Opinion

2023 Countdown (4): Buhari, Obasanjo right on foreign interference

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo allegedly wrote a letter to the British government, urging it not to interfere in the February-March General Election in Nigeria. But Obasanjo – a renowned “letter writer” on mostly Nigerian politico-socio-economic affairs, and not one to retract his statements – has denied penning the missive.

Yet, the warning was timely due to the importance of the poll, and the interest shown in its conduct and outcome by Nigerians and the global community. Particularly concerning is the presidential election of February 25 that involves 18 political parties and 18 candidates, accordingly. It’s the second time in Nigeria’s democratic system that a President will hand over to another after a maximum eight-year tenure of two terms of four years.

Obasanjo, who ran and won in 1999 and 2003 under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), handed over in 2007 to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on the same platform of the PDP. Yar’Adua didn’t complete his tenure, as he died in 2010, and was succeeded by his Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, who won in 2011 but failed re-election in 2015. Opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari won the 2015 and 2019 polls, flying the flag of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Buhari, who completes his eight-year tenure on May 29, will hand over the baton to one of the 18 presidential contestants. Four candidates lead the pack of 18, including Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC, Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP). It’s been a titanic battle by the quartet trying to outwit each other in the media and on the campaign trail they’ve extended overseas.

Atiku and Obi have visited the United States – and Obi’s toured several European countries – to drum up support for their ambition. Three of the candidates – Tinubu, Obi and Kwankwaso – have taken turns at Chatham House in London, to sell their action plans.

Could externalising their campaigns attract foreign interference that may impinge on Nigeria’s domestic affairs? It’s a possibility, especially in the wake of Atiku’s visit to London – and on account of a statement by the Presidential Campaign Council of the PDP on January 10.

Dele Momodu, the PCC’s Director of Strategic Communications, said the UK government had invited Atiku to discuss areas of potential collaboration between Nigeria and Britain under an Atiku presidency. Momodu’s words: “Five weeks to the election and the UK government invites front leading candidates to discuss areas of future potential collaboration between both countries.

“An internal source is quoted saying an internal poll by the British government shows AA (Atiku Abubakar) as the leading candidate and the possibility of working together for a more effective Post BREXIT world which promises to be a win-win for both countries. “This is especially imperative as the UK seeks to improve and increase trade partnership with Nigeria.”

Britain hasn’t denied the statement, but Momodu’s heads up should brace Nigeria for external attempts to “steal” the February poll for a particular candidate. So, the alleged Obasanjo letter is apt to warn the UK government to “back off the poll and allow Nigerians to decide the outcome.”

Obasanjo reportedly told the British authorities that it won’t be business as usual, recalling a reported 2002 plan by Britain to remove him from office via his 2003 re-election bid. But Obasanjo has debunked the letter through his media aide, Kehinde Akinyemi, who, on January 12, stated that apart from the January 1 letter to Nigerian youths, and the other to Prof. Toyin Falola on his 70th birthday, “there has been no other public or private letter written to anybody.”

“The reading public is, for the umpteenth time, reminded that only a statement duly signed by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo or by his Media Assistant, Kehinde Akinyemi, are to be allowed into the media space,” Akinyemi said. “If need be, necessary checks can be made to confirm the authenticity of such documents before publication, to avoid any embarrassment.”

Had the said Obasanjo letter stayed, it would’ve complemented Buhari’s warning against foreign interference in the election, as he’s promised to bequeath a legacy of credible franchise to Nigeria.

 

Buhari renewed that pledge on January 12, as he received Letters of Credence from Ambassadors to Nigeria, and during an iftar dinner (a meal held every day during Ramadan at sunset) for Envoys at the State House in Abuja. To the Ambassadors, Buhari said: “As you’re all aware, the tenure of this Administration ends on 29th May, 2023. Typical of election years all over the world, the tempo of political activities is often high. “That’s the nature of democracy. I’m committed to bequeathing a stronger culture of credible elections to Nigeria than I met.

“As Nigeria goes through this trajectory, I urge our friends in the global community, represented by you, the Diplomatic Corps, to adopt a positive role that reinforces the doctrine of respect for our internal affairs and respect for facts devoid of preconceived notions and bias.”

Buhari also sent a warning to domestic mischiefmakers, that he’d use all legal means to protect Nigerians’ votes during the poll. Those planning to rig the elections should think twice “because I intend to resolutely protect and defend the sacred will of the Nigerian people, to be expressed through the ballot box,” Buhari said.

The envoys wished Nigeria “peaceful, free and fair elections,” and pledged the international community’s support for the country throughout the poll period. It’s doubtful if these Envoys can stop their home governments’ intents to interfere in the General Election, as they only take orders

 

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