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Date Published: 07/31/10

Donald Duke's Can of Worms and Separating the Message from the Messenger By Jude Egbas

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A friend of mine posted something on my facebook wall that read somewhat like this: “ Your ex-governor is not ashamed to tell Nigerians that he had been rigging elections through this machinery for the past two tenures he was the Governor General of Cross River State. Onari’s ( Duke’s Wife) file is still in the EFCC.” His post landed on my wall amid a plethora of reactions that had followed the excerpts of Donald Duke’s interaction with some civil society groups, which was originally published in ‘The Guardian’ and culled by most Nigerian news websites. 

Straight off : I am a raving fan of Donald Duke. I was a student in the University of Calabar, South-South Nigeria, to witness first-hand the magic he wove in the state capital and beyond as Governor and cheered on as he brought civility to governance. He was my idea of a new breed politician—one of those refined breed of politicians with the rare gift of the garb; a fine communicator and one brimming with ideas. At school, we called him the Duke of Cross River; urbane and a wonderful specimen of the male gender. Driving in Calabar was a pleasurable experience at all times of the day with Mary Slessor, Eta-Agbo and Ndidem Usang Iso roads all the way to MCC and Parliamentary, true testaments of the Duke legacy to this day. He would replicate those feats in Obudu, Ogoja and Ikom, re-making the State’s landscape and bestowing same with the insignia of a tourist haven of first choice. 

No, I am not a Duke puppet or one of his hired hands; never met him personally, he doesn’t know I exist and I have not been paid to write this in any way. He had his failings and shortcomings some of which will include his Tinapa misadventure—a wonderful project but one whose sustainability back-drop is still questionable, and the focus on the urban areas of the state to the detriment of the rural communities. Donald Duke is no modern day saint who should climb a high horse and pontificate on election manipulations, I agree, but which living Nigerian politician is? Which is why I think my friend and all other Nigerians (whose comment thread I have carefully followed in Saharareporters) who have called the integrity of the man to question, are wrong. 

There are several prescient lessons we could draw from Duke’s breakdown on how elections are rigged in Nigeria by state governors without appearing to hurl the baby and the bathwater into the canal. Implicit in his statements are a workable blue-print for the new election chief—Attahiru Jega and his commissioners. Duke wanted to shed light on a flawed electoral process; having being an ultimate beneficiary himself of a process which could make a mockery of all our attempts to re-make a new Nigeria. His blow-by-blow account of state governors greasing the palms of Electoral commissioners should help Jega develop a fail-safe device to ensure monies are approved and disbursed on time. 

Above all, Duke’s recollection of the nasty dealings between state executives and the electoral chiefs and the Presiding electoral officers’ heinous acts, should send all of us to the polling centres en masse on polling days while encouraging our folks and friends to vote. We should cut the man some slack and focus on the message he has delivered before the polls. Are those practices still relevant? Is this whistle-blowing going to serve us any good? If we are desirous of keeping the 2011 polls ‘rigging-free’, then it would be foolhardy to dismiss Duke’s interactions with a wave of the hand. 

And should Duke pick a form to vie for the number one post in the land; he can be rest assured that I would be at the head of the voting queue on polling day after having canvassed for him on the streets. It would be difficult to find a better candidate than Duke for President in 2011. Don’t we all know that?!!! 

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