Dear President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR
It has become imperative to seek your indulgence to write this open letter on Nigeria’s Independence Anniversary wishing you happy celebration and also drawing your attention to some pertinent issues about the future of our country.
The importance of this letter is further underscored by the fact that this is the last Independence Day celebration you would be observing as the President of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Just as you mentioned during your address at the recent United National General Assembly; that by the next gathering of the world body a new President would be addressing it, so also a new President would be addressing Nigerians on October 1st 2023.
As an international human rights and social advocacy organisation, the National Association of Seadogs, Pyrates Confraternity, is saddened by the incontrovertible fact that Nigeria on your watch is a far cry from the dreams of our founding fathers. Over the seven years that you have governed this country as President, your actions and inactions have largely mismanaged the diversity of Nigerians, fuelled distrust and triggered divisive politics that has continued to threaten the uniting fabric of this great country.
Whilst we acknowledge some of your efforts to make Nigeria work through infrastructural development and the recent onslaught against insurgents, regrettably, the lack of political will to frontally address challenges in some critical sectors and outsourcing of your responsibilities as the President makes your achievements pale into insignificance.
On the economic front, the dismal performance of your administration has pushed more Nigerians into poverty. According to the World Bank in a report: A better Future for All Nigerians: 2022 Nigeria Poverty Assessment, it is estimated that by the end of the year and four months to the end of your tenure, 95.1 million Nigerians would have sunk deeper into acute poverty.
Equally disappointing is your tepid war against corruption. Despite your best intentions, and claims of “significant progress in the eradication of deeply entrenched corruption” made in your Independence Day speech, graft has festered in your administration. Well-meaning Nigerians and civil society groups have drawn your attention to the need to investigate the pervasive corruption being perpetrated by some officials of your administration, but these patriotic calls for probe, institutional reforms and appropriate sanctions have been ignored.
Mr President, as Nigerians celebrate the 62nd Independence Day, the country is at the threshold of another democratic journey with the 2023 general elections soon upon us. In 2015, a free and fair presidential election ushered you in as President and in 2019, you had your mandate renewed by Nigerians. Now, you owe Nigerians the duty to ensure free, fair, transparent and acceptable elections in 2023.
We have carefully noted several remarks you made about the issue at local and international fora, the most recent being the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) where you expressed your willingness to leave a lasting legacy of credible 2023 elections for Nigerians. At the UNGA you said, “As President, I have set the goal that one of the enduring legacies I would like to leave is to entrench a process of free, fair and transparent and credible elections through which Nigerians elect leaders of their choice”. Also part of your goodwill message at the National Peace Accord for presidential candidates in Abuja a few days ago states, “The 2023 general elections is more than an election. It is an opportunity to serve Nigeria, defend Nigeria and to uphold her unity and progress.”
Mr President, the patriotic words you have spoken at these two events contradicts a major step you have taken towards the 2023 elections through nominations of Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) for confirmation by the Nigeria Senate. Out of the 19 nominees, several allegations have been made against three of the nominees that could imperil the conduct of the 2023 general elections and diminish the confidence of the electorate in the integrity of the process.
Specifically, Prof Mohammed Bashir Lawal was allegedly a governorship aspirant on the platform of a political party in Sokoto State in 2015. Mrs Ugochi Pauline Onyeka was allegedly an appointee of Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State while Mrs Queen Elizabeth Agu was allegedly, until recently, an appointee of Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State. For the sake of the sanctity of the electoral process your administration has often claimed, it is best for the nominations of these individuals to be withdrawn in order to remove the credible doubts about their credentials as an impartial umpire in the electoral process.
For emphasis, Section 156(1) of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (amended) states that any member of “INEC shall not be a member of a Political Party.” Similarly, Item F, paragraph 14 of the Third Schedule, Part 1 of the 1999 Constitution underscores the importance of the neutrality of INEC officials. It states inter alia: “a Resident Electoral Commissioner shall be a person of unquestionable integrity and shall not be a member of any political party.”
It is noteworthy to point out that Profs Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt of Harvard University in their book: How Democracies Die, pointed out that “Democracies may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders, presidents or prime minister who subvert the very process that brought them to power.”
Mr President, your refusal to withdraw these questionable nominations until they are deemed fit to hold the positions for which they have been nominated is a clear attempt to capture INEC, subvert the electoral process and in due course destroy democracy. There is no justification for these nominees to be screened when the valid allegations of political partisanship against them have not been cleared.
Despite your many failings as President, you stand a chance to demonstrate your credibility as a leader and statesman by rising above partisan considerations to walk the talk on bequeathing a credible electoral process to Nigerians by withdrawing these nominations. You could thus salvage the image of your government as one that is truly desirous to hold free,fair, credible, transparent and acceptable elections in 2023.
Like Nelson Mandela said in his immortal words that, “It is in your hands, to make a better world for all who live in it”, we hope you will summon the will to place Nigeria’s present and future above partisan interests and bequeath a peaceful Nigeria for all Nigerians to live in after the 2023 elections.
Happy Independence Day, Mr President.