IN ELECTIONS IN NIGERIA
By Chris O. O. Biose,
“When those in office regard the power vested in them as personal prerogative, they invariably enrich themselves, promote their families, favour their friends.” – Lee Kuan Yew (former Prime Minister of Singapore)
The formal introduction of ethnicity as the principal determinant for choosing individuals for elective and appointive positions is the most anti-democratic and anti-nationalist development in Nigerian politics. The historical factor that led to this unfortunate practice was the brazen annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by late Chief M. K.O. Abiola. That was the first time since independence in 1960 that a person of South-West origin won a presidential election in Nigeria and he was rudely denied and allowed to die in jail without trial for insisting on his mandate.
To ameliorate the sense of loss of Chief Abiola’s kinsmen, the Northern-based feudal-military power brokers that controlled the country at that time decided to zone the Presidency to the Yoruba in 1999. The same power brokers also took the opportunity to declare that the presidency would return to their Region (North), after the South-West.
Voting for an Ethnic Group or a Candidate
The bane of Nigerian development is lack of disciplined and visionary political leadership, as distinct from individuals that occupy high political positions. The poverty of leadership in the country resulted in what Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, at his 50th birthday in July 1984, called the “wasted generation”. (Wole Soyinka, Reflections of a Member of the Wasted Generation, Nigerian Tribune, July 18, 1984, p 7, 13)
All those who occupied position as President of Nigeria since formal end of military rule in May 1999 did not only waste their tenure, they wasted the country and its citizens. They failed woefully to place Nigeria on the path of prosperity but rather, did everything to perpetuate the worrisome cycle of backwardness and resultant human suffering in the country.
After over 60 years of independence, characterised by leadership failure, it is time for Nigerians to search for a political leader, not a tribal champion, ethnic bigot or religious zealot, hiding under the cover of the Nigerian presidency to further draw the hand of development clock back and waste more generations of Nigerians.
Those who are not broad-minded or large-hearted enough to embrace universal principles of fairness in their actions would always invent reasons to favour individuals on the basis of their private desires. Favouristic behavior may derive from clannishness, ethnic affinity, and religious partisanship. Such personalities would not embrace universal values or treat human beings on equalitarian basis. They find every reason to be partial.
The perception that the electorate votes for an ethnic group (Fulani, Yoruba, Ijaw) or geographical zone (North, West, South) rather than a candidate sponsored by a political party, is totally misplaced.
Also, the assumption that every member of an ethnic group or geographical zone shares the same political persuasion is not justified by empirical evidence. For example, during the 2019 presidential election, the two major candidates, namely former Vice President Atiku Abubaka of the PDP and former Military Dictator, President Muhammadu Buhari of APC, were Fulani. Yet, each of them held ideas that were diametrically opposed on the burning issue of political restructuring of the country.
While former Vice President Atiku Abubakar said that if he won, the first thing he would do is to undertake political restructuring of the country, his opposite number, the candidate of the APC, President Muhammadu Buhari took every opportunity during his first tenure to frustrate every attempt made to restructure the country.
About a year earlier, in his New Year message broadcast on NTA on January 1, 2018, President Buhari made plain his position on the vexed question of political restructuring to bring about political and economic justice in Nigeria. He said:
“When all the aggregates of nation-wide opinion are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure.” (Nigeria’s problem more to do with process than structure – Buhari, THE PUNCH, January 1, 2018)
Apparently, the President does not want to alter the authoritarian political structure set up by his military colleagues.
On July 27, 2017, both Houses of the National Assembly (NASS) controlled by President Buhari’s [arty voted against devolution of powers to states in their proposed amendment to the 1999 Constitution. Reacting to the NASS voting, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar said that the APC had “betrayed its 2015 election promises.” (Vanguard, July 28, 2017).
It is understandable when a candidate receives popular support from his place of origin but when an elected person thinks that the voting pattern is a licence for discrimination against some parts of the country, it predisposes such a person towards nepotism. Therefore, the notion of voting for an ethnic group rather than a candidate must be totally erased from the political perception of the Nigerian society.
Ethnicity versus Party System
It is generally recognised that political parties are the most efficient arid effective means of articulating and aggregating the wide diversity of interests in a given society. Without political parties, it is difficult to select individuals for elections. Candidates contest elections on the platform of their parties. Where the law permits, individuals may also contest elections as independents, i.e., without affiliating with any political party.
Democratic governance is organised through the party system and not ethnic affiliation of voters. A political party is an organised group of people, united by common interest or ideology and who engage themselves in power struggle for the specific purpose of controlling the personnel, policies and machinery of government. To achieve this objective, political parties have the primary function of nominating, sponsoring and presenting candidates to voters at elections. It is also a platform for individuals to share views and work together for common goals in the political process. A robust party system is a basis for sustainable democracy.
Members of a party share broadly the same political views and ideas as presented in party manifestoes which are in the nature of rational statements of party ideology. A manifesto is also a statement of plans or programmes which a candidate or political party puts forward to the electorate and which the candidate or party will implement if elected. The electorate cannot evaluate performance except in relation to fixed objectives.
In this regard, one cannot contemplate an ethnic group or amorphous geo-political zone presenting a coherent social, economic and political agenda for a country.
“97%/5%” Inclusiveness/Exclusiveness Formula
Weak political institutions that give primacy of place to ethnic and religious power base give rise to personal rule that derogate from democratic principles. Given the pivotal role of political parties in the democratic process, it is difficult to understand how ethnic platforms could replace political parties in playing such roles. It presents a grave danger to society where an individual elected to a high office believes that he is elected to serve a particular section of the society.
Indeed, prior to 2015, no elected Nigerian leader made nepotism an explicit official policy of his government. However, in an interview in the USA on July 23, 2015, during his maiden official visit to that country, President Muhammadu Buhari enunciated his famous “97%/5%” formula in distribution of political patronage in Nigeria.
The President gave a speech at the US Institute for Peace (USIP) which was followed by questions session moderated by Johnie Carson, former US Undersecretary for Africa Affairs. One of the questions had to do with inclusive development in Nigeria.
Question by Dr. Pauline Baker, President Emeritus of The Fund for Peace:
“My question relates to another area of Nigeria that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention during this trip and that is the Niger Delta. It’s a challenge that you are going to face. I wonder if you would tell us how you intend to approach it with particular reference to the amnesty, bunkering and inclusive development?”
Answer by President Buhari:
“I hope you have a copy of the election results. The constituents, for example, gave me 97% [of the vote] cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%.”
“I think these are political reality,”
The President subsequently matched his words with action in his political appointments which have been widely criticized as blatantly one-sided, aggravating agitation for self-determination by some national groups in the country.
Steady Decline of Party System in Nigeria
Since the formal end of military dictatorship and return to civil rule in Nigeria in May 1999, ethnic origin of aspirants to political office took precedence over the duty of a political party to nominate the most competent persons to hold political office. Nigeria is the only democratic country that I know where politicians are pre-occupied with ethnicity rather than party programme and competence and capacity of aspirants to improve the lot of the generality of citizens.
Most Nigerian politicians are adept in hypocrisy. They openly condemn god-fatherism in politics whereby a few tin gods impose their cronies as candidates for political parties. Yet, they wholeheartedly embrace ethnic politics whereby competence and popularity of candidates are trivialized in favour of ethnic champions. This raises the question as to whether one can find true democrats in the Nigerian political turf.
. If the Nigerian political class prefers to select candidates by their ethnic origin rather than party nomination process, they should be honest enough to disband their political parties and ask ethnic or feudal lords to select leaders for the country as it was in Northern Nigeria in the 1950s. It is dishonest to pretend that selecting an ethnic leader as leader of the entire country is equal to democracy.
Those who do not want democracy should not be shy to say so or pretend to loving what they hate for fear of being unpopular. Democracy is not the only form of government in the world. Those who are not prepared to practice it should feel free to speak out rather than pretend to democracy while practicing theocracy or feudalism. There are many countries that are not democratic where most of the citizens accept the system. A prominent example is the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which has become a centre of technological innovation and high standard of living for its people.