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Interim Government, Military Coup: Hoax or Real?

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Political events in the country at the moment appear to be taking a dangerous and unpredictable turn, especially after the Department of State Services (DSS) formally confirmed speculations or what it believed to be a bombshell revelation surrounding our country’s constitutionally mandated transfer of political power from one democratically elected government to another.

The DSS claimed to have identified some individuals involved in a plot for an Interim Government, which the agency viewed as an aberration and a mischievous way to subvert civil rule and the constitution. It noted that the planners have considered various options, including sponsoring violent mass protests and obtaining frivolous court injunctions to stop the inauguration of the President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as well as freshly elected members of the incoming administration at both federal and state levels.

Although, and sadly, the agency did not publicly identify the persons or group(s) behind this supposed interim government plot, it however affirmed support for President Muhammadu Buhari’s commitment to a hitch-free handover and emphasised its readiness to ensure seamless inaugurations on May 29, 2023 across the federation.

Understandably, the secret police’s disclosure via a press statement evoked mixed reactions across the land in both traditional and new media. Some observers pointed to the fact that Tinubu made a similarly alarming claim at a political event in Ekiti State recently. He alleged that there were undisclosed, covert forces working behind-the-scenes to disrupt the general election. According to Tinubu, these unknown persons/groups aimed to incite violence and chaos during the election in order to create an opportunity for the introduction of an interim government that would seize control of the country.

While Tinubu did not offer any specific names or details about these supposed schemers, his weighty accusation was not taken seriously at the time. Given his prominent position as the candidate of the ruling party at the time, such weighty words ought to carry weight enough to be of extreme importance to those concerned.

The corroboration of that claim by the DSS now should also not be taken lightly. The debates that have erupted so far show that many Nigerians are giving it a serious consideration, even though I think the talk about interim government or military coup is a hoax just to add to the chaotic mix of the election dispute.

Besides questions about the import of why the DSS brought this to the public instead of arresting and prosecuting the persons behind this plot and what they aimed to achieve by the action, it is pertinent to call for a reining in of all extreme actions that can precipitate any breakdown of established law.

Nigeria’s political history is replete with instances of political crises arising from disputed election results. The most significant challenge to Nigeria’s fledgling democracy, however, is the constant threat of a military takeover in the event of an electoral dispute. This threat is one huge reason I strongly advise against the unconstitutional context of an interim government, especially in light of the disputed results of the February 25, 2023 general election.

If we draw on Nigeria’s political history, it is clear that we will come to see a compelling case for why an interim government is not the solution to the current brewing electoral crisis. Nigeria’s transition to democracy in 1999 was a significant milestone in the country’s history. After several years of destructive military rule, the country held its first democratic elections, which ushered in a new era of civilian rule. However, the transition to democracy was not without its challenges.

In 2007, the general election was marred by allegations of serious fraud and irregularities. The opposition parties rejected the results and the country was on the brink of another crisis. Fortunately, the then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, now deceased, was able to resolve the dispute through effective dialogue and negotiation. He acknowledged the fraudulent practices that bedevilled the process and resolved to clean up and reform the electoral system.

The 2015 elections were not without irregularities and a recurrence of the same complaints that dogged election cycles in the past. The incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan was gracious enough to overlook the irregularities by conceding defeat to the opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. It was a move that was widely hailed as a victory for democracy and the act that saved the country from witnessing widespread bloodshed.

The current electoral crisis in Nigeria requires a careful and measured response. An interim government or a military coup is not the solution to the current crisis, and it could potentially do more harm than good. First, it would be unconstitutional and set a dangerous precedent for future elections. Second, it would be perceived as a power grab by those charged with its administration by whatever process from which they emerge and it could lead to widespread protests and violence, a situation it is supposed to prevent by those considering it as a viable midpoint option between two extremes.

Finally, an interim government or military takeover would be a distraction from the real issues that need to be addressed, such as electoral reforms and the strengthening of democratic institutions, particularly our overtly corrupt judiciary.

I know this is a difficult choice for the aggrieved groups, but I would counsel that instead of pressing for these options, the disputants should allow the court cases challenging the election that threw up Tinubu as President-elect to complete its course.

Already, the main opposition parties, Labour Party and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, have petitions before the electoral tribunal seeking to upturn the poll as declared by Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, have a well-documented journey at the courts over electoral matters. They are veterans with Obi actually a beneficiary of a ruling that restored his stolen electoral mandate as Governor of Anambra State in 2003.

Obi has called for calm while he explores the legal provisions of the Constitution. This is why it was confusing to read the warning from the DSS. Perhaps, they were in lockstep with the petition from Festus Keyamo, SAN, who was himself reacting to feelers in certain quarters.

In truth, who can blame those who have lost faith in our judiciary? In verdict after verdict, from the lower courts and all the way to the highest court of the land, we have seen a bastardisation of the hallowed chambers of justice by corrupt judges and justices. Where formerly the last hope of the common folks were fair and blind to influence, what we have witnessed currently is anything but acceptable.

I had foreseen this situation when in a past article, I warned that the judiciary ought to not only serve justice but be seen to be serving justice, especially as most elections were likely going to end up before the bar and bench. What we are witnessing is the consequence of the acute absence of confidence in the ability of the judiciary to deliver justice. As with every occasion where this is the status quo, the people are quick to resort to self-help and every manner of unconstitutional acts.

Yet, the Electoral Act provides a legal framework for resolving electoral disputes and I will counsel the disputants and their supporters to take advantage of this framework to resolve the fallout of the general elections. This is recommended to avoid what could very well result in a swift conflagration and break down of law, order and everything in between.

Finally, it is essential to emphasise that the worst democratic government is far better than any military government in whatever shape or form, especially for the sake of citizens’ rights and freedoms. Nigeria’s history is replete with instances of military rule and the human rights abuses that occurred during those years are well-documented. The restoration of civilian rule in 1999 was a significant achievement, and it is essential that Nigeria’s democracy continues to thrive rather than retrogress to conditions that should best be left in the past.

As important as it is to tirelessly defend norms and values of democratic practices, such as the sacredness of elections and the sanctity of the people’s mandate, the impartiality of the judiciary and the respect of correctly enacted laws, the current crisis should not be allowed to derail Nigeria’s democracy.

As much as we must avoid setting a terrible precedent that makes it seem that we can allow fraudulently acquired victories to stand just for the sake of peace, all parties should together recognise that we all have a responsibility to ensure that the country remains on the path of democratic consolidation.

I therefore strongly advise against the unconstitutional context of an interim government or military government in Nigeria. Our democracy is a bastion for democratic practice across Africa and a reference point for the West. We have achieved it through blood, sweat and deaths. We owe it to those who suffered to bequeath it to us to preserve it for posterity. These are the reasons why we must preserve this democracy, flawed as it is, even as we fight to make sure courts do not decide the winners of our elections.

It is despicable that over a 100 cases are pending before various courts from these polls due to INEC’s corrupt officials and security agencies. Still, the current electoral crisis presents an opportunity for Nigeria to strengthen its democratic institutions and processes, and to build a more inclusive and participatory democracy. It is my hope that the disputants will heed this call and work towards a peaceful resolution of the current crisis, in the interest of Nigeria’s democracy and its people.

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