• Monday, May 20, 2024
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The last mile syndrome (3)

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

I was somewhat jolted when at the “Africa Week” colloquium at Oxford University, speaker after speaker delivered amazing knowledge and penetrating insights regarding Africa – especially Nigeria. What was most remarkable was that they were drawn from various nationalities. It was the same story of years of scholarship devoted to studying the entrails of Africa when Cambridge University followed suit with its own “Africa Week” shortly afterwards. How come they know so much about us while we know so little about ourselves? Or could it be that we are too eager to press the delete button while we proceed with destroying our various countries and ultimately our beloved continent Africa?

It was in 1959 while I was a student at King’s College, Lagos that I played a tiny role in Nigeria’s elections. The principal, Mr. Phillp J. Davies had asked for volunteers and lo and behold we were despatched to various polling station in Lagos “observe” the conduct of the elections. The duties assigned to us were largely peripheral In any case, the elections were peaceful. Hence, our lives and safety were not in danger. The experience was more or less an extension of our civics lesson.

A few days after the elections, it was the Governor-General, Sir James Robertson who sent us a Letter of Appreciation personally signed by him.

Now it is all a different story. With every election members of the NYSC [National Youth Service Corps] are engaged in official duties at elections all over the country. What is worrying is the danger to which they are exposed – at great cost to their lives and well being.

Truly, elections in Nigeria have become a do and die affair without any boundaries.

With virtually every election – Local Government Area; State / Gubernatorial / Federal / National Assembly and Presidential the lives lost are monumental. The casualties are not on y INEC officials but also military, police, security operatives, NYSC and in some cases the candidates and voters. Yet, elections are meant to be peaceful exercise of civil rights and discharge of patriotic obligation.

However the thugs, gangsters and hired killers do not subscribe to those ideals of democracy. They have no inhibitions about intimidating voters, snatching ballot boxes or resorting to gunfire. It they cannot have war, they are ready to settle for anarchy and chaos on their own terms. The sage has warned us that anarchy and chaos are worse than war. With war you at least know who you are fighting but with anarchy and chaos, everybody is fighting everybody else. There is no assurance you would know who is friend or foe.

I was somewhat take aback when Professor Okon Uya who was the Chairman of National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) (the predecessor of INEC) from 1993 to 1994 publicly declared that Nigeria had never had a free and fair election.

In retrospect, we can attest to the fact that the 1993 presidential won by Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola was free and fair. Even though it met the requirements of international benchmarks (as confirmed by the “Observers” from numerous international organisations) it was nevertheless annulled by the Military. Abiola clearly trounced Alhaji Bashir Tofa (an indigene of Kano State) even in his home state.

However, the contest between Chief Olu Falae and General Olusegun Obasanjo which resulted in Obasanjo being declared the winner was a very close call. Apparently, Chief Falae was prevailed upon by late Chief Harry Akande, the business tycoon and other eminent Yoruba leaders not to challenge the result in Court even though there were pretty strong grounds than would justify a reversal in favour of Chief Falae.

Fortunately, Chief Falae who is now a monarch in Ondo State is alive and is better able to corroborate or refute that version of events.

Read also: The last mile syndrome [1]

It is instructive that when General Buhari became President, Justice Oguntade was appointed as our High Commissioner in London (The Court of St. James) while Justice Nsofor (aged 82) was appointed as our Ambasssador to the United States of America.

It is to the eternal credit of Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua that after winning the Presidential election in 2007, against Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, he initiated the reform of the electoral processes in order to ensure that INEC became truly independent.

On a lighter note, I recall how a “Gregorian” (ex-student of St. Gregory’s College, Obalende) vehemently protested on television in 1999: “There is no way Chief Olu Falae could have lost to General Obasanjo. I voted for Chief Falae nineteen times at different polling stations. The election was rigged by the military to favour General Obasanjo.”

Now the writing is on the wall and it is there for all to see. Our brand of democracy is a puzzle to the civilized world.

U.S. President Donald Trump is alleged to have slagged us of as a “Shithole country.”. There has been no official denial.

As for the former Prime Minister of Britain, Cameron, his verdict on Nigeria is that we are a fantastically corrupt country.

What makes it all so painful is that when we obtained our Independence from Britain on 1st October 1960, our reputation in terms of integrity and patriotism was at par with what prevailed in Britain, the United States of America, France etc.