It is less than four weeks to the presidential election of February 16 where President Muhammadu Buhari is a prime contender. But former President Olusegun Obasanjo has words of caution for those who are rooting for Buhari : Do not vote for him; he has returned Nigeria to the Gen. Sani Abacha era. While warning that Buhari lacked the mental capacity to run the affairs of the country, he also doubted the neutrality of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that could ensure free and fair elections.

Obasanjo alleged that even when figures, facts and statistics were made clear to Buhari, he kept repeating what is untrue, either because he could not understand or it was for mischief purposes “and that places him on the level of a pathological liar.” Obasanjo noted that a statement by the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Bola Tinubu in 2003 in which he (Tinubu) described Buhari as an agent of distabilisation, ethnic bigot and religious fanatic who, if given the chance, would ensure the disintegration of the country, was prophetic.

The former president, in an open letter yesterday titled: “Point for Concern and Action,” said the Osun State election, which was conclusive was declared inclusive despite all advice to the contrary. He alleged that the Buhari’s refusal to sign the revised Electoral Reform Bill into law is to rig elections, adding that his followers are working with security agencies and election officials to perfect the plan of rigging.Obasanjo described the trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, as a ploy to intimidate the judiciary as a whole in preparation for all election cases that would go before them.

To him, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s claim that the presidency was not aware of the trial was not substantial. “If that can happen to the Chief Justice of the Federation, the fifth man in the hierarchy of government, without the knowledge, let alone the approval of the president, then it speaks for the type of government we have, which means the president is not in charge let alone being in control and no Nigerian must take anything for granted. We are all unsafe and insecure under such an administration.”He said Buhari deceived Nigerians to emerge as president, but the people would no longer be fooled to support his second term bid.

Obasanjo noted that Buba Galadima who knew Buhari very well as a confidant and National Secretary of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), which was Buhari’s party, had warned that the president could not change his character or attitude.

According to him, Buhari is putting into practice the things he learnt from the late former military head of state, Gen. Sani Abacha, by “attacking the National Assembly and now unconstitutionally and recklessly attacking and intimidating the judiciary to cow them to submission.

“Today, another Abacha era is here. The security institutions are being misused to fight all critics and opponents of Buhari and to derail our fledgling democracy. EFCC, police and Code of Conduct Tribunal are also being equally misused to deal with those Buhari sees as enemies for criticising him or as those who may not do his bidding in manipulating election results. Criticism, choice and being different are inherent trademark of democracy. If democracy is derailed or aborted, anarchy and authoritarianism will automatically follow.”

He urged the international community to give more serious warning and send more people to the field to observe and work out punitive measures against INEC. He listed these measures to include the withdrawal of visas, freezing of bank accounts and prosecution at the International Criminal Court (ICC) of those who frustrate credible elections. Obasanjo also said it was disheartening that the vice president stoop low to be sharing N10, 000 in the name of TraderMoni. He described it as an idiotic programme, saying traders in rural and sub-urban areas of Nigeria were many more than those in urban areas and much poorer than traders in Lagos, Abuja and other cities.

The former president said: “They need more attention and greater help. Are they to be confined to the heap of perpetual poverty? What of those who are not traders? They are not entitled to hand-out and they can languish in penury? And what about millions who have lost their jobs in the last three and a half years? The timing is also suspect. Those who criticise the action are called evil but they are not evil as they know what they are doing and saying, and they love Nigeria and Nigerians not less than the likes of Osinbajo.

“What an act by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, number two man in the executive hierarchy; and what is more, a pastor of one of the Christian movements led by a revered, respected and upright church leader, Pastor E. A. Adeboye. Osinbajo must have gone for ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. A great pity indeed and which makes people ask the questions.

“I personally have serious doubt about the present INEC’s integrity, impartiality and competence to conduct a fair, free and credible election. And if the INEC is willing, will the ruling party and government allow it? From what we saw and knew about Osun State gubernatorial election, what was conclusive was declared inconclusive despite all advice to the contrary. The unnecessary rerun, if viewed as a test-run for a larger general election, would lead people to expect incidences of deliberately contrived, broken or non-working voting machines or card readers, confusion of voters as to their voting stations, inadequate supply of voting materials to designated places, long line to discourage voters and turning blind eyes to favour the blue-eye political party of INEC because the commission’s hands will be tied to enable hatchet men and women to perform their unwholesome assignment.

“The transmission and collation of results are subject to interference, manipulation and meddling. If the INEC’s favourite political party wins with all the above infractions, the result will be conclusively declared and if not, there will be a ‘rerun’, the result of which is known before it is carried out. I know that I am not alone in being skeptical about the integrity of INEC and its ability to act creditably and above board. But we are open to be convinced otherwise.

“The joke about INEC would seem real. The INEC was asked if it was ready for the election and if it expected the election to be free, fair and credible. The INEC man was reported to have said in response: ‘We are ready with everything including the results!’ God save Nigeria! It is up to Nigerians to ensure that the red line is not crossed in safeguarding our fledgling democracy. And if crossed, appropriate action must be taken not to allow our democracy to be derailed.

“A friend of mine who is more credulous and who claims to be close to the Chair of INEC keeps telling me that INEC will retrieve its image and reputation by conducting the coming elections with utmost integrity and impartiality. I am not sure as I believe more in action than in words and in past record than in promise. The track record of the present INEC is fairly sordid and all men and women of goodwill and believers in democracy must be prepared for the worst from INEC and their encouragers and how to get Nigeria out of the electoral morass into which the commission is driving us.

“To be forewarned is to be forearmed. A battle long forewarned does not embroil the cripple nor catch him unawares. A word is sufficient for the wise. The labour of Nigerian democracy heroes must not be in vain. Some men of God would hold President Buhari to his word on free, fair, credible and peaceful elections. I am a realist and I reiterate that I go by track record. Therefore, I am not persuaded by a track record of hollow words, impunity, insensitivity and ‘I-couldn’t-care- less’ attitude, or by the sanctimonious claims of any candidate and his campaign staff. I will only believe what I see.

“This is a time for vigilance to fight to safeguard our votes and defend our democracy. The price of liberty and sustenance of our democracy is eternal vigilance and appropriate reaction to ward off iniquities. We must all be ready to pay that price and not relying on hollow words of callousness. The derailment of Nigerian democracy will be a monumental disaster comparable to the disaster of the Nigerian first military coup.

“While Nigerians must not allow such a disaster to happen nor take such an affront lying low, the international community who played an admirable role in warning INEC, of course, to no avail on the Osun State gubernatorial election and who have been warning all political parties must on this occasion give more serious warning, send more people to the field to observe and work out punitive measures against INEC and security officials especially the police and politicians who stand to gain from INEC’s misconduct, which is obviously encouraged by the executive arm of government and who must be held responsible for the violence that will follow.”

Obasanjo considered the appointment of Zakari as the head of the collation centre as an indication of INEC’s lack of impartiality because she has been embroiled in controversies since Buhari became president. They began with an attempt by Buhari to make her the chairman of the commission after the exit of its former boss Prof. Attahiru Jega. It was only public outrage that forced Buhari to relieve her of that position and appoint Prof Mammod Yakubu as the substantive chairman of the electoral body.

Since Zakari’s appointment as the chairperson of the collation centre, there has been condemnation by the public, especially the opposition parties which accused Buhari of planning to rig the election.The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the concerns raised by Obasanjo, detailing Buhari’s alleged scheme “to use apparatus of state power to subjugate Nigerians, undermine our democratic system, subvert the electoral process and perpetuate himself in office” have further vindicated its stand that the president is out for a self-succession plot.

In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP declared that “Obasanjo’s submission has also reinforced our position that President Buhari, and his party, having realized that there is no way they can win in a free and fair election, are now besieging all democratic institutions, including the judiciary, the legislature, INEC, while engaging in acts that threaten the unity, peace and corporate existence of our dear nation”

According to the opposition party, “The whole world can see how President Buhari and APC’s desperation for power is putting the lives of over 200 million Nigerian citizens at great risk as their actions stoke violence and push our dear nation to the precipice.”The party said Obasanjo’s concern was a clarion call to all compatriots, irrespective of ethnic, religious and political affiliations to rise in defence of democracy.In a swift reaction, APC faulted the claim by Obasanjo that the Buhari-led administration was plotting to rig the poll.

The Spokesman of the party, Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu, who addressed a press conference in Abuja yesterday assured Nigerians that the APC administration would not interfere with the conduct of free and fair elections.The ruling party said Obasanjo’s position should not be seen as a surprising development in view of the controversy that trailed the 2007 and 2011 polls when he was at the helm of affairs of the country.

“When you are adept at a particular thing, that means it is something that you know how to do very well. For eight years of President Obasanjo, all the elections held, in fact government policies, were determined by whatever mood he found himself. All the institutions of government were brought under his whims. And what he did for those eight years is what is haunting him.

“He cannot imagine that it is possible for a government to allow INEC the statutory independence that it has. We have had about 93 or more elections since APC came to power and you can be sure that all those elections were conducted without any interference from this government. In fact, if there is anything you want to credit this government for, one of the major works is the fact that institutions were allowed to fulfil their mandate without anybody interfering.

“So for us in APC, votes would count. We are going to have a free, fair and credible election. We have no reason to want to rig election. Our achievements speak for us. President Obasanjo should adjust himself to the reality of the imminent defeat as it is starring him in the face. He has carried himself about as the dispenser of our destiny and God is showing him clearly that he has just only been lucky and the favour that God has done to him he has considered them as the things that are coming from himself.”

(The Guardian)