By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, you are probably familiar with the stories of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. Yes, stories, for he was a man of many parts. MKO, as he was fondly called, had three initials that were synonymous with money (Money, Kudi, Owo). Each of the stories around him was the stuff of fiction, fact or “faction.” MKO was a man of sharp intellect, rare sagacity, and uncommon wit. He was a great storyteller, possibly in the mould of the ancient griots of Mali. His knowledge and repository of oral tradition and fables was legendary. He had remarkable tales for every occasion, and the way he stammered made his delivery unique and unforgettable. I was fortunate to have met and known this sensational prodigy who taught me so much, as an adopted son, and my great mentor.
As I prepared to put this column together, my mind flashed back to MKO, as it often does. This epistle is actually not about MKO. No. But there is no better way to illustrate the message than to borrow one of those evergreen witticisms of MKO, a man of superlative memory. My essay today is about the just concluded elections in our dear beloved country Nigeria, which was a complete mess to say the least. I will explain the various reasons and dimensions for my submission and conviction in a jiffy. Please, exercise some patience.
Despite earlier signals, and premonition, that the Buhari government was not likely to play by the books, I, like many others, suffered from unreasonable optimism that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would give us a pleasant surprise, against all odds. I had misplaced, and invested, my hopes and faith in the Chairman and leadership of INEC, a man called Professor Mahmood Yakubu, for crying out loud. I thought he would give us free, fair and credible elections just like Professor Attahiru Muhammadu Jega – a fellow academic whose tenure was well applauded for consolidating our democratic ideals – had done before him in 2015. How did I allow myself to be fooled by the charms, charisma and carriage of this man, who exuded grace, intelligence and confidence? My soft spot for academia and intellectualism could have been responsible. Most people I know would always, naturally, expect university egg heads to handle assignments with total dedication, commitment and integrity, even at the point of death. A man with a degree of Doctor of Philosophy, cut to be a philosopher in words and in deed, a king and champion of worthy causes and believer in eternal accomplishments and legacy. He should be above many temporal cravings, the reason it is often said that “the teacher’s reward is in heaven.”
In the recent past, I had come to regard the employment of Professors as returning officers for INEC a masterstroke that was bound to reduce the cases of electoral malfeasance and corrupt temptations. Professors are known to live humbly and simply within their modest means. In our days, they were happy in the company of their colleagues, after work, in the confines of the staff club, where they washed down some affordable grilled fish and pepper-soup with criminally cold beer. I had been mesmerised and hypnotised by their admirable performance in the 2015 elections, under the headship of a man of honour, Professor Attahiru Jega. It is unthinkable, and unimaginable, what could have gone wrong so soon, four years down the line. Perhaps, we can find explanation in one of the favourite wise-cracks of MKO, “if you want to know if a fish is bad, smell the head, once the head is rotten the whole body is gone.” Can anyone challenge that brilliant theory?
I did not know much about Mahmood Yakubu, but I took more than a cursory interest in him nearer to the elections when I started reading all sorts about him. There was a particular story that struck me, written by Professor Farooq Kperogi, whose essays I read religiously, almost like Biblical verses, just like I gulped everything written by Sonala Olumhense (right from my university days), and Abimbola Adelakun. Kperogi had stated, matter-of-factly, that Mahmood Yakubu hated Atiku Abubakar with a passionate venom. While it may have sounded like beer parlour gossip, the writer went ahead to regale his readers with copious information at his disposal. As much as I tried to dismiss them as tales by moonlight, I still couldn’t obliterate them from my gumption. It was difficult for me to fathom why a cerebral man would despise a fellow human being for whatever reason. Despite this, I was still willing to give Yakubu the benefit of doubts.
I decided to watch Yakubu very keenly and read every bit of information I could find on him. I was fascinated by the fact and realisation that I was about two years older than him. For me, he seemed to be a pride of my generation and I expected him to push the frontiers of human endeavours to sustain the confidence that many Nigerians had reposed in him. Any normal human would be inspired to raise the bar beyond where Jega had placed it. Never did I envisage the nightmare that the 2019 election turned out to be. It was as if Yakubu could not be bothered at all. In all honesty, I won’t put all the blame on him. I believe the terrain was deliberately made difficult by our politicians. The desperation in certain quarters was hopelessly difficult. The involvement of the military was horribly depressing. I have never seen our respected and respectable soldiers misused and misdirected since the end of military rule. Those who were already over-stretched by the wars against terrorists and terrorism suddenly found ample time, men and resources for intimidating voters and rigging elections. As I write this, no one knows what to make of the Rivers State debacle. It is as if our country is under an evil spell.
I expected Yakubu to address the electorate, reassure them tangibly, conduct elections sensibly and professionally, have a balanced sense of judgment, and so on. I never expected the conundrum that ensued. To whom much was given, much was expected. Why did Nigeria have to waste millions of dollars on a sham called elections? Why did innocent Nigerians die because of the incompetence of some people? Why did Yakubu behave incoherently with no uniformity in the operations and execution of the elections? Why did he allow some politicians get away with murder? Why did he not resign if some leaders were hell bent on rubbishing his achievements in life? There were too many unanswered questions and riddles? Did Yakubu think this election was a joke? Will he in good conscience say this was the election he planned to conduct, and this was his best performance? Is he a happier and more fulfilled man today than he was before this unfortunate charade? When tomorrow comes, how would he look at Nigerians and explain how he spent the humongous cash and resources allocated to him? I can’t stop asking, what manner of man would watch his reputation go up in smoke in order to please mere mortals like himself?
I’m sure the APC operatives would have done a better job of conducting these amazing elections. Yes. Those guys, led by my dear Brother, Uncle Adams Oshiomhole would have replicated the same with, if not a higher, expertise we saw during their primaries when they recorded millions of votes for President Muhammadu Buhari nationwide and completed the exercise within a twinkle of an eye. The same geniuses conducted primaries in Lagos, and before you could say Jack Robinson, Babajide Sanwo-Olu had emerged victorious with a landslide, almost 2 million votes. So, how could APC perform better than INEC? Is that not a big shame to imagine?
I watched incredulously as Professors of several decades standing struggled to add up figures that were obviously concocted inside the forest of a thousand daemons. The numbers were terribly harder than Additional Mathematics. What could be responsible for this type of monumental disgrace at a time technology has reduced the stress of over-using human brains? Then I remembered the words of Chief Moshood Abiola again, and the wisdom in his parable of the hungry man in the kitchen. The professors are not Masquerades from heaven. They are human beings on planet earth. They have suffered under various governments and leaders who don’t see education as anything of value, or priority. Chief Abiola was to write: “you can’t put a hungry man in the kitchen and ask him not to taste or touch.” Food is very essential to the human body. With all due respect, it is thus tempting to conclude that the some of the Professors who failed us were those that suddenly found themselves in the kitchen with plenty of food to taste and touch.
We must salute all the wonderful people who made the difference, from the great INEC leader in Akwa Ibom, the incorruptible Commissioner of Police in Kano, the INEC official in Rivers who cried out for help while under danger, the one who was nearly killed at gun point in Imo State, because some people must win elections fair or unfair. They stood firm despite their lives being in danger. They did not try to eat what they lacked in arears and in advance. No man is perfect, but elections are too important to be toyed with. I must state, however, that the resoluteness of INEC in Imo State, and the unwavering decision not to give a politician employing duress any joy, is to be commended, but in the scheme of things, it is too little, too late! I will always give praise where praise is due.
If I were Yakubu, I will tender my unreserved apologies to the good people of Nigeria and without any hesitation, throw in the towel. He would forever thereafter be regarded as a man of courage and conviction, a hero and legend. Kings have been known to drink poison in the past as atonement for lack of peace and progress in their community. A sacrifice that they know is not too great to make so that their society may thrive.
It is not too late for Yakubu to fall on his sword and follow in the hallowed footsteps of those kind of great kings.