On April 20, 2003 I was in my room, in St. Patrick’s Parish Abakaliki, trying to complete the first chapter of my book, “This Madness Called Election 2003”, when a young man entered the room. The things we discussed as soon as he entered my room were no other than the violence, the thuggery, the rigging and all the bad and the ugly that characterized the so-called peaceful, free and fair elections of April 12 and 19, 2003. The young man was so distraught about what happened in the name of election that he was compelled to ask me: “Father, where was God when all these things were happening?”
That question said it all, more so because the young man who asked it was then a senior seminarian and had no vested political interest. I did not provide satisfactory answer to his question. But I reminded him of that poignant question from Christ himself: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani? My God, my God, why have deserted me?” (Mk.15:34). In the end, I succeeded in giving him some hope. That question simply restated the problem of evil, which has tasked believers and unbelievers since the day of Adam. While generations to come will keep probing into that mystery without having a clear answer, it suffices to say that such probing is indicative of having solid faith in God. For someone to ask such a question, he must first of all believe that there is God, that God is so good that he cannot condone evil, that he has power to stop evil and that nothing is impossible for him to do. That is what Jesus did on the cross when he cried aloud.
The foregoing is a recap of what happened in April 2003. The young man who asked that question is today many years a priest, Rev. Fr. Wilfred Nwofoke. Today, twenty years later, Nigeria is again saddled with a strangulating electoral banditry. In April 2003 the presidential battle was between Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari. Today, the battle is between Peter Obi of the Labour Party, Atiku Abubarka of the Peoples Democratic Party and Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, and fifteen other contestants.
On Wednesday, March 1, the intensity of the electoral banditry that took place in this country compelled me to recall that heart-rending question from Fr. Nwofoke. That historic Wednesday was as bright and beautiful as every other day. Yet, patriotic, justice and peace-loving Nigerians woke up that day to discover that all their dreams for a better Nigeria had suddenly been turned into a nightmare by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission and his cohort. It was like a national catastrophe that shot deep into the bone and marrow of Nigerians, enveloping the nation with a tragic cloud of despair. To say the least, I was personally downcast.
It took me five days to recover from the shock that the cavalier decision of Mahmood Yakubu gave me. That was on Sunday, March 5, after I had confessed to the congregation in the Church that I was angry with God for allowing the evil men who have reduced our country to a land of misery to kidnap the whole country in the name of election. I requested that they should pray to God to forgive me for being angry with my Creator.
My poor self is not the only Nigerian who felt lost in the unprecedented heist that threw the whole country into a state of coma. Since then, many Nigerians have remained sullen while the country has assumed the mournful mood of a desolate grave yard. Relatively few Nigerians have been encouraging others not to lose hope and not to give up the struggle. Since then, many questions have been begging for answers. None of those questions will be repeated here. All I want to do here is it to remind Mahmood Yakubu of what he, as a professor of law, is in a better position to know more than most Nigerians know, in case he has forgotten. That without justice there will be no peace. That is what I have consistently said in all of my books about the way we play politics in Nigeria. I will substantiate this claim by recalling word for word what I said in 2003 in the mentioned above: “This Madness Called Election 2003.”
We recall that it was Abel Guobadia who conducted the 2003 elections as the INEC chairman. At the end of the elections, the results announced by Guobadia threw the country into a political quagmire slightly similar to what is currently happening in the same country. Hence, in that book, after I had given a critical of appraisal of what happened, how the elections were rigged and how the people of Nigeria who did not belong then to the ruling party, PDP, were hoodwinked to believe that the elections were free and fair, I said:
“There is so much bitterness in the land as a result of the election malpractices. The good people of Nigeria want peace. But there will never be peace until truth and justice are allowed to prevail. As a Nigerian, I have a stake in the Nigerian project like every other Nigerian citizen. And as a Catholic priest, my usefulness becomes fully actualized when, like Jesus Christ, I am able to say the truth and live it without fear or favour.
“President Obasanjo and I are Christians while Muhammadu Buhari, who was placed next to Obasanjo on the electoral score board, is a Muslim. Buhari belongs to the gang of those who have ruled Nigeria and failed as leaders. Hence, there is no way I can vote for him to become the president of Nigeria. Even if somebody puts a gun on my head, I will not vote for him. That is definite. Above all, Buhari is a religious extremist. There is a palpable fear that if he becomes the president of this country, we may have more religious troubles than we already have because he may likely try to plant Sharia in every nook and cranny of the country, including my remote village. On account of these two reasons, I cannot vote for him. No way!
“But then, I am not the only person in Nigeria. If I have my reservations for insisting that I must not vote for Buhari, millions of other Nigerians have their good reasons for insisting that they must vote for him. In other words, other people’s right to vote for Buhari begins where my own right not to vote for him stops. And my right not to vote for him begins where other people’s right to vote for him stops. Moreover, when it is a matter of personal idiosyncrasies, wishes and convictions, I will have all the rights in the world to disagree with Buhari without compromising any moral principle or jeopardizing my integrity or that of anybody else. But when it becomes a matter of ensuring that justice is done, I will have no right to allow my personal idiosyncrasies, wishes and convictions to interfere because justice is indisputable and indivisible and cannot be determined by my fancies.
“Hence, even though I cannot vote for Buhari, if it is clear that a greater number of Nigerians, as required by the electoral law, have voted for him, nobody has the right to tell him not to rule. If anybody tells him that he must not rule, I will insist that he must if I am given the opportunity to state my opinion. And again, if anybody puts a gun on my head with the threat that I would be shot dead if I say that he must rule, I will still say it and let the person do whatever he likes.
“If the country is governed in such a way that every leader is made to understand that he has to abide by the law, there will be peace. The contrary will breed anarchy. The latter is what has happened in Nigeria. The so-called elections of April 2003 have bred anarchy. You may put all the policemen and soldiers in Nigeria on the roads and streets to harass innocent people to submission hoping that there is peace. But there will be none. We shall have peace, the real peace, only when justice is done. Where justice is not done, as it was not done during the recent elections, people will horde their anger together and wait for the slightest opportunity when it will explode. That is what causes revolution. And revolution is not a planned venture. It comes out naturally when frustration, the will to survive and the courage to remove the yoke of oppression meet together. It seems that Nigeria is getting close to that point now.”
The book, “This Madness Called Election 2003”, where I said the above was made known to President Muhammadu Buhari on May 4, 2003, by Alhaji Dr. Abubakar Tsav, the former Commissioner of Police, Lagos State. He made that known through the letter he wrote to commend Buhari for what he regarded as the mature manner with which Buhari pursued the outcome of the contested electoral result. He sent a copy of that letter to me. The following is a part of what he told to Buhari in that letter about Fr. John Odey and his books:
“I forward herewith two publications by a Catholic Priest, Rev. Fr. John Okwoeze Odey titled (a) “The Limits of Political Perversity: Umar Vs. Obasanjo” and (b) “The Paradox Of A Nation”, for your reading. He has written many books on the Nigerian situation including one titled, This Madness Called Election 2003. The author is a Christian of Ibo extraction. Despite the differences in religion and tribe between him and Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (rtd), he has chosen to fully support Col. Umar (rtd) when Col. Umar’s own people are not with him. Rev. Fr. Odey’s support for Col. Umar is based on the truth, his personal conviction and conscience arising from the current national situation. He is a true and courageous Nigerian, a patriotic fellow and a God-fearing individual. Truth and honesty have no tribal or religious barriers. The likes of Rev. Fr. John Okwoeze Odey are scarce in this country. If other religious leaders in this country choose to speak the truth like Rev. Fr. John Odey, our problems in Nigeria will be half solved…God will see us through. Let me quote from Rev. Fr. Odey’s book: ‘Silence in the face of evil is a crime.’”
On July 29, 2003, after the group had written and obtained my permission to launch the book, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), an umbrella organization for all the political parties in Nigeria, excluding the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which was in power then, collected 1000 copies of the book and launched it at the Women Centre, Garki, Abuja. I know that this article will be read by many people. Some will like what I have written. Some will not. That is normal. But as I have said earlier, I have recalled here what I said twenty years ago about the need to insist that due considerations for justice should always determine the starting point of our dealings with others to ensure peace, harmony and progress in Nigeria. Buhari was certainly happy in 2003 that a Catholic priest in faraway Ebonyi State stood solidly behind him when it was a popular opinion that his mandate was stolen from him through election rigging. He was present and happy at the launching of the book. I wonder if he will be happy if by any chance he comes across all that I have been writing about the calamitous state of our nation under his watch.
While true democracy in Nigeria have never really worked, it was General Sani Abacha, in an attempt to perpetuate himself in office as Nigeria’s military president, that invented what he and his goons called home-made democracy. Abacha’s home-made-democracy was fanatically propagated by his passionate devotee, Tom Ikimi, who was then the dictator’s External Affairs Minister and the most irritable defender of his regime? Ikimi made himself a diplomatic rebel if only to spite those who were opposed to Abacha’s many atrocities.
What is home-made-democracy? Home-made-democracy is an organized robbery consortium, where the organizers convert leadership into a lucrative business and a melting pot for unemployment, nepotism, prebendalism, plunder, pillage, criminality, insecurity, bloodshed, religious intolerance, hunger, misery and hopelessness. Home-made democracy is a government run by people who behave as if they have no conscience. It is a government of remorseless looters of public fund, by remorseless looters and for remorseless looters. It is a government of greedy people who make sure that good and patriotic citizens do not have any accesses to the leadership ladder. Home-made-democracy is a democracy under which expired men and women are cycled and recycled to vital political positions where they hold the people in bondage and stifle the progress of the nation. It is a democracy that has reduced Nigeria from a strong, healthy and wealthy giant to a weak, sickly and inconsequential crippled beggar. It is a democracy that has no agenda for the teaming population of Nigerian youths. Home-made-democracy is a democracy under which the leaders of the country are above the law of the land. It is a democracy under which somebody who has broken all related laws and should be afraid of the law is the person who will have the guts to tell his aggrieved victims to go to the court.
When Abacha abandoned all the wealth he had stolen to meet his God on June 8, 1998 Nigerians hived a sigh of relief in the hope that true democracy would be given a chance to survive. Little did we know that the dangerous and corruptive heritage of his home-made democracy has not only been passed on; it has been firmly entrenched in our way of life, particularly the corruption of the entire democratic and electoral system and the rabid and open confiscation of the nation’s wealth by the ruling class. Today, twenty-five years after Abacha’s death the very social ills that marked his reign of terror still hold Nigerians to ransom. Being helpless as ever, majority of Nigerians, particularly the youths, battle with pain and anger when they see a relatively few people in government living big and enjoying themselves to the fullest – all at the expense of those they ought to serve.
When Mahmood Yakubu came with his watertight assurance that the 2023 political elections would be the best in the history of Nigeria we jubilated that a Daniel had come to judgement and Nigerians would be given the freedom to elect the leaders they want. Today, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that the February 25 election was the worst in the history of Nigeria, the man who spearheaded that fraud has boldly told the aggrieved parties to go to court. And they have gone to court. We have seen the post go viral, that if a man caught red-handed with your stolen goat tells you to go to court, it means his brother or uncle is the judge. In other words, you are adjudged guilty before ever the court sits to decide your case. We have also seen it go viral, the poem entitled: “My Lord, Tell Me Where To Keep Your Bribe”, written by the great of son of Nigeria, Prof Niyi Osundare. In that poem the famed writer said:
“My Lord, tell me where to keep your Bribe. Crime pays in this country. Corruption has its handsome rewards. Just one judgement sold to the richest bidder will catapult judge and lawyer to the billionaires’ club. The law, they say, is an ass. But the law in Nigeria is a vulture. Fat on the cash-and-carry carrion of murdered conscience, they kill our trust in the common good. These monsters of Mammon in their garish gowns! Unhappy the land where jobbers are judges where impunity walks the street like large, invincible Demon. But they pervert justice all week long. Nigeria is a huge corpse, with milling maggots on its wretched hulk. They prey every day. They prey every night for the endless decomposition of our common soul. They declare the innocent guilty. They pronounce the guilty innocent.”
We hope and pray that the category of judges described here are not the type that the aggrieved parties will meet in the Supreme Court. Granted that this poem tells the true story about the legal system in Nigeria, where then lies our hope in this country? It is generally accepted that corruption is our greatest undoing in Nigeria. It is the mother of all the evils in the land. And unless corruption is dethroned, justice will not have the chance to triumph in Nigeria. It is also accepted that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man, the last hope of the aggrieved. But in view of what we have just read from Prof. Osundare, there is a big question: “If gold can rust what then can iron do?”
The aggrieved have obeyed Mahmood Yakubu and his INEC. They are now in the court. For that reason, the following questions posit themselves: Can the mammoth crowds we see each time singing the praises of each of the presidential candidates dethrone the monster called corruption? Can the poor masses in Nigeria who struggle day in and day out to make some miserable living dethrone it? Can the poor workers who have been getting a pittance as their salary in the face of spiraling inflation dethrone it? Can the poor tenant who cannot pay his house rent and is tormented by the fear of eviction by his landlord dethrone corruption? Can the okada riders who are primed to throw away their lives under a social duress in order to squeeze N500 or N1000 from our almighty politicians at the approach of political selections dethrone it? Can the poor people in our rural communities who do not care about who rules Nigeria as long as they drink themselves to stupor with local alcohol in an attempt to drown their sorrow dethrone the monster called corruption? Can Nigerian politicians who believe that God and morality have no business interfering in politics dethrone it? Can the Church armed with her prophetic stance and preachments on social justice dethrone corruption?
None of the above can dethrone corruption. What instrument can be used to dethrone it? That instrument is the law. If ever the monster devouring Nigeria, corruption, can be dethroned it is only our judges, men and women of the law, who have all that it takes to dethrone it. And so, the questions now are: Who among our judges has the moral courage, the human compassion, the patriotic zeal and the love for justice that is needed to tell Nigerians the truth about what happened on February 25? Will the judges summon the moral courage to save Nigeria from being swallowed by INEC’s blunders by telling the world who truly won the presidential election of February 25? Will the Supreme Court judges be fair and straightforward enough to dethrone the ultimate evil called corruption? Will the judges have the courage to put religion, tribe, ethnicity, partisanship and other vested interests aside and pronounce unfettered verdict that will usher in the new Nigeria that we have been yearning for?
Here is what makes me feel that only the law, the judges, can dethrone corruption in this country if they make up their minds to do it. At the height of the struggle against racial discrimination in America, when African-Americans were being lynched at will, Martin Luther King Junior beckoned on the law to come to their aid. He reminded the American law that though it might not have the power to make a white racists love him and his black brothers and sisters, that law has the power to stop them from lynching them. The law might not have the magic wand that can turn a corrupt Nigerian politician who has stolen another man’s mandate into a living saint any day. But the law has the power to take that stolen mandate from him and give it to the owner. To save Nigeria, ourselves, our children and the generations yet to be born, all of us, particularly the Supreme Court Judges, should rise up to this challenge. I believe in Nigeria. I love Nigeria.
March 9, 2023
Rev Fr John Odey writes from Abakaliki and is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki