Nigerians held to ransom

It's not only about the insurgency in Nigeria - it's about how the government has handled it.

    Nigerians held to ransom
    Jonathan has always believed that the opposition would stand no chance against him, writes Soyombo [Reuters]

    Sambo Dasuki knows something that the rest of Nigeria does not. On January 22, at the Chatham House, Dasuki, Nigeria's national security adviser, advocated the postponement of the presidential election, citing slow distribution of voter cards to eligible voters.

    "What sense does it make to vote three months early when there are 30 million cards still with INEC? That's my position," Dasuki said.

    At that gathering, Dasuki made absolutely no reference to the insurgency in the northeast or its potential to impede the conduct of the election.

    Ten days later, he was writing Attahiru Jega, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to demand the postponement of the polls by at least six weeks.

    Jega's explanation

    This is how Jega explained it"Last Wednesday ... the office of the National Security Adviser wrote a letter to the commission, drawing attention to recent developments in four northeast states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe currently experiencing the challenge of insurgency. The letter stated that security could not be guaranteed during the proposed period in February for the general elections. This advisory was reinforced at the Council of State meeting on Thursday where the NSA and all the armed services and intelligence chiefs unanimously reiterated that the safety and security of our operations cannot be guaranteed, and that the security services needed at least six weeks within which to conclude a major military operation against the insurgency in the northeast."

    What Dasuki mentioned on January 22, he didn't on February 4. What he mentioned on February 4, he didn't on January 22. Clearly, irrespective of the reason, Dasuki wants the election shifted. But why? And in whose interest?

    Boko Haram burden

    Goodluck Jonathan has always believed that the opposition would stand no chance against him without the insurgency. And he has never hidden it. Just a week ago, he told Mo Abudu of Ebonylife TV that Boko Haram was "masking" what his government had done.

    "If not for Boko Haram, Nigerians will be appreciative of the government," he said.

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    At the end of January, the African Union sanctioned the creation of a 7,500-man multinational force to fight Boko Haram. One week later, troops from neighbouring Niger, Chad, and Cameroon were on Nigerian territory. Within three days, Chadian and Cameroonian armies were already claiming victories over the rebel fighters.

    Jonathan believes his long-sought victory over Boko Haram is near, and he has privately wished he had more time before the election so that this victory would help win some of his antagonists over to his side.

    No harm, really, in "wishing" for more time. But could Dasuki possibly have acted on the president's wish?

    The losers

    There has been so much talk about the postponement puncturing the campaign momentum of Muhammadu Buhari and the APC, but Buhari will benefit more than he will lose. Already, he is playing the victim. The Buhari that was painted as an incurable proponent of electoral violence is cleverly urging his supporters to keep calm about the postponement.

    There is growing belief that the postponement was targeted at him. Expect him to win unsolicited public sympathy. Expect him to have several thousand sympathy votes that he didn't have a week ago.

    The real loser is Jonathan. Let me assume that Jonathan had no hand in the poll shift. But who would believe him, anyway, save loyalists of his party? The NSA who implicitly halted the electoral process is his appointee, so he could never have acted without the president's nod.

    Were Jonathan to even attempt to argue about his uninvolvement with the postponement, it would reveal him as lacking a grip over his cabinet. So, however the argument comes, Dasuki's letter has succeeded in stoking public sentiment against Jonathan.

    Rumours of a plot to force Jega out of office and appoint a loyal INEC helmsman will thicken, same as the rumoured scheming to bypass the May 29 handover date. In all, I cannot find what good luck awaits Jonathan in this postponement.

    Nigerians may not remember that more than 80 people were bombed to death in Nyanya, Abuja, in April 2014, but they will remember that the president was dancing away at a PDP rally in Kano two days later.


    I cannot see INEC's gain, either. What the commission will gain in six extra weeks of PVC distribution will be lost in rising fears of its manipulation by the government. The real gainers are the millions of Nigerian women who, previously riled by Jega's choice of February 14 for the presidential election, will now enjoy Valentine's Day out with their spouses.

    Dancing away

    For the record, Jonathan must understand that the overriding Boko Haram sentiment against him is not exactly the killings and kidnappings but his response to them.

    Nigerians may not remember that more than 80 people were bombed to death in Nyanya, Abuja, in April 2014, but they will remember that the president was dancing away at a PDP rally in Kano two days later.

    Even if they forget that as many as 60 pupils of the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe state, were murdered by Boko Haram in February 2014, how will they forget that the president did not personally show up in Yobe to offer his commiserations?

    Nigerians seem to be forgetting that more than 200 Chibok girls are still in captivity, but they will never forget that for more than two weeks, the president insisted that the kidnapping never occurred; they will not forget that he never met with the parents of the missing girls until 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai came here to beg him.

    Nigerians will remember that only a day after at least 48 people were killed in a blast in Potiskum in November 2014, the president organised a colourful ceremony to announce his presidential ambition. They will continue to remember that soldiers are underequipped to neutralise the insurgents and their sophisticated weapons. So it is not totally about the insurgency; it is about how the government has handled it.

    Dasuki and "all the armed services and intelligence chiefs" and others at the Nigerian military may have succeeded in staging a coup against the constitution, but they cannot twist history after engineering the deferment of the presidential election just one week before its scheduled commencement, consequently holding the entire country to ransom.

    History, in this regard, will reserve its unkindest spot for Dasuki - maybe Jonathan as well.

    Fisayo Soyombo edits Nigerian online newspaper TheCable.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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