By Louis Odion
Not too long ago, he ruffled the Nigerian feather following the leaking of his side-talk in London with the British monarch. Footage captured by an eavesdropping television cameraman had gone viral. Looking a bit tipsy after what many in Abuja would imagine to be one glass too many, Prime Minister David Cameron sensationally declared that citizens of Nigeria, Britain’s biggest former colony on the African continent, “are fantastically corrupt”.
But gutted by the outcome of the Brexit referendum last weekend with its apocalyptic consequences for what was once the imperial British empire, this is obviously the darkest hour in Cameron’s political career and perhaps one of those harrowing moments he would wish he never sought tenancy at No 10, Downing Street. Or took the needless gamble to conduct the national poll in which a slim majority voted the United Kingdom out the European Union. Resulting in what is arguably the biggest blow after World War II to the European quest to foster greater unity.
Poor Cameron, if only fate had made him Prime Minister of the very country he had so fantastically derided, he would not have found himself in this sort of mess. And if he did, sundry escape routes would sure be open for a quick getaway. Were he a Nigerian leader, he, to begin with, would have long ago classified membership of EU as “non-negotiable” and branded those agitating otherwise as “subversive elements” out to undermine the golden legacy of “our heroes past”.
In fact, members of Cameron’s party – or ethnic group – would have complemented that with a far more emotive argument that the proponents had indeed been commissioned to either distract or destabilize or derail the sitting government. Why now?, they would cry. To be sure, someone would be thoughtful enough to rush to the court and obtain an injunction – preferably perpetual – against further touting, if not contemplation, of that very idea.
So, from the official angle, the odds would have been deliberately stacked so high against the proposal of plebiscite. In the event that did not work, efforts would then be calibrated in such a manner to give the notion of opinion poll a bad name. Before anything else, leaders of the ruling party would have helped themselves to the raft of contracts for the supply of both software and hardware for the polls, with those that lost out in the bazaar resorting to self-help by simply blowing the whistle, inviting public scrutiny of the entire process.
If there was no such in-fighting, there still could be the chance that the “emergency contractors” would fail to deliver on time or the right quality, thus leaving the window ajar for another sort of litigation after the exercise. If precedents already set by many sub-national governments on creation of more local councils are enough guide, then what would have transpired on the appointed day for the said referendum would simply have been a kangaroo exercise in which fully incentivized state officials would be at liberty to allocate figures to fit a pre-determined outcome.
Whichever side the pendulum eventually swung, heavy dust would still have been raised. Just as the final ballot was being counted at the collation centre, someone would have rushed out to read a pre-written letter of protest, calling for outright cancellation. Perceived sundry irregularities would have been painstakingly listed. With a straight face, someone was likely to report that lots of underage voters were paid to thumbprint ballots at several locations. Or, someone would not consider it out of place to allege “computerized fraud” and “smuggling of mercenary voters” to a particular polling centre.
Against this murky backcloth, the stage would thus have been set for Cameron to exercise his power of discretion in the overall “national interest”. Either way, it would still be a win-win case for the incumbent. In view of the humiliating loss suffered by the incumbent party in the exercise, two clearly marked escape routes would be open to him. He would be at liberty to summarily annul the entire process, citing “overwhelming” evidence of irregularities.
But in case he was able to resist the temptation of that option, it still would remain his preserve to snatch victory from the jaw of defeat. Without any scruple or shame, a spin would then be brought to the matter. The Prime Minister would simply have declared that he was exceedingly humbled by the clarity of the voice of the majority that the country exit the union, even though that conflicted with the personal view he had humbly expressed during the campaign.
“My people have spoken,” he would then declare in summary, setting the tone for the clincher. “And where my people stand is where I will stand as their humble steward. Let us therefore see today as historic and an affirmation of the supremacy of the bottom-up approach to democracy. In short, permit me to reaffirm my resolve to continue to lead our people in the direction they want to go.”
Such transparent duplicity!
On a lighter note still, the following joke allegedly made by the inimitable President Robert Mugabe after the Brexit polls has been making the rounds on the social media in the past few days. It goes thus:
“The colonials are reaping what they deserve now; for the Lord is not a God of injustice. For as they have wrongly and unjustly divided Africa and raped our natural resources; so would God divide their households.
“Today, fantastic stupidity is when an idiot cynically calls for an unnecessary referendum in furtherance of his personal ambition and not only lose the vote, but end up disuniting the country, partially unbundle the European Union, make the world’s financial markets lose $2 trillion in a few hours, as well as lose his job to boot.
“What do I know…I was here when he came to office; I am still here as he shamefully leaves office.”
But make no mistake about it: Cameron had to offer resignation not necessarily out of his free will, but more to the dictation of a political culture that imposes personal responsibility for choices made and in submission to the awesome weight of durable institutions of democracy that cannot be easily manipulated.
That is the supreme lesson we should take away from the Brexit mishap.