Next Level Of Dirty Tricks

Since the All Progressives Congress was formed, President Muhammadu Buhari and his party have given a whole new dimension to mendacity. Their capacity for dissembling, turning facts on their heads, disowning their fairy-tale promises and ruthless use of power is limitless.

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After every outrage they commit that goes successfully unchallenged, they become more emboldened. So much that they could orchestrate the forceful removal of the chief justice in a naked attempt to intimidate judges and bend the judiciary to their will. And preside over the most daring electoral brigandage that the country has ever witnessed, while pretending to be ‘progressive democrats.’

Their latest outrageous act plumbs the murkiest depths of mendacity and speaks of their desperation to preserve their hold on power. It became public last weekend that Buhari and APC have declared former Vice President Atiku Abubakar a Cameroonian. This was contained in the response the party’s lawyers filed at the Presidential Election Tribunal to Atiku’s petition challenging Buhari’s re-election as president.

In the response filed by Lateef Fagbemi, a senior advocate, described as the party’s lead counsel, they claimed that Atiku was born in Jada, Adamawa, in 1946, when it was part of Northern Cameroon. Therefore, he is not a Nigerian. And having contested the presidential election as a Cameroonian, the 11 million-plus votes he was allocated by INEC should be discounted and his petition dismissed.

Every general elections cycle is a rich harvest time for Nigerian lawyers, particularly those referred to as “Learned Silks”, also known as Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN. During such harvest time, the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of many of them is in full bloom. For them, it’s all about the money, huge loads of it. And all ethical boundaries are eviscerated in their quest to fatten their bank accounts. Their unbridled amorality reinforces the general perception that the legal profession is disreputable especially in Nigeria.

All is fair in a war, and all wars are brutal and expose the savagery of mankind. But there are limits to the savagery of warfare. These limits are codified in the United Nations Convention on Warfare and the conduct of the combatants and their political leaders. For instance, prisoners of war including soldiers are required to be treated fairly by their captors. So it becomes a war crime when an enemy soldier is summarily executed, or inhumanely treated especially if the soldier has surrendered.

“The latest attempt to intimidate and hound Atiku to submission…is seen as a crude manoeuvre to divert attention from Buhari’s serial failure to decisively address the worsening insecurity all over the country.”

Just as in warfare, all is fair in politics. The ultimate objective is to win at all costs. Deploying dirty tricks, running a campaign of disinformation about your opponents and ruthless use of all instruments and institutions of power to disadvantage your opponents are major features of political warfare. This variant of political warfare is more rampant in countries ruled by autocrats and sit-tight leaders who do everything and anything to stay in power.

Even political warfare has a global standard for the rules of engagement and limits to what is permissible. Elections are expected to be free, fair and credible. Once elections fall below that threshold, they automatically lack legitimacy. And when the outcome of an election is challenged by any of the contestants, the adjudication process must equally be free and fair.

As pronounced by INEC, Atiku lost the February 23rd presidential election, which was debased by widespread irregularities and violence perpetrated mostly by security agents especially soldiers. He and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, believe they were robbed of victory. But they have neither threatened nor resorted to violence to make their case. They have only exercised their rights under the law to file a legal challenge to the victory awarded to Buhari and his party.

All Buhari and APC are expected to do to defend their victory is discredit the grounds and disprove the facts on which the petition against them is anchored. Declaring Atiku a Cameroonian is elevating ridiculousness and mendacity to the next level of banality.

They know their claim about Atiku is totally false and beggars belief. Their legal team of senior advocates knows it too. All of them are either being desperately mischievous, or they have assessed Atiku’s petition as strong and credible. As part of their strategy to fight back, they decided to delegitimize Atiku by arbitrarily changing his citizenship.

We all know Atiku is a full-blooded Nigerian. Where he was born that was previously part of Cameroon became an integral part of Nigeria in 1961 after the people chose in a plebiscite to be Nigerians. Atiku has a Nigerian passport. A passport is a validation of every person’s citizenship. You don’t get issued a passport of any country unless and until you are a bona fide citizen of that country.

When Atiku was on their side, he was a Nigerian. Since he is no longer with them, he is now a Cameroonian. This twisted logic is seemingly an extension of the APC’s doctrine on corruption. Once you’re in APC, you’re blameless. But if you’re elsewhere, particularly PDP, you’re corrupt.

Maybe Buhari, his party and their legal team have forgotten – possibly due to self-induced temporary amnesia – that Atiku worked in the Nigeria Customs Service and retired as a deputy director. He contested the 1991 governorship election in the former Gongola State (now Adamawa and Taraba States) in the General Ibrahim Babangida military regime’s ill-fated political transition program. He lost. Two years later, he contested the Social Democratic Party’s presidential primary election with M.K.O. Abiola and Babagana Kingibe. Abiola won after which came the June 12, 1993 political debacle.

In 1999, Atiku was elected as Adamawa’s governor on PDP’s ticket. He never became governor because General Olusegun Obasanjo chose him as his running mate for the presidential election that came later. That was why his running mate, Boni Haruna, became Adamawa’s first elected governor.

Atiku was vice president for eight years, and by virtue of that position, he was given the national honour of Grand Commander of the Niger, GCON. And in late 2014, he, along with Buhari and four other aspirants, contested the APC presidential primary election. Now he is no longer a Nigerian because he dared to launch a legal challenge to Buhari’s victory.

Unlike Buhari, Atiku didn’t invite anybody from Cameroon to attend any of his campaign rallies including the one in Yola. When the APC held its presidential campaign rally in Kano, Buhari invited the governors of two provinces in Niger Republic with hundreds of Nigeriens to attend it. And APC defended this unprecedented aberration as a sign of Buhari’s popularity not only in the north but also in the neighbouring countries.

The president and his party are borrowing some of their dirty political tactics from the political playbooks of Africa’s notorious strongmen. Kenneth Kaunda led Zambia to independence in 1964 and ruled the country until 1991 when he lost the presidency in the first multi-party elections. Five years later, Frederick Chiluba, who succeeded him as president, declared him a Malawian because Kaunda wanted to run against him again. After some legal battle, Zambia’s Supreme Court affirmed his Zambian citizenship.

In Cote d’Ivoire, the same devious move was made to stop Alassane Ouattara from contesting the presidential election in 1995 by Henri Konan Bedie, who succeeded Felix Houphouet-Boigny as president. Bedie had leaned on the National Assembly to pass a law that barred anyone who either of his parents was not born in the country, and has not resided in Cote d’Ivoire continuously for five years.

The law was targeted specifically at Ouattara whose father was speculated to have emigrated from Burkina Farso. It didn’t matter to Bedie and his gang that Ouattara was born in the country, served as prime minister for three years under Houphouet-Boigny and was a highly regarded economist who had worked with the International Monetary Fund, which necessitated his staying outside the country. After Bedie lost power, the law was discarded, and Ouattara eventually became president.

Even before the controversial presidential election, there had been attempts to delegitimize Atiku. While he was visiting the United States of America last November after he became PDP’s presidential candidate, he was accused of collecting N146 million from BankPHB, which allegedly led to the collapse of the bank. The accusation was grotesque and advertised the APC’s fear of Atiku as a very formidable opponent.

Lai Mohammed, Information and Culture minister, made the accusation at a media briefing. He said the EFFC had amassed damning evidence to press charges against Atiku, and that once he returned from the U.S., he would be made to explain his role in the bank’s collapse. Meaning that Atiku would be arrested on his return. But nothing happened.

At another media briefing last week, Mohammed indirectly accused Atiku of treason for allegedly hiring an American company to lobby the Trump administration to prevent Buhari from being sworn in as president for a second term. The former vice president dismissed the allegation as another APC’s red herring, and advised the president and his party to focus on how to defend his allegation that they literally stole the election.

Public frustration is growing over the latest attempt to intimidate and hound Atiku to submission, as it is seen as a crude manoeuvre to divert attention from Buhari’s serial failure to decisively address the worsening insecurity all over the country. The mass bloodletting by Boko Haram, marauding armed bandits, kidnappers and other rogue groups continues unabated. All we hear is that the president has, for the umpteenth time, ordered the security agencies to “deal ruthlessly” with the criminals, who have become more emboldened by the president’s lack of political will and a clear, effective strategy to solve the problem.

No one would be surprised if Buhari decides to give Atiku the Shugaba treatment. That is how desperate the president and his party are to solve what they see as the Atiku problem and swathe away his challenge to their legitimacy.

Abdulrrahman Shugaba Darman was deported to Chad in 1980 by President Shehu Shagari’s administration after he had been declared a non-Nigerian. At the time he was deported, he was the majority leader in the old Borno State House of Assembly. He was a member of the Great Nigeria People’s Party, which controlled the state and the neighbouring Gongola State. GNPP was one of the opposition parties in the Second Republic. It took a protracted legal battle for Shugaba to overturn his deportation and regain his Nigerian citizenship.

The naked power play, threat to Atiku and intimidation of the opposition and critics of the administration generally, inevitably point to one conclusion. Buhari will shed all pretences to being “a born-again democrat” and become more intolerant in his second term, if the tribunal affirms his election. And the country will continue the inexorable slide into anarchy as the world’s poverty capital; the world’s third most dangerous country to live in; the world’s sixth most miserable country; the world’s capital of out-of school children; one of the world’s hungriest countries; one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates; and one of the world’s worst countries for a woman to give birth. The list of the country’s negatives keeps expanding.

Welcome to Buhari’s and APC’s next level of dirty political tricks!

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