• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Sham polls: Nigeria’s pseudo democracy fuels crisis of legitimacy

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

President Muhammadu Buhari recently said that this year’s general elections showed that “Nigeria’s democracy has truly matured.” However, that contrasts sharply with the view of Barry Andrews, Chief Observer of the European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria, who said on Arise TV: “It’s difficult to point to progress being made in How can Nigeria be a true democracy when there’s absolutely no faith in the integrity of the institution tasked with conducting its elections?
terms of the democratic story of Nigeria.”

For the Financial Times, “Nigeria remains a democracy, but only just.” Essentially, both are saying that Nigeria is a Democracy in Name Only, DINO!

So, why does Buhari think differently? Well, he’s a former dictator turned “democrat” who sees democracy through the narrow prism of “voting” in “elections”, with no interest in what happens before, during and after the process.

For him, provided there’s “voting”, it doesn’t matter if elections are not free, fair, and credible; if the will of the people is obstructed through vote-buying and voter-intimidation; and if people’s votes don’t count due to ballot-snatching and manipulation of results.

How can Nigeria be a true democracy when there’s absolutely no faith in the integrity of the institution tasked with conducting its elections?

By contrast, the EU Chief Election Observer comes from a society where true democracy exists and has a philosophical understanding of democratic norms. The word “democracy”, which originated from ancient Greece, comes from two words: “demos”, meaning “the people”, and “kratos” meaning “power”.

Thus, democracy means “power of the people”. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln, 16th US president, memorably defined democracy as “government of the people, for the people and by the people.” Central to that definition is the principle that, in a democracy, a government can only legitimately emerge through the consent of the governed, expressed freely by votes in elections. The consent of the governed freely expressed is what separates democracy from dictatorship, and what separates true democracy from democracy in name only, DINO, which is what Nigeria practises.

Think about it. How can Buhari say Nigeria’s democracy “has truly matured” when in a country of 220m people, 93m registered to vote in a presidential election and 87m collected their voter cards, but only 25m actually voted, while a “winner” emerged with just 8.8m votes?

Surely, whatever factors, of which were voter intimidation and suppression, made 68m of the 93m registered voters, and 62m of the 87m with PVCs, not to vote in this year’s presidential election thwarted the consent of the governed and the will of the people.

Moreover, how can anyone describe a country where a president is “elected” by miniscule 9.4 per cent of the registered voters and four per cent of the population as a true democracy?

And how can such a president claim to have genuine legitimacy? In the US, with a population of 320m, President Joe Biden was elected with 81.2m votes in 2020! But in Nigeria, with a population of 220m, Bola Tinubu is said to have been elected president with 8.8m votes, even that number was allegedly inflated.

Forget constitutional technicalities, truth is, there can’t be democratic legitimacy without the explicit, overwhelming, and credible consent of the governed.

Then, the electoral umpire. How can Nigeria be a true democracy when there’s absolutely no faith in the integrity of the institution tasked with conducting its elections?

An irreducible element of a true democracy is an independent, impartial, competent and professional electoral body. But Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has always failed to demonstrate independence, impartiality, competence, and professionalism in conducting elections. INEC is dysfunctional and even complicit; its attitude is to conduct discredited and sham elections and tell aggrieved parties: Go to court!

The situation is particularly hopeless and depressing because many of Nigeria’s senior election officials are university professors and even vice chancellors.

Surely, given their standing, one would expect them to oversee credible elections, devoid of manipulations and fraud. Sadly, as Professor Wole Soyinka famously said, Nigeria is the only country “where professors rig elections for politicians but expel students for examination malpractice.”

So, credit to Professor Nnenna Otti, vice-chancellor of the Federal University of Technology Owerri and Returning Officer in the Abia State governorship election.

She was reportedly offered bribes and threatened to rig the election but resisted the pressure. According to her, “they came with their threats, they came with their money, they came with their intimidation.” To her credit, she didn’t succumb! Unfortunately, that can’t be said about many professors who were Returning Officers in this year’s general elections.

But here’s the fundamental, underlying problem. In Nigeria, elections are a do-or-die affair. Elections are not about contestation of ideas, not about robust but good-natured campaigns.

Rather, they’re a “war”, a desperation to grab power at all costs. Nigeria is probably the only country where presidential candidates are corralled to sign “peace accord” before every election. Surely, when politicians are desperate for power and when security agents and political thugs are willing to do their biddings, to kill, maim and disenfranchise people on their behalf, you can’t have a true democracy. Sadly, that’s the “democracy” Nigeria practises!

In a recent editorial, the Washington Post hailed Nigeria’s democracy because, despite the disputed presidential election, there was no post-election violence or insurrection and “Nigeria’s military has stayed out of the way.” Of course, it’s commendable there was no post-election violence as there was in 2011 when Buhari lost to then President Goodluck Jonathan, and over 800 died. It’s commendable there was no insurrection as there was in America in 2021 when Donald Trump incited an invasion of the US Congress Building, Capitol Hill, after losing the presidential election to Joe Biden.

But the absence or presence of post-election violence doesn’t make a country a true democracy or not. For instance, despite the post-election insurrection in the US, everyone knows America is a true democracy because all the state institutions, including electoral bodies and security agencies, stood solidly in defence of US democracy and frustrated Trump’s plans to subvert the will of the people.

But in Nigeria, the will of the people, the consent of the governed, is blatantly thwarted and the state suppresses legitimate protests.

Surely, the alarmism about “plots” to instal an “interim government” is an attempt to intimidate opposition politicians and other Nigerians aggrieved by the deeply flawed presidential election, the worst in Nigeria’s political history. The Department of State Services (DSS) said some people were plotting to instal an interim government to stop the inauguration of Tinubu as president, while the chief of Army Staff, Lt-General Faruk Yahaya, warned against plans to truncate democracy.

But the alarmism is condemnable. If there’s going to be an interim government, only the Buhari government can instal it! If there’s going to be a military coup, only the army can execute it.

No agitation or protest can make either of them do what they don’t want to do! Yet, the Buhari government is suppressing legitimate post-election agitations through the scaremongering of its security agencies and the reckless utterances of its irresponsible minister of information, Lai Muhammed, who flippantly accused Peter Obi of treason.

Of course, the real problem is that the sham presidential election and Tinubu’s questionable mandate have created a crisis of legitimacy and will continue to fuel it even if he eventually becomes president.

More people voted against Tinubu (16.4m) than for him (8.8m); he secured only 9.4 per cent of the registered voters and four per cent of the population; above, all, he was declared “winner” in an election condemned worldwide for failing basis transparency and credibility tests.

Surely, he can’t, given those circumstances, govern Nigeria as if he had the explicit, overwhelming and credible consent of Nigerians.

The crisis of legitimacy, a product of Nigeria’s pseudo democracy, is what should worry Tinubu and his loyalists. Not the implausibility and improbability of an interim government!

Happy Easter!