By Richard Dirim Odu
Every Nigerian, irrespective of party affiliation, jubilated after a successful conduct of the 2015 elections which got the greatest hype in the history of the nation. The euphoria had cut across board, not so for the feelings that the new set of politicians who have taken over the mantle of leadership are the confirmed messiahs, but far more that the forecast of mayhem after the election did not come to pass.
Many, especially the international community, feared a cataclysm of unfathomable dimension as tension rose in the March 28, 2015, presidential polls. Some predicted that President Goodluck Jonathan was going to be the last president of a united Nigeria while it appeared as if the May 29, 2015, handover date was not going to be.
For 17 years, in a post-military era, Nigeria has managed to maintain its democracy, however wobbly it has been. The country has undergone various elections which were seen to be flawed in certain respects. The beauty of it is that in spite of these imperfections, the military had allowed the system to sanitize itself rather than rush to the rescue through coup d’état as it were in the past. As for the last elections, we cannot pretend that a lot of irregularities played up in its conduct. Only the blind could claim not to have seen the army of kid voters, the falsification of figures, the intimidation of opponents’ supporters and the like which went on in a large scale.
Be that as it may, winners emerged and have been fully in control for one year plus. It may be more appropriate to refer to those who could not realize their ambition to be one thing or the other in government as “the unelected” rather than “losers”, for the real losers are yet to emerge. They would emerge after their tenure and they would be among the supposedly chosen ones – those who are likely to fritter away the public goodwill bestowed on them and perform poorly. Recount the present condition of the likes of James Ibori, the late Diebriye Alamieseigha, Lucky Igbinedion and others who won elections and lost their dignity years after. They won elections quite alright, but they became losers after.
It is of essence, however, that this hard earned democracy be continuously reviewed to strengthen it for posterity. The unrelenting presence of separatist movements in the country has seriously put to question the so-called democracy which the government professes.
In every democracy, the electoral process has always mattered so much. It is for this reason that much is expected from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the umpire in the nation’s political contests. Dysfunctional card readers and inadequate distribution of permanent voter’s cards, as well as registration of under-aged voters, besides selling out and deliberate falsification of figures by INEC officials, are the major flaws recorded against INEC in the 2015 elections. Indeed, a full-blown electronic voting system is more desirable than the use of dysfunctional card readers that, at best, serve us the way the low voltage supply of electricity serves our electrical appliances.
As for the haphazard distribution of voter’s cards, one wonders why INEC always waits for four years before commencement of the review of voters’ lists and preparation of their cards. How rational is it to fix the exercise within a time frame? Why can’t it be a continuous exercise in which anyone who attains the voting age walks into any INEC office with proof and gets a smooth registration and instantly obtains the card? Why won’t the system be flexible enough to allow any eligible voter to cast his vote in any part of the country regardless of the polling booth of registration?
Also, the nation’s electoral statute book needs to be retouched, especially where it grants politicians unfettered liberty to change parties as they do with their underwear. It is against morality and natural justice for a politician to climb to a position of power and give the party that served as his ladder the boot without losing the position. Such immorality should not be condoned by the government. Under such a condition, parties are rendered rather irrelevant, giving credence to the postulation that Nigeria has only ONE PARTY and that the party is nameless. The thinking is that this “party” is constituted by the most powerful people in Nigeria found in PDP, APC and others. They use these acronyms to hoodwink the masses and as tools for their machinations. Members of the faceless cabal use the parties like spanners to tighten or loosen whatever nuts and bolts they need to deal with, in line with their whims. If our democracy is to really qualify as a government of the people, for the people and by the people, it must be extricated from the grips of these powerful men and must be made to be robust in dialogue, negotiations, give and take, and statesmanship.
For this democracy to make meaning there ought to be a good measure of freedom under which autonomy is guaranteed to groups and ethnic nationalities. Absolutism is a negation of democracy, just as the system is not always a game of numbers. We cannot describe as democracy a situation where a majority votes to dispossess a minority of their economic rights. It is not also the making of laws that are skewed to favour a section of the country. In a union where democracy thrives, egalitarianism prevails and there is mutual cooperation, not the “Jonah in the belly of a fish” kind of union. Nigeria professes federalism even though on a false premise. True federalism, as is practised in countries that enjoy relative peace, has inbuilt principles that impede separatist tendencies which is prevalent in Nigeria today.
In a democracy, the separation of powers is clear cut among the three arms of government where the executive executes laws made by the legislature rather than the laws they make in their bedrooms, and these laws are interpreted by the judiciary. In that case, no one man is seen as the feudal lord with the whole of Nigeria as his fiefdom.
Government lessons teach what a federal structure should be, all federating units coming together by an agreed, rather than foisted, terms, with measures of autonomy and 100% derivation, only contributing to the centre. If we study the details of a true federalism, we discover that, rather than this winner-take-all system, power devolves more to the federating units. That way, the federating units retain their dignity and do not feel used by the majority. It is, indeed, not a crime for one to love his people, his ethnic group, or project and protect the ideals of his people. What is essential in coexistence is to define terms, which Nigerians have not been able to do. Under this situation, crisis is perpetual. Although federal systems differ with countries and locations, a test of a true one is the amount of peace it guarantees as well as the intensity of the centripetal force it generates, in other words, how it draws the units together. TRUE FEDERALISM is where none of the federating units would feel a deep sense of loss when their son is not in control of the centre.
Our home-grown democracy is guided by laws that exclude fine and respectable candidates with integrity from the political arena, leaving the landscape to be populated by jobbers who do nothing else but scheme on ways to take over power by all means, with their eyes fixed on the common purse. That explains the high proclivity to malign, vilify and even assassinate opponents who, they feel, possess the spirit that matches the desires of the electorate. On reaching the echelon where high-powered decisions are made, they set out to dismantle the existing rules to make way for their machinations against the interest of the people. Why can’t career civil servants, university lecturers and technocrats in various fields contest elections without resigning their positions? Why? That is why we have so many shallow minded men and ignoramuses in control of affairs.
Our democracy is expected to produce statesmen who, to borrow President Muhammadu Buhari’s words, were for everybody and for nobody. The weighing scale for statesmanship is constituted in their spoken words, performance, promises kept, degree of controversies stirred up and how they were managed, even the ability to rise above tribal sentiments and jingoism. When government rumbles, all must find ways of stabilizing things, because government is like the stomach which, when it rumbles, all other parts of the body would be uneasy until a remedy is found.