A public protest has three main objectives, namely, to a) air in the public space grievances or wrongs done to groups of persons b) seek public sympathy for the cause for which the protest becomes necessary and c) force a course of action to be taken to redress the alleged or perceived wrongs done to the protesters.
Public protests are part of the democratic freedom. They are staged as part of the fundamental exercise of the people’s right to say no to actions or decisions or the contemplation of same by governments and employers of labour. They are ready weapons in the hands of trade union leaders.
On March 6, PDP surprised the nation when it chose that path in its struggle to reverse the victory of the president-elect, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu of APC. The PDP presidential candidate, Waziri Atiku Abubakar, the national chairman of the party, Dr Iyorchia Ayu, the vice-presidential candidate, Ifeanyi Okowa, led other leaders and members of the party to storm INEC headquarters in Abuja to protest the alleged loss of the people’s mandate by Abubakar.
This, we cannot deny. Their right to stage the protest was fully guaranteed by our laws and the constitution. The constitution presumes that the freedoms and the rights it grants citizens will be exercised responsibly. They must not degenerate into a licence. The public protest by the party was not exactly a responsible exercise of the freedoms and the rights not to accept the result of the presidential election. It was an attempt to rouse the rabble – not always a wise course of action because of its inherent potential to go wrong with the rabble always primed to vent their pent up frustrations. Such protests are strange for political parties because they have avenues for making their case or cases.
The PDP protest was a farce. It was anarchic. The decision to stage it was naïve and childish and a deviation from the democratic norms and, we cannot say it loudly enough, foolish. It must be condemned. It failed the basic test of both leadership and statesmanship. A public protest, as we have seen time and again, often degenerates into breaches of the peace. Abubakar and Ayu have no reasons to resort it. Both of them have a responsibility far beyond winning an election. As statesmen, each in his own right, they too bear the onerous and sacred responsibility of deepening our democracy and helping to cure the nation of its affliction as an atomistic society permanently in conflict with itself.
If the commission had called out the security forces to secure its premises and protect its personnel against possible harm in the event of a fracas, there was no knowing how the protest could have ended. Picketing INEC headquarters was bad business. It should never have been contemplated. It set a bad example in a country where it is easy to follow bad examples.
We cannot have forgotten so soon that Dino Melaye, one of the spokesmen for PDP, resorted to a miserable and jejune protest when he walked out of the collation centre in the misguided hope that in doing so, he would have sufficiently impugned the integrity of the conduct of the elections and thus set the stage for the world to reject its outcome.
It may feel good for the politicians and their supporters to batter the image of the commission but the duty of making the people’s vote count is one incumbent on all Nigerians. In every election, there must be winners and losers. It would be strange for everyone must win in an election. It would defeat the essence of competition and choice, the very pillars of democracy. Ours must not continue to be a democratic nation in want of democrats. Democrats play by the rules, not by personal rules.
A presidential election is a very expensive undertaking. Anyone who goes into it and loses has more losses than he can count on his manicured fingers. The loser is right to cry to the public and expect some sympathy but to do so in a manner that threatens peace and lays our electoral contest open to the rule of the mob is irresponsible and the height of desperation.
Under our laws and the constitution, the alleged loss by Abubakar cannot be reclaimed through a public protest with the obvious sinister objective of ridiculing the electoral umpire. The PDP and its leaders know only too well that the path to assuaging their alleged grievances passes through the courts of law. Abubakar is a practised hand in the forensic struggle.
January 25 was his fifth attempt to obtain the consent of the people to call the shots from the protected world of Aso Rock. He has tried but the people have repeatedly turned him down. If it is any consolation, history must have cases of other men who had tried harder but still received the thumbs down. It is the strange way of life replicated as the strange ways of politics. In staging the protest, the Waziri managed quite remarkably and regrettably to lower his status as a political leader and a statesman in his own right. He has done irreparable injury to his own reputation.
I do not know what drove the former vice-president to it. He is normally a cool-headed politician not given to drama or grandstanding. Ayu is in the same mould as he. Even when their party faced the internal sabotage by state governors elected on its platform that clearly threatened Abubakar’s presidential ambition, both of them did not do anything to heat up the polity. They maintained cool heads and treated Wike and other governors with moderated contempt.
When President Obasanjo treated Abubakar so shabbily as vice-president, he maintained his cool and coolly took his case to the court of appeal to protect his legal rights against the onslaught of an imperial president. Their lordships ruled in his favour, and he managed to last the eight years as vice-president all alone without aides in his high-profile public office.
I cannot pretend not to see why Abubakar must have taken his fifth presidential loss so badly. January 25 was possibly his last crack at the presidency. If he failed for the fifth time, he cannot blame the gods or his destiny. He can only see the hands of his political enemies represented, as far as he is concerned, by the electoral commission. The good thing is that he has not exhausted the options open to him. His next stop is the Supreme Court that has the final say on his claims of the victory denied him. He has already taken that option. It is not just the right and civilised option but actually, the only one open to him.
What is remarkable about those who dismissed the presidential and national assembly elections as flawed or rigged by INEC in favour Tinubu is that the election was flawed only in cases where they lost. It was perfect where they won. If an election is flawed it should be flawed in toto. It is disingenuous to have it both ways by accepting results that favoured them as perfect and those that did not as flawed.
There is a bit of humbug and hypocrisy in all of these, all in a desperate effort by every candidate to win an election that could only be won by one candidate. On Wednesday, Peter Obi of LP was quite pleased to join Ireti Kingibe, senator-elect of FCT to parade her certificate of return issued to her by the same INEC whose conduct of the elections Obi has stridently condemned. Mrs Kingibe’s victory means the election was perfect because Obi’s party won. The presidential election conducted the same day and on the same platform with that of the national assembly was flawed or rigged because Obi lost.
I wonder if it occurs to the politicians that in condemning INEC and demonising Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the chairman of INEC they actually lay themselves open to ridicule as political leaders. INEC issued certificates of return to senators-elect and house of representatives-elect. I have heard of no instance where PDP, the Labour Party and all the other political parties that are dismissive of the conduct of the elections rejected those certificates. If it was right for them to win, it should be right for Jagaban to win too. At the end of the day all the yeye protests and condemnations will have run their course but done some more damage to the credibility and the integrity of our elections.