Donor Fright and a Governor’s Death Threat

This week, over 39 international NGOs providing disaster relief in Boko Haram afflicted Borno state will halt operations and send foreign and national staff home as a safety precaution ahead of presidential polls on February 16. Already, the UN agencies have closed shop in Borno since February 4 and will remain shut for three weeks. Will the donors come back to Borno after February 16?

This week, over 39 international NGOs providing disaster relief in Boko Haram afflicted Borno state will halt operations and send foreign and national staff home as a safety precaution ahead of presidential polls on February 16. Already, the UN agencies have closed shop in Borno since February 4 and will remain shut for three weeks.

As the Borno humanitarian operations shutter, critical food aid supplies and distribution will dry up, leaving nearly two million internally displaced persons to fend for themselves or rely on the puny and lack-lustre efforts of Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency, with a better [reputation||en|NEMa] for corrupt contracts than actual emergency relief.

Why are the donors taking leave? Their collective action to protect staff at the cost of bringing the aid momentum to a grinding and shuddering halt is not unconnected to the mounting infractions of the democratic principle of Separation of Powers by President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. The latest incident being the ‘suspension’ of the chief justice without following constitutional provisions. This was seen as a brazen removal of opposition to favourable judicial interpretations of the elections by installing a more malleable head of the judiciary.

As well, in Borno state itself was the rumoured ‘empowerment’ of youth in the state to “kill” anything that is not the ruling APC. The evidence: destroyed billboards, posters and street signs of the opposition PDP littered Maiduguri, the state capital, until a recent clean up. The silencing and destruction of opposition campaigns belied the fact that people are disenchanted with the government’s handling of disaster relief and the military turning the Boko Haram conflict into an apparent enterprise. However, attendances at the campaign rallies of incumbent Buhari and challenger Atiku Abubakar show that the ruling party has reason to worry.

Added to those are the threats of harm from no less a person than Kaduna state governor Nasiru el-Rufai, known to speak the mind of Buhari. Talking on live network TV, NTA, on February 5, he quipped: “Those that are calling for anyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for the person that would come and intervene, they would go back in body bags.”

The diminutive governor was reacting to recent statements from the United States, European Union and the United Kingdom, that the coming elections in Nigeria may not be credible. The statements were in direct response to the unconstitutional removal of the chief justice by the president.

Next day, the European Union Election Observation Mission responded. “While the security of EU observers is of paramount importance, and will remain under constant review, EU observers will continue their work across the country in the run-up to – and beyond – the 16 February elections,” The EU reiterated the scope and coverage of their electoral presence: “The mission looks at all aspects of the election, including the campaign tone, the transparency of the election administration, the neutrality of security forces, and the independence of the judiciary.”

Naturally, there was an uproar following the governor’s warning on TV. The opposition PDP called for him to be arrested and many called on President Buhari to distance himself from the threat and reassure the expatriate community of their safety. He has done neither. In governor Rufai’s home state Kaduna,  his adversary Senator Shehu Sani put Rufai’s declaration in stark perspective. “Threatening foreigners with body bags is not nationalism or patriotism, it’s fascism. They simply want to switch off the lights, close the windows and the doors and count our votes. They are watering the flowers of our democracy with kerosene.”

As usual, Rufai’s comment fulfilled his reputation as a stormy petrel and maximised the ruling APC’s tactic of changing the subject when faced with uncomfortable facts. Till date, there is no word from the APC government of respecting all principles of democracy. To the APC, it seems, democracy is only about winning elections, whatever it takes.

Already, APC in Zamfara and Rivers state have threatened that there would be no elections if they are not on the ballot.  Campaigning in Talata Mafara four days ago,  Governor Abdulazeez Yari was explicit: “There is no way elections will be conducted in Zamfara State without APC candidates.” Their threats come even after a Supreme Court decision reaffirmed a lower court ruling that they held no lawful primaries and as such can’t put forward candidates. INEC, the electoral body, had earlier excluded the party in both states for not meeting the submission deadline for authenticated lists of candidates.

In other states, such as Lagos, Kwara and Kebbi the same pattern of destroying opposition posters and billboards has been playing out. Lagos governorship challenger Jimi Agbaje laments that over 3,000 billboards and posters have been destroyed in a state that prides itself as having the best policing in the country.

In Sokoto state, an internecine conflict broke out last year between supporters of both parties after governor Aminu Tambuwal and his cabinet decamped to the opposition. In Bauchi, home state of national assembly speaker Yakubu Dogara, the clouds are ominous as opposition against incumbent governor Mohammed Abdullahi Abubakar, a lawyer, coalesces in the PDP. Governor Abubakar earned early scorn of civil servants by not paying their salaries for several months. Dogara, accused the governor of fleecing the state of N400 billion (USD 1.13b) through bogus salaries, an outlandish figure that may still hold a kernel of truth.

In Ogun and Imo states, the APC governors exhausting their second terms fractured the party in both states, after attempting to impose their relatives as candidates – increasing the tally of states that the ruling party will not win.

So will the donors come back to Borno after February 16? All fingers are crossed on this. But it appears that President Buhari’s government is not worried, just as they were not worried that corruption in the presidential relief committee was traced right to Buhari’s inner council, to then secretary to the government. Buhari did not have the liver to sack Mr. David Babachir Lawal. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo kicked out Lawal after several months of public outrage. A year on, Lawal is yet to face his day in court as he was only arraigned last week with the presidential election scant days away.

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