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Democracy in an ill-prepared nation

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Buhari

Our democracy is not enjoying the best of the times right now.

Governance is at a standstill. We are lost. We are confused.

I have heard that what is happening is democracy in action. It is not. It is mutually destructive madness in action.

Come to think of it, since the generals came and left us with an indigestible political mix of dictatorship and faux democracy, our democracy has had problems finding its feet in the swirling muck of our national politics.

Now, here is what we have at the moment: a vacationing president (Buhari), an acting president (Osinbajo) and a supervisory president (Oshiomhole).

If you find this odd, you are right. It is odd.

If you see this as nothing more than the multi-extra-constitutional power centres in our democracy, you can go to sleep.

If, however, you see this as part of the chaos that is increasingly defining our democracy, you may go to sleep but find that sleep, that slippery eel that commoners and kings alike pray for at critical moments, has deserted you too.

I think one of the worst things in life is thrashing on the bed in the lonely hours of the night.

I worry about the current state of our democracy. Chaos may be good for politicians but it is bad for the rest of us.

It is odd that we have shown a total lack of commitment to growing our democracy.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan once said that democracy was work in progress. True.

No nation has truly attained the height of that form of government.

But nations commit to making their democracies work because work in progress takes patience, an attitude of accommodation and the right temperament.

The late Dr Chuba Okadigbo, former senate president, once told me that the problem with our democracy was that unlike people in settled democracies, we have never had the patience to cultivate, nurture and grow the democratic temperament.

There is abundant evidence of that. Just look around you; just listen to the dancing politicians and their acolytes and drummers.

They enjoy heating the polity because they believe it is macho to do so.

To be fair to them, if you take intimidation and grandstanding out of politics, it turns into a deflated balloon.

Still, despite the current heat being a distraction consistent with the struggle for power, we must encourage these important people to try and manage the near impossibility of thinking a little less of themselves and a little more of the country, its democracy and its future in the comity of democracies in and outside the African continent.

The 2019 general election will once more give the world a chance to assess what progress we have made so far in growing our democracy.

An election is the litmus test of a nation’s democracy.

This time with 20 years of democracy, or to be more honest, civil rule, under our belt, what would the world make of our democracy and our democratic temperament so far in the conduct of our elections?

Three things are important here – if we can hear one another above the noise and the racket of the moguls on our national political stage.

The first is that we have always had problems with our elections since 1979, the first time the generals wrote the constitution and supervised our elections. Perhaps these are inevitable in a nation for ever struggling to define or redefine itself.

The second is that an election is not just judged by the casting of votes but more importantly by the process that makes the casting of votes possible.

This process cannot thrive where there is no internal democracy in the political parties.

Need I remind you that the current defections, an ugly development in our national politics forced on us in 2014/15 and now perpetuated as a new political culture, are the consequences of the process abused with impunity by those who are charged with protecting the system and fostering a system of government in the service of the people.

The third is that despite our strenuous search, faux search actually, for solutions, each time a committee unearthed a trove of sensible and pragmatic solutions, we put them under lock and threw away the key.

We have a good history of stubbornly refusing to take such steps as are deemed vital to free our elections from the cynical abuses they are subjected to and make them fair, just, credible and respectable.

In 19 years of democracy, nothing has changed in either the process that leads to the casting of votes or the casting of votes.

Perhaps, the governorship election in Ekiti State and the bye-election in Kogi State would be a fair indication of what we should expect next year.

In Ekiti, we had cash for votes.

It would be dishonest to suggest that this was the first time it happened. But it was the first time it happened so openly and so brazenly.

The average Nigerian voter expects to be financially induced to do his civic duty because he has been conditioned to believe that it is a simple business of buying and selling.

The two major political parties, PDP and APC, were guilty of this in equal measure.

Kogi showed that the old game of ballot box snatching is alive and well.

Two ballot box snatchers were instantly killed at a polling station. It is possible that some others got away at other polling stations.

Still, it showed that there are vigilant people who are prepared to protect the integrity of our elections.

It would be too early to conclude from this incident that our ballot boxes are now safe at the polling stations. They are anything but.

My worry is that we have done nothing to clean up the electoral process to reduce the abuses in it.

I am compelled to draw attention once more to the Justice Muhammadu Uwais committee report on electoral reforms.

I wrote a two-part series in this column on it.

I am pained by the fact that this informed report of the very eminent Nigerians on how best to manage our elections, is treated as if it never existed, allowing our past failures in this regard to continue to cast a long shadow on current efforts to give our elections credibility.

The late President Umaru Yar’Adua who commissioned it as part of his promise to give the nation an electoral system that would make us proud as a nation.

He was, on record, the first man to virtually repudiate the very flawed 2007 presidential election that brought him into office.

He did not implement the report because those close to him persuaded him not to because it might jeopardise his re-election bid.

The country lost the chance, the golden chance, to remove most, if not all the obstacles to its conduct of fair, just and credible elections – and strengthen the fabrics of its democracy.

And so, we go into the 2019 general elections burdened by the same burden that continues to afflict our democracy.

Sure, thanks to the commitment of the INEC chairman, Professor Mahmud Yakubu and his commissioners, we might most probably have better elections than we did in 2015.

But that would not change the sum of this argument: this country, this rich but poor country, this country in which at least 10,000,000 babies are born every year, is ill prepared for the challenges of democracy.

Because we ignored the Uwais committee report, cases arising from the 2015 elections are still going through the motions in the courts.

Because we ignored it, federal and state governments will continue to fund challenges to the ‘winners’ ensconced in their protected public offices and the lawyers will keep laughing to the banks.

Because we ignored it, we now have more political parties than all the African countries put together. Because we ignored it, there is no primary custodian for our electoral process.

INEC, by law, is empowered to conduct elections. It has no right to have a say in how the parties conduct their primaries. Because we ignored this and similar reports, well … you do get the point.


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