Abdullahi Usman

Abdullahi Usman

As a foreigner from far away distant land, perhaps, one should better harken to that timeworn diplomatese that expressly speaks about respect and non-interference in matters involving another country. But if one may take the liberty to offer an opinion strictly as a concerned fellow African with an abiding interest in the democratic and electoral consolidation on the continent, my humble advice, for all that it is worth, would simply be that we do not always have to throw away the baby with the bath water. Sadly, that has often been the practice with our numerous Elections Management Bodies (EMBs) in several jurisdictions all across Africa.

For some as yet rather inexplicable reasons, we somehow seem to always find a way to discredit our electoral commissions in order to provide the necessary grounds to do away with the existing team and pave the way for the appointment of entirely fresh hands, ahead of every upcoming or new round of elections. It is very sad to note, rather unfortunately, that would appear to be the case with the ongoing debate around the leadership of one of Africa's highly respected EMBs, the Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), at the moment.

In so doing, however, we inexorably end up depriving the commission, nay the country at large, of the inherent benefits associated with the consolidation, refinements and continuous improvements in the electoral process that often come with having the same team conduct more than one election over the course of their constitutionally stipulated tenure. The case of the Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan - led Ghanain, and Dr. Christiana Thorpe - led Sierra Leonean, Electoral Commissions in West Africa, which conducted several elections over the course of their respective tenures (6 elections for Dr. Gyan and 2 for Mrs. Thorpe), immediately comes to mind in that regard.

It is, indeed, not for nothing that several well established electoral jurisdictions the world over, consider it best practice to stagger the appointment of their electoral teams in such a manner as to ensure that the tenure of at least half of the existing commissioners always overlaps with that of a new set of appointees, just so as to provide the much needed continuity that is so vital to the critical job they carry out as an EMB.

The wholesale appointment of a new team into such an important body or, indeed, total replacement of the existing one, especially coming just around, or so close to the election period, often carries with it, the inherent risks of causing needless disruptions and avoidable problems around the conduct of the election itself; a situation we must collectively seek to prevent as Africans, as much as we all possibly can.

Having said that, one is not, in any way, trying to play down or belittle your rights, as Kenyans, to raise legitimate issues or concerns around your electoral system as a whole, or, indeed, your elections management body as presently constituted. But the solution, perhaps, better lies in isolating whatever those specific principal concerns might be, and addressing them well ahead of your upcoming elections, rather than doing away with the current IEBC team so late in the day; and I am talking from experience as a concerned brother from Nigeria, who was deeply involved, and has witnessed, first hand, the immense benefits of having the same team conduct more than one election for what would eventually turn out to be the first time in our electoral history.

Your next general elections slated for August 2017 may, indeed, seem so far away on the face of it. But, believe me, 14 months is a relatively short period when it comes to putting in place the necessary operational structures and logistical requirements for such a huge undertaking as organising national elections in the contemporary African context, with all the hugely daunting and often considerably overbearing social, environmental and infrastructural challenges that often come with the territory.

This is scarcely enough time for any new Commission to settle down to learn the ropes, having gone through your country's famously rigorous appointment processes, and still be able to prepare well enough to deliver on your citizens' massive expectations and collective aspirations for a free, fair and credible electoral process within this limited period; and you should, quite honestly, not follow that perilous road at this particular moment.

Any move in that direction, at this point, will be inauspicious and amount to nothing but a big and unnecessary gamble, at a time the IEBC needs all the support and encouragement it can get from all quarters to prepare for the huge task ahead, and must be avoided at all costs, in my view. The country's leadership and its entire citizenry from all political persuasions will, therefore, do well to resist the temptation to attempt any risky experimentation with a new IEBC in order to avert the possible complications that may accompany such an ill-advised move. As Marylynn Longsdon rightly cautions; "if your life suddenly takes a turn for the worse, remember you are the one who is driving".

Abdullahi Usman ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

(PA to former INEC Chairman)

"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty". - Mohandas Gandhi

Besides the obvious and imminent danger, in the form of the immediate and constant personal threat to life and limbs, that it continues to pose for those of us who are unfortunate enough to be caught up in or around crisis prone areas, the current prolonged state of insecurity in the land is gradually destroying our respective individual and collective humanity. ’ It is often said that whenever people do bad things, it tests your faith in humanity; that faith is tested even more when people continue to commit those bad things in a coordinated and sustained fashion. To paraphrase the words I picked from an in-flight magazine I read recently, almost on a daily basis nowadays, Nigerians - both the old and the young among us - are constantly being exposed to gory scenes of extreme violence that are “almost surreal in their severity, as well as being almost normal in their everydayness".

These range from those arising from the fallouts of the ongoing insurgency campaign in parts of the North East; violence as a result of the perennial religious, ethnic and communal clashes in some North Central states, as well as in Kaduna and, more recently, Taraba states; the systematic mass killings and wanton destruction of life and property under the guise of the more recent phenomenon of cattle rustling in parts of the North Central and North West; violence arising from armed robbery, kidnapping and ritual murder cases in the South West and South East, and; violence as a result of the jungle justice being visited upon kidnap and ritual murder suspects by angry mobs in parts of the South West and Kwara State, among many others.

The inherent danger in all of this, which may not be very obvious to many of us at the moment, is the fact that we are slowly but gradually being stripped of our respective natural human instincts of empathy; so much so, that these horrific acts will inexorably become normal, tolerable, or, worse still, even acceptable to us at some point. One would hate to even contemplate how nasty, brutish and short life would become under such a Hobbesian state of nature, where everyone is at war against everyone else. This is because even those directly responsible for the ongoing needless carnage, and several others who may insidiously be stoking it from behind the scenes, will eventually come to regret living in the kind of society they would have helped create for themselves and the (un)fortunate ones among us that would have survived long enough to witness it! It is thus very helpful, at this point, for all of us - the perpetrators, innocent victims and security agencies alike, who are saddled with the primary responsibility of quelling it, - to constantly remind ourselves of the inherent message contained in a popular refrain that says, "be careful what you wish for, because it just might come true!”. It is simply in our own enlightened self-interest to ensure that we keep doing so; and, as sad as the recent kidnap of hundreds of school girls in Chibok, Borno State is, it may well turn out to be the major turning point in this whole protracted problem of insurgency and the prevailing atmosphere of insecurity in the country. This is, however, not to make light of other even more vicious acts of violence committed in the past, such as the cruel and unconscionable slaughter of fifty-nine innocent male students at the Federal Government College Buni Yadi, in Yobe State.

But the Chibok incident can only represent that ideal turning point we have long been yearning for, if we, as a nation, endeavour to take full advantage of the prevailing sense of urgency and unity of purpose, which the mass kidnap of these innocent girls has generated both at home and abroad, to make a final push towards nipping this seemingly intractable festering crisis in the bud. Thankfully, the international dimension this issue has assumed now guarantees that even the hitherto nonchalant countries among those we share common borders with are now fully obligated to join forces with us to help bring this menace to an end. It is, however, very distressing to note that, rather than view this problem as the collective menace that it truly represents, a few individuals among us have made a conscious decision to continue to rub salt to the injury of both the victims and their parents by publicly questioning and even dismissing the entire kidnap narrative.

This rather strange and most bizarre stance, even in the face of all the visible and verifiable facts that are literally screaming at all of us, must indeed rank a very close second to the actual act of the kidnap itself, in terms of its vicious and malicious intent! One cannot but wonder aloud as to how precisely we got to this sorry pass; a situation in which people now deliberately choose to react to issues on the basis of whether or not they have any direct bearing on them at the personal or communal level. Nowhere is this more self-evident than on the social media, where issues that should ordinarily concern us all as human beings and as compatriots, are no longer dispassionately analysed and debated purely on the basis of what is right or wrong. It is now very common to see fellow Nigerians, including, sadly, products of Federal Government Colleges, taking delight in needlessly insulting and tearing one another apart, as they often view issues through the narrow prism of ethnic and/or religious affiliations, thereby making a complete mockery of the noble idea behind the entire concept of unity schools.

Things are now so bad, to the extent that once something does not affect us or our community directly, some of us even go to the bizarre extent of publicly gloating over a misfortune that may befall another community. In essence, any nation building and nationalism research fellow in search of clear examples on how NOT to build a nation need not go any further than a social media site frequented by Nigerians to obtain tonnes of them! But the pertinent question we must all ask ourselves is: where on earth is the common humanity that we all share? Each and every one of us must have at one time or another come across the age-old mantra that says, what affects one affects all. So, when and how did things get this bad? Whatever happened to the popular creed about being our brother’s keeper?

In his very famous and provocative post-war period poem, the German theologian, Martin Niemoller (1892 - 1984), had copiously addressed the cowardice and possible complicity of the German intellectuals and members of the clergy, following the Nazi’s rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen target, group after group, when he wrote:  

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out -

Because I was not a Trade Unionist

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me

The import of the inherent lessons embedded in Niemoller’s highly instructive poem must never be lost on us. This is because any lingering notion in the minds of some of us that the ongoing insurgency campaign is a localised affair, having been ‘successfully contained’ in a particular section of the country (as if to suggest that Nigerians living in those places are not entitled to live their lives in peace!), would have quickly evaporated with the apparent expansion of the theatre of violence to other areas hitherto considered safe. Moreover, with the present high rate of mobility among the nation’s population, it does not really matter who you are or where you come from; all that is required for any of us to fall victim to these precipitate acts of violence - be they on account of the insurgency, armed robbery, kidnap (whether for ransom or for ritual purposes), ethnic, communal or religious crises - is simply for one to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Not even those in high places appear to be safe anymore, as many of them have equally fallen prey to the antics of the kidnappers, who appear to be targeting their parents, siblings, spouses and children for handsome ransom pay-offs. Violence, it would seem, no longer discriminates.

We must, therefore, endeavour to put all our differences aside and take advantage of our collective resentment towards this latest kidnap saga to work together to end the ongoing madness, in all its various forms, and halt our agonizingly slow but gradual advance on this perilous journey along the dreadful road to our own Golgotha. Indeed, as the famous China-based US novelist, Pearl Buck (1892 - 1973), rightly observed, "every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied". That critical half-way moment for us, it would appear, is right now. May God, in his infinite mercy, save us from ourselves by granting us the courage to seize the moment, while we still can, and arrest this needless and avoidable slide along the dangerous path to our self-inflicted ruination!

"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty". - Mohandas Gandhi

Besides the obvious and imminent danger, in the form of the immediate and constant personal threat to life and limbs, that it continues to pose for those of us who are unfortunate enough to be caught up in or around crisis prone areas, the current prolonged state of insecurity in the land is gradually destroying our respective individual and collective humanity.                                        

It is often said that whenever people do bad things, it tests your faith in humanity; that faith is tested even more when people continue to commit those bad things in a coordinated and sustained fashion. To paraphrase the words I picked from an in-flight magazine I read recently, almost on a daily basis nowadays, Nigerians - both the old and the young among us - are constantly being exposed to gory scenes of extreme violence that are “almost surreal in their severity, as well as being almost normal in their everydayness".

These range from those arising from the fallouts of the ongoing insurgency campaign in parts of the North East; violence as a result of the perennial religious, ethnic and communal clashes in some North Central states, as well as in Kaduna and, more recently, Taraba states; the systematic mass killings and wanton destruction of life and property under the guise of the more recent phenomenon of cattle rustling in parts of the North Central and North West; violence arising from armed robbery, kidnapping and ritual murder cases in the South West and South East, and; violence as a result of the jungle justice being visited upon kidnap and ritual murder suspects by angry mobs in parts of the South West and Kwara State, among many others.

The inherent danger in all of this, which may not be very obvious to many of us at the moment, is the fact that we are slowly but gradually being stripped of our respective natural human instincts of empathy; so much so, that these horrific acts will inexorably become normal, tolerable, or, worse still, even acceptable to us at some point.                               

One would hate to even contemplate how nasty, brutish and short life would become under such a Hobbesian state of nature, where everyone is at war against everyone else. This is because even those directly responsible for the ongoing needless carnage, and several others who may insidiously be stoking it from behind the scenes, will eventually come to regret living in the kind of society they would have helped create for themselves and the (un)fortunate ones among us that would have survived long enough to witness it!

It is thus very helpful, at this point, for all of us - the perpetrators, innocent victims and security agencies alike, who are saddled with the primary responsibility of quelling it, - to constantly remind ourselves of the inherent message contained in a popular refrain that says, "be careful what you wish for, because it just might come true!”. It is simply in our own enlightened self-interest to ensure that we keep doing so; and, as sad as the recent kidnap of hundreds of school girls in Chibok, Borno State is, it may well turn out to be the major turning point in this whole protracted problem of insurgency and the prevailing atmosphere of insecurity in the country. This is, however, not to make light of other even more vicious acts of violence committed in the past, such as the cruel and unconscionable slaughter of fifty-nine innocent male students at the Federal Government College Buni Yadi, in Yobe State.

But the Chibok incident can only represent that ideal turning point we have long been yearning for, if we, as a nation, endeavour to take full advantage of the prevailing sense of urgency and unity of purpose, which the mass kidnap of these innocent girls has generated both at home and abroad, to make a final push towards nipping this seemingly intractable festering crisis in the bud. Thankfully, the international dimension this issue has assumed now guarantees that even the hitherto nonchalant countries among those we share common borders with are now fully obligated to join forces with us to help bring this menace to an end.

It is, however, very distressing to note that, rather than view this problem as the collective menace that it truly represents, a few individuals among us have made a conscious decision to continue to rub salt to the injury of both the victims and their parents by publicly questioning and even dismissing the entire kidnap narrative. This rather strange and most bizarre stance, even in the face of all the visible and verifiable facts that are literally screaming at all of us, must indeed rank a very close second to the actual act of the kidnap itself, in terms of its vicious and malicious intent!                                                                           

One cannot but wonder aloud as to how precisely we got to this sorry pass; a situation in which people now deliberately choose to react to issues on the basis of whether or not they have any direct bearing on them at the personal or communal level. Nowhere is this more self-evident than on the social media, where issues that should ordinarily concern us all as human beings and as compatriots, are no longer dispassionately analysed and debated purely on the basis of what is right or wrong. It is now very common to see fellow Nigerians, including, sadly, products of Federal Government Colleges, taking delight in needlessly insulting and tearing one another apart, as they often view issues through the narrow prism of ethnic and/or religious affiliations, thereby making a complete mockery of the noble idea behind the entire concept of unity schools.

Things are now so bad, to the extent that once something does not affect us or our community directly, some of us even go to the bizarre extent of publicly gloating over a misfortune that may befall another community. In essence, any nation building and nationalism research fellow in search of clear examples on how NOT to build a nation need not go any further than a social media site frequented by Nigerians to obtain tonnes of them! But the pertinent question we must all ask ourselves is: where on earth is the common humanity that we all share? Each and every one of us must have at one time or another come across the age-old mantra that says, what affects one affects all. So, when and how did things get this bad? Whatever happened to the popular creed about being our brother’s keeper?

In his very famous and provocative post-war period poem, the German theologian, Martin Niemoller (1892 - 1984), had copiously addressed the cowardice and possible complicity of the German intellectuals and members of the clergy, following the Nazi’s rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen target, group after group, when he wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out -

Because I was not a Trade Unionist

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me

The import of the inherent lessons embedded in Niemoller’s highly instructive poem must never be lost on us. This is because any lingering notion in the minds of some of us that the ongoing insurgency campaign is a localised affair, having been ‘successfully contained’ in a particular section of the country (as if to suggest that Nigerians living in those places are not entitled to live their lives in peace!), would have quickly evaporated with the apparent expansion of the theatre of violence to other areas hitherto considered safe.

Moreover, with the present high rate of mobility among the nation’s population, it does not really matter who you are or where you come from; all that is required for any of us to fall victim to these precipitate acts of violence - be they on account of the insurgency, armed robbery, kidnap (whether for ransom or for ritual purposes), ethnic, communal or religious crises - is simply for one to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Not even those  in high places appear to be safe anymore, as many of them have equally fallen prey to the antics of the kidnappers, who appear to be targeting their parents, siblings, spouses and children for handsome ransom pay-offs. Violence, it would seem, no longer discriminates.

We must, therefore, endeavour to put all our differences aside and take advantage of our collective resentment towards this latest kidnap saga to work together to end the ongoing madness, in all its various forms, and halt our agonizingly slow but gradual advance on this perilous journey along the dreadful road to our own Golgotha. Indeed, as the famous China-based US novelist, Pearl Buck (1892 - 1973), rightly observed, "every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied". That critical half-way moment for us, it would appear, is right now. May God, in his infinite mercy, save us from ourselves by granting us the courage to seize the moment, while we still can, and arrest this needless and avoidable slide along the dangerous path to our self-inflicted ruination!                                         

Abdullahi Usman                                                          
(April 30, 2014)