As the year 2019 perches on the horizon, the year holds so much significance for Nigeria. It may not be a landmark year, yet it has all the potentialities to become one. It is not any less important especially as the country holds another general election. However, so much is attached to the year and it would be wrong to just assume that all is well even as the build up to the election picks up traction by the day.
The commentaries on the state of the nation, from different quarters, show that the entrainment that should come with the approaching polls are absent, especially as Nigerians continue to grapple with diverse and excruciating challenges, that have characterised the nation for a very long time. Although it is normal to expect that these challenges be sufficiently addressed, in one way or the other, the people seem to be losing it with the leadership. There is a widely held disenchantment by the populace, even as the political class seem far removed from the genuine aspirations of the people they govern. It speaks of a burning Rome while Emperor Nero fiddles.
Issues concerning the Nigerian polity came to the fore at the recent Book Reading event organised by the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) on Segun Adeniyi’s ‘Against the Run of Play : How an incumbent President was defeated in Nigeria.’ The event which was the eighth in the series attracted a rich turnout of Nigerians from different walks of life and served as a veritable platform for the packed audience to critically re-examine the 2015 general elections, analyse the present state of the nation as well as the build-up to the 2019 general elections.
More than ever, there is the need for a better managed Nigeria that is premised on strong ideals. Opinions on the true state of the nation may be as diverse as the number of people whose opinions are sought but not a few would surmise that the nation is floundering, on the precipice of failure. This did not start today, some would argue, yet the present stewards have not shown enough will power to stem the inexorable tide of decadence. We may not be witnessing the end of democracy in Nigeria but it has indeed taken a barrage of savage blows to the point that what we have in the country can hardly pass for democracy. Like one of the speakers said at the forum, “there is a season of fear and decline covering the entire country.” This fear, he added, is borne out of anxiety over what may become of the soul of this nation. Nigeria, in his view, has come to be identified with so many inanities and sadly, these have become the easy to recall identity of Nigeria today.
Truly, the government, not too far back, announced that the nation had successfully navigated the challenging waters of economic recession and had come out of it. This was cheery news by all reasoning especially when considered against the backdrop of the difficulties and gloom of the realities of economic recession. The announcement of the end of economic recession by the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun was good but it would be foolhardy to rejoice that the worst is over. The incontrovertible fact is that ours is a country still fully in recession. The forum averred that the country is still firmly in the grips of the monster called recession. This recession concerns our democracy, democratic institutions and cultures, social values, governance and moral values amongst others. Though democracy is simply defined as a government of the people, by the people and for the people, democracy in present day Nigeria is experientially a form of government that is of the people, by some anti- people agents and for the anti-people agencies. This is so because there has been a total erosion of the core societal values that should support and give strength to the system. The fallout is that you have institutions and systems with appearances and nuances of the real thing but are very far from the right things. We have what someone called ‘democratism’ instead of democracy and this uses the appearances and nuances of democracy to subvert democracy. Ours has become a nation trumping ‘institutionalism’ instead of institutions. We celebrate ‘electoralism’ instead of election.
What all these say is that the people have been stripped of their power and handed the short end of the stick. Power in Nigeria is no longer sociable and it is not a democracy when power is not with the people. It therefore becomes imperative to reconnect with the social context and give power its real meaning in the context of democracy and that is by returning the power to the people and not the other way round.
As 2019 takes a firm shape, the forum agreed on some apparent historical juxtaposition that cannot be ignored. Just as some of these came to life, and had strong bearings on the 2015 elections that produced the change of guards, they are already assuming the same shapes and shades in the build up to 2019. This involve same set of actors, replicated patterns and occurrences that underlie our democratic processes and tend to portray us, albeit erroneously as an unaffected people, unchanged situation without any new thing. It was the position of the forum that the political class strives to cast the Nigerian populace in the same mode of permanence and business as usual. The season of letter writings are here. The political realignment with the last minute pulling out and new formations are nothing new. Even the grievances and woes of defeats at the parties’ congresses and primaries are all familiar scripts; pre 2015 and now pre 2019.
The forum affirmed that history has an uncanny way of repeating itself. It added that the political class, especially the government of the day, may just be playing the ostrich by burying its head in the sand and wishing away many hard realities. The lessons from the 2015 elections and the intractable factors that led to the defeat of then President Goodluck Jonathan by President Muhammadu Buhari is still very fresh. However, the present government of the All Progressive Congress (APC) has imprudently made itself a slave of history as it is luxuriously swimming in the same waters that drowned the PDP government in 2015. The social capital of the PDP government that was irresponsibly wasted over the years had the same imprints of Boko Haram crisis, political rascality and carelessness of its members, egoistic conducts, dissociation with the populace amongst others and many more and today, three years into the promised change, it is still the same six and half a dozen that we are witnessing.
It is public knowledge that Africa’s ‘emerging liberal democracy’ owes so much to the hawkish influence and interest of the international community especially the West. It is more interesting in Nigeria where an overt or covert involvement of the Western interests can make the difference in who ends up to take the oath of office at the Eagle Square, Abuja on May 29, 2019. The tactical severance from former President Jonathan by the West in 2015 made it easy for President Buhari to ride to power. The recent meeting between President Buhari and President Donald Trump of the United States at the White House, may be an added power to the spine of the present government, but it would not be a safe bet because these Western powers are only interested in the promotion and protection of their interests and, no one is indispensable in order to achieve this, even at the eleventh hour.
On the sidelines are the issues of inclusion and exclusion. These need to be judiciously addressed. I align myself with philosophers who tell us empirically that history cannot be damned in any way. In this wise, I suggest the need to revisit the issue of female participation in party politics. I ask; ‘how included are the womenfolk beyond making up the numbers? How well have they been empowered to function as strategic participants and stakeholders in the different political parties? We cannot continue to trivialize the strategic importance and relevance of our women folks. Women must be given equal opportunities for effective participation and relevance. I say it emphatically that our political parties must shed their patriarchal toga and give room for women to deploy their resources and agencies.
I am of the firm belief that there is need for a thorough re-evaluation of our models for producing leaders in this country. The leadership lacuna continually widens by the day and it is a pointer to the failings of the present model of picking our leaders that are groomed away from the people. The idea of, what one of the speakers at the forum called, “foreign leaders bred away from home” has shown that these type of leaders are neither in tune with the yearnings and aspirations of their people nor are true representatives of the people. We therefore need to work on how we identify, choose and train those who will end up as leaders.
The 2015 election is imprinted with novelties especially with the use of technology albeit with all its limitations and imperfections. I dare say that though it may not have been the best of polls in the history of this nation, the results derived from the election especially the loss by the incumbent President added more to the narratives of efficiency of the electoral body that superintended the elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the chairmanship of Professor Attahiru Jega scored many firsts but most of these are attributable to the commendable autonomy and virility of INEC. The strong electoral bureaucracy under Professor Jega added some degree of validity to the outcomes. This puts fresh pressure on the APC government on one hand and the populace on another hand. My stand is that we cannot afford a compromised INEC. The effect of such can best be imagined.
Closely tied to this is the need to review the voters register. The voters register is the most fundamental base material for any credible election. It therefore is very important that the voters’ register to be used for the 2019 elections is thoroughly reviewed of all anomalies especially the removal of voters who may have died between 2015 and now. This should not be a very difficult thing to accomplish especially with the numerous registrations and bio-data captures by different agencies of government. To this end, I suggest a very strong inter-agency collaboration between INEC and the National Population Commission (NPC) in this regard and the end result can only be a heartwarming triumph for democracy.
It will not be out of place to say that the need to defend our democracy is more apparent now than ever before. The political class seems to have thrown decency, accountability, true representation and good governance to the dogs and what we seem to have is a semblance of democracy devoid of its trimmings. Therefore, in my opinion, every citizen needs to be vigilant in safeguarding and defending our democracy. This challenge is even more for the elites who must shake off their apathy and rise as the mouthpiece of the populace in demanding for a better deal from the ruling class.
A speaker at the forum pointed out that “strength lies in restraints. When a culture of restraints is supplanted by impunities, then that is weakness.” However, the forum was unanimous that the situation of the country, especially as concerning governance, is still redeemable and can still turn out very good. In fact, the best that can be, is still possible. We can grow beyond the challenges of now and work to ensure that the birth pangs of today do not result in the same birth like 2015. Indeed, 2019 can be different for the country.
Olaopa is executive vice chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP).