Sylvester Odion Akhaine, a professor of Political Science, in this exclusive interview with Iniobong Iwok, spoke on the state of the nation and democracy in Nigeria. Excerpts:
What is your take on the conduct of recent off-cycle gubernatorial elections in Nigeria?
I think the public perception is that INEC did not handle the gubernatorial elections very well. In Imo State, beyond INEC share of the blame, the security situation in Imo State was going to pervert the election. The unknown gunmen have been shooting, killing and destroying security formations and for an election to hold in that kind of atmosphere despite the assurances of Nigeria’s security forces, it was going to be a difficult thing.
When you have such a situation all manner of things are going to happen and damage the integrity of the electoral process.
For Kogi State it was very clear that the outgoing governor was not popular and authoritarian in so many ways and the SDP candidate stood a chance of winning that election and the message we have is that the election went against public perception in that place.
But it is again a minus for INEC; they should make sure that they try to conduct a transparent election.
What should Nigeria do to have a free fair election, amid recent calls for reform of INEC?
There is nothing wrong with the current institutional framework under which they are conducting the elections; it is the personnel and people heading those institutions that are subverting them.
There is nothing wrong with those institutions and in terms of reforms; there is nothing new that we are going to say that the Muhammed Uwais panel on electoral reform did not propose.
In terms of making sure that the hand of the executive is removed from the conduct of polls, the panel proposed that, but it was not implemented in full. The man who set up that committee did not stay alive to implement the recommendations; those are the issue.
Of course, I agree with you that people don’t act in a vacuum; you are talking about those who want to continue to command influence. Those are the people who subvert that institutional framework that are meant to regulate governance in the country.
There are also calls that the power to appoint INEC chairman and other commissioners should be taken away from the President. What is your reaction to that?
The Uwais recommendation was that various stakeholders should be part of appointing individuals to INEC, but it is now left in the dust.
I sincerely believe, for the sake of this democracy and the process of conducting elections we need to bring transparency and processes to bear in the conduct of elections. It is very important.
Do you think that President Bola Tinubu is keen on holistic electoral reforms?
President Tinubu was part of the pro-democracy movement and he understands some of the basic elements of liberal democracy and he would work to uphold them.
Do you think the President is keen on restructuring the countrg in line with recent agitations?
I think it is too early in the day to think the President is not keen on restructuring the country, I don’t see the President being against restructuring.
I also know that the panel on restructuring also came out with an articulated report. The Nasir-El Rufai-led panel submitted its report and these issues were there.
So beyond what the national conference articulated, even the Obasanjo conference suggestions had elements of restructuring and the constitutional amendment of the 9th Assembly was also geared towards restructuring.
For the fact that we have railway and electricity in the concurrent list shows that we have taken steps to balance the Nigerian federation.
I think we should give President Tinubu the benefit of the doubt. The NADECO people restarted it recently when they congratulated the President and I’m not sure the President would go against popular wishes.
A lot of Nigerians are not convinced about the Tinubu’s administration, especially with the recent borrowing plan and overbearing influence on other arms of government. What is your take?
What has happened since 1999 is that the executive arm of government has tried to have some element of control of the legislature which ought to be the mainstay of democracy. I want to look at it from the struggle of social forces within the Nigeria system. I want to say that the legislature would get its voice at some point.
I look at Nigeria’s democracy as a process; we can only be hopeful that the process would change in which the legislature would exercise independence.
What is your take on President Tinubu reforms?
I want to believe that the government is trying to navigate the neo-liberal policy framework and from the way he is pursuing investors to come and invest here, that may have a rebound on the economy.
My basic understanding of political economy is that; there is no country in Africa that the IMF policy has helped even Ghana that used to be doing well is struggling now, but Nigeria has a potential not to struggle like any country in the continent. I think at some point the government would get it right.
Considering recent events, there is still doubt among Nigerians if democracy would ever deliver good governance? What is your take?
The President came on a renewed agenda and he should be given the benefit of doubt; let see between now and the New Year, whether there would be a rebound of his policies to revamping the country. I know there are desperate efforts to get the refinery to work.
If we are not importing refined products and our refineries can work, it would have a big rebound on the national economy. I just hope his efforts are not sabotaged by those who do not mean well for this country.
I hope Nigeria would benefit from the well-thought out policies of this administration, his recent travels have always been on how to attract finance capital into the country and investment, if this works out there may be change in the country.
What can be done to reset democracy in Nigeria, considering the prevailing state of affairs in the electoral process?
Scholars have argued about this point you are making; when the third wave of democratisation was high in Africa, they argued that what we have is choice-less democracy. Richard Joseph argued that what we have is choice-less democracy.
Thomas Charottas argued that most of the democracies in Africa are all aimed at the grey zones. He said they are not democratic and are outright authoritarian. For us as Africa, we have to transcend that and make democracy more meaningful for our people.