PERSPECTIVE – Onaiyekan and his stripes

Mr. Sola Ebiseni

By Sola Ebiseni

IT wasn’t surprising that His Eminence, Archbishop Emeritus of the Abuja Catholic Archdiocese, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, took his turn on the swipes that the unbridled brats of the ruling APC appear to have reserved for eminent Nigerians who are suspected not to worship at the altar of their political god. Hosted by Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily, His Eminence was asked his thoughts on the political situation in the country now that “the elections have come and gone”.

The former president of the Christian Association of Nigeria responded as follows: “You started by saying that the elections have come and gone, I’m just wondering: is the election over? I am saying this because, according to the Electoral Law, the election is not over until it is over, and there are cases in court that have not been disposed of. That is why we are in an anomalous situation. We have a declared president-elect whose election is being challenged, and the courts are handling it.

I think I am entitled to take the position that I am still waiting for the courts to tell me who won the election. That is why I said we are in an anomalous situation, and I am one of those who have been saying that it doesn’t make much sense to be swearing in people when they are still in court. I know it has happened with governors, but the outcome has really not been the best of all cases.

I think we ought to review our election process; so we do have a winner who will be sworn in and whom everybody would rally around. My problem is that the whole system of our election must be properly reviewed so that it will be easier for winners to emerge according to the wishes of the people. It is a pity that it is taking longer for the court to come to its decision. It is not right to have a system that is constantly contested. We should find out why every election is being contested.”

These opening tips of the iceberg of a 43-minute, 38-second interview, which addressed myriads of national issues, were what the hawks of the ruling party needed, like Herodias and her daughter did to John the Baptist, to literally demand that the head of the man of God be brought in on a platter for allegedly daring their own Herod.

If the opinion of a reasonable person remains the standard test of judicial inquiry to determine public opinion, only a negligible percentage of Nigerian society will see anything wrong with the thoughts just expressed by the eminent Catholic cleric. Cardinal Onaiyekan was quite mild and diplomatic in his view; several millions of his compatriots do not subscribe to the notion of a president-elect.

Most realistic and reasonable Nigerians and the world community are  actually waiting for the courts to tell them who won the election. In other words, the preponderance of reasonable opinion is that it does not make much sense to swear in people when they are still in court; in this case, a president who will be inaugurated by the oath of office administered by the Chief Justice before whose courts the election is still being contested.

Only a negligible fraction of the population is taken in by the theories of separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary in a country where the president is the most powerful under the foisted military Constitution. Truth be told, our courts, particularly in recent times, have not fared well in the opinion of the public, especially in political cases. When the politician whose election is being questioned is in the Nigerian presidential seat, the judiciary is more in dire straits, as it is expected not only to do justice but that justice must also be seen to have been done.

The apprehension that those who insist that the cases be dispensed with before inauguration are promoters of an interim government is the other side of the same coin, with those seeking undue advantage in their candidate being sworn in to oversee the affairs of the nation when the process of his election is being subjected to constitutional test in court.

None of the two can lay claim to legitimacy in the opinion of reasonable people in society. The APC inadvertently recognised Onaiyekan as “a statesman who doubles as a man of God should strive to be fair to all”. His only offence is that he “didn’t say the same thing when Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan, and Buhari were all sworn in as presidents when their cases were still before the courts”.

They failed to acknowledge that Nigerian society has at least moved from the era of Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan, and Buhari, when election cases could continue ad infinitum, to the era where the Constitution has been amended to peg the time for the determination of election cases. Thus, like Onaiyekan, those who reason that the processes should be exhausted before inauguration are only urging that the progress made so far be followed to its logical conclusion. After all, there is no law that says we must extend the determination of the cases beyond the inauguration. Those bemoaning the conclusion of the cases before the inauguration knew what they were doing when they deliberately sabotaged the technological devices which would have guaranteed the credibility of the election and made verification easier for the determination of disputes.

That was why, rather than show remorse for embarrassing Nigerians and our friends, they found solace abroad, shamelessly distorting facts about the election and using their influence to misinterpret our Constitution so as to justify their motives. Nothing is more brash than the hogwash of telling the eminent clergy man that “you have chosen to single out this President-Elect @officialABAT this time around because the candidate you and your other religious brethren openly supported lost the election and you all feel humiliated and embarrassed”.

Very soon, like they did for Ayo Adebanjo and Obasanjo, they will tell the world not only that Onaiyekan is supporting Peter Obi but also find an Igbo mother or father for him to drive home their theory. Like the Cardinal, several well-meaning personalities have expressed opinions about the capacities and needs of the tribunals to end the petitions before the inauguration.

These include Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association; the Afenifere, and several civil society organisations. Cardinal Onaiyekan has proven a credible and courageous voice in national affairs. On several occasions, he did not spare the Obasanjo administration, especially when the notion of a third term agenda gained momentum in national discourse. Unlike these intolerant brats, at no time did OBJ or that administration descend on the Kabba Kogi State- born religious leader.

In the course of the Channels TV interview, he actually reminded his audience thus: “If you allow me to explain why I am talking the way I am, I belong to a church that has the principle that politics is based on the whole idea that leadership is service, that politics is a noble but difficult art; not everybody should be in politics, but those who go into politics should not go thinking of their own convenience but be ready to sacrifice themselves for the common good to the glory of God”.

Continuing, he said: “Religion is an asset for the good of the people. I am a Catholic and a Cardinal, I have no apology about who I am”. May the shadow of my Lord, the Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, never grow less. By these your stripes, may our nation be healed.

Nigeria, we hail thee.

  • Ebiseni is the Secretary General, Afenifere and South-West Coordinator, OBIDATTI Campaign Organisation.
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