Growing up in a rural community in Bendel State now in today’s Edo State, I remember fervently how candidates and parties use to bring bags of salt, rice and boxes of sugar as “gifts” for the women folks in the community. The men got cartons of Aromatic Schnapps, packets of cigarettes and maybe cash all in a bid to corner their votes. I am not sure how the residents usually responded at the polls, but I know this was only happening when the election season is around. The only road to the community was barely passable and of course despite the community’s closeness to Benin City, Iguo-Oshodi was still cut out of electricity.
It is unfortunate that despite successive government cry of wanting to stop corruption, no one has thought that this tradition of giving gifts to electorate during elections have put in our DNA the tendency to be corrupt. This tradition has survived for a long time and had been passed on to our today’s Nigeria. This tradition rationalises bribery. Even in a government led by a self acclaimed anticorruption hero, obviously this is still the case. While a bribe means to dishonestly persuade (someone) to act in one’s favour by a gift of money or other inducement, honour has many meanings.
In this context, we shall take “great respect; high esteem”, one of the Cambridge dictionary’s definition to mean honour. Let me make it abundantly clear that I have no qualms with honouring the late MKO Abiola as long as it is done within the law as the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is only in the respect for laws. Let me also congratulate all Nigerians who have remained glued to June 12, for to them, it is a dream come true. I celebrate especially with the families of the late icon for the honour of now being the descendants of a former president. I encourage them to go further to ask that Nigeria pay to them all that is due their father as a former president. Yes, a former president, for in my opinion, that is exactly what the conferment of the GCFR on MKO is. The conferment of GCON on his then running mate Babagana Kingibe is proof that this honour goes beyond a gratification for Abiola’s contribution to our democracy. Considering that Kingibe had quickly abandoned the fight for recognition of the election to join forces with those who tormented the acclaimed winner is proof of the declaration as President and Vice President for MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe respectively. Another proof is the fact that even those who like Abiola had died in the struggle like Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua have also been left out for any honour.
On the honour and declaration being done within the law, unfortunately, the first part has already run into hitches. Is either the proponents of this idea lack the patience and skill for research or they deliberately ignored the fact that the May 29th democracy day is an Act of law. Obviously, our past leaders were not as dumb. As long as we continue to practice democracy, this will mean that the June 12th democracy day proclamation will only be possible if the National Assembly decides or agrees to repeal the first law and enact this proclamation. That doesn’t look like something happening soon. I understand the AGF has come out to say that the proclamation is only an expression of wish. That again will bring all the jubilation to nothing and further lends credence to the thought that this was political and a bribe. While it is popularly agreed that to give and to accept a bribe are both criminal, it is clear that while the intention of a gift may be to corner favour therefore qualifying it for a bribe, he/she who accepts such gift may have done no wrong especially if he/she has not asked for it or reached any pre agreement. God sometimes uses even the devil to achieve our needs.
It is even worse when such gesture is coming from the echelon of the government, the presidency headed by President Muhammadu Buhari. It’s been three years since this administration came into existence and has had several opportunities to make such proclamation like they did on the 10th of June. There was even an address by the President in a national broadcast barely 12 days before this proclamation. But this has to be done only as an afterthought. As it gets more obvious that the President’s polling numbers were tanking, an evil genius as Yinka Odumakin referred to the proponent of this idea, came up with this idea of giving especially to the South West this humongous gift (bribe). While those praising the president for the proclamation are quick to show it is proof of the president’s democratic credentials, it is important to remind them that action speaks louder than voice. Buhari’s democratic credentials are more audible by his actions than by how loud he screams “June 12 Democracy Day.” To this end he has continuously proven the opposite as he has persistently shown blatant disregard for court rulings and by extension the rule of law.
It is in public knowledge that Buhari has tremendous respect for Abacha his erstwhile boss and has continuously praised him at every opportunity he gets. In addition to being part of the regime that incarcerated the late MKO Abiola, there is no record anywhere in history where the General now president spoke against Abiola’s incarceration or even his demise. It is on record that the likes of Atiku Abubakar had to go on exile and suffered great losses in the hands of the Abacha regime, for their fight against dictatorship, a regime President Buhari was part of. The question will now be at what point in PMB’s democratic transformation, did he develop all these love for MKO and June 12? Maybe IBB should be applauded for agreeing today that MKO actually won the 1993 elections and should be sworn in as President posthumously. As that is exactly what PMB has done. Like the renowned Professor Soyinka said at the awards, PMB can help our confusion by coming out clear, as he cannot honour Abiola in one breath and then continue to praise his tormentor in another.
The president’s antecedents, his continuous disregard for the rule of law, his generally poor performance and the timing of the proclamation fade and wipe out completely the thin line between a bribe and an honour. Like it was in the days of old and in times not too far off, whether the votes of the region will be influenced by the elites who are direct beneficiaries of such gesture, some of whom have now been accused of taking bribes and abandoning the late icon is yet to be seen and only time will tell. What is clear however, is that as it was in history, the oppressor’s tactics of divide and rule is still widely in use even now as evident by the way even the members of the late MKO’s family heap praises on the President with one of the daughters even apologising to him on his father’s behalf for what we do not know.
Lastly, God willing, the 2019 elections shall come and go and the President must know that the one thing that will determine how the people vote will be performance and not some smoke screen honour and proclamation. The people can see through the smoke screen and shall clearly make their judgement loud on Election Day. However, we urge the President Buhari led government to contribute to deepening Nigeria’s democracy by ensuring that he takes his thumb of the scale during the election as that will be the best way to show how democratic he truly is.
*Dr Bright, a medical practitioner wrote from Warri, Delta State