So much has been said about the letters between former President Obasanjo and President Jonathan. While Chief Obasanjo raised very weighty issues on the affairs of the Nigerian state, President Jonathan’s response seemed to sound like “ whatever you have accused me of doing, I am reading from your playbook”. Essentially, the Presidency’s response which worked and moderated the caustic nature of the former President’s letter, at least among its sympathizers was “why should the pot call the kettle black?”. It was a good political communication strategy to reframe the issue and the people’s paradigm. It was no longer about the fact that the kettle should not be black but why should it be the black pot that should say it or call attention to it. We should give a strong pass mark to the Presidential Communication team. They have been well educated in the Republican Karl Rove political communication school perfected in the days of American President George Bush. It is about reframing the issues to divert attention from relevant substance, move early to create and frame a negative image for a potential opposition, virulently destroy the opposition image such that it will battle and focus on its image and credibility rather than the real substance or the issues of governance. In the Karl Rove political communication school, anything is worth attacking to damage a potential opposition source, and divert attention from the substance of governance in a political campaign; personal life, family, character, personal weakness, family history etc. The Republicans not being able to fault the very successful performance of President Clinton in office, went virulently after his private life to destroy the good governance ideals that Clinton represented. In the Karl Rove school, if you can’t win on content, make the form the content, reframe the form negatively and make it the content so that the original content no longer becomes the issue. There is no doubt that the next one year will be interesting. We expect to see more and more of the Karl Rove tactic in play in the political space.
There is an implied impunity in the Karl Rove style of political communication as it has recently been applied here in Nigeria. It sounded like “yes ke, if as a kettle, I am black, so what?”. A related event which manifests this impunity even more profoundly in the public space showing how low, morality and accountability has descended in our polity is the NNPC missing billion or accounting reconciliation saga. Government communication sounded as follows. It is not true that forty-five billion dollars is missing from NNPC account. It is just ten billion dollars that we could not reconcile or account for. Just ten billion dollars, so there is really no issue. Again note the substitution of “form” for “content” in the communication strategy. It is not about whether there are huge amount of money that could not be clearly accounted for (content and substance); it is that it is not as big as it was made to look, just ten billion dollars! (form), so the hues and cries were not justifiable.
The Presidential letters and the NNPC missing billion or accounting reconciliation saga should be telling us something bigger than both issues. That the people of Nigeria do not seem to matter. The political elites seem to be able to do anything and get away with it. The law enforcement institutions are weak, therefore there is pervasive impunity as the Presidential letters and the NNPC saga showed. The only and last recourse for the people in such circumstance, to ensure that governments govern well is electoral system, their right to vote out governments that betray the wishes of the people. If all institutions of the state fail, the electoral institution must not. The judiciary at least as we see in Nigeria may not necessarily be the last hope of the common man. The last hope of the common man has to be INEC or our electoral institution where our votes will count and “we the people” will exercise our right to vote and vote –out governments that betray our will and trust. The only reason that politicians govern well is the fear of losing elections. If our electoral institution cannot guarantee that our votes will count, we can say goodbye to good governance permanently and expect more of the current situation in the many years to come.
There are strong reasons to be concerned about our electoral institution and INEC in particular. The Anambra governorship election was a national embarrassment. INEC has not told the Nigeria people clearly what it will do differently to ensure Anambra does not repeat itself. In our previous essay titled “The Credibility Nosedive of INEC”, we called for the wholesale adoption of the recommendation of the Uwais panel of electoral reforms which includes, the setting up of independent Electoral Offences Tribunal, the prescribing of severe jail terms for election rigging and a long ban from politics of those found guilty of electoral crimes. There should also be strong sanctions for breach of internal party democracy, the promotion of active citizen participation in policy and politics through a strong civil society, a strong and free press and genuine commitment to public transparency by the government and our courts through the enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act. We must also reform political party financing, make it transparent with the necessary controls to ensure that political parties as critical electoral institutions remain democratic and are not hijacked by corrupt political elites.
INEC has an opportunity to redress its ignominable performance in the Anambra elections with the coming elections in Ekiti and Osun states as precursor to what must be a free and fair Presidential elections. It does not matter who wins the elections as long as they are free and fair and the will of the people manifestly prevails. At least we know that we can vote out any elected underperforming government in another four years. That is the most important check and balance that the people have to moderate the excesses of the political elites. If it does not work as such, the current level of decadence will continue and our political debates may become permanently framed as which is better between the black kettle and the black pot. It is therefore critical that we shift focus back again to INEC and the necessary electoral reforms that will ensure free and fair elections and good governance. Therefore, compatriots, beyond the Presidential letters, it should really be about INEC.
By: Olu Akanmu