The Progressive Friends Foundation (PFF), a non-governmental organisation, recently evaluated the political process that culminated in the March 28 elections. Director-General of the group, Pat Ifeanyi Oramah, in this interview with journalists, including SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, PHILLIP OLADUNJOYE, hails the unprecedented statesmanship displayed by President Goodluck Jonathan by conceding victory to Gen. Muhammadu Buhari ahead of the declaration of total results. He also commented on the National Assembly elections in Anambra State. Excerpts…
In what way was the Progressive Friends’ Foundation involved in the build-up to the elections and the exercise proper? Did you identify with any of the parties in any way?
From inception till date, PFF has always maintained a non-partisan stance, and that was partly the reason why we were able to successfully carry out the self-imposed, but patriotic duty of promoting good governance in Nigeria. The Progressive Friends Foundation (PFF) is a non-governmental organisation founded with the goal of promoting peaceful and sustainable political culture. Part of the task we undertook was to play a critical role in building bridges of unity and love across various geo-political zones and across ethnic divides, especially as the political space was initially engulfed in bickering, recrimination and hate campaign. You are right if you say we embarked on a mission to bring to the attention of politicians and their parties the need to integrate into their manifestos the improvement of the welfare of the generality of the citizenry. With this in mind, we were determined to lend our support to any candidate who demonstrated a commitment to bettering the lives of the masses, and this was where President Jonathan’s performance in the past six years stood him out.
How would your organisation rate the March 28 elections?
To a very large extent, the polls were generally and comparatively free, fair, and devoid of the violence that many people had either feared or predicted. It was an election which for many years to come will remain a reference point for good reasons. We were pleasantly surprised to note, through the reports from our men out there in the field and from live coverage of proceedings by television stations, that Nigerians endured all kinds of challenges, including some cases of logistic inadequacies on the part of INEC, rainfall, like in Lagos, and scorching sun in parts of the north, to be able to cast their votes peacefully. That speaks volume on the commitment of the electorate to their responsibilities as per the elections. It was interesting that local and international observers and civil society organisations also described the process as credible, peaceful, free and fair, even as they pointed out that there were slight hitches here and there, which they believed did not vitiate the acceptability of the elections, but needed to be improved on as we move on to other elections, starting with the gubernatorial and state assembly elections held on April 11.
What about the emergence of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as the President?
We think the victory of Gen. Buhari was destined by God. In the build-up to the elections, PFF engaged in a lot of voter education and reorientation, and our reading of the political atmosphere was that it was going to be a close contest, with the PDP and President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, having a slight edge due to the incumbency factor. But against many people’s expectations, President Jonathan lost to Buhari, and that has ushered in a new phase in the political history of our great nation. We believe that there was the hand of God in Buhari’s victory, and we wish to thank the Almighty that even the incumbent President that ran the race against him, graciously towed the path of honour by congratulating him well ahead of the official announcement of the results. This is un-heard of in Africa. You will give Jonathan a lot more kudos when you also recall that he provided a level playing ground for the polls to take place even when he was a contestant himself – something most incumbent presidents on the continent won’t do.
Talking about President Jonathan conceding victory to Buhari, there are people who believe the action took the wind off the sail of the PDP. They say the party lost the moral right to go to court.
Such people may or may not have a point there, but PFF and indeed the vast majority of Nigerians, and even the international community, are looking at President Jonathan’s statesmanly gesture from more fundamental perspectives: one of which is the fact that God intervened through him to save the country from potential crisis. What people should not forget is that followers of popular political figures like Jonathan and Buhari are always watching the body language and listening to the comments of such leaders. And that was what played out the day the President congratulated his opponent. His supporters across the country took a cue from his action of accepting the people’s verdict calmly. The result is that today the law enforcement agencies are not grappling with the riotous scenes that used to follow presidential election results. Again, following the President’s exemplary action, some PDP leaders who had one or two complaints to voice out, did so in a responsible and civil manner. With alleged threats of unpalatable consequences from ex-Niger Delta militants should Jonathan lose and the burning and looting that greeted the outcome of the 2011 presidential election still fresh in our minds, it can only be imagined what would have happened if the out-going President did not decide to play the sportsman. The maturity displayed by Jonathan when he placed the survival of the nation above his personal and party’s interests, had a soothing effect on the polity and earned for Nigeria and himself the respect of the international community. That singular act which was unprecedented in the history of Nigeria has placed Jonathan among the most respected and patriotic leaders Nigeria and Africa ever produced. So, whether PDP goes to court or not is not as important as the effect of President Jonathan’s gracious congratulatory message to Buhari on our democracy. The party can still go to court. It is within its rights to do so, but even if it does, it will be devoid of the bitterness and tension that usually characterize such actions.
What message do you have for Gen. Buhari as he prepares to take over from Jonathan?
We think Gen. Buhari also deserves commendation for his conduct throughout the campaign leading to his hard-earned victory. Even while the controversy surrounding his certificate was raging and all manner of provocative comments were being made about his qualification for the election, he kept calm and continued campaigning in different parts of the country in a manner that suggested he did not want to be distracted. So, the two front-running candidates exhibited exemplary restraint and maturity by remaining resolute and focused. While the campaign lasted, both refused to be dragged into any kind of verbal war between them. But we are of the opinion that going forward, the President-elect has a duty to ensure that the new democratic culture that has been set in motion does not derail. He has the task of sustaining the momentum. For instance, it will be a good step forward if in assembling the men and women to work with, he makes it an all-inclusive team that will retain one or two members of the out-going cabinet, may be people like the Works Minister, Mike Onolememe, Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina of Agriculture and Chief Osita Chidoka who has brought some kind of mida’s touch to the aviation sector, but unfortunately, was appointed only a few months ago. So far, the President-elect seems to be magnanimous in victory and it will do our democracy good if he continues in that spirit. Raking up the acrimonious issues that cropped up while the two major parties campaigned or embarking on political vendetta, will do no one any good.
By PFF’s reckoning, who are the heroes of the 2015 elections?
We have already mentioned President Jonathan, Gen Buhari and the committed electorate who braved many odds to cast their votes. But the other heroes are Prof. Attahiru Jega and INEC who did their best to give credibility to the elections.
Talking about INEC and Jega, what is your NGO’s view on the card readers that were used for the first time in the March 28 Presidential and National Assembly elections?
There is nothing wrong with the deployment of the card readers. I think it was part of INEC’s measures to eliminate malpractices from the electoral process and ensure the conduct of credible polls. And to be fair to the commission, the result of the (mock) trial exercise they conducted on March 7 in about 12 states in all geo-political zones, was encouraging enough to use them in the elections proper. We note the fact that there were some hitches here and there, but the failure rate notwithstanding, it has to be acknowledged that this is an innovation that we are not used to, and so such hitches are bound to occur. It is left for the commission to use the subsequent elections to correct the detected flaws.