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Nigeria’s “performance democracy”: Transcript of my keynote address (1)

Nigeria’s “performance democracy”: Transcript of my keynote address (1)

[On Monday May 15 at the ILEC International Conference Centre in London, I delivered a keynote address at the Coalition of Nigerians Living in the United Kingdom (CNIUK) global press conference titled “Nigeria On Trial – Does Democracy Matter?” Other speakers at the event included Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, Dele Farotimi and Aisha Yesufu. Here is a transcript of my address that afternoon.]

Good afternoon everyone, my name is David Hundeyin and before I get into what I want to say today or even introduce myself, I want to carry out a small audience participation exercise.

With a show of hands, please indicate whether you have ever heard of the Korean Social Democratic Party and the Chondoist Chongu Party. Ever heard of them? Most people on earth have never heard of them either. In case you’re wondering, they’re both political parties in North Korea.

Yes. North Korea holds national and local parliamentary elections every 4 years. Something similar happens in China where parliamentary elections are held every 5 years even though the country is a 1-party state.

Merely holding an “election” – or at least simulating something that somewhat resembles an election – before declaring a predetermined winner regardless of what the people have to say about it, is not democracy

Why am I mentioning this?

As many of you may know, I am a journalist who fled Nigeria in 2020 and I currently live under refugee protection as a result of the work that I do. Whenever I talk about my work with anyone who is not familiar with Nigeria, I always get the same question – “Why?”

It’s not that they think I’m lying. It’s just that on the surface, Nigeria does not fit the profile of what you would expect the stereotypical African authoritarian regime to look like.

First of all, we regularly hold elections – in fact we just held them. We have a thriving private media industry. We have constitutionally defined “separation of powers.” Our 1999 constitution names Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Association as inalienable constitutional rights. We have an “Independent National Electoral Commission.” We even have a “Freedom Of Information Act.” We tick most of the boxes to be classified in theory as an “electoral democracy”.

I call it “performance” democracy.

Because in 14 days time, despite this simulacrum of “democracy” that we have, the country’s political establishment is preparing to swear in as its president, an (alleged) drug criminal who has broken just about every electoral law in existence, lost the election, and somehow also provoked a race war and along the way.

So clearly, something is wrong here.

If “democracy’ is defined as “Government of the people, for the people and by the people,” a presidential candidate who was emphatically rejected by the Nigerian people at the polls; whose age is 4 times their median age; and who believes that the presidency is his manifest destiny because it is “his turn”, is democratic how exactly?

The answer of course, is that merely holding an “election” – or at least simulating something that somewhat resembles an election – before declaring a predetermined winner regardless of what the people have to say about it, is not democracy, or anything close to it. As I mentioned when I started, even North Korea and China also hold elections. In fact North Korea’s official name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but certainly no one would suggest that this and the fact that it holds elections actually make it a democracy.

While other speakers will no doubt focus on the fallout of the disgraceful spectacle that Nigeria’s political establishment described as “elections” 3 months ago, I will only summarise my thoughts on those issues into the following brief points before going into my other key notes of interest:

As an investigative journalist with a key career focus on state capture, financial crime and transnational crime including cross-border drug and human trafficking, much of my work over the past year has comprehensively established that Mr. Bola Ahmed Tinubu has previously been involved in trafficking of Southeast Asian heroin during his time in the city of Chicago, USA.

Federal court records from the Eastern Division of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois clearly state that in 1993, Mr. Tinubu was forced to forfeit funds totalling $460,000 to the U.S. government, being an asset forfeiture for illegal narcotics trafficking. Using subpoenas and FOIA frameworks, my work has also established that Mr. Tinubu has told multiple lies about his background and committed multiple perjuries on his INEC EC9 form.

The multiple lies told by Mr. Tinubu about his actual identity, professional and educational background, as well as the obvious falsehoods presented on his presidential declaration form including a blatantly forged Chicago State University certificate with grammatical errors on it, which is easily traceable to a cheap online forgery service called diploma-makers.com, make it clear that Mr. Tinubu is legally and morally unfit for office.

Declaring Mr. Tinubu the winner in the small hours of the morning at 4AM, without any actual evidence of this supposed outcome – an outcome that was not supported by any credible poll, and which INEC’s own emerging data continues to contradict – makes a mockery of the credibility of Nigeria’s electoral commission and calls into question the basic credibility of the electoral process.

Now recently, as part of a testimony I delivered to a UK parliamentary enquiry, I was asked to state what I believe the UK and its international partners should do about the situation in Nigeria, and what I believe the consequences will be if these actions are not taken. The following is an excerpt from the answer I gave.

I said: “The international community needs to impose sanctions on individuals and organisations that have played and are playing key roles in destroying democracy in Nigeria through electoral malpractice and media narrative astroturfing & propaganda that assists the unapologetically fascist positioning being adopted by the ruling regime.

In a manner similar to the targeted sanctions adopted against senior members of Zimbabwe’s ZANU-PF regime for violating the human rights of Zimbabweans, senior figures in Nigeria’s executive, legislature and judiciary should be made to face targeted economic and travel sanctions that would bar them from doing business, owning property or seeking healthcare in countries like the UK.

These sanctions should also be extended to family members of sanctioned individuals, preventing them from acting as their economic proxies and from obtaining healthcare or education in these countries.

If no action is taken, my assessment is that Nigeria as a whole will become fundamentally destabilised when the sharp divide between the leadership and the people becomes impossible to mitigate or work around.

Read also: Nigeria’s democracy remains flawed, says Otti

Demographically, Nigeria is already one of the most divided countries on earth, with a national median age of just 18.1 years old, alongside an aged, incompetent, out-of-touch leadership class typified by the incoherent octogenarian who is currently being prepped to illegally assume the country’s highest office later this month.

Wilfully ignoring the clearly-expressed will of the Nigerian people will inevitably lead to social unrest and instability, especially among the youth who are disproportionately affected by the problems this very class of wannabe dictators created.

This kind of chaos has already been foreshadowed in parts of urban Nigeria over the past 4 years. These events are now remembered individually as the reprisal attacks against South African businesses in 2019, the so-called ‘One Million Boys’ gang violence during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, and the #EndSARS protests later in the same year, but when examined in context, they are not standalone events. They are a growing pattern – each one more serious than the last.

If the pattern persists, we will not be considering a Nigerian civil conflict or a West African regional crisis, but a major global refugee crisis that will engulf Africa and Europe. It is important to remember that essentially all of Nigeria’s 200 million residents are basically 2 national borders and one brief Mediterranean crossing away from Europe. The total destabilisation of a country with that many people a stone’s throw from Lampedusa and Calais would fundamentally reshape Africa, Europe, the UK – possibly the entire world – as we know it – and not in a good way.”