The exit of the military from political administration of Nigeria in 1999 and the attendant restoration of democratic order was expected to engender the ethos of civil contention of ideas and liberal disposition in the political space. These, after all, are the hallmark of democracy, the antithesis of the command structure of the military that had gone.
Considering that military rule prevailed for a very long time in the country, it was not unexpected that some mannerisms of the defunct regime will linger after them. But for how long? This is the question that has become relevant and increasingly worrisome, against the backdrop of disturbing undemocratic tendencies that seem determined not to go away, years after the military left the scene.
Twenty-three years after the restoration of democracy and six general elections after, Nigeria is witnessing heightened resistance to the spirit of democracy in various quarters. Surprisingly, many have not paid appropriate attention to these, simply because it is taken to be part of politicking for the upcoming general election. But the danger is real.
Interestingly, the threat is coming from individuals who have benefitted abundantly from the bounties of democracy. State governors! Interestingly too, none of them has any known record of ever being part of the military.
Unless effective resistance is launched against the brazenness and despotic tendencies in a number of state governors, they may yet topple the very foundation of the very democracy that made them. Not even the military showed such intolerance to opposition as some of these democratically elected tyrants are presently manifesting.
For quite a number of the state governors, there is no distinction between their personal life and the state. The state purse is their purse. Their political choice must be that of the whole state. Every state property is theirs. The title deed of any such property can therefore, be swapped any time. Even the refrigerators and air conditioners at the State house are theirs as well, and can be carted away at will. State governors in Nigeria, have, progressively become the state, very much like Louis XIV.
This aberrant situation has not just started. However, it is getting increasingly out of control. President Muhammadu Buhari’s late noon caustic attack on the governors last week, for swallowing the local governments and impoverishing the populace through appropriating local government allocations, is very interesting. While what roused him from slumber may not yet be known, it baffles that the President has only woken up at the twilight of his tenure, to realize a problem that has been with him all through his tenure. Of course, the problem predated his election.
But then, it is not only local government resources and autonomy that the governors have swallowed. They have since swallowed the political parties as well. They actually try at various instances, to swallow the presidency too. Of course, they are the states themselves.
The lot of the political parties in the hands of the governors is instructive here. In October 2021 for instance, the Peoples democratic Party (PDP) succeeded after scorching internal manoeuvres to hold its national convention at which it elected a new national executive. The party had been buffeted by crisis since it lost power at the centre in 2015, so the eventual successful holding of that convention was celebrated by the party. Of course, the governors made it happen. Their ways were not always democratic, but who cares?
In an unpublished article I wrote at the end of that convention, which article I must say, is remarkably prescient, I had written;
“The PDP national convention that held in the last two days of October (2021) offered the party faithful something to cheer. It was difficult to miss the smiles, the high spirit and the relief at the end of the two-day event. It definitely went well. A people who have lived for long in the shadows of doubt and recrimination among themselves had, for once emerged from such a gathering without overflowing rancour.
For all the high spirit and cheers, however, it was not very difficult to note a certain sense of foreboding among the fold.The success of the party convention had a lot to do with the governors of the party taking firm control of matters and smoothening certain rough edges…
But that which counted for the governors and the party may yet be the root of problems down the line. Already, some party members have voiced out their apprehension: the governors cannot be the determinants of all party issues. This is a seed that may yet germinate into a big problem. Can the governors agree to merely sort out the problems of the party and thereafter step back and become loyal partymen, with the elected party officers calling the shot? Is it possible that the governors will allow some other strong forces outside their cartel to come in to call the shots? That seems very unlikely. Indeed, it is not in the habit of Nigerian politicians to do so. There are interesting possibilities. The notion, for instance, that the new party chairman, Iyorchia Ayu who the governors anointed and delivered, will end up as Atiku’s main man is one among the interesting prospects that may yet unfold. Time will tell.” That was written in October 2021. The rest is not yet history.
It is not different in APC, or for that matter, in any other party with governor(s).
With the 2023 elections around the corner, many state governors are putting their anti-democratic credentials on show at a higher level, along the line posing serious threat to the foundation of democracy. This needs to be nipped in the bud before thy ruin an entire system.
As it is playing out at the moment, many state governors, especially the ones that are completing their two terms, do not want any contest in their states. They simply want their hand-picked candidates in their parties to be coronated on election day and assume office as governors and congressmen. How are the governors going after this ignoble, undemocratic plot? They presently make it almost impossible for other political parties and contestants to find space to stand for campaign. The governors ban governorship candidates from other parties from using public halls, public spaces, school premises, stadia etc for their campaigns. In two of the states, the state government sternly warned hotels and event centres never to allow any other party to hire and use their facilities for campaign. The sanction for violation by a hotel or event centre include pulling down of such structure, no matter how magnificent. And the governors will do it.
The governors have proceeded also to impose unreasonable price on campaign bill boards and public advertisements. In many instances, using state signage agencies, they totally reject payment for advert spaces in prime locations. One of the governors went as far as prohibiting town unions and villages from allowing opposition parties and candidates to use town halls and village square for campaign.
Simply put, governors elected democratically by the people are out to stifle political contest. They only want their handpicked candidates to be seen and heard.
They are so unsure of themselves, in spite of everything, so they fear opposition. Colluding in many instances with the police, the governors impose restriction for public gathering without permit, a permit that is never given when needed.
But the tyrants involved in this anti-democracy chicanery are deluding themselves. They must leave office in the next five months, thereafter, that which thy feared most will still confront them.