Outrage over Jonathan’s failure to halt own election rallies despite Ebola warning

Prof Chidi Odinkalu

Civil rights and political activists have expressed outrage over President Goodluck Jonathan’s failure to halt ongoing political rallies organised by Transformation Association of Nigeria [TAN] for his re-election despite the President personally warning against such large gatherings as part of measures to check the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease in Nigeria.

TAN has held two rallies in Awka, Anambra State in the South East and Ibadan, Oyo State in the South West zones the last one week, urging Mr. Jonathan to join the presidential race. It plans to hold more in other geo-political zones in the weeks ahead.

The rallies, which have had top government officials and presidential aides in attendance, were held despite Mr. Jonathan’s directive earlier in the month asking religious and political groups as well as other bodies to discourage gatherings and activities that could provide platforms for close contacts with those likely infected by the dreaded disease.

The Lagos State Government, through its Health Commissioner, Jide Idris, also gave similar advice.

Critics are now accusing the president of double standard for doing nothing to stop the campaigns for his re-election, even when the health emergency in the country as well as the electoral law prohibit such political gatherings at this time.

Lagos lawyer and activist, Femi Falana, expressed anger that the presidential directive banning political rallies, religious gatherings and other large assemblies on account of the highly contagious Ebola virus had been undermined by Mr. Jonathan’s own political exigencies.

“The official rallies are required to assist President Jonathan to make up his mind to contest the 2015 general election. The rallies are illegal as they are in violation of the electoral Act 2010 (as amended) which stipulates that campaign for the presidential election will commence in October this year,” he said.

The activists, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES in separate interviews on Monday, lampooned Mr. Jonathan for allowing TAN to proceed with its rallies despite his advice discouraging mass gatherings to avoid the spread of the Ebola virus.

Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, warned that unless the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was prepared to enforce the provisions of the law, the official impunity would continue.

“It is hoped that the organisers of the rallies will stop them on legal and moral grounds,” he added.

The Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Chidi Odinkalu, noted that consistency was essential for the credibility of governance.

“We can’t have one rule for well-connected political and religious gatherings or the NBA and another for schools and poor people,” he stated.

“That has the potential to bring the so far reassuring efforts government has deployed against Ebola into disrepute.”

The Chairman, Partner for Electoral Reform, Ezenwa Nwagwu who also lamented the development said the rallies were being held without obstruction because “there are two sets of laws in Nigeria, one for those in authority and another for those that are not in authority”.

According to Mr. Nwagwu, a member of the just-concluded National Conference, in spite of the directive, it was those in government and prominent individuals that have ignored the directives to check the spread of the Ebola virus.

“They have the tendency to violate the directives. They go about shaking hands despite these directives. We see them on national television doing that,” he stressed.

Also speaking, an opposition politician, Osita Okechukwu, said he was not surprised the government was turning a blind eye to its own directive.

He noted that apart from violating the directives on Ebola disease, TAN was also violating Section 99 (1) of the Electoral Act 2006, which states that “the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 90 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day”.

Mr. Okechukwu, who is a member of the All Progressives Congress [APC] added, “A party that has sworn to rule for 60 years whether it performed or not is likely to behave like Sani Abacha. Is there any difference between what Abacha did and what they are doing? Is it not the same people who sponsored the Abacha rallies that are sponsoring these ones?”

The Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, Auwal Rafsanjani, said it was irresponsible for government to allow the TAN rallies in spite of the health consequences and the security challenges, occasioned by the breakout of Ebola and the Boko Haram insurgency.

He expressed concern about the inconsistencies displayed by government towards their own guidelines in favour of its officials, insisting that it was not in the spirit of democracy and human rights.

“There is no compliance with the rule of law in this country,” Mr. Rafsanjani said. “If it was another group they would have been arrested. This rally is about the president. It is really bad, the selective treatment is really bad.”

A university lecturer, Tunde Akanni, said government’s defiance of its own directive is not surprising because it had always demonstrated the inclination to act on impulse and therefore insincerity most of the times.

“With this TAN’s public posturing, all religious, social, trade and possibly professional organizations will henceforth continue to organise large gatherings as if Ebola has receded into the background,” Mr. Akanni, who teaches journalism at the Lagos State University, said.

“In fact the same way this government has had to shamefully withdraw from its earlier decision to rename UNILAG as Moshood Abiola University, Lagos-MAULAG-, it won’t do anything to immortalize Dr. Adadevoh who did everything to save the nation from the calamitous situation we may have been plunged into.

“It’s worth noting that this government now has the reputation of being the one with highest number of committees without any result.”

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