Our country has become one of anything can go, and no wonder we take one step forward and nine backwards. Things that never happened elsewhere, and will never happen, take place in our society and yet we look at it and brand it a normal occurrence. Ours is a plural society with over 300 distinct languages. Our founding fathers recognized the difficulty this could pose and duly inserted English as the lingua franca. Not too long ago, our president went on prolonged medical tourism. Having been away for too long too, and it became for him to address us, he spoke to us in Hausa language.
It didn’t matter to him or to his coterie of aides that doing so was against the law and more than everything else contained the seeds of disunity. We heard it and passed it for a joke. That nasty intrusion has passed but the scars are still with us. The cut was painful but as in our character we moved on in false belief that no harm was done, yet daily we are grappling with the after effects. Today, many people have reservations about President Buhari, and one of the reasons is that they feel he is not Nigerian enough. Today this nation is more divided than ever, and some of the reasons include such little acts as mentioned above.
One of the problems of our country has to do with our inability to sit down and reason out our policies and pronouncements before we go public with them. This style has caused us so much including making us the jest of the world. The expectation of the world has been that we would hear what they say about us and how they react to what we do and perhaps effect deliberate corrections and changes but that is never what we do, rather we have this wallpaper mentality of having to stick to the low path all the time. We seem to say it doesn’t matter and after all it is our business. The truth is that only a demented man or a misguided society would insist on such a position. A society of sound minds would hear where they go wrong and strive to make amends.
The focus of today is on democracy and especially on free, fair and credible elections in our country. As you read this it is possible that the results of yesterday’s Presidential and National Assembly elections are beginning to emerge; that is if it did not suffer another butt of postponement or outright cancellation.
No matter what the results are and irrespective of how well the elections were conducted, the outcome will be hotly disputed, some would be willing to put their lives on it, and the bonds of national stability would come under threats again. This scenario would play out not because the political players set out in that manner, but the system makes inevitable for them to act otherwise.
Democracy is about freedom and continuous expansion of the space of freedom available to citizens, but in our case this factor does not appear to make sense. Those who lead work assiduously to close the circle of freedom available to citizens. Introduction of military into civil duties is one of such – it militarizes the space, promotes a siege atmosphere and expands the bonds of intimidation. We had elections coming up yesterday, but on Tuesday before that, the President of a democratic country issued orders directing the security forces, military inclusive, to shoot at deviant voters. This kind of action was bound to have ripple effects on participation and final outcome of elections.
The kernel of democracy is choice and the height of choice in this instance is elections, and the other hallmarks of a good election are fairness, transparency and credibility. We know these, but we don’t practice them. Party primaries are supposed to mark the beginning of the search for great leaders; it is programmed in such a manner that the people begin the exercise of their sovereignty from this point. But we all know that internal democracy in our political parties is nothing but great sham. It is about oligarchies who determine who emerges a candidate; these oligarchies produce party officers who in turn rubber stamp anointed candidates under the guise of direct or indirect party primaries. The muddling of our national election begins from this level; it also explains the deep anger that often characterizes the contestation and the aftermath of those elections.
Then the bigger one, our elections are often rigged even before the electorate go to vote. Election dates are known and sacrosanct. Predictability is a potent force in achieving free, fair and credible polls. Election days should be known and in some instances, they are constitutionally provided for. In our case everybody waits until the electoral body (INEC) gives out a date with so much fanfare. It leaves room for suspicion which is not healthy in itself. Last week, the electoral body postponed a national election five hours to take-off, this was not only an aberration, it amounted to a civilian coup against the Nigerian state. It was the marketing of shame in the international marketplace. The leadership of INEC talked about logistics and the vastness of the country and the question would be, ‘did they not have four years to prepare’? We’ve heard about the judiciary delays in dispensing cases of aggrieved contestants, who went to court and late release of funds. Put all that together, it amounts to gross irresponsibility on the part of the electoral body and the government that should supervise it.
The postponement came and the reasons such irresponsibility should not have happened became quite glaring. The economic cost was too heavy and the political consequence too devastating: loss of interest, decreased participation, rumours and suspicions and worst – loss of confidence in the entire process. The last aforementioned factor would definitely heighten contestations of the results of last yesterday’s election and those to follow.
Why does the political class insist the military must be part of the elections? Is it just security or that their activities are to influence election outcomes? Why do political parties vote money for security and electoral personnel? Why do political parties give money to party members and the electorate? How come we witness frequent shuffling and reshuffling of security chiefs and operatives prior to elections? The controversies over the ballot papers and results sheets, what is the objective? Why are elections rather like war in our country? Until our elections are free, fair, transparent and credible, the search for visionary leaders would remain a delusion.