Governor Adams Oshiomole of Edo State may have ignited a crisis within his party, the Action Congress (AC), for not only making Senate President David Mark chairman of the “one man, one vote” rally held in Benin, the state capital, yesterday, but also for inviting former military president Gen. Ibrahim Babangida to the event.
Professor Wole Soyinka, who had flown in from the United States specifically for the event, left unceremoniously on learning that the former military president was also a guest at the initiative meant to promote credible elections.
The entourage of former Lagos State governor Bola Tinubu, which included AC National Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, Osun AC governorship candidate, Alhaji Rauf Aregbesola, Ekiti State AC governorship candidate, Dr. Kayode Fayemi and National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and others, turned back at the Benin Airport on learning of the presence of Babangida and other PDP chieftains at the rally.
Confirming the incident, Mohammed explained that the reason they had to leave was that they did not want to be seen to support Babangida’s presidential ambition, and expressed surprise that David Mark who allegedly suppressed the Uwais report on electoral reform was made chairman of the occasion. Mark was, however, absent.
Meanwhile, at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, venue of the rally, Babangida got a foretaste of what probably awaits him in his bid to become President of Nigeria through the ballot box in 2011.
He had arrived the stadium in a coaster bus in company with Oshiomhole and Governors Emmanuel Uduaghan (Delta), Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Liyel Imoke (Cross River) and Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa) – who represented Acting President Goodluck Jonathan but was literally humiliated over his annulment of June 12 presidential election.
Former Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President and current Secretary-General of Organisation of Africa Trade Union, Comrade Hassan Sumonu, fired the first salvo when he appealed to Nigerians to never again allow any free and fair election to be annulled in the country. He said whoever annulled the June 12 election was the cause of the problem Nigeria is passing through today.
Festus Keyamo, a Lagos lawyer and social crusader, said it is only one man, one vote that can ensure a corruption-free government that would deliver on electoral promise and be accountable to the people, adding: “That is why we protest the presence of Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who annulled the June 12 election.”
President of Campaign for Democracy (CD), Joe Okei-Odumakin, pointedly demanded that Nigerians need a public apology for the annulment of June 12.
“We need to know why we lost the man (Chief MKO Abiola) and the mandate of June 12. We need to know why the freest and fairest election was annulled,” she said.
Babangida, who was slated to talk, eventually left the venue without mounting the podium. Later, the obviously rattled presidential aspirant told reporters at the Benin Airport on his way out that those who spoke were entitled to their rights, adding that the beauty of democracy is that you agree to disagree.
According to him, “everybody is free to make his choice the way he likes.”
At the rally, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan described electoral fraud as the “basest form” of corruption which every Nigerian must denounce and fight to bring to an end.
The Acting President, who was represented by Governor Sylva, urged Nigerians “to from today and onwards embrace the democratic ideal of respect for the individual voter”.
He observed that any society or country that closes the vital valves of its democratic space cannot develop at a reasonable pace, adding that where there is no opportunity for one man one vote, there would be no accountability and corresponding responsibility.
“Electoral reforms should go beyond assuring that votes count during the election contests in which political parties present candidates through fraudulent processes. Party elections and party nomination elections too should rise to the same level of credibility as the general elections.
“It will be unfair for candidates to emerge from undemocratic and fraudulent party nomination exercises to contest general elections and win based mainly on the strength of their political parties. Political parties must stop letting their members down,” Jonathan said.
He noted that political parties in Nigeria are yet to score high marks in nominating candidates based on classical democratic principles and urged them to open up to their members because real power according to him, must reside in the hands of membership.
“This is the norm anywhere good governance reigns as it is frustrating, disempowering and deflating for members to stand by and watch parties function in small groups within minuscule command structures. This is nothing but democratic asphyxiation and it is often the basis for citizen alienation, violence and apathy,” he said.
In his speech, Oshiomhole explained that the rally was non-partisan, but a forum of Nigerians who appreciate the need to deepen democracy through credible election based on one man one vote.
He praised Jonathan for demonstrating neutrality during the re-run elections in Etsako Central and Anambra State governorship election, and urged youths to resist being used as thugs during elections.