By Ben Murray Bruce
Since Friday the 4th of December, 2015, I have been in Bayelsa to vote and monitor the vote in what I thought was a gubernatorial election, but what I saw on Saturday the 5th of December was not an election, it was an execution! We must call a spade a spade and not a large spoon. What do you call an election in which National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members were kidnapped by men in military uniform and forced to thumbprint ballot papers a night before the elections?
This is not hearsay. I have the names and details of these patriotic youths who were serving their country only to be forced to serve anti democratic forces. Or what do we call the attack on the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Bayelsa? Chief Serena Dokubo Spiff’s house was invaded by armed thugs on election day and their visit is immortalised by blood and visible trauma on the occupants of his house and on the premises itself.
Accredited election observers, including foreign diplomats witnessed as Nigeria was ridiculed by thugs almost freely engaged in killings and ballot box snatching. In some cases, these occurrences were not just brazenly but were condoned by security forces. All this only seven months after Nigeria held a most credible and transparent election that brought the incumbent president to power.
This is not the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that former President Goodluck Jonathan and Professor Attahiru Jega handed over to President Muhammadu Buhari. If President Buhari really wants the world to believe that he is a reformed dictator who no longer believes that power flows through the barrel of a gun but from the freely given votes of the people, now is the time to prove it.
The president may mouth all the right words and his new INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, may re-echo what the president says, but what is in a person’s heart matters more than what is on their lips and that is something that we only truly know by what they condone. I would like to draw the president’s attention to what happens in an election where the sitting president is objective by quoting the comments of a leading member of his party.
On July 7, 2012, this is what the All Progressives Congress (APC) Governor of Edo State Adams Oshiomhole said about the election that held in his state the week before. Said Oshiomhole: “What the Edo election has confirmed is that when the president and Commander-in-Chief puts the country first and conducts himself as a statesman, not just as a party leader, credible elections are possible, because people were apprehensive that the Nigerian Army could be misused. But of course, I told them I didn’t think they were right, but the president’s clear directive was that the votes must count. We need to appreciate the president and encourage him to sustain this principle of truly reminding all of us, who hold political office, that we are at the mercy of the electorate, not of the presidency. I think the president has done that. The president has demonstrated statesmanship. I think there is hope for Nigeria.”
After the brigandage that occurred in Bayelsa State recently, can President Buhari honestly expect this type of testimony from any Nigerian? Is this what we are to look forward to during his leadership? Former President Jonathan and Professor Jega delivered us from “do or die” elections and I for one and the constituents of the senatorial zone I represent in Bayelsa East will not return to such an inglorious past. Some people reading this will ask me what I would have INEC do. Yet, INEC is not as powerless as she makes out to be.
The Electoral Act provides that any person, who aids and abets a political party to contravene Section 227 of the Constitution (prohibiting retention, organisation, training or equipping quasi-military organisations) commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of three years or both. Acting on this provision, INEC can and should make use of evidence currently available to prosecute the individuals who were arrested by the police and by communities themselves.
Better still, INEC can offer them incentives if they will testify against the big fish politicians who sent them on their murderous errands for the sake of power. If INEC can do this, it would send a very clear and unmistakable message to all politicians who have future plans to engage in such behaviour that INEC has the guts to make them a suitable example for maximum impact.
If on the other hand INEC does not do anything and all those whose arrests we witnessed and read about are eventually let go with a slap on the wrist, they would have emboldened others to replicate what they saw happening in Bayelsa in future elections. And if INEC allows that to happen, she would lose the moral high ground she gained during the glorious era of Professor Jega.
And if that happens, I foresee Nigerians going over their head to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague especially when they have evidence that is as blatant as what we witnessed in Bayelsa recently. Some of the election observers in Bayelsa were ambassadors, some were civil rights activists and even others were journalists. On their own, they witnessed and documented the illegality and disgrace that passed itself of as an election especially in the Southern Ijaw Local Government Area.
Our own domestic activists witnessed the show of shame and likewise gathered evidence. Such evidence is within reach and the souls of those killed in the brute pursuit of power will rest better only if we can send these details to ICC. I hereby urge all youths who captured such evidence on their smart phones and other devices to make it available to me and I will pass it on.
I am on Twitter @benmurraybruce and I am on Facebook as Ben Murray-Bruce.
My name is Ben Murray Bruce and I just want to make Commonsense!
• Ben Bruce, Senator representing Bayelsa East in the National Assembly, published this piece on his website benbruce.org