DEMOCRATIC CHANGE: THE PRESIDENCY VS THE PARTY
I am insistent on my assertion that the 2015 Elections have changed Nigeria. And I am excited about it as I look forward daily to the manifestations of this change starting with the uncharacteristic post election peace ushered in by President Goodluck Jonathan. Since 1999 when President Olusegun Obasanjo ushered in the 4th Republic, it has been difficult to seperate the ruling Party from the Presidency. The President is regarded as the Leader of the Party, and carries on as the alpha & omega. He is the one who chooses the party chairman and he decides when he ( the party chairman) should go, sometimes after a sumptuous lunch of Pounded yam and egusi soup in the Chairman's house . He is the one who chooses who will run for any elective post at the primaries. When he says anything, nobody else can oppose him and if any dares to oppose, he will be expelled for anti-party activities. The President was the Party and the Party was the President.
With President Obasanjo's proclivity to dominate and subjugate his environment, I am not sure if this was according to the party constitution or simply his style of doing business, which I believe derive significantly from his very successful military commands and career. And having set the standards, the Presidents after him carried on along those lines with differing intensities, but certainly less dictatorial given that the two presidents after him have been civilians with no 'acquired military dictatorial syndrome'. Even then the party officials seldomly exercised independent actions and did their utmost to follow the President's cue, spoken or by body language. The major advantage in this was that, open conflict between the Presidency and the Party was minimized . But the major disadvantage was that the president was made to be a demi-god and did not have the advantage of being saved from making grievous errors by the party.
During the past week, that seems to have changed. President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari showed his hand, some how earlier than expected. He was said to have banned the Africa Independent Television (AIT )from covering his activities. It was said by his media spokesman that he had some 'ethical and moral' issues to sort out with the electronic media house. Many People have since concluded that it was because AIT carried certain documentary that was adversarial to the General during the electioneering campaigns. Well I do not know if that is the true and only reason. If that reasoning is correct, then it could be expected that he would also ban the NTA, because, I saw the same documentary relayed on the NTA. So it may not be the only reason. There could be other reasons covered under the 'ethical and moral' issues classification.
When the news broke, it was natural that those who had predicted that General Muhammadu Buhari would be the General that he was and is, and that he would brook no nonsense from any quarters and would not tolerate 'excessive ' media freedom immediately went to town shouting, 'did we not say so!'. There was a potential that this development would have dominated discussions across the Nation and may have diverted the current National focus on an orderly and seamless transition.
But within a few hours of this alleged presidential-elect-order, the All Progressives Congress(APC) Party weighed in. The National Publicity secretary issued a statement countermanding the President-elect's order. I was thrilled but waited to see if the countermand would stand. And as I am writing this from Banjul-The Gambia, I have not read that Garba Shehu or any one else from the President-elect's office has issued another statement insisting on its earlier ban, except a latter day release suggesting that The General did not know what his aides were doing and was actually supporting the action of the Party. Also, I have not read or heard that the AIT crew or journalists have been arrested or physically barred after the first incident, especially after both the crew and the AIT founding chairman have insisted that it was their constitutional right to freely cover any news including that concerning the President-elect and that it was going to be unlawful to be prevented or banned from doing so.
This immediate intervention by the Party calmed nerves, mine inclusive, because I believe that the incoming administration should not do anything that will distract it from focusing on the tasks ahead. More importantly, it must retain the support of most Nigerians as long as possible in order to carry out the herculean tasks ahead of it. Any action that might remotely suggest a gagging of the Press or abridgements of freedom of speech or a reminder of 'decree 4' will in my estimation undermine the current goodwill expressed by many Nigerians at the polls. Today, Nigerians take freedom of speech more seriously than they did in 1984. Yes, the honey moon will end certainly when the changes begin to bite but it must not be terminated prematurely.
And this is why I am impressed with this show of party supremacy by the leadership of APC. The party must have felt that the President-elect had been wrongly advised and that such pronouncement was likely going to hurt the party and indeed the President-elect also. I do not know if they had the opportunity to discuss the matter with him before countermanding the ban but from latter day reports It is great to know that the President-elect saw the party's point of view and supported it. But the fact that it was the party that issued the countermand, rather than the President-elect retracting the banning order, is suggestive that the party would still have gone on with its conviction,even if the President-elect had reservations or different opinion.
To me, this is the right way to go. It protects our democracy and is in favour of the People. It could be that the party was able to achieve this because the President-elect has not assumed executive powers. May be or may be not, but I hope not. But even if it were so, it should sign post to the President-elect that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria does not have absolute powers and that his actions will not only be bound by the constitution but he must be guided by the party, the National Assembly and the civil society. And should he ever be tempted to play 'god', the party must act quickly to remind him that he is still human and at the best, the first among equals. This is a great responsibility which I can see that the APC is poised to discharge fully. When the Oba of Lagos slipped, they quickly 'disowned' him and that helped matters. That is a type of the change that is desirable.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR