The Presidency and opposition parties led by the All Progressives Congress, on Monday, took their battle for the 2015 elections to far away Washington D.C., in the United States of America as a forum on Nigeria’s preparations for the 2015 elections degenerated to a war of words, after opposition leaders in the country pointed at alleged failings of President Goodluck Jonathan in governance and his sincerity towards free and fair elections.
The forum held under the auspices of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS nearly boiled over after Dr. Doyin Okupe who led the presidency and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, delegation warned opposition politicians not to bring the personality of the president into the forum.
Dr. Okupe who had started by claiming that he would not wash the country’s dirty linen in public, however, exploded when Lai Mohammed, the All Progressives Congress, APC, spokesman hinted at the administration’s failure to address transparency issues including the alleged missing $20 billion oil revenue and indiscretions by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC as failings of the government.
“Alhaji Lai Mohammed should not cast aspersions on the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria because if he does that, he knows me and what I can do,” Okupe said as he went on to project the 2011 elections as the best in the country’s history which he said, were only dented by violence inspired by opposition politicians.
Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States, Prof. Ade Adefuye in his summary of the discussions, however, praised the two sides saying that the articulation of the two parties was reflective of the high level of political discourse in Nigeria. He nevertheless warned the two sides not to wash the country’s image in public even as he raised questions about Nigerians coming to discuss their country in the United States.
Okupe had a Senior Special Assistant to the President, Sanya Awosan and Fred Majemite, Political Adviser to the Governor of Delta State on the panel while the APC had Mohammed and Senator Babafemi Ojodu, APC, Ekiti Central.
The event was attended by Nigerian professionals, American specialists on Africa and state department officials among others.
Among others present at the event were Dr. Usman Bugaje, former senior aide to the vice-president in the Olusegun Obasanjo administration; Oma Djebah, senior adviser to the governor of Delta State on foreign relations.
The PDP National Chairman, Adamu Mu‘azu was excused on the basis of a caucus meeting in Abuja and Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State was similarly excused following the killing of more than 100 persons in the state, last weekend.
Noting the APC’s preparations for the 2015 election, Mohammed pointed at ongoing congresses to choose party officials and the roll out of a road map to lead Nigeria out of the malaise of unemployment, insecurity among other issues bothering on lack of transparency in the management of the economy and the electoral process.
Okupe immediately faulted Mohammed as he said that he did not come to discuss the president’s performance, noting that he had “reservations about discussing our internal problems abroad,” and warned Mohammed, who he had earlier embraced before the commencement of the discussions not to comment on the personality of the president.
Jenniefer Cooke, Director of the CSIS Africa programme who moderated the discussions from that point intervened as both sides tried to showcase the failings of one another.
Senator Ojudu specifically cited the unwillingness of the PDP majority in the legislature to project good bills to consolidate democracy and faulted President Jonathan’s refusal to give assent to the State of the Nation address.
Faulting Okupe’s assertion that the problems of Nigeria should be internalised, Ojudu said: “We cannot be an island of our own”.
Okupe from time to time teased the APC team on what he called the lack of internal democracy, saying that the party was quick to suppress the mandate of parties who won in the last local government elections in Lagos State.
Cooke was forced to intervene after Okupe raised issues on Mohammed’s assertion of the administration’s failures to address the spate of insecurity inspired by the Boko Haram Islamic group.
“Insurgency is not a matter that can be politicised but unfortunately the government of the day has not been able to distinguish between the message and the messenger,” as the opposition politicians faulted the president’s failure to visit the war ravaged sections of the Northeast.
Okupe intervening hollered, “I do not expect you to come to this forum to raise these issues, it is nonsense,” he said.
The CSIS forum continued last night with sessions between the Nigerian politicians and state department officials.
Sessions would also be held today with other democracy building institutions based in America and meetings with senior officials of the Barack Obama administration.