Last week, we dealt extensively with Donald Trump’s outlandish and false statements while in office, which later came to be regarded as the “tsunami of untruths.” From a simple lie regarding the “rain,” to a costly lie regarding the “coronavirus,” Trump’s presidential tenure was riddled with lies, lies and more lies. Many of the lies seemed little. However, the bigger issue is that they raised concerns about the morality and integrity of a man willing to lie about things so negligible. We went further to discuss Trump and his allies’ desperate court actions across the country in an attempt to snatch victory from Joe Bidden and steal the people’s votes. They all failed. Finally, we had started last week with “the lessons to be learnt by Nigeria from Trump’s failed demagoguery.” Today, we shall conclude our four-part series on the above vexed issue. Please, read on.
What lessons for Nigeria from Trump’s failed demagoguery? (continues)
There was no central authority overseeing the U.S. elections. National elections are broken down by 50 states and the District of Columbia. Elections within each state are run in turn by counties and by precincts within counties. People vote locally, in thousands of jurisdictions; ballots are tallied locally; and the results are reported locally, and then added up in the public eye. The sheer number of people involved defies both coordination and conspiracy. On election night, the tributaries of local results become streams, and then flow together to form rivers, and then become a flood. No President or any other figure has the power to stop the result. While every national election is stained by voter suppression measures and strained by human error and voting irregularities, the totality of the vote, and the transparency of its accumulation, constitutes an overwhelming force.
The only persistent symptom of weakness in U.S. democracy has been low voter turnout. Less voter participation means less representative government. But turnout was a bright spot in 2020. Before the November election, no presidential ticket had ever notched 70m votes – Barack Obama got 69.5m in 2008. In 2020, Trump’s tally was building toward 74m – while Biden had surpassed the incredible total of 80m, with many ballots from the majority-Democrat New York state yet to be reported. The previous benchmark for total votes cast for the two major parties in a presidential election was about 130m. Astoundingly, the 2020 election is on track to record almost 20% more votes than that for the Republican and Democratic tickets. As a uniquely polarizing and inescapable figure in politics, Trump appears to have been a huge driver of turnout, both for and against.
3. Integrity and transparency
Despite Trump’s false assertions, U.S. presidential elections are not subject to widespread fraud, miscounts or other significant irregularities. This is in part thanks to the tireless work of activists and no thanks to routine attempts at voter suppression.
No significant instances of fraud emerged from the 2020 election, conducted over more than a month with an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots cast amid a pandemic. No Trump lawyer dared impute election fraud in court, despite the lies filling Trump’s Twitter feed. A hand recount of about five million ballots in Georgia inconsequentially moved the overall result by about 1,200 votes, which is a typically small recount result. A recount is also under way in Wisconsin, which Biden won by more than 20,000 votes. State officials reported no significant changes in the overall tally after a fourth day of recounting.
5. The courts
Although Trump’s legal team was ridiculed. The campaign also hired top-flight lawyers from firms such as Jones Day and Porter Wright Morris & Arthur. On the whole, these lawyers have fared miserably, winning only one minor case out of 43 in six states, while losing 35 cases so far, according to a running tally maintained by the Democratic lawyer Marc Elias. The judges who threw out Trump campaign cases include Trump appointees. Judge Steven Grimberg in the northern district of Georgia booted a complaint by a Trump elector seeking to block certification of the state’s vote. Grimberg wrote:
“I didn’t hear any justification for why the plaintiff delayed bringing this claim until two weeks after this election and on the cusp of these election results being certified.”
Before the day of election, another Trump appointee, Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan, threw out a Trump complaint in Pennsylvania challenging mail-in ballots. Also, district judge Matthew Brann of Pennsylvania, a former Republican party official and Federalist Society member, sternly jettisoned a separate Trump campaign challenge filed after the election when he wrote:
“This court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence.”
He further wrote: “In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state. Our people, laws, and institutions demand more.”
6. The media
The media is one of the least-loved institutions in the United States, only second to the Congress, abused with glee from the White House on down. The American media has been terribly crippled by the loss over the last decade of countless local outlets that offered irreplaceable, knowledgeable coverage of local events. Pseudo-media propaganda services such as Breitbart, One America News, Newsmax and Parler, financed by conservative billionaires, represent ominous new entries on the media landscape given invaluable support by Trump. But strong and independent media, afforded powerful protections by the First Amendment, remain a vital feature of U.S. democracy. With no central authority over U.S. elections, it falls to the media to project a winner. Where the intimidation of voters or poll workers is reported, it falls to the media to shine a light. Where false accusations about election fraud are spread by the President, it falls to the media to investigate and explain what is true and what is false. Trump grew enraged when Fox News called the state of Arizona for Biden early on Wednesday after the election. But in doing so the network in its election-calling operations, at least demonstrated its independence and investment in the truth. The Associated Press worked for years to maintain and upgrade its elections operations while committing to unprecedented transparency in 2020 in explaining how its elections reporting worked. Other media outlets demonstrated similar will and resolve in waiting to call states until the result was plain but then calling them definitively when it was.
While democracy is being nourished and made to take root in other climes, it is being manipulated and malnourished in Nigeria. In his 1962 assessment of the practice of democracy in Nigeria, Chief Obafemi Awolowo once opined that democracy was “pining away on its death-bed, it has been mercilessly assaulted and violated. It is already being made to suffer from gross misuse and utter lack of nurture.”
Democracy gives citizens the opportunity to participate in government, which in turn promotes development as can be discerned from the election of the United States.
Balarabe Musa, Junaid Muhammed – Exit of two patriots
In a country where patriots have become scarce commodities, where all you see, hear of and behold are war drum beaters, where erstwhile respected Nigerians have receded into their ethnic and ethno-religious enclaves, as ethnic warlords, these great Nigerians of northern extraction luminously stood out in their lifetime.
In this pantheon of rare northern breeds are few that are still alive: Bishop Kukah; Colonel Dangiwa Umar; Senator Shehu Sani; Com. Yerima Shettima; Dr. Yunusa Tankol; and Nasiru Kura. They are quite few and in-between. That is why losing Balarabe and Juniad particularly pains me. They were soulmates with whom (especially Junaid) we regularly exchanged notes about the directionlessness of our otherwise great country, and its daily incremental sinking into a cesspool of nadir and on the precipice.
Balarabe Musa was elected Governor of Kaduna State in 1979, on the platform of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) founded by Mallam Aminu Kano. Balarabe, 85, had soulmates in others within the same PRP: Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman (of blessed memory), Sabo Barkin Zuwo (who later became Governor), Dr. Michael Imoudu (famed labour leader), Abubakar Rimi (later Governor), Sule Lamido (later Governor), Uche Chukwumerije (later minister), Chinua Achebe (epic essayist of “Things Fall Apart” and “Trouble with Nigeria” fame), and Abdullahi Aliyu Sumaila. His reign as governor was rudely cut short by a most controversial impeached instigated by the then NPN Federal Government. Accountant by profession, Balarabe never ceased to belly-ache over Nigeria’s problems till he breathed his last.
At various rallies at the tombs of late Chief M.K.O. Abiola and his bestially murdered wife, Kudirat, Musa, even in his old age, bemoaned Nigeria’s increasing problems. He was passionate about Nigeria as an entity. Thus, when tears had barely dried over his demise, that of Dr. Junaid Mohammed emerged.
Dr. Junaid Mohammed
Former House of Representatives member, under PRP, which he co-founded with Aminu Kano in 1976, this feiry, social critic of the Muhammadu Buhari wobbling regime, also germinated from Aminu Kano’s school of thought. Junaid is better remembered, not for his stethoscope as an accomplished medical doctor, but for his principled political activism, which was ideologically driven. His was not the run-of-the mill bread-and-butter politics of “Amalaism” or “stomach infrastructure”. Intellectually grounded and fiercely patriotic, Dr. Mohammed never cared about whose horse was gored whenever he took on national issues. But for Nigeria’s politics of moneybags and lack of ideology, the joint ticket of Donald Duke and Junaid Mohammed in the Social Democratic Party (SDP), during the 2019 presidential election, would probably have saved Nigeria from its current travails of a journey to no destination. In one of his last outings before he died, Junaid agreed with Bishop Kukah (fiery and outspoken cleric) that Buhari was nepotistic and sectional in his appointments, 99% of which Junaid said were not based on merit, but on his “friends, cronies, relations and in-laws”. His light also dimmed when we needed him more.
For Balarabe Musa and Junaid Mohammed, may Allah grant them Alijanah Firdausi, amin.
Thought for the week
“One of the things I believe strongly in is developing institutions – legal, press, bureaucracies, academies – that are rooted in the pursuit of impartial truth. That aren’t simply just bent to partisan ends or are corrupted for the powerful or for other ulterior motives.” (David Grann)