Maybe because I am in Egypt, the politico-legal fishing expedition that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar launched in Chicago to try to unearth something against President Bola Tinubu reminded me of an old tale in our primary school English textbook. It was about a Ghanaian boy and a Senegalese boy who were boasting about the power of radio stations in their respective countries.
The Ghanaian boy made a fantastic claim. He said, “We have radio sets so powerful you can hear the announcer’s heartbeat.” “That’s nothing,” said the Senegalese boy. “Last time I tuned in on Egypt and in ten minutes, the sand was up to my knees.” Before Chicago State University turned over all the papers and before its Registrar did the deposition, I could almost hear former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s lawyers boasting that they could hear the 90.1 Moody Radio Chicago announcer’s heartbeat, and that damning evidence in the form of Chicago’s silty clay loamy soil would seep through airwaves up to their knees.
After years of arduous campaigns leading to last February’s presidential election and the legal tussle that followed, the last place Nigerians expected the matter to end up was in Chicago, a city that was once the Archilles’ heel of American elections. There was this story I read in a small book many years ago, about the 1960 US presidential elections. The election in Illinois was a cliff hanger. At one point during the long election night, CBS, NBC and ABC television networks projected that whoever wins the state of Illinois would win the election. At that point, counting was nearly complete in rural parts of the state, which heavily vote Republican. But in urbanized areas, including the city of Chicago, which tend to vote Democratic, counting was progressing slowly. It was suspected that Chicago Mayor Richard “Dick” Daley, a Democrat, had deployed his infamous “Daley political machine” to slow the count in Chicago, until he saw what Republicans got in rural Illinois.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kennedy anxiously placed a phone call to Dick Daley and asked if he saw the networks’ projections. At that point when the election outcome between Kennedy and Republican candidate Richard Nixon was far from certain, Mayor Daley allegedly said, “Mr. President, don’t worry. Everything is under control.” I thought Vice President Atiku Abubakar went to the worst place possible to look for evidence of election irregularity in Nigeria.
However, there was another important lesson from the 1960 US election that PDP’s candidate missed. According to the story I read, Republicans intercepted the Kennedy-Daley phone call and when Kennedy won Illinois and the election, they urged Nixon to demand a recount. For all his reputation for crude politics, which 14 years later led to Watergate and his forced resignation from the presidency, Richard Nixon refused. He said mounting a challenge to election results will soil the reputation of the United States and its democracy. In contrast, opposition supporters in Nigeria are in overdrive on the social media, saying “Nigeria’s image has been soiled” by their “findings.” Who else in this world will celebrate if his country’s reputation is soiled? Another lesson for Atiku is that Richard Nixon’s patience actually paid off because eight years later, he was elected US President in 1968 and was re-elected in 1972. He wouldn’t have been if he had soiled the US presidency’s reputation in 1960.
From everything that opposition supporters are saying on social media and other channels, they do not care a hoot if the reputation of Nigeria or its democracy is soiled by the intercontinental search for a smoking gun in order to bring down President Tinubu, if possible. If their candidates cannot get the presidency this time, they do not mind if the presidency is wrecked and robbed of all its lustre. Never mind what a former Chief Justice of Nigeria once said, that there must be Nigeria before there is a Supreme Court. There must be a presidency before there is presidential contest.
PDP leaders’ much hyped Chicago fishing expedition closely mirrored the Senegalese boy’s tall tale that his country’s radio sets are so powerful that sand from Egypt seeped through the airwaves and piled up to his knees. Many fantastic claims were thrown around, none of which stood up to scrutiny. A serious question is, even if a smoking gun is found, how can it make it into the appeal process at the Supreme Court, when it was not pleaded at the election tribunal? Although some lawyers said this is theoretically possible, other big SANs said it is highly unlikely because fixed time limits were placed for every stage of the election appeal process in order to prevent it from going on interminably, with serious injury to governance.
Now it is all academic because no smoking gun was found in the Chicago expedition. Having missed the live broadcast due to time difference, I had to make do with reading the text of Vice President Atiku’s “world” press conference. In Nigeria, we add the word “world” to press conferences in order to confer on them the appearance of grandeur. In the event, Atiku Abubakar did not come out swinging at the press conference. His delivery was tame and was devoid of concrete allegations. Instead, he spent quality time appealing to LP and NNPP leaders to team up with him in the international search for elusive evidence of forgery. But why should Elu Pi support Atiku’s bid, since the logic of it is to remove Tinubu from the presidency and install Atiku, a nightmare scenario for Elu Pi, which thoroughly sabotaged PDP’s chances in the last election?
Among the things that unintentionally came out of this episode, was the different perceptions of “certificate” between Americans and Nigerians. Where the former see certificate as a piece of ceremonial paper which is printed by private vendors once a student is certified to have graduated with the diploma, in Nigeria certificate is seen as the only proof of graduation. A popular video on social media is of TV reporters attending graduation ceremonies of tertiary institutions and asking graduating students some simple questions. Suitably adorned in academic gowns and clutching their certificates, these graduates provide the silliest answers to simple questions. In contrast, the philosophical foundations of America’s education system as laid out by John Dewey emphasized practicality. Transcripts and demonstrable knowledge are the thing, not certificates.
I personally wondered when I first heard the allegation: why should Tinubu “forge” a certificate when he actually did the course and graduated with very good grades, as shown in the results that Chicago State University [CSU] released? You forge something when you did not earn the real thing. If today somebody asks for evidence that I attended primary school and I cannot find my school leaving certificate after so many decades, a Nigerian electoral officer will insist on seeing the certificate as evidence whereas a practical-minded American will be satisfied after a brief interview. If I demonstrate some familiarity with the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, he will say, “This man must have done some schooling.” Long after the American is satisfied, a Nigerian election petition lawyer will still be busy awaiting the certificate signed by my long-deceased Headmaster.
Much fuss was also made about the gender “F” in the Daley College results. Some people will not let go even after the CSU Registrar testified during deposition in Atiku lawyer’s office that Tinubu’s application letter and all other papers marked him as male. The graduation photo album also clearly showed him to be a male. Was there a demonstrable advantage to posing as female in order to secure admission into this college? It is one thing to secure admission into an institution with someone else’s papers but, as someone pointed out, how then did Tinubu make straight A’s and B’s in all CSU courses except two, if he did not go through the qualifying course? I know some students who secured university admission in Nigeria with fake results and ended up being “advised to withdraw.” Unless you think Nigerian universities are better than America’s at weeding out imposters.
On the strength of this evidence of straw, some groups were reported last week to have called on President Tinubu to resign or alternately, for the National Assembly to impeach him. Again I am wondering. Before someone can resign, he must be properly occupying the office in the first place. Is this an admission that he was actually elected to the office by a plurality of voters, but you think he should vacate it on the say-so of some busybody groups? The demand for impeachment is even more curious. National Assembly can only impeach a properly elected person. However much Senate President Godswill Akpabio likes, he cannot impeach me because nobody elected me to any public office. Nor can Senate impeach Atiku Abubakar or Peter Obi.
During US President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in the 1990s, a Harvard Law professor said impeachment is a serious matter when a few hundred legislators assume the power to overturn a mandate conferred [in Tinubu’s case] by 8.8 million voters. It is undertaken only in the gravest of circumstances, when the person’s continued stay in office imperils the Republic. Pray, which “finding” from this failed Chicago expedition imperils our Republic?
And then there was this inadvertent, Odiye-style own goal. Former Vice President Atiku said at his press conference that in 2003, he prevailed upon President Obasanjo to spare Tinubu as Governor of Lagos and not take the state away in PDP’s controversial sweep of the South West. Is that right? So it was Obasanjo and Atiku, not voters, who decided who stayed in office and who was ejected? How was that different from what Mayor Dick Daley said in 1960? No wonder they went to Chicago.