Onochie and Buhari’s insensitivity

President Muhammadu Buhari has had almost nine months since his October 12, 2020 nomination of Lauretta Onochie, his Special Assistant on New Media as national commissioner for Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) to reflect on a decision that has been roundly condemned by Nigerians, civil society groups and those who have written petition pointing out Onochie’s membership of APC and the fact that someone from her state was already on the board of INEC. Onochie on her part has not only admitted being part of the Buhari’s campaign organisation in 2015, an endeavor that earned her a place in Buhari’s government, she also admitted to deposing to an affidavit at the Abuja Federal High Court that she was a member of the APC.

Unfortunately, President Buhari who doesn’t seem to understand that government is built around public opinion, or that public sentiments are everything; and that “Whoever moulds public sentiments goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces judicial decisions” as Abraham Lincoln once observed. He is hardly known for deeper reflection on national issues or for changing his mind on issues over which members of his ‘loyal gatekeepers’ especially Abubakar Malami, the justice minister has taken a position no matter how controversial or how injurious to the health of the nation.

For instance, asked during his Arise Television interview about the southern governors ban of open grazing in their states, the president half-jokingly asked if the reporter wanted him to contradict his Attorney General and Minister of Justice. He then hinted he was going to revive old grazing routes.

“I have asked to dig up gazettes of the First Republic. There are cattle routes and grazing areas. The routes and the areas are known.”

It turned out such gazette only existed on Malami’s imagination as legal experts pointed out the grazing law the president was threatening to retrieve and foist on the whole country was a dead northern grazing law promulgated by Ahmadu Bello just for the north and lasted until the collapse of the first republic.

But that was not the first time his chief legal adviser will demonstrate his incompetence or deploy mischief as a strategy. On another occasion, responding to 17 southern governors’ ban on open grazing and movement of cattle by foot in the states over cases of kidnappings and killings that have been traced to criminal elements amongst herders, Malami had said their decision was “against the constitutional right of freedom of movement for other Nigerians who are herders” and mischievously comparing the ban on open grazing to banning all spare parts dealers in the northern parts of the country.

Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo and chairman of Southwest APC Governors’ Forum had to remind him that “Clinging to an anachronistic model of animal husbandry, which is evidently injurious to harmonious relationship between the herders and the farmers as well as the local populace, is wicked and arrogant.”

Bala Mohammed of Bauchi in whose states like others such as Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina among many other northern core states where natives since Fulani conquest of 1806, cannot access their own land without permission from Emir or payment of tax to the village Seriki adding his own mischief had said “Land is in the hands of the state and federal governments in trust but Nigerians don’t need the permission of governors or the federal government to settle everywhere”.

The president was also misled by Malami on the issue of Amotekun – the southwest regional security outfit whose set up he said “runs contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian law.” Again, legal experts declared such declaration was driven more by politics and mischief than law. Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer reminded him that “his purported proscription of Amotekun is hypocritical and discriminatory on the grounds that the Civilian JTF operating in Yobe and Borno states is constituted by 26,000 well-armed volunteers who have been assisting the armed forces to combat terrorism in the north east region.”

From the above record of manipulation of the president, it is not difficult to see Malami’s hand in the president’s current decision to swim or drown with Lauretta Onochie. Unfortunately, the president’s men hardly care if foisting Onochie on INEC will amount to the president shooting himself in the foot. It appears their goal is to set a president they have long reduced into a sectional president against the people.

But what does the president stand to gain from his current war against the people? With someone already representing Delta in INEC, the president cannot claim to be waging Delta State war. In any case, in a state where election is war and contest is often a balance of terror among militant groups and their god fathers, Onochie is ill-equipped to change that narrative if the Niger Delta political elite decide to live by their reputation. Although Buhari has hijacked APC for his cronies since he is not contesting in 2023, but it is not likely Onochie can single-handedly do much to help APC in view of the party’s betrayal of the people these past six years even if Buhari succeeds in foisting her on INEC.

It is however hoped that the president who alone will be left to face his own demon after 2023 understands he has everything to lose. While it has become apparent that those serving other tendencies in his government currently egging him love none but themselves and don’t really care about his legacies, he alone will face the judgment of history after his tenure in 2023.

While the battle to foist Onochie on INEC rages on, it is also hoped the president will spare a thought about his unprecedented defeat of an incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. The feat was the result of Jonathan’s statesmanship and decision to choose nation before self despite the pressure of PDP, his party.

The president should ask himself the type of INEC he intends to bequeath on the nation. Onochie as a loyal party supporter and President Buhari’s supporter can be rehabilitated elsewhere. But foisting her on the electoral body will be a betrayal as such will not only undermine people’s confidence in the neutrality of INEC but will also raise question of legitimacy for whoever succeeds President Buhari.

The president in spite of his valiant efforts and sacrifice seems overwhelmed by many of his inherited problems – management of our diversity, the economy and general insecurity in the land. In 2015, he similarly inherited an INEC praised by Nigeria’s stakeholders and hailed by local and international community for conducting free and fair election.

This feat was possible because President Jonathan chose the nation above self despite pressure from his party, the PDP that urged him not to conceded defeat. If the president cannot improve on the INEC Jonathan bequeathed on to him, he should at least not undermine it.

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