The recent All Progressives Congress (APC) ward congresses across the nation has again indexed the popular theory that Nigerian politicians are the same. The brutality and killings that attended the congresses speak to the desperation among the political class to grab power at all cost. This is a flawed paradigm that flows from the archetypal Nigerian syndrome of he who has political power has all things. Political power commands and controls. It is the ultimate deity to which all other powers must kowtow.
In Nigeria, he who wields political power becomes a demi-god. The one whose word is law. Yet, power ought to reside with the people, in the institutions. Democracy by its nature allows for popular participation; abhors the existence of a Frankenstein; the burgeoning of monsters masquerading as democrats. Look to other democracies, you will love democracy. You will appreciate enthronement of popular will over personal whim. Just look to other democracies, you will notice ours is a crude copy of the original; a hurriedly arranged ensemble of vile men and women lacking both moral rectitude and decency.
With all his boisterousness and unfeigned uppity, US president, Donald Trump, is still hemmed in by democratic institutions in his country. He cannot act as he wishes and wills. The congress reins him in; the judiciary tempers him. The people openly and freely criticize him.Tthey march through the streets and mass at public arenas to register their approval and they are not shot at, nor tear-gassed. They call it liberty, freedom of speech, of association. They march and haul invectives at those mistreating them. Even when they cross the redline of decency and lapse into bestiality they are not killed by agents of the state. They are arrested and prosecuted within the limits of the law.
Smaller and younger democracies are copying this template of decency and respect for human lives. Ghana, our neighbour and sub-regional cousin, even manifests saner democratic virtues than Nigeria. Yet, Nigeria is the Big Brother of Africa. The giant of a continent in dire need of socio-political cum economic purgation. Ghana behaves well. They obey traffic rules. Big men submit to the law. The wielders of political power consciously deploy it to profit the people. Ghana is not the giant of Africa. Its population is about the size of that of Lagos State. Its economy is far smaller.
Nigeria is adjudged the largest economy in Africa; the biggest single market on the continent; the country with the highest number of university graduates; the country with the highest number of migrant graduates in America. There are so many good things to say about Nigerians. They are exceptionally gifted people. It’s just the environment, the geographical space called Nigeria that puts down the people; that makes them not achieve their optimum. Ever wondered why a struggling undergraduate in any Nigerian university will migrate to the United States and become the star man in his class; a sort of genius? It’s the environment. The Nigerian environment is fouled up; messed up by the ruling class – military and political.
They are the reason we are hurtling down the slope of development. They are the ones who manipulate the justice system, electoral system, political system. They rock and ruin the economy. They are simply above the law. They steal in billions. And when they are caught, they settle out of court in some form of man-knows-man legal arrangement called ‘plea bargain’. Those who are dragged to court make sure the case drags and drags while they still continue with their plunder of the collective till. At the end, the matter hits a dead end. Not so for the poor lad who stole a fowl or a telephone handset in the traffic. His case is heard expeditiously and he is slammed with a jail sentence. Go to Nigerian courts, many cases involving the high and mighty have gathered dust in the files. Now, we are coming to terms with reality. Judges are being tried and convicted for acts unbecoming of their revered office. Yes, some Nigerian judges have been receiving bribes. They have soiled their gowns over the years and still found the courage to convict others for stealing.
Why are we so different from other nations? It’s election year again and the auguries aren’t looking good. The killings, ballot-snatching, and the halo of violence that attended the APC ward congresses tell me we haven’t learnt anything just yet. It’s the same harvest of blood that hallmarked similar activities of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in its heyday when just being a member of the PDP guarantees you victory at the poll and a licence for impunity.
Professor Chidi Odinkalu, former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, a seminal lawyer and activist captured the Nigerian dilemma most succinctly at a forum organized by the US Consulate on May 3 to mark the World Press Freedom Day. He said democracy is about counting only three items. Counting people (census), counting votes (election) and counting money (public accounting). Any democracy that can count these three items accurately is a working democracy. Simple as that.
Unfortunately, we have not been able to count, accurately, any of these. Our censuses are usually censored and contentious; our elections even more contentious and public accounting of funds is a distant call. So, why are we not able to count how many we are, number of voters and votes cast and our money?
Again, Odinkalu provides the answer. It’s because we use indeterminate rules to achieve determinate outcomes. Ordinarily, indeterminate rules beget indeterminate outcomes but in Nigeria we have mastered the art of using indeterminate rules to achieve determinate (premeditated) outcomes. It’s called ‘wuru-wuru’ to the answer. . Before any election, before the votes are cast, the power brokers have already anointed the winner. To arrive at their already determined terminus, they foul up the process. They create disorder to achieve an ‘ordered’ result.
Any way out? The solution is with the people, the relevant institutions including the media and the electoral body. The people, especially, the poor mob should learn to make themselves unavailable for use to foment trouble; the police and the judiciary must wean themselves of corruption and corruptive tendencies. The very fact that in spite of our long history of electoral violence, no big man has been jailed on account of electoral malfeasance says a lot about our acquiescence to electoral rot. The police especially must stay non-partisan. Looking the other way when thugs are acting out banalities during voter registration and election because they are working for ‘Oga at the top’ does more harm than good to the image of the police.
Of late, some politicians have bold-facedly boasted that they will obtain victory at the tribunal or Appeal Court as the case may be. And true to their boast, they got what they wanted at these places not because they had incontrovertible evidence to push through their cases but because they had ‘seen’ the judges involved. Gratifying that the CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen is undertaking sweeping reforms in the judiciary. He should stay steadfast to this. The media sometimes get more partisan than the politicians. It’s worrisome and the media must change its ways.