Leaders of key civil society organisations in Nigeria have taken a tough position against what they perceive as ethnic stereotyping of selected individuals as to make them the fall guys of the postponement of presidential poll last Saturday. The signatories are, instead, canvassing an alternative in which “all stakeholders desist from pursuing campaigns of calumny against any group, focus on ensuring that the elections hold in a spirit of nation building that would allow the winners of the elections carry forward the Nigerian national project”. It is offering a clarion call: Let us all work with INEC and all other authorities involved in the electoral process to re-build trust, and to ensure that there is peace and concord before, during and after the elections”.
A tall order in the context of deep divisions and hardening of positions which envelopes Nigeria of today but that is the conviction of the signatories: Professor Adele Jinadu, Chair, Election Analysis Centre; Femi Falana SAN, Legal Practitioner; Professor Ebere Onwudiwe, Political Economist; Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, Political Scientist and Y. Z, Ya’u, Co-Chair, Situation Room. Others are Ms. Idayat Hassan, Director, Centre for Democracy and Development; Ms. Ayo Obe, Legal Practioner; Dr. Hussaini Abdu, Country Director, Plan International and Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director, CISLAC.
A carefully crafted text by the nine activists, public intellectuals and campaigners identified those being singled out as Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu, a National Commissioner of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC); Chidi Nwafor, the Director of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) also of INEC; Ken Ukeagu, its Director of Procurement; Osaze Uzzi, the Director of Voter Education and Publicity and Bimbo Oladunjoye, the Assistant Director of ICT. Except Bimbo Oladunjoye, all the others are of Igbo nationality.
Without questioning the responsibility of Nigeria’s secret police, the Directorate of State Security, (DSS), to convene and interrogate whoever it suspects to be a threat to national security, the signatories to the statement, however, say they remain concerned because a web design had preceded the invitation from the DSS which it though acknowledged to have been withdrawn. According to the statement, a web design “suddenly emerged on the social media yesterday presenting alleged linkages between the Atiku Campaign Organisation and leading civil society activists of Igbo ethnicity and Professor Ibeanu in INEC” -– Olisa Agbakoba SAN, Clement Nwankwo, Sam Amadi, Innocent Chukwuma and Chidi Odinkalu, again, all of them of Igbo identity.
The signatories refused to take the campaign and the invitation as isolated developments, drawing attention to alleged linkages drawn to Professor Ibeanu and Mike Ogini of INEC, Bukola Saraki in Senate and the Ballard facilitation of the Atiku Abubakar’s trip to the United States and even Donald Trump. Noting how a massive social media campaign with the hashtag #INECIbeanuMustGo started trending within hours of the circulation of the web, the signatories are reading a programme of presenting Prof Ibeanu as the Atiku Campaign mole in INEC “with responsibility for scuttling last Saturday’s election and rigging the forthcoming elections”
But absolving and vouching for Ibeanu, the signatories categorically declared knowing Ibeanu to be a committed democrat who has devoted his life to the struggle for peace and democracy in Nigeria, insisting that INEC, not any individual there, has collective responsibility for last Saturday’s failure. The group’s testimonial for Professor Ibeanu is also that he has had a distinguished academic career at home and abroad and was special rapporteur of the United Nations from 2004-2010. They also mentioned how he was appointed INEC National Commissioner representing the south-east in 2016 and, before that, the Chief Technical Officer to Professor Attahiru Jega, the INEC Chairman between 2010 and 2015, positions in which he is assessed to have contributed enormously to the success of the 2011 and 2015 elections.
The team is suspecting an orchestrated campaign against Prof Ibeanu, drawing attention to burgling of his house in Enugu and his car by elements who made away with valuables, including laptops and iPads. Then the mysterious surfacing last Monday of a 2015 polemical exertion by Ibeanu which has nothing specifically to do with the issues in question at the moment. What is more, it came with a comment: “Nigeria has a Biafran agitator as the REC for Logistics, no wonder this unpatriotic individual, Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu who has made his mission to undermine the Nigerian state”
The signatories sum up their concerns as follows:
1) There are too many conspiracy theories in circulation and a great deal of mudslinging in the campaigns. In addition, the campaign has been characterized by strong ethno-religious mobilization on all sides, which can be harmful to nation building.
2) This is a clearly orchestrated campaign to smear the names of these people, most of whom have devoted their lives to the struggle against military rule and for democracy for the past three to four decades.
3) The said campaign is divisive and is geared to smear an ethnic group and present them as enemies of democracy and free and fair elections.
4) The smear campaign can only do harm to the difficult process of consolidation of Nigerian democracy.