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Brexit reasserts victory with a vengeance

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson. PHOTO by Ben STANSALL / AFP)

One rather noisy next door neighbour of mine could be heard screaming “Up Awo” on his way back home following the conclusion of voting in the Nigerian 1979 presidential election. He was one party agent in one of the polling stations who believed strongly that Chief Obafemi Awolowo would win the election. His reasoning for that optimism was simple-

“I did my best. Papa would never win any election again if he failed to win this one. We merely lured the agents of the other presidential aspirants to a nearby bar, got them busy with food and drinks, while we were busy stuffing the ballot boxes”.

I quickly reminded him that it could be one case of rigging cancelling out the other as some agents were probably doing similar things in regions where other presidential aspirants like Nnamdi Azikiwe and Shehu Shagari were popular and revered. I believe I dampened his enthusiasm by that intervention.

The culture of election rigging has long been with us in Nigeria. The same British colonisers who introduced us into electoral politics were alleged to have also sowed the seed of election rigging in Nigeria. They were said to have aided and abetted the rigging of elections in favour of a particular region and its politicians, thereby ensuring that their favourites unfairly predominated the rest of the Nigerian federation. In which case, what they bestowed to us as electoral politics was a counterfeit of what obtained in their own society.

That legacy of election rigging is for Nigerians of today and tomorrow to strive to reverse and imbibe the type of culture that has made the territory of their former colonisers one of the most outstanding example of a functioning democracy in the entire universe.

The British may complain about the vagaries of their weather and voter turn-out, but hardly would one hear them complain of the sanctity of their electoral process. One has been privileged to have observed quite a number of their elections. The maturity and peaceful conduct of their politicians, voters, as well as electoral officials, are quite amazing.

The just concluded December 2019 General Elections have not, in any way, been an exemption. The outcome of the election has not been a surprise to any keen observer of British politics. It should be recalled that the British voted in a referendum in 2016 on the issue of whether or not to remain in the European Union. Those who voted to leave won by a very slim majority. However, how to effect the democratic choice of the people remained contentious with the elected representatives of the people. Quite a number of people got fed up with the antics of their politicians, not least because the unresolved issue of Brexit overshadowed domestic issues begging for attention.

The Conservative Party, under the leadership of Boris Johnson, emerged victorious in the 2019 elections because it was the one party that clearly articulated its determination to get Brexit done. The rival Labour Party was rather ambiguous on this issue, advocating another referendum that would seek to resolve a most vexed issue. People were just fed up. Quite a number of people who would never have voted for the Conservative Party, including those who had earlier voted to remain in Europe, did so in order to put an end to the nuisance the issue of Brexit has, more or less, resulted in.

There is also the important question of leadership. The 2019 electioneering had the semblance of the presidential system in which focus has always been on leadership. Even when the two major leaders, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party had quite a number of sceptics, Mr. Corbyn was one face most did not want to see in No 10 Downing Street. This socialist or marxist politician, in spite of well-articulated good intentions, did not quite resonate with many, including members of his own party. The Jewish community perceive him to be anti-Semitic. It should be recalled that his emergence as leader of the Labour Party in September 2015 was highly controversial as quite a number of elected Labour politicians would rather have someone else as their leader. I remember being told by Professor Ladipo Adamolekun that the leadership failure of Corbyn was only a matter of time to be confirmed. The loss of Labour under his leadership has been the worst recorded since the election of 1935.

As Brexit has now won a most important victory, with the Conservative Party retaining power with a comfortable majority, the highest number of seats since 1987 under Margaret Thatcher, all eyes will be on how soon they would get Brexit done. The politics of new alliances and trade partners will emerge in earnest. It would appear that our own Nigeria is not being ignored. Both Prince Charles and former Prime Minister Theresa May visited Nigeria in 2018 in what was believed to be a diplomatic mission in the British search for a new order. It may not be long before Prime Minister Boris Johnson begins his own shuttle. Of course, it all shows that a united and purposeful Nigerian nation can be a major actor in the world stage-especially if it can get its electoral politics in order just as that of the British’.


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