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Archbishop Onaiyekan On The April Polls: Matters Arising by Fr. Emmanuel Ogundele



I have read in recent times a spate of reactions to Archbishop Onaiyekan’s statement about the April polls in which he stated that it would be better if the elections were set aside a new one conducted so that people can vote for candidates of their choice. In the first place, the Archbishop was not saying anything new but only restating what well-meaning and patriotic Nigerians are saying all over the place that it will do our country and the course of democracy a great service if new elections were conducted. I have however been shocked but not surprised at the position of many Christian leaders of the C.A.N fold. It is an open secret that most of these Christian leaders have no liver, spine or credibility and so their adverse reaction should be expected. In fact, one of the areas of our national life that is in need of sanitisation is the religious realm. There is so much corruption and falsehood within the religious aspect of our lives, a corruption which is only replicated and whose ripples spread to other aspects as well. Some of these people have made Karl Marx’s position come true that religion is an opium of the people. They do not care about the sheep so long as they can feed fat and literally extort money from them. If they really care about the poor and loathe injustice, how will their market sell since they prey on the ignorance of the masses. I wonder whether some of them think of the good examples set by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Martin-Luther King or Oscar Romero? One is left to wonder whether these religious leaders understand their role as prophets, as agents of positive change and social justice. If they don’t perceive their role properly, how then can they become a voice for the voiceless in our society many of who troop to their churches and mosques every Friday and Sunday? I am surprised that with all that we experienced during the April elections, religious leaders should be saying we should not throw the dirty water away with the baby. The earlier we do so the better. It is a truism that you cannot build an edifice on quicksand, the resultant effect will not be palatable. Shocking still is the reaction of Bishop Makinde who though was a friend of General Obasanjo, the ex-dictator but could not even call him to order when he ran riots all over the country that he was taking God as well as Nigerians for granted. I remember listening to Prelate Sunday Mbang an Obasanjo apologist criticising Nigerian for berating Professor Iwu after the April polls. He clearly stated that he wished for a situation whereby all Nigerians could be put in-charge of INEC one after the other so that we could see how uneasy it was to organise an election. My simple answer to Mbang then was and still is: you do not need to be a genius or a failed ebola professor to organise an election. All you need is a sense of fairness, decency, honesty and goodwill towards the country. All these were clearly lacking in Obasanjo and Iwu hence they led us on the tortuous path to the debacle that was called April polls. Pastor Adeboye not long ago came out with his own position on the ignoble and infamous third term saga. According to him, Obasanjo did not seek his view but preferred to avoid him as long as the whole episode lasted. Honestly, I do not think he needed to wait for Obasanjo to come to him for advice before going on air to dissociate himself from such a disgraceful venture. It is still on record that Onaiyekan stood out among our notable religious leaders who robustly condemned Obasanjo’s craving for power to rule us till death. Where were these people then? The rumours were making the rounds when Obasanjo used his presidential power to influence the election of C.A.N. to avoid the emergence of Archbishop Onaiyekan as Chairman. His simple argument was that it will be difficult to deal with a catholic bishop as the head of C.A.N. My grouse with these religious leaders whether of the Muslim or Christian or even Traditional worshippers was that they did not tame General Obasanjo at all, at least reminding him of his obligations as a Christian which he claims to be even though he acts in contradistinction to what Christianity is all about. For one thing, Obasanjo was and still is a big bully, irascible, intemperate, arrogant, inpatient and all the rest of it, but wise counsels from all these religious leaders would have reminded him that power belongs to God and not to him no matter how lucky he may be. Their silence led Nigeria into another holocaust, another set of eight odd years eaten not by the locusts this time around but by the termites.


Let it be clear that, like every other Nigerian, Archbishop Onaiyekan who doubles as the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja and President of CAN, has every right to comment on the last elections which was adjudged by international and national monitors as neither free nor fair nor credible. Every reasonable, sane, right-thinking, civilised, cultured and sensible Nigerian agrees with this assertion. And these monitoring bodies have every right to criticise our elections because they contributed in cash and kind to the electoral process. All the more, these monitors were invited and accredited by INEC and the Federal Government of Nigeria. It is ludicrous that the dubious and flawed individual like Maurice Iwu and David Mark who profited from the entire fraudulent process should be calling for the heads of the EU monitors. If we sign up to international protocols on the conduct of democratic elections, it is incumbent on us to keep to the terms of the agreement. We cannot as a nation, claim to be part of the comity of nations and yet we want to be left to ourselves when we err on issues of national importance with national and international implications. No man is an Island in the globalised world of today and whatever happens in Nigeria has a reverberating effect on the rest of Africa, and the world at large. This is really part of what we are saying, how can Iwu still be INEC Chairman with all the atrocities he has committed and the havoc his has done to the image of Nigeria. For anyone who wants to read more about Iwu’s life, let him just take some time to read and he will be sorry for Nigeria. It is as a result of all these pretences, hide and seek, deceit and lies that Nigeria will continue to lag behind for a long time to come. We simply cannot look reality in the face as a people. Even Yar’ardua admitted during his inaugural speech that the election that brought him to power was less than transparent. If he could admit that much, those who are saying the call for fresh elections is out of place should go and check their consciences or get their heads examined. If you fail an examination, the reasonable thing to do is to re-sit such an examination. But to claim that it is pointless re-sitting such an examination is an open admission of failure once and for all. We are all agreed about the fact that this most litigated elections ever since voting began in Nigeria. Our judiciary is pointlessly overstretched at this point serving at the various tribunals. Aggrieved Nigerians are not just going to the tribunals to go and waste their time and resources, they have genuine cases for which they are seeking justice. It is shameful that as a nation, we treat ourselves like animals and allow such a naked and brazen assault on our sense of collective decency to stand.


Rather than praise Archbishop Onaiyekan for his courage, boldness and forthrightness, all he has received from many of his CAN brothers has been criticisms most of which are misplaced. All the major religions of the world are clearly against fraud, materialism, greed, manipulation and other vices that have become part and parcel of our lives in this country. As a person, I have never seen the degree of fraud, manipulation, thuggery, open brigandage that took place during the last April polls in my life. It was as if the devil was imported from hell during the April polls. In retrospect, no one would disagree with reprobate ex-dictator Obasanjo when he said that the elections would be a do or die affair for him and the PDP. It was indeed a prophecy fulfilled.


The suggestion of Archbishop Onaiyekan is the most reasonable thing to do at this juncture. I know we are not always led by reasonable people but if Yar’ardua wants to prove that he is a decent man, let him order fresh polls and allow the process to run without any interference. It is even very likely he would win the election and then everyone would accept him as the duly elected president. Anything less than this will leave the burden and rope of illegitimacy around his neck. No matter what he achieves as president, he will be seen in history as a man who claimed to be decent but rode to power on the plank of a monumental fraud. In a democratic setting, people are free to agree and disagree but common sense and a sense of decency should come into play when serious issues like electoral fraud is being discussed. It is high time religious leaders and civil society learnt to uphold the truth no matter whose ox is gored. Until we redress the shortcomings wrecked on the Nigerian people during the last elections, we shall never know true peace and prosperity no matter how hard we try. As it stands at the moment, Yar’ardua is not my president no matter how good his government may turn out to be because I query the moral fundament of the election that brought him to the presidency. It is the same about the governors, senators and representatives of the various state and national assemblies all over the country who were rail-roaded by Obasanjo and Iwu into positions of power. These people sadly have no authority except by force since they did not derive their mandate from the people.


The recent setting up of the elections review panel by President Yar’ardua was a welcome development. Needless to say however that Nigerians, while they maybe sometimes crooked, they still know what is good. We are not a banana republic in the middle of nowhere. We can and have conducted free and fair elections. At least in 1993 we did it. What has portrayed us in a bad light and made us look like a people who cannot govern themselves were the lethal combinations of Obasanjo’s PDP and Iwu’s INEC. If only Yar’ardua can appoint a credible INEC chairman, allow INEC to be really independent and then leave the police to do its job, Nigerians are capable of conducting free, fair and credible elections. The panel in my view should be disbanded, and instead, he should set up a panel to prepare for a sovereign national conference and a brand new constitution. So long as urgent steps are not taken to address the aforementioned crucial points, Nigeria will continue to grope in the dark.


Fr. Emmanuel Ogundele is with the Department of Philosophy, Ss. Peter and Paul Seminary, Bodija, Ibadan.


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