Two reasons the rancorous ward congresses of the All Peoples Congress (APC) are considered a political disaster for the country are: first, because the ward is the foundation, the origin, the closest to home, of all political units, if that unit goes wrong, every other thing next to it or resulting from it goes wrong as well. Secondly, people govern the way they ‘win’ or come to power. They don’t change, they can’t change for the simple reason that people tend to stick to a formula that works for them, the method they have found effective.
Those who bribed their way to power tend to maintain their position through bribery and corruption. In ancient history as in modern, the emperors and dictators who rose through assassinations always continued by suspecting every one of sedition and treason. When they are uncertain they conduct bloody purges sometimes victimizing innocent citizens.
Political errors made at the ward level cannot be corrected at the presidential level. This is why after three years of a war against corruption by President Muhammadu Buhari, the ward congresses of the ruling party appeared as corrupted and as rotten as police checkpoints. That this is happening in the sixth democratic election cycle is most embarrassing. If these had happened in, say, 2003, we could have described it as part of growing pains or teething problems of a new democracy. But after 18 years it is entirely inexcusable.
Now part of the reason is the entrenchment of plutocrats and “strong” men also known as “agberos” as leaders. But plutocrats and thugs do not generally belong in a democracy. They often do other things but not dictate what happens in democratic politics. A headline cast in the SaturdaySun of May 5 quoted former Oyo State Governor, Alao Akala, as saying that “Because I want to be governor, I can’t queue behind rats in APC. I cannot queue because an elephant in Ilorin will equally be an elephant in Ibadan and you don’t expect an elephant to queue behind a rat and as such, I cannot queue. I can only queue behind my fellow elephants and we know ourselves. By the grace of God, in Oyo politics, I am an elephant, it is not possible for me to queue behind rats.”
The above may be one of the crassest, but it is the contemporary Nigerian political zeitgeist. Some of Governor Akala’s colleague elephants sometimes say even more shocking things, which tend to underscore that Nigeria’s democracy claim is at best premature if not actually contestable.
As simple as a ward election ought to be, yet the ruling party in Nigeria could not put it together. In Lagos, the party was factionalized and a parallel congress was held, indicating that another elephant has emerged to challenge the principal elephant of Lagos politics, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of Lagos and leader of the APC. Signs of mild tremors were present, but the emergence of a faction in Lagos is clearly a political earthquake. It claimed one life and injured many.
In Ondo State journalists and at least six APC leaders were injured as violence erupted. Here again, a parallel congress was held signifying the deep divisions within the party in the state. In Imo State, Governor Rochas Okorocha who had always claimed he was the face of the APC in the South East Region found himself in the uncomfortable position of playing the opposition card. He was now seeking a court injunction to restrain other party members in his state from continuing with the elections.
In Kogi State, two separate executive committees emerged from parallel congresses. In Delta State one man was actually killed. Rivers State was almost always the most violent state. After the uproar and the cancellation of the first attempt, a second attempt went through without violence. In Kaduna State, the APC is in three factions with Governor Nasir el-Rufai celebrating the defeat and discomfiture of his political opponents, especially the three senators who are staunchly opposed to him.
Now, the controversial ward congresses are but the symptoms of the ethical malaise which has dogged Nigeria’s democracy. Outrageous things are done in Nigeria that most countries of the world would not tolerate. In the Ekiti governorship primaries which were aborted by violent thugs on May 4th, the men who perpetrated the violence, up-turning ballot boxes, were in plain sight, the police were present, yet there is no evidence that the criminals were arrested, let alone charged. In the United States those men would be looking at 15 years imprisonment in the court of a lenient judge.
A country that does not treasure the rule of law cannot run a democracy, and that is why it is dispiriting to see so much violence, corruption and lawlessness, with no attempt at getting culprits to account for their misdeeds. Even the most brazen of crimes, daggers aimed at the heart of democracy, like grave electoral crimes, are treated with so much levity. For example, in February last year, the Police recovered N111 million in cash bribes from 23 officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the umpires of Nigeria’s elections. The N111 million was part of N360 million offered to INEC official as bribe to rig the vote in Rivers State. In true democracies, those officials and their corrupters, if convicted, could go in for 25 years imprisonment. Every suspicion was that the cash was offered to the officials by the Governor of Rivers State but the Governor vehemently denied it. Any other country in the world would have made sure the facts of those bribes are ascertained. There is no effort to get to the truth of who actually offered all that money to INEC officials. Indeed, it seemed like Nigerians were demanding too much of the police and other security agencies whose duty it is to feed Nigerians with facts about grave crimes like those. Fifteen months after, no Nigerian is wiser about who offered the money to the officials and, for that matter, what is the fate of those officials who collected such monies to corrupt elections.
Nigerians are sometimes ambivalent about voting simply because it is sometimes unclear what results would be released – the true vote or the manipulated vote. It was dispiriting reading about the Ekiti gubernatorial primaries and the bribery that went into that contest and how the delegates each became rich as 33 candidates tried to top one another by offering huge sums of money to win the votes of roughly 2,000 voters. Some candidates were reported to be offering as much as N500,000, some offered a little less, the least mentioned was N200,000. Ekiti thus has chosen the best APC governorship candidate money can buy. What then happens in the election in July is anybody’s guess, but there is no doubt that considerable investment has gone into the contest.
Vote bribery has given democracy a bad name in Nigeria, especially so when it appears the powers that be seem to encourage it by their actions and inactions. For instance, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested four INEC officials for collecting about N675 million bribes to rig the 2015 elections. A resident electoral commissioner for Rivers State, Gesila Khan, allegedly received N185.8 million; Fidelia Omoile, the Electoral Officer in the Isoko South Local Government of Delta State received N112.4 million; Oluchi Obi-Brown, the Administrative Secretary of INEC in Delta State received N111.5 million; a former Deputy Director of INEC in Cross River State, Edem Okon Effanga allegedly received N241.1 million. One of them had laundered the money into his Bank of America account with a deposit of $75,875. Three years after the 2015 elections, nothing has been heard of this massive vote rigging. And you call this democracy?