Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN, Tuesday, 10th March, 2015 declared that the unfolding developments in the run up to the 2015 general elections calls to question the leadership of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan about whether he thinks more about the next elections like a politician or the next generation like a statesman.
Governor Fashola, who spoke at the Lagos House, Marina, when he hosted the Chairman, National Human Rights Commission, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, on a courtesy visit, expressed concern about the commission’s reported support for the use of the military in elections.
Even as he refrained from making a judgment on the issue, Fashola called for a deeper investigation and analysis of electoral violence adding that justice and fair play are preconditions for peace.
Speaking on electoral violence and some of the possible causes, Governor Fashola said the seed of violence is sown when people perceived that they are being disenfranchised either by denying them of freedom to vote or through delay of electoral materials adding that such acts would send wrong messages of electoral malpractices.
“If we are talking about electoral violence, pre, during and post, some things have happened to which, perhaps we haven’t paid enough attention which is the most recent evidence of people snatching ballot boxes. And what is the recent evidence of electoral failures; people being disenfranchised, prevented from voting because electoral materials don’t get to them or their votes are cancelled or delayed”, the Governor said.
Other possible reasons, the Governor said, include the fact that “people still don’t understand that this is just a contest for service and that the ultimate deciders are the electorates; so some have ascribed it as a do-or-die affair, a war. You have heard that from the other side. That is one possible cause.
“Another possible cause is that violence, especially electoral violence is a reaction to a possible stimulus; a stimulus that suggests, ‘well we will do what we like to get power, you go and do what you like’”, the Governor said adding, “What have we done in terms of preparing for a free and fair election; because really that is where the problem lies”.
He also pointed to the amendment of the Electoral Act by the PDP dominated Parliament mandating that an aggrieved candidate must prosecute his case in 180 days or lose chances of getting fair hearing even if his case is genuine pointing out that concerned Nigerians, including himself, shouted then that it was a dangerous precedent.
He declared, “You can’t deny access to justice and expect peace. And what has happened since then? Those who know me can hardly say I am a man of violence.
But I know that when you begin to sow the seed of violence, I will warn you. I don’t support violence; but when you begin to deny access to justice saying after many days of collecting evidence you will say to an aggrieved, ‘well no matter how good your case is we cannot hear it.
“One of the things I will recommend, even at this last minute, is to amend that law, repeal the law. If it takes four years to prosecute an electoral offence so be it. Let the rules of justice stand uncircumscribed because the tendency is there for the person to say ‘Let me go and rig and I will frustrate you in court; you raise the stakes unduly”, he advised adding, “It is a one line amendment and it can be done; just repeal and reinstate and tension will certainly come down”.
Other possible reasons, the Governor said, include sowing the seed of disaffection citing the example of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) commencing their political campaigns well ahead of the recommended time in spite of the directive of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to the contrary.
“So, if one party begins to campaign one year ahead of the elections and no one could stop them, they are sowing the seed of disaffection because we are aware that INEC issued a directive that no one should campaign. They were all over the places endorsing and campaigning; that was where the work would have started. But it is never too late”, he said.
Promising to continue to urge restraint in Lagos, Governor Fashola, however, pointed out some of the provocations that the PDP controlled Federal Government has been engendering in the State through the activities of its agencies adding, “If you drive through the city now, they said we can’t advertise again; the PDP, the President has removed all our adverts.
“They say we can’t advertise on Federal roads. But the Constitution says advertising is the responsibility of local Governments and any responsibility given to the local governments is to be administered in accordance with the State law. LASAA is a creation of the State Law owned by the Local Government regulating how to advertise”.
Governor Fashola, who recalled that the State’s Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA) held a public enlightenment programme for all political parties briefing them on where and where not to post adverts, added that the PDP went and petitioned to the Police and the Police said they could do what they liked.
“It was a case of a political party taking over the responsibilities of a local government”, the Governor said adding, “All the people in FERMA which SURE-P kept at the Toll Gate without any law are the enforcers of the Presidency’s advertising campaign. But we have told them adverts will not vote, we will vote”.
Governor Fashola also advised against the use of the Military in the management of the nation’s transitional and electoral programmes, saying they should be restricted to their Constitutional role of protecting the territorial integrity of the country.
Asserting that it is the Constitutional duty of the Police to manage crises within the civil society, the Governor advised that rather than involve the Military, whatever deficiency within the Police should be fixed.
He expressed concern that the National Human Rights Commission had given its approval of the use of the Military in the nation’s electoral programmes, adding, “Unless we want to play the Ostrich, if there is a security problem in our programmes, I think, as far as this problem remains urban and not extra-territorial, whatever is wrong with the Police, we must simply do the needful and go and fix it”.
The Governor, who reiterated that the job of the Police was to maintain law and order within the civil society, warned, “The danger in use of the Military as security force of first choice in dealing with matters of law and order within the civil society is that in all other countries the military is the security force of the utmost last resort. They should not be over-stretched”.
He hailed the 2011 general elections as “a lot better scenario”, recalling that for the first time women and children attended rallies because, according to him, “That, for me, was what was important to me because if this was for tomorrow, then children must be involved now because they are the tomorrow”.
Governor Fashola recalled his time as Chief of Staff during his predecessor’s reelection in 2003 saying, “We would drive past and Engnr Funso William’s train would drive past. They would throw jokes at us and we would throw back at them. It was like a carnival and that is how it is supposed to be.
“The campaign we had in 2007 was also a carnival and many of the professionals who never participated in political campaigns joined us because that fear of violence had diminished. Our record here was outstanding and the electorates validated that. Our record has been no less outstanding here as we campaign yet again”.
He declared, “When you announce election results and there are no jubilations, something is wrong. This state went into a frenzy on that Sunday evening when my result was all over instantly because the people knew that that was how they voted”.
He also recalled an event this year when he drove with the APC governorship candidate, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, on a float during which they met PDP campaigners also on a float on Western Avenue adding, “We got down, they didn’t have souvenirs they collected from me. I waved at them and I am sure the media has those pictures. That is how it should be. There should not be any violence because we are campaigning on record, a record of service.
“We have done our best. If it is good for the people who employed us, they will renew our mandate. Anybody who is sufficiently intellectual enough will know that in the teaching of logic one of the flaws of argument is that the candidate whose argument is the weakest is the one who seeks to change the subject and raise unrelated issues”, he said.
He said the issue in the coming election was a referendum on the stewardship of the political parties, “especially the party that has had the privilege to govern” adding, “It cannot be on any other issue. Have you done your job? It then does not matter what language you speak, how tall you are, who your mother is, who your father is, where you worship or whether you don’t worship”.
On the leadership challenge, Fashola advised President and presidential candidate of the PDP to look beyond electoral victory and consider the next generation no matter the outcome of the election adding that the President would become a statesman forever if he approaches the elections with the determination to deliver a free and fair exercise.
“If he wins in violence, that will be part of his record. If he loses in peace and Nigeria remains one and he sees the nation and not his party, he sees the next generation and not the next election, he will become a statesman forever”, the Governor said.
He also advised the President to publicly dissociate himself from the damaging and uncomplimentary statements of his aides which tend to heat up the polity and put fear into the minds of the electorates even before the elections pointing out that the President was free to campaign 24 hours a day in any state of the Federation if he had the energy to do so.
Such statements, Governor Fashola said, include that credited to the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, who was quoted as advising party supporters in Calabar, Cross River State, to stone the campaign train of the All Progressives Congress Presidential Candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, if they came to campaign there or anyone chanting Change which is the slogan of the Party.
The Governor declared, “If the President wants to campaign in any state 24 hours a day, nobody will stop him if he has the energy to do so. But there are some things he must publicly dissociate himself from; like his wife’s speech. He must disown them and his leadership will be defined by whether he does it himself convincingly or whether he asks his aides to go and say it”.
Recalling a similar instance when President Barack Obama had to renounce a hate speech from the pastor of a church which he had always attended, Fashola said the President must go beyond signing a peace accord to renounce his wife’s hate speech and any similar type that could instigate violence.
Pointing out that somebody must emerge winner in any contest, Governor Fashola, however, deplored a situation where people were quoted as saying that if the President lost the coming election there would be violence, asking, “What message is he (Mr. President) sending to the rest of Nigerians? Is he saying they are not safe if he doesn’t win?
“Even people who can’t communicate appropriately in English, they should use their local language instead of saying ‘stone people’ and all that. The President is entitled to contest and in any contest somebody must win”, the Governor said.
Fashola expressed concern that some of the statements and the fact that the President is silent over them have created fear in the minds of citizens most of whom, according to him, are leaving the country while those outside already have deferred their return into the country.
The Governor, who noted that the grace of electoral victory lay in the winner realizing that the victory could only be sweet because somebody lost, declared, “The President must speak up and assure Nigerians that this country will be safe no matter the outcome of the results. That is his primary duty; and it is not enough to say it and to sign a peace accord but to act it”.
Earlier in his opening remarks, the National Human Rights Commission Chairman, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, commended Governor Fashola for the overwhelming achievements as well as his legacy of good governance in Lagos noting that the State would remain a reference State to other states of the country.
Professor Odinkalu, who said the Governor was the most senior member of his graduating class of 1988 at the Nigerian Law School, asserted that the Governor has indeed actualized the slogan “Eko oni baje” adding that it is not a political statement but the vision of passionate leadership.
Expressing concern about the political developments in the country, especially as it concerns the coming elections, the Chairman said it has become a challenge to the post Independence generation, to which he and the Governor belong, to ensure that democracy works in the country.
Also in company of the Governor to receive the visitor were members of the State Executive Council including the state Commissioner for Special Duties, Dr. Wale Ahmed; and his Rural Development and Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs counterparts, Mr. Cornelius Ojelabi and Mr. Demorin Kuye.