How so short-sighted! How so wicked and mean! How so greedy and naïve! These old men played the role of bullies but have been promptly bitten by their own wickedness. You don’t plan evil for your children. You don’t strangle babies in their cots. Nemesis catches up immediately with you.
I recall pre-2019, in the build-up to the last elections. The frenzy was palpable among the youths. Many who had never joined political parties before, many who had been excluded because they had no godfathers and no money, were glad to identify with some of the younger parties. At ANRP (Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party), we commenced the journey as early as 2016, but INEC made sure they strung us along, for a whole year until our license was granted in December 2017. We started working towards the coming elections by organizing state, local government and ward chapters with the little money that we could raise from hard-earned salaries and whatever we could lay our hands on. We kept our noses clean. We did not entertain any illegal money or hijack from moneybags. We did not have any scandals and we ensured total transparency by publishing party accounts every two weeks. Before the major elections in February 2019, we also organized a number of party primaries to which we invited INEC, while we also put in contestants for some state elections – notably Osun and Ekiti. We maintained a database of members using ICT and used to call members out of the blues, to the delight of many. Even INEC was impressed with our database and organization when the party EXCOs once visited their HQ.
I recall a lot of starry-eyed young men and women who contested on our platform, excited to see their faces on posters in their localities. Some were security men. Some were hairdressers. Some were bin men in the market. A number of them were lawyers, accountants and white-collar workers. Many were businessmen. For many of them it was a life-changing experience. Many came to their own and achieved self-actualization, believing that they were also adding their efforts to the advancement of Nigeria. Others held party positions at federal, state, local and ward levels. Yes, wards were a tad difficult for us to organize because at that level it was all about money. We were selling ideology, youth, innocence, passion, but at the ward level, there was much hunger and we didn’t have the billions to shell out at the almost 10,000 wards in Nigeria. Still, we tried. We did not allow this deterrent hold us back from doing what we had to do for the fatherland. We were tired of complaining and ranting. We promoted the idea that young Nigerians should be able to hold down a job or have a business, and still participate in their country’s governance. We felt disappointed by the two big parties which had been financed over time, with billions of naira from taxpayers’ money. Of course, we registered our parties at a time when INEC collected money from parties rather than give. We were well aware but felt the risk was worth the while. Impact was our focus. We fielded contestants for elections at every level; ward, local governments, state assemblies, senate and house of representatives, state governor and president – as many as we could find who were serious. The idea was to try as much as we can, because we may get lucky where we least expected. Every contestant was to ensure they financed themselves. The party had no money to dole around.
It was a game of luck, but we had no choice because it was our only reliance given the little funds we had. It was out of question for us to join the big parties… at least we had to show what we could do on our own. Of course, Nigerians are Nigerians. Many of those who joined us came from the big parties. Some of those could not cope with this new culture were we had no money and preached passion. We also suspected that some were sent to us to deliberately create confusion. Many young parties experienced serious upheavals, breakups, factionalisation and betrayals. Only those with strong characters in leadership could hold their own till the elections.
Elections came and went. The results were dismal and painful. The impact we thought we could have was not there. We saw that coming but probably not on the dismal scale. It will be naïve for most first-time contestants to expect to win elections anyway. But we hoped to at least make a dent (collectively). The strategy broke down because most young parties could not afford N5,000 for at least one party agent at each polling booth. There were over 100,000 of them, so that is a clear N500million at least. Even where we tried to pay the polling agent, the bigger party showed up with bigger money and some of the agents called us to say ‘sorry o, I have to switch, party XYZ just gave me double what you gave”. It didn’t matter if it was a ward election, state governorship or presidency. In fact, the bigger parties have a culture where they allocate between N250,000 and N500,000 per polling booth, through their party chieftains. All who vote for them receive either N3,000 or N5,000. The youths in those parties coordinate this business. At a mere N250,000 per polling booth, a party needed at least N25 billion! Where will we find that kind of money? And those who pay such, promptly collect back with huge premium because they had their fingers in the till at the federal or state level anyway. Nigerians made their choices. And the electoral commission did a good job for their masters, most unfortunately. They added to their mandate, that smaller parties, coming with better ideas, must never be allowed to survive, much less draw the attention of Nigerians. Some so-called Civil Society Organisations joined the electoral umpire to ensure life was snuffed out of these budding parties. Nobody should blame us for trying. We needed to see these things firsthand to learn about the problems of our country. It is not enough to hide behind keyboards and assume or act of hearsay. We are proud for trying, and for making the painful sacrifices for our country with the little we had and we were ready to make more sacrifices , to keep learning and engaging the system if given our fair, constitutional chance. We weren’t asking for any favours from anybody, but will not take injustice and cheating from any bagger either.
In February 2020, months after the election, INEC deregistered 74 parties whom they said hadn’t complied with the constitutional requirements – in their reckoning. INEC deliberately misinterpreted the constitution, doing violence to that document and to the franchises of the 74 parties. Allegedly using one of the parties – one National Unity Party – INEC frontloaded a case at the courts asking only one question “can INEC deregister parties?” Of course, INEC can deregister parties. The Supreme Court has confirmed that. But INEC CANNOT deregister parties except it obeys the constitution. The constitution, as amended says that these parties be allowed to contest ALL elections. In the game of chances, you must give every chance. INEC says it had held 33 state elections and was okay with that. That is a breach of the constitution. Any of the parties could meet any of the requirements at any of the 3 state elections that they are excluded from (Ondo, Edo and Anambra). The constitution says clearly that a party should win 25% of a presidential election, OR 25% at any state election, OR 25% of a Senate, House of Reps or House of Assembly election, OR 25% of a local government election, OR a council seat. This is how the constitution (as amended) sought to protect multiparty democracy and political expression in Nigeria, but INEC is only concerned about pleasing those who pay their salaries and appoint them into office. A colossal shame that the headship of INEC, a supposed professor, cannot wash himself clean from, ever! INEC then pleads that well, it is not in charge of Local Government and Council elections – that those elections are handled by State electoral commissions. That means that the power to DEREGISTER parties cannot be exercised by fiat except those state bodies are carried along. In fact, many states invited us to field people in their elections AFTER INEC had purportedly deregistered the 74 parties.
Anyhow, the latest news is about how the NUP case has been decided by the Supreme Court. INEC Commissioner Festus Okoye cannot grant an interview without mentioning NUP a dozen times. There is allegedly an unholy relationship between INEC and that party gone rogue. But again, no one has said INEC cannot deregister. The question is the procedure and many of the parties have approached the Supreme Court on that basis.
The other big news is that Nigeria is in trouble everywhere. The APC government – especially the taciturn Buhari – chose the path of war rather than peace. Buhari apparently has no cell of magnanimity in his body. Instead of allowing Nigerian youths to anchor their anger in politics, and to keep trying their best by engaging lawfully and constitutionally with a view to making a change in their own country through politics, Buhari decided to sign that obnoxious amendment to the constitution, as presented by the Ekweremadu-led committee. Unfortunately for them, in the drafting, they shot themselves in the leg such that a proper implementation of that constitutional amendment will give life to the parties they hoped to destroy. We will stop at nothing to get justice anyway. It was Buhari’s body language that INEC followed to strangle the little baby parties (some of them 6 months old) in their cots. Sheer murderers committed political infanticide! The aim was to create a one-party state with the APC, but now, the APC has given up on running Nigeria, to the extent that the president stooped so low as to ask a US Secretary of State to come and establish a base for the US Army in Nigeria! Why do old men fight to own things they cannot manage or enjoy? The same Buhari is busy pleading and begging Nigerians after having shown up as superman who could solve all our problems. Now he says some people are ‘mercilessly’ against Nigeria.
What would it have cost APC and their surrogate INEC (including the vestiges of fatcats in PDP in the Ekwemadu-led committee) to allow the young parties grow? Would we not have been engaging on the basis of ideas? Since Buhari did not have a mind grand enough to institute a government of national unity, we accepted the electoral robberies and continued to organize. Today, we hear some people urging him to coopt talent from elsewhere but his party. Of course, that can never happen. And it is way too late. Let Buhari and APC carry the whole blame for whatever has befallen Nigeria… for a time. That is the price of greed, wickedness, lack of magnanimity, selfishness, foolish pride, myopia, nepotism and tribalism… everything that has laid Nigeria prostrate since independence. Imagine how many young Nigerians this move disenfranchised and threw back into militancy? 74 parties had at least 20 National Excos each. That is almost 1,500. Multiply that by 37 for the states, that is 55,500. For the LGs and Wards, a back of the envelop calculation will take you to over 500,000 who were politically engaged by these small parties who could have been allowed to grow. This is discounting those who worked with candidates. We could have engaged over 1 million youths and that is a significant number. Not all of them voted for us when it came to brass tacks but that is no problem. New ideas take time to germinate, but we didn’t reckon on the bullying from INEC and its shameless paymasters. APC confused many of them with money during elections, then moved for the jugular, to their eternal shame.
APC, Buhari and INEC would rather Nigerian youths form themselves, not into intellectual political parties, but into armed groups, into Boko Haram, armed herdsmen, bandits, IPOB, ESN, Nnamdi Kanu types who curse Nigeria daily and calls her a zoo, Igboho types who vowed to stop any election in 2023 and who champion secession, kidnappers, yahoo-yahoo boys, corporate prostitutes, drug-addled thugs, cult members, cheap drug addicts and so on. Let no one blame the gods, this current situation Nigeria has found herself is EXACTLY what Buhari’s spirit drew for Nigeria. There is no way we could have done better. The APC party only tagged along, while INEC was the shameless willing tool. The courts are not much better. The judiciary is in the pocket of the executive, especially since the Number 3 man, Walter Onnoghen, was disgraced out of office, by people who are morally worse than him by every stretch of contention. On another day, when these bad luck people may have shipped out, perhaps Nigeria will choose another destiny. Multi-party democracy is firmly rooted in our constitution. It needs no further amendment, only compliance.
Also, I urge Nigerian youths ton keep hope alive. The way I see it is that Nigeria and our collective destinies, is bigger than whoever occupies some positions now. We cannot despair and start looking for visas to everywhere. That is a sign of total frustration. While we look for positive things to occupy our hands and minds in the interim, let us understand that our country is ours to save and to build. We cannot ship out of our country en masse and allow all sorts of strangers to come and tap the goodness of this beautiful land, with the best weather in the world, the best food, the best people, the best of everything, that God has put in our custody. We are not cowards. We may not be able to win these people politically, I admit. Where will we find all these billions? But we can defeat them intellectually. That gives me much confidence. Our chance will come, no matter how much they deploy the instrument of state to frustrate our efforts and turn Nigeria into a hellish place. Shame on them all.