Okowa as new face of democracy
The recent elective convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Port Harcourt provides chroniclers of Nigeria’s political odyssey a rich fodder for dispassionate disquisition. The PDP had cleared a rowdy crowd of 12 candidates, all from the North, to contest the coveted position of the party’s flag-bearer in next year’s presidential election.
Ever since that outing, the PDP and the Chairman of the convention committee, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, the quiet and unassuming governor of Delta State had been trending for good reasons. Commentators in local and international media have latched on to the momentum of that exercise to conjecture that the nation’s often fouled up political water has the capacity for self-purification. They argue that given the orderly, open and fair manner the behemoth party, PDP, conducted its affairs on the day, there is perhaps, a glimmer of hope that the PDP, once noted for its culture of impunity and proclivity for the imposition of candidates may have learnt some good lessons during its sojourn in political wilderness. This may well be true. And there are many reasons why the all-day, all-night-long exercise in Port Harcourt has become the subject for discourse.
During the same period across the nation, the All Progressives Congress (APC) held its own primaries. The APC which prides itself as the ‘progressives’ walked the old crooked path of the PDP. It simply made a huge mess of the simple task of nomination and clearance of candidates, casting ballots and counting same to pick a winner. The APC, surprisingly, gave Nigerians a full dose of what the PDP used to dish out in its arrogant and swashbuckling days complete with ballot-snatching, gunshots, death and in some cases no election at all but with full result wrought in the foundry of deceit. It is such impunity that robbed the APC of its tickets (candidates) in Zamfara State; that produced Great Ogboru as governorship candidate in Delta State in a so-called convention where the likes of Victor Ochei, a former Speaker of the State Assembly and Professor Pat Utomi were conned out of the game. It was the same ordered disorder that produced Uche Nwosu, son-in-law of the incompetent Governor Rochas Okorocha as APC gubernatorial candidate in Imo State in a convention that had successful entrepreneur and highly competent Frank Nneji and other eminently capable candidates. And you just wonder, what’s wrong with Nigerian politicians? Why are they power-drunk and act like men on codeine and its cousin tramadol? The APC simply went wild on a binge, like fiends in an evil forest.
Perhaps, it was the mess served the nation by the APC that made the PDP Port Harcourt convention the talk of the nation. Even critics from other political persuasion could not but admire the decorum and adherence to the finest democratic ideals exhibited at the PDP convention. The openness of the exercise, legendary in Nigeria’s political history, dwarfed all the talks about monetary inducement. Truth be told, Nigerian politics is still tethered to the stump of banality such that money, not ideas or character, still dictates to otherwise ‘noble’ men whom to vote for especially at party delegates elections. It is not a thing to gloat about. It does not inspire joy, neither does it stir a whimper of hope but it is a culture, crude and crass, well known to all the political parties. In party primaries, cash pulls the lever of the conscience. So sad!
Back to PDP Port Harcourt convention. What many commentators miss in analyzing the purity of that exercise is the role played by Governor Okowa, the umpire of the primary election. As a serving governor and politician, Okowa may have had his own preferred candidate. Most governors were backing one of their own, Aminu Tambuwal, the governor of Sokoto State. His chief backer was the convention host governor, Nyesom Wike. But this did not dissuade Okowa from showing diligence, fairness and transparency in the conduct of the primary. Staying awake and alert for about 48 hours does damage to one’s health. As a medical doctor (by the way Okowa qualified as a medical doctor from the University of Ibadan at the age of 22, a rare feat in those days), he knew the health implication of subjecting oneself to such mental and physical rigour, but he dared the consequence just so the process would defy the old order of opacity.
The Okowa exemplum is what the nation needs at this time. Uthman Shodipe, journalist, newspaper columnist, author and now member of the PDP who was in Port Harcourt captured it most eloquently: “It was indeed the best ever electoral contest ever conducted in this nation in terms of openness of the process, the purity of the exercise and the firm thoroughness of the adherence to the finest principles of electoral guidance. Nothing was hidden. It was in the end a triumph of the people’s will, a legitimacy of the popular purpose. It was a signification of a brightening augury for a nation in need of salvaging thoroughness.”
Another senior journalist and doyen of political reporting in Nigeria, Emeka Nwosu, who was also in Port Harcourt put it succinctly: “The conduct of the primaries remains the most transparent in the political history of Nigeria. It was thorough, flawless and clinical.”
Beyond this integrity certification from two senior Nigerian journalists, what Okowa and his team did in Port Harcourt should serve as the template for INEC in the 2019 election. INEC officials are Nigerians. They, just like any other Nigerian, have their respective preferred candidates but they must and should act like Okowa: bury their personal questing for national good. 2019 election is not just about PVC and the electorate casting their ballot; it is about INEC officials being truly independent, distancing themselves from the promptings and nudging of politicians.
Governor Okowa has shown that Nigerians are capable of conducting free, fair and credible election. As the umpire for the PDP convention, he has set the stage for broader electoral exercises whether conducted by INEC or state electoral commissions. Going by the testimonies of those who participated in the PDP convention, what counted for Okowa was his character and integrity. INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, and his team at INEC should make their character and integrity count. The orderly behaviour of security personnel at the Port Harcourt show also demonstrated that Nigerian security men are capable of good conduct. They were professional; they detached themselves from the process and stayed non-partisan and only minded their sentry duties all through the process. This is the emblem that should define the new Nigeria often preached about by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Okowa has set the pace, INEC should copy from his template. There is no shame in copying what is good especially if it will advance the cause of the people.