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*2019 Elections and Amina Zakari – Reuben Abati.*

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*President Muhammadu Buhari has promised severally in the lead up to the 2019 general elections, that he would ensure a free, fair, transparent and credible process, and defend the right of the people to choose. But the appointment, literally on the eve of the election of a niece of his, Mrs Amina Zakari as the INEC Commissioner in charge of the National Results Collation Centre has placed a big question mark on that declaration. The attempt to deny any form of blood relation or filial connection between the President and the INEC official is grossly unconvincing. It has deepened suspicions, and exposed the incompetence and insensitivity of those who proposed her for that position in the first place. INEC faces an integrity challenge. It must address it.*

*Ms Zakari is however, not new to this controversy. For the benefit of those who may not be in the know, yes, she was appointed as INEC Commissioner by President Goodluck Jonathan in July 2010, and yes, yes and yes, she was recommended to him by President Muhammadu Buhari. President Jonathan is very liberal and open-minded about his understanding of democracy and politics. He is the type of person who would ask his opponent to recommend a person to work for him. Weeks to the election of 2015, he was told to clean up INEC and get rid of a certain “Northern cabal” that had seized control of the institution. He bluntly refused. He insisted that the institution should be allowed to function. He, and I probably risk a breach of confidentiality here, was even advised to choose an Igbo man as INEC chair to protect his interest and to reduce the influence of Northerners in INEC. He didn’t listen. He was told that the best way to win election in Nigeria is to put his own people in the electoral commission. He argued otherwise. He wanted to carry every Nigerian along. He paid a heavy price for his nationalism.*

*The appointment of Mrs Zakari as the head of the INEC collation centre is in keeping with that thinking that in politics, the “end justifies the means”, and that you are better off with “your own people” – a sad reflection of the poor state of our politics and polity, absolutely deplorable. That is why Nigerians are complaining about the Zakari appointment. They can see through what they perceive to be a game. Amina Zakari like Peter the disciple, may have denied President Buhari three times before the cock of election crows, but nobody is convinced. We should step back a little in time to understand why this is the case. When Ms Zakari was appointed acting chair of INEC in 2015, there were similar protests that a conflict of interest was involved.*

*The outgoing Professor Attahiru Jega recommended someone else as his successor. But the government of the day insisted on Ms. Zakari, and throughout the period that she was in charge, the opposition kept protesting that she had issues of conflict of interest. Professor Mahmud Yakubu was later appointed the substantive chair of INEC, but Ms Zakari again became the issue during the Ekiti and Osun Gubernatorial elections. The opposition complained bitterly that those two elections were rigged. They didn’t want the President’s niece as the head of electoral operations and logistics! She was later moved to the Health and Welfare section. Everyone was relieved. Thus, Mrs Zakari role and presence in INEC under the Buhari government has always been controversial, on account of her reported closeness to the President. In Africa, family relationships count a lot.*

*Bringing her back to the National Collation Centre is clearly insensitive. The politics of proximity remains one of the major stumbling blocks to development and progress in African countries. On the grounds of religion, ethnicity and filial connections, persons compromise ethical considerations and the rule of law in order to serve primordial interests. Under President Buhari, this politics has been foregrounded and stoutly defended to the consternation of even his own supporters, including as we are now aware, through a leaked audio tape, Minister Rotimi Amaechi who managed his campaign in 2015 and is now doing same in 2019. Amaechi may sound treacherous but he seems to be a truth-soldier. The explanation that Mrs Zakari’s job is simply to provide welfare and logistics at the Collation centre is dishonest. Those who speak for government must learn the first rule of the job: they must learn to think before they open their mouths. Too many persons open their mouths these days, to express opinions on public issues and you wonder whether or not they have a brain. The intervention of the Presidency in the controversy is in my considered opinion, unwise.*

*The electoral body is supposed to be an independent body. Its internal affairs should not be managed by the Presidency. By rushing to disown Mrs Zakari, the Presidency betrayed its own emotions. INEC is also unnecessarily defensive. It has an obligation to be seen to be above board. Amina Zakari’s statements in the face of public outcry conveys an impression of desperation and raises questions. Must she be the commissioner in charge of the Collation Centre? Should we have two Northerners manning the two most strategic departments in the 2019 election? Is this not a further confirmation of extant complaints about nepotism, cronyism and favouritism? Nobody has questioned Ms Zakari’s competence – she is a pharmacist, and I believe she has an NYSC certificate – she is even a Princess of the Caliphate but is she the only person who can collate results? Certainly there must be other ways in which she can be useful, and given the controversy that has emerged, the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu should re-assign her without any further delay. It is the only intelligent to do to put an end to the suspicions.*

*He should do so to protect the integrity of the 2019 electoral process. The doubts that have been raised about Mrs Zakari’s present deployment will not go away. Even if she is subjected to a DNA test and Nigerians are told that she is not related in any way to President Buhari, nobody will believe it. Even if all she does at that collation centre is to attend to the welfare of local and international observers, nobody will agree. INEC has unwittingly created a credibility and integrity problem for itself, more so as this promises to be one of the most keenly contested elections in Nigerian history. It is definitely not an election that can be collated by anyone remotely believed to be close to the incumbent President. There are just too many family connection stories around the chosen collator. And the matter is as follows: One, even the Presidency through Garba Shehu has admitted that there is indeed an inter-marriage relationship between the President and Amina Zakari. Two: her brother – same father, same mother, is said to be the current Minister of Water Resources. Three: when President Buhari was Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, she was a consultant to the PTF. Her elder brother, now the Emir of Kazaure was even a legal adviser to Buhari’s PTF, appointed by Buhari himself. These facts alone rob her of her alleged neutrality. It is simple common sense: Ms Zakari’s talents can be put to less controversial use.*

*And it is important that INEC listens and accommodates the public outcry around and about Ms Amina Zakari. The bigger argument is about the legitimacy of the entire electoral process. If she remains as the head of the national collation centre, the legitimacy of the election would have been destroyed in the event of Buhari achieving his four plus four ambition. INEC will be accused and rightly so, of match-fixing. I have made this point before now, and I repeat it: the international community is watching, no one should be under the illusion that we are an island unto ourselves. President Muhammadu Buhari has been accused before now of cronyism, and a systematic re-Northernisation of Nigeria, such information as his niece or family relation by whatever label, being appointed the country’s collation officer for the 2019 elections worsens the narrative.*

*I see Ms. Zakari is tempted to defend her integrity, which is natural, since she is being accused of an offence she is yet to commit. But she should be reminded that Nigeria’s 2019 general election is not an academic exercise. It is a big battle for the soul and future of Nigeria. She needs not turn herself into an issue, and INEC does not need the stain, and she doesn’t need the baggage. To ignore public opinion, an important component of the democratic architecture, is counter-productive for all parties concerned. Her position, let another take !!!*

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Opinion

War with The Church, As Obi Insulted Catholic Bishops

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…Says they Lack Political Relevance

The recent media war between the former governor of Anambra state, Mr Peter Obi and the most populated Christian faithfuls in Igbo land (Catholic Church) has left many totally Flabbergasted .

Chief Peter Obi who is a running mate to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on Sunday the 20th of January, 2019 described the Catholic Bishops as a group of cabal in Igbo politics yet without voting capacity and relevance and urge the highly placed / top Religious mentors to seek for an additional system that will make them move from parasitic to symbiotic animals.

Chief Obi made the statement when he met with members of the Anglican laity councils of Nigeria(ANLCN) Anambra state chapter at his Onitsha GRA quarters .

We must also realize that few days ago, it was gathered that Obi called one of the most respectful catholic Bishop in Anambra state on phone around 2am and threatened him on why the Catholic church is against his aspiration and even went to a far extent to inform the Bishop that Catholic Church can’t stop him from winning the election but they will not benefit from his government if he wins.

Unfortunately for the aggrieved Obi who spoke to the clergy man with furious language, he never that his voice was recorded by the Bishop who further played the audio in the congregation of their meeting .

Since ever then, Obi have been working very hard to discredit the enormous spiritual, moral and value development created in the entire christiadom by the Bishops and members of the Catholic church.

One of the most recent and most unbearable was Obi ‘s attempt to refer the Bishops as a group of cabals without political relevance.

Just like Martin Luther King Jr would say ” Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere ” it therefore suggest that the attack on on Bishops by Obi is an attack on the generality of the Catholic church.

It was equally gathered that Obi was forced to declare war on the Catholic church because he was reliably inform that over 70 Bishops attended the Igbo conference where it was resolved that Igbos needs a presidency in 2023 not a vice president.

The above resolution from political perspectives didn’t favour Mr. Peter Obi’s vice presidential ambition and since ever then, Obi has declared war against the church.

Joseph Nwanolu wrote from Onitsha

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Opinion

2019: ORTOM MAKES MORE GAINS AHEAD OF MARCH 2

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By Nathaniel Ikyur

On the sidelines of the gubernatorial campaign rally in Gwer-West which held in Naka town, headquarters of the local council, on Saturday January 19, I met a couple of three Tyoshin men, two women and seven youngmen at a food joint. One of the woman runs the food joint. I had visited the place to fill up while the governor was meeting with the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, a short distance away.

The initial discourse, as I heard why enjoying my pounded yam and pork meat delicacy was about the Gwer-West Council chairman who was caught on camera kneeling down before a group of people. They were referred to as the PDP ‘stakeholders’ of the local government who were embarassed, as I learnt from the discussion, at the actions of the chairman for shouting APC at a PDP function where the wife of the governor, Erdoo Ortom was present.

There was a unanimous position among these discussants, except one lady, that the chairman of the council deserved what he got. The middle aged woman who runs the food joint told me when I enquired why there is so much bile against their local government chairman, as translated into English; that, “the chairman never helped himself by his conduct in office. He isolated himself. The youths were not awith him as others do.”

I was interested in their discussion but was more curious to find out about what took me to Naka. So i interjected in a friendly tone. I asked what their position is/will be in the forthcoming governorship elections. It was not hard for them to know where I stand since I was decked in an #Ortom2019 branded PDP shirt. Of course I knew why I asked this. Two of the governorship candidates in the fortcoming elections are of Ihyarev extraction. Barr Emmmanuel Jime of APC but particularly, Rev Frederick Ikyaan of the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP who hails from Gaambe U Shin Council Ward/Mbatswarev in Gwer-West. And like a well rehearsed choral group, they all chorosued: Ortom.

The woman who runs the food joint told me in unequivocal terms that “Tyoshin people have always been PDP. We don’t know what happened in 2015 but thank God General Ortom is back to his roots.” The other youngman who said he was from the same council Ward with Rev Ikyaan said, “it’s not that we don’t love our brother the Rev. We don’t want to waste our votes. Even if we vote him, he won’t win so we’ll go with what the Tiv people are doing” and added with a proverb: “see, we are holding down a mad dog. We won’t lose our grip from its neck until we kill it, else it will bite us and the poison from its bite will kill us. And the person we know can do this is Gov Ortom.” The mad dog in the proverb is the marauding herdsmen who have killed and maimed the Benue populace.

Remember also that Gwer-West had a bitter bite of the anger of the military last year where a section of Naka town was razed down by the soldiers over allegations that a soldier was killed by the villagers. The scars are too fresh for the people to forget in a hurry.

As the discussion got underway, some of my fellow discussants assured me that the crowd that will come for the rally will be in excess of what I may have seen before. Of course I didn’t doubt them because we experienced similar turn out in 2015. But I asked them if mere crowds at a campaign rally coul garner in the needed votes. They spoke with some air of confidence saying, it’s a testimony of the good things that would follow. That it’s the assurance of things to come.

And true to type, the campaign ground began to swell to its brim. By the time the governor arrived the venue at about 3:25 pm with Dr Ayu in tow, the entire field was filled to capacity. Leaders of the various sections of the local government spoke with one voice. Chief Godwin Ikyereve spoke on behalf of Raav. Hon Kenneth Iyo, Engr. Felix Atume among many others who also spoke at the rally confirmed what the young man at the food joint told me. That Gwer-West is PDP. Hon Iyo who is a former member of the Benue state House of Assembly expressed deep pains over the way and manner his immediate community situated along the river Benue have become a place where there were constant attacks by the herdsmen. In one agreement, they declared that the mistake in 2015 will not be repeated. Which is why they decided to maintain one direction in the forthcoming general elections by voting PDP. Indeed, they assured they will work to ensure that this is sustained.

Gwer-East and Guma local government where the governor hails from, had also witnessed the same sort of referendum on Gov Ortom’s re-election. The turn out at the Gbajimba rally was electrifying and massive. Gradually, the wind blowing across the state is been resolute and consistent. That Ortom who many have given him an unofficial title as the civilian general be voted again to round up a second term and lead the people of the state against the invading herdsmen. It has been a clear testimony. And apart from other sections of the state, MINDA leaders have all spoken and have given hope that they will swing their votes in favour of Ortom on March 2, 2019. In the four MINDA local governments of Guma with a total registered voters of 91,141, Gwer East 93,606, Gwer west 61,411 and Makurdi with an admixture of metropolitan nature, with a whooping figure of 272,158, it will be heartwarming to see how the enthusiasm on the faces of many will be turned into victory songs and dance inspite of the familiar challenges.

From the MINDA axis alone where the invasion is high next only to Logo local government in Sankera, governor Ortom and the PDP will sure garner more than 60 percent of total vote cast, leaving the other parties to scamper with the rest. Of course respected elder statesman Prof Shima Gyoh, a renowned medical doctor had once argued that the most important thing at the moment is to join hands with Governor Ortom to fight the invaders first. After that, we’ll sit down and ask questions about other sectors of our growth and development.

Jemgbah bloc also gave their referendum in favour of Ortom. Thousands thronged the PDP campaign rallies in the three Jemgbah local governments areas of Gboko, Buruku and Tarka. They were also unanimous that Ortom be returned for a second term. They are convinced that his doggedness to repel the herdsmen whose plan to invade and take over our ancestral lands is real should not be treated with kid gloves. Dr Iyorchia Ayu, former Senate President stated this much when he spoke at all the rallies. The three Jemgbagh local governments has a combined total voter registration of 402,548. Which makes them a hot bed as a deciding factor. (Gboko: 232,132; Tarka: 49,098 while Buruku has 121,318) Before this election, there wouldn’t have been any contest in Gboko, Buruku and Tarka against the status quo. That’s not there again. And the reason is simple: there’s a growing anger against the APC and its leaders for not only turning a blind eye while the state is almost over ran by the herdsmen with traceable complicity against some tribal groups like Miyetti Allah, MACBAN and other affiliate groups but also that some Tiv leaders have allegedly gone into alliance with foreigners and were accusing the Tiv of killing themselves.

The turn of events at all these rallies points to the fact that not only are the people resolved to stand behind Gov Ortom Ortom to fight the aggressors, he will also sing a victory song. His election will affect drastically, the outcome of most elections, altering the status quo. This will see the PDP winning more seats at the National and state legislative houses in Benue state.

And for those who dont know, another gain of Governor Ortom in the forthcoming elections is the expectancy of political blocs like Jerchira, Kwande in Tiv speaking area and the Benue South district who are aiming at taking over in 2023. These three blocs are all laying claim to the coveted seat in 2023. And so one last term for Ortom in 2019 is a sure bet for them at taking a shot at the 2023 governorship seat. Which is why they will return block votes for Ortom. Except those who may want to live in denial, the odds of the 2019 governorship elections in Benue state are more in favour of Ortom than any other perceived candidate. We may argue with every emotions in us, throwing up all manner of imaginary powers elsewhere to subvert the popular will of the people, at the end of the day, Ortom will coast home to victory, dusting the ambitious, pretenders and jokers.

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Opinion

Atiku’s withdrawal from the debate is a tactical masterstroke

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By Farooq Kperogi

I’ve read commentaries that aver that Atiku’s decision to bail out of Saturday’s presidential debate in protest against Buhari’s decision not to participate in it was a tactical error. I disagree. Here is why.

The presidential debate is designed to be a match–or, if you like, a push and pull– between the defending champion, i.e., Buhari, and contenders to the title he holds, i.e., Atiku, Moghalu, Madam Oby, Sowore, and others. If the defending champion declines to thrown his hat into the ring, the entire match becomes pointlessly self-injurious to the challengers. In other words, it would have been a fatal strategic and tactical error for Atiku to partake in a potentially bruising contest with other challengers while the defending championing sits pretty somewhere unhurt.

I’ve read other people suggest that Atiku, being Buhari’s closest challenger, should have used the opportunity of the debate to sell himself to Nigerians. Well, that’s what #NgTheCandidates town hall chat is there for. You don’t sell your agenda by making yourself vulnerable to potentially deathly blows from other challengers who don’t hold the title you are fighting for.

Instead of pillorying Atiku for not taking part in the debate, we should question the other candidates for agreeing to participate in a meaningless dueling match with each other when the defending champion who holds the crown they want to grab chose to run away. Their performance in the debate would only be meaningful if it’s measured against the performance of the defending champion.

From a tactical point of view, I also don’t blame Buhari for refusing to show up for the debate. His mental and physical infirmities are now on full display and would be exposed even more in the unscripted, back-and-forth format of a debate. The cabal that minds him already deeply regrets allowing him to take part in Thursday’s town-hall chat because his cringe-worthy performance at the event dramatized his dementia and aggrandized his unfitness for the job of president. His campaign trail mishaps aren’t helping, either. Another bruise from a debate would seal his fate before Election Day.

In a tragic irony, Buhari and Atiku are less qualified for the presidency than all the other contenders are, yet it is either of them that will emerge president in February. That’s why both candidates are more guarded and strategic in their choices than the rest.

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