On the morning of 25 February 2023 when the presidential election was to take place, I was at a polling unit as an election observer. Whilst there I ran into a former colleague, a Yoruba woman who also lives in Abuja and had come to cast her vote. It was clear from the banters and the reminiscences we exchanged and shared that her mind was already made up to vote for Peter Obi. Then, as the voting got underway, there was an incident in one of the polling booths where another voter, a very young Igbo chap who wanted to cast his vote for Bola Tinubu, mistakenly cast it for Peter Obi. He fell into wailing and loud lamentations, and was only consoled after the rest of his friends told him that everyone in that polling booth was casting their vote in favour of the candidate that he wanted to vote for. At the end of voting on that day, however, it became very clear that in spite of where they came from, the voters overwhelmingly had a preferred candidate.
For me, that scenario, where the Igbo, Yoruba, and I guess the many other tribes and tongues who are Abuja residents, got together to vote anyone they preferred without clannish considerations was clearly an indicator that Nigerians were together in their resolve to overthrow a regime that inflicted pain and suffering on them. That election, in Abuja at least, was not about where you come from, or the language you speak or the religion you bow to; it was an election where Nigerians irrespective of their geography and topography or biology or their economics, wanted a new lease and deal.
And was that not what we have all along been fighting to attain in Nigeria? Is that not one of the plans those who moved Nigeria’s capital from Lagos to Abuja wanted to achieve – that there would be a ‘centre of unity’, where the various tribes and tongues would unite to move Nigeria forward? Is that not what the military president of Nigeria, IBB, meant when he often talked about the New Breed of politicians?
There is one other country, the United States, that has tried over the centuries to cultivate this idea. They call it the American Dream, that is, that nobody cares what skin colour, what language or what religion you profess. But as long as you have decided to adopt that country as your home and have decided to work to make the United States succeed; as long as you have that burning sensation in your heart to succeed and become the best, the US welcomes you with open arms and puts everything at your disposal to succeed.
There were two things that the people who gave that September 6, 2023 judgement did not appear to take into consideration when they insinuated that Abuja has no unique status in Nigeria. One, they were basically premising their decision on a mere conjunctive or disjunctive application of AND, and perhaps they had not realized that those Shakespearean templates for interpretations of that word AND had already been discarded since 1957. They appear not to realize that the interpretation of English words and linguistic analysis no longer give sustained and serious attention to the primitive potentials of the eight or ten parts of speech. Two, is the constitution in question not said to rest on two platforms – the spirit and the letter? If the idea that that section indicated from the letters of the law that Abuja has no special or unique position in Nigeria, what then is the deeper interpretation of the position of Abuja as it is identified in the 1999 Constitution (as amended)? Did the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) consider the semantic implications of that section of the Constitution before they made their judgement?
My fellow countrymen and women, I must tell you that what Section 134 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended) was really trying to say is that for a candidate to be truly Nigerian president, he or she must be seen to be a reflection of the dream of Nigeria. It was not about the numbers or letters but the concept or the spirit behind the designation of Abuja as either unique or special or what have you.
It is the idea of the Nigerian Dream that makes Abuja different from places like Sokoto or Ekiti or Anambra where the tribe and tongue and religion would be the determining factors in an election. But all of that wish – that Abuja would be the city that carries the idea of the unity or oneness of Nigeria – was what was recently flushed down the toilet by the judgement of the PEPT.
On February 25, 2023 all the Nigerian tribes and tongues in Abuja dropped their tongues and religious and ethnic preferences and spoke with one voice. They were not interested in what the other states said during the elections, but Abuja spoke with one voice on that day.
We have already begun to bear the brunt of that very injudicious call on Abuja by the PEPT. Certain groups are already calling for the sack of the FCT Minister and his replacement with a governor. From that September 6, 2023 PEPT decision, it will only be expedient that there must evolve a new Abuja that is not in any way special or unique, and which must have a House of Assembly and the appurtenances and apparatchik of governance very common to other states in Nigeria.
The PEPT decision shot Abuja dead point blank range, and I mean that the very idea of this city being a boiling pot of beans, where every bean would have had the opportunity to reach the top, is gone.
*Etemiku is editor in chief of WADONOR, cultural voice of Nigeria.