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President Goodluck’s Magnanimity Has Made History – Prof. Tamajong 

The erstwhile Secretary General of the Social Democratic Front, SDF, Prof. Elizabeth Tamajong, has stated that the magnanimity demonstrated by the outgoing President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, by congratulating the incoming Muhammadu Buhari, after the March 28 polls, has gone down into the annals of history. Prof. Tamajong, who was a member of a delegation of the US-based National Democratic Institute, NDI, that observed the elections in Nigeria, made the declaration to The Post in an exclusive interview in Yaounde over the weekend. Among other things, she talked of the lessons learnt from the democratic elections in Nigeria and what Cameroon can gain from that experience.

Professor, you observed the Nigeria elections on behalf of the National Democratic Institute, NDI, What are the lessons you brought back home?

The lessons are many. The first one is the use of biometric registration, biometric accreditation of voters, biometric voting and then counting of votes. Another lesson is the organisation by the Independent National Elections Commission, INEC. They had full powers for the organisation, registration of voters, publication of the list, arrangement on the voting day and also presenting the results. It was the INEC Chairperson, Professor Atahiru Jega who presented the results before they will be validated by the Court, unlike what happens in Cameroon. Let me go back on the voting day proper. On this day, the polls were opened at exactly 7.00am. You see that Nigerians were determined, they were very enthusiastic.

What is your reading of the general conduct of the election?

The election was peaceful, compared to that of 2011. In 2011, you had the police and the military involved. They were blocking people, but, this time, it was so peaceful that only the police were involved. When I say involved, it does not mean that they were interfering in the polling station. No! They stayed clear away from the polls. They just made sure that people came up on time. They respected the law. When the polls started they made use of a machine called ‘Card reader’.

What is this card reader machine?

You come with your biometric card; they will swap it inside the card reader to actually make sure that this is your card. After that, you now go to the finger print identification which again will identify your finger print because you know that no two people will be having that same finger print. They tick your name, they verify again to make sure the finger print matches the picture and name on the card register. What really struck me is that you stay where you are because the verification accreditation ended at 1.00pm. So, they say when you have registered or done everything, you stay put. And what happened is that the last person who was supposed to be accredited, they made sure that a policeman was placed behind him so that nobody could come after 1.30pm when voting started. This measure, I learned, blocked the buying of voter cards in Nigeria. When INEC came out with this issue of verification of cards, we were even told by politicians who we interviewed, that people who bought those cards gave them back because they could not use them. This policy stopped multiple voting. In some places where voting started at 11.00am, voters sat there and made sure their votes were counted under their watchful eyes … they said it clearly that they wanted change. What struck me again was the word change. When Buhari came with this group of politicians, some ministers and some officials decamped from PDP, the ruling party to join the APC. So, he used the word ‘change’ and Nigerians already told them that they were fed-up because, since 1991, they were being ruled by one party. I now thought of what happened in Cameroon in 1990-1991. We want change! Another thing was the way people voted. They had a preferential treatment for pregnant women, the elderly, the physically challenged and nursing mothers. You could see the careful way they attended to them.

What won your admiration during the pre-electoral period?

The signing of the Peace Agreement which both parties respected scrupulously. The Peace Agreement was brokered by the former UN Scribe, Koffi Annan. The former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Emeka Anyaoku; chaired another peace deal between parties. The former General Abdusalami, enabled the parties to sign another Peace Agreement. So, Nigerians wanted to make sure that these two parties; the two leaders; General Buhari and President Goodluck respect their words. They warned that if they don’t respect what they have signed, they will be the first to be lynched by the people and so, you could see determination. This group called Quick Count TMG (Transition Monitoring Group), had musicians like 2Face, Chedima; all of them came out and they had their slogan: “vote, no fight” “election nobi war”. All the segments in Nigeria didn’t want to see any bloodshed. The TMG is made up of over 400 other Civil Society Oganisations. It is good for you to know that more than 80 percent are youth who don’t belong to any party. They said they don’t want affiliation. They don’t want to be corrupted by the politicians. They were out to make sure that there is change in Nigeria and that change must be spearheaded by youths. They wanted to be part of the change.

What was the most democratic value in the election that caught your attention?

Let me talk to you about the former Senate President of Nigeria, Hon. Senator Ken Nnamani. He said when Obasanjo was President of Nigeria; he tried to change the Constitution to prolong his stay in power. At that time, this gentleman was the President of the Senate. They were from the same political party, the PDP, but Ken Nnamani botched Obassajo’s move. That was a democratic and a patriotic move. Tell me, if Marcel Niat Njifenji, President of the Senate, or the Speaker of the National Assembly, Cavaye Yeguie Djibril, can do any such thing in Cameroon, that is; blocking a bill from President Paul Biya. I learned that a group of 100 MPs signed a petition on Dual Nationality but they were called and bullied. That is what stressed me. I savoured the humility with which Ken Nnamani received us.

What is the democratic aspect of the polls that impressed you most?

The most democratic aspect as, I said, was the use of electronic equipment because it actually curbed fraud. You could verify. That is real biometrics compared to what we have here. You bring your card and swap into the machine and if you are not the one, you are rejected. The elections went on peacefully. During the counting, it was so transparent. They sorted out all the papers and the rejected ones put aside where everybody was seeing. The place was set for everyone to sit for the counting. In all the polling stations there were canopies and they voted in schools. No barracks! No Fon’s palaces!

What of the outgoing President accepting defeat before the declaration of final results?

After the counting, everybody sat down, they gave your paper and you signed the results. You know this thing about war and civil unrest; Nigerians have lived this and they were unsure – doubting whether the two leaders were going to respect their engagement. When results were still being collected that March 31, around 5.15pm, when Jonathan’s team saw that Buhari was winning, President Goodluck immediately called General Buhari and said; “Mr. President, congratulations for your victory.” That is historical – a thing that has never been done in Nigeria. Most of the time, the incumbent insisted and used all means to win at all cost. We heaved a sigh of relief because the single act of magnanimity from President Goodluck has made history in Nigeria. What elated me was the fact that Buhari thanked President Jonathan, saying he is a true Statesman. He said what he has done has written his name in the annals of history. President Goodluck also thanked the Nigerian people by saying: “My fellow brothers and sisters of Nigeria, I promised giving you free and fair elections. I am happy, I am satisfied that I have done that. I promised bringing democracy and I have done so. It should not only end here, it should last and it should go down in history that PDP and not only Jonathan brought transparency, peace and honesty in Nigerian elections and I will still ensure my brothers that I will cooperate with the new President.” He called on the PDP party members to be rejoicing because they have taken democracy to a higher rung in Nigeria. He said no politician is more worthy than the blood of a Nigerian. He said he has heard people saying ‘I have done this and that,’ nobody should do something foolish. We did everything according to our Constitution. If you are not satisfied, follow the Constitutional procedures, he said. And then, in response, Buhari came up and thanked Jonathan and the Nigerian people. He said; “I am going to govern Nigeria, I am not going to rule.” You know when he was a General, people said he was harsh and wicked. This time, he decided to take another dimension. He said he will need the help of Jonathan. You know it is not just him, Buhari, it is a coalition of other political parties that came together to vote for APC. At first, his party was All Nigerians People’s Party and when the coalition came, they now changed it to APC. And he came and said; “You wanted change, change has come.” This implies he will need everybody on board for Nigeria to change. Before I left, all Nigerians were happy. Everybody said Jonathan is even a bigger winner of the election. There is something that I learned in Nigeria. It is not the winner that takes it all. There will be power-sharing because the PDP has an upper hand in the House of Representatives, that is, in the National Assembly and Senate. So, right now, it will be difficult for General Buhari to be high-handed. The two parties have to work together for the interest of Nigeria. What I noticed was that there were 14 parties that went in for the elections, so, it is now clear that there are two parties in Nigeria – PDP and APC. The lesson I want Cameroonians to learn is that ELECAM is a toothless dog as compared to INEC. Nigerians speak their minds. Nobody arrests them. But in Cameroon, people cannot even talk because of fear. I went there and came back with something because I love my country, I was born a Cameroonian, I shall remain a Cameroonian and die a Cameroonian. And if I see anything good that I can bring to my country, I will not hesitate to say it anywhere. So, we should start learning. Those at the Assembly should stand up and put up this country. I repeat what I said five years ago, history will judge whoever blocked democracy in this country. We need to learn from others and Nigeria is an example. When we talk of vision 2035, we should be ready for positive criticisms. It also goes for the opposition. If the opposition cannot swallow their pride and come together, we will never defeat the CPDM. They should not allow petit-petit things to separate them. In Nigeria, they come from different backgrounds but they are there because they are determined for that change. Until we begin to accept our own faults and bringing out proposals that will take us ahead, this vision 2035 will just be a dream.

What are the effects of this election on Cameroon?

Cameroonians should learn to fight for change. I was also happy with the Nigerian Union of Journalists. They met with us. You don’t let anybody give you money because, once somebody starts sponsoring you from the Government, you become weak. And I saw private individuals who are billionaires sponsoring good initiatives. They sponsor networks because of the love and patriotism. Only few Cameroonians are not patriotic. We should stop telling lies. The Government of the ruling party and the opposition should learn to accept the truth and move on because positive criticisms are to build. We should review our electoral system. We should now see if the electoral body we put in place could be revised. In Nigeria, those who made up the electoral body are mostly academicians full with humility.

What can you say are the bearings of Buhari’s victory on Cameroon?

Cameroonians now need to start thinking of new strategies to defeat Boko Haram, because, with the Boko Haram thing, Buhari had promised that he was going to solve the problem. As soon as they declared him winner, Jonathan gave his speech, within 10 minutes; people came demonstrating in front of the hotel chanting; “bring back our girls!” So, he has a challenge to bring back the [Choibok] girls and handle Boko Haram. Now, Cameroon has to deal with this northern factor. Some Cameroonians are also following up to see how this Boko Haram thing can be solved.

You rate democracy in Nigeria as being on a very high pedestal. What does Cameroon need to be where Nigeria is today and how long will it take?

Where there is a will, there is a way. It does not take all that long. If we want the election of 2018 to be transparent, we have to; first of all; reform ELECAM, because already, there is a conflict between the Chairperson and the Director. Review the policy of ELECAM, give them the full power to organise elections and let it be real electronic without all the fraud where people are buying and distributing cards at will.

Any last appeal?

I am appealing to all to demonstrate humility and learn, for nobody is too old to learn – you learn until the day you die. How can we have free, fair and transparent elections in Cameroon? Can we accept defeat when the opponent wins? ELECAM should really be empowered from the registration, organisation to the proclamation of election results as INEC did in Nigeria.

Interviewed By Yerima Kini Nsom

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