omoye the girl has entered the market in stark nudity, the cloth cant catch up with her.
In the name of Allah and the oath he swore to our Constitution, Mr President should allow his party members make their choice at the APC presidential primaries and he should accept it as the verdict of Allah.
The voice of the people is the voice of God.