By February the 23rd, when the first set of presidential and National Assembly polls took place in Nigeria’s quadrennial election cycle, President Muhammadu Buhari and his APC ruling “politburo” had not only met but also broken every record of misrule of the preceding 16 years of the PDP, when it conducted perhaps the worst election in the history of the Fourth Republic. Having failed in his promise to bring economic prosperity with security in a system devoid of corruption to Nigerians in his first four years, Buhari and his powerful cabal of entrenched self-interest groups conceptualised and executed a most brazen electoral fraud scheme to rig a largely discredited administration back to power.
Beginning from some key nepotism-tainted appointments into Nigeria’s electoral management body, INEC, to the refusal of the President to sign far-reaching amendments to the Electoral Act aimed at consolidating on the gains achieved in Nigeria’s electoral process in 2015, the road to an election primed to be anything but free and fair was paved.
With lines between national and partisan loyalty substantially blurred, security agencies working in concert with INEC at the behest of the ruling party chieftains ensured a thorough rape of Nigeria’s electoral process to stupor.
Backed by a powerful clique of the ruling elite, which feeds fat on the proceeds of entrenched corrupt practices in his administration, President Buhari and his APC deployed the most ingeniously evil tactics to undermine the popular will of the Nigerian people who were poised to take advantage of the ballot box to peacefully change an administration, which is high on failure and very low on successful achievements. By weaponising state-induced mass poverty, bullion vans and overloaded aircraft stuffed with currency notes were rolled out for massive vote-buying. Where financial inducements were resisted, voter suppression through intimidation and killing in some cases of defenceless citizens by security agencies who also aided the disruption of voting by thugs, by turning a blind eye to allow the hijacking of electoral materials and subsequent falsification of election figures at militarised collation centres with full cooperation of some compromised electoral management officers to achieve a pyrrhic victory for a ruling but thoroughly failed administration. In some other cases, underage voting and multiple thumbprinting without recourse to biometric verification was the order of the day.
Just as many Nigerians were still mourning the death of liberal democracy in the morning after a thoroughly manipulated electoral process, the fascist propaganda machinery of the ruling APC has been rolled out in praise of President Buhari’s skilfully managed but now punctured image of integrity and celebration of the triumph of “Honesty” over “Corruption” to legitimise a glaringly flawed process. By engaging the services of intellectually dishonest individuals that have deployed charming wit and poetic sophistry to cover up such electoral travesty, throwing up a clever spin amounts to a celebration of President Buhari’s dishonest integrity, as he is the major enabler and chief beneficiary of this grand electoral heist in an attempt to give a different meaning to the concept of honesty.
The effort to project President Buhari as an outsider to the elite political establishment and his pyrrhic victory as a testimony of the will of the masses is as far from the truth as the moon is from the sun. Going by the massive support he enjoyed from powerful political titans, state governors, legislators, ministers, frontline traditional rulers and their collaborators in corporate Nigeria, all of whom are part of the ruling class since 1999, President Buhari’s choice comes across in reality as Nigeria’s elite consensus candidate going into the presidential polls. President Buhari’s stronghold of Northern Nigeria was not only cultivated but continually made safe for him by a powerful clique of northern political elite who work in concert with the traditional religious establishment to project him as the defender of northern agenda and the ultimate nemesis of the enemies of the North. This clique of powerful elite is able to manipulate the uneducated rural poor to believe their oppressors to be their liberators as reflected in President Buhari’s impressive performance among this democratic demography. That President Buhari performed poorly among urban/cosmopolitan poor and working class democratic demography is a clear indication of how they realise his failure of integrity has impacted negatively on their socio-economic well-being. Therefore, if the elite establishment is corrupt, as he often alludes to, then President Buhari is most likely furthering their corrupt dealings to the detriment of the masses, hence their [elite] strong support for him.
Whereas elections in Nigeria have been largely tainted with irregularities in the 20 years since the return of democracy, especially in 2003 and 2007, however, a major milestone was achieved in electoral sanity in 2015. The conduct of peaceful, free and fair elections, which was widely adjudged as credible, by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration, leading to a loss for an incumbent party, largely restored the confidence of Nigerians in the democratic process. Unfortunately, there has been a reversal of the gains recorded in 2015 in 2019 to the Hobbesian state of Nigeria’s electoral process, which is in more ways worse than 2003 and 2007.
Going forward, the implication of the heightened level of political brigandage such as unleashed in the current electoral cycle is its potency to render the concept of democracy ineffectual in achieving good governance and socio-economic fulfilment for citizens. The overt deployment of state power to the maximum advantage of the ruling party in any given electoral contest derails from fulfilling the promise of socio-economic advancement of citizens as the advantage of electoral reward or punishment for bad/good records of elected political leaders no longer resides with the voting public but in the hands of a clique of elite power-brokers. Most importantly, there appears to be growing trend of emasculation of all structures of democracy [National Assembly and judiciary] to blur the lines of separation of powers and put in check their respective constitutional roles of checking and balancing the actions of the executive, which will ultimately lead to the emergence of a civilian dictatorship. To further strengthen this monstrosity, the ruling party, which has secured an overwhelming majority of National Assembly seats through a contrived electoral process, is poised to repeat the same feat in the follow-up state elections.
If February 23 is repeated on March 9, by deploying state power to overrun majority of states for the ruling APC, then Nigeria will have transmuted into a near one-party civilian dictatorship, where the National Assembly will be a dummy parliament and the judiciary will interpret laws not in accordance with the Constitution but in line with the whims of the all-powerful executive, which no longer needs to account to the people but to itself alone.
If the current practice of electoral impunity is sustained, the hope that a deepening of democratic culture as reflected in a credible electoral process, wherein power truly resides with the people, will not only be dashed but will raise the inevitable question of the viability or otherwise of democracy as the best form of government. Democracy is not a cliché but a form of people-centred government. Democracy dies when an electoral process, which is its core ingredient, is manipulated to undermine the popular wishes of the people.
For democratic structures to live up to the goals of socio-economic development for all, there is an urgency to entrench a deep democratic culture devoid of electoral malfeasance in whatever form. For now, Nigerians will have to grope in the dark as the light of liberal democracy is momentarily extinguished.