UK election: Lessons for Nigeria
THE general elections just concluded in the United Kingdom hold some lessons for Nigeria, especially for the nation’s politicians, on how democracy can be made to work by genuine, committed democrats.
In that election, 650 parliamentary seats were contested for by about nine political parties and the following day, results had emerged with the victorious Conservative Party returning to power with a majority of 331 parliamentarians.
Leader of the party and incumbent Prime Minister David Cameron has promptly returned to work and within three days, his cabinet was fully constituted.
In stark contrast with Nigeria’s recent experience, the conduct of the campaigns by the contending parties was issue-driven and characterised by decorum.
No mudslinging, no name calling, and no attempt to inflict maximum damage on personal reputation. After all, political office is necessarily about what the aspirant will do in the interest of the voters not at all about the capacity to destroy an opponent. Second, campaign promises were specific and direct: they were measurable and time-bound.
A few examples: in the Conservative Party manifesto, David Cameron promised, if returned to power, to create two million jobs, double free child care for three and four-year olds from 15 to 30 hours a week for qualifying families, and freeze rail fares for five years.
The Labour Party offered to, among other things, create a £2.5 billion fund from a tax on mansions to finance a National Health Service (NHS)-linked project, provide 25 hours of childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds, and freeze rail fares for one year. The party also promised to freeze energy prices for two years.
These were specific targets against which the performance of government can be assessed; they were campaign promises that contrast sharply with the manifestoes of the two major political parties in Nigeria that merely spoke in such general and immeasurable terms as promises to better infrastructure, qualitative education and so on.
In such a situation it is impossible to measure a government’s performance against promises and targets. Besides, it shows that little research and thinking have gone into those parties’ strategy.
The first test of government performance in any polity is its sincerity with the people. Indeed, this is the reason high public officials are constitutionally charged to covenant through an oath to ‘be faithful’ in the discharge of their duties.
Sincerity must necessarily include the making of only such promises as can be kept and such commitments as can be seen to be fulfilled in facts and figures as these form the bases of trust between government and the governed. Nigerian politicians must, therefore, imbibe these tenets that are also crucial to good governance.
That four British citizens of Nigerian descent won parliamentary seats in the two major parties speaks volumes of the commendable acceptance of diversity in the British society. Kate Osamor, Chi Onwurah, and Chuka Umunna won on the platform of Labour Party while Helen Grant won on the platform of the Conservative Party.
No one can dispute the fact that diversity can be a source of strength in a society that manages it with maturity and openness.
But the point should not be lost on anyone that elected Britons of Nigerian parentage will forever owe allegiance only to and always act in the interest of Britain and its people. Indeed the electorate expects nothing less from them.
The young age of these elected officials, especially with a 20-year-old Mhairi Black from Scotland in parliament, is also remarkable, and confirms the ascent of the youths in British politics. This should be the case in Nigeria’s future elections.
The promptness with which Mr. Cameron has formed a government indicates preparedness and seriousness about governance. Whereas the types of government are different, it is not out of place, nonetheless, to commend such proactive approach to political parties in Nigeria’s presidential system of government.
Having performed so poorly in the election, leaders of the Labour and Liberal Democrats parties wasted no time in admitting a personal responsibility for ‘group failure.’ Labour’s Ed Miliband said ‘I am truly sorry that I did not succeed’ and resigned to allow ‘an open and honest debate about the way forward without constraints’.
Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats took responsibility for leading his party into its ‘very dark hour.’ But like good sportsmen and loyal party members, both leaders were hopeful of a better future for their respective parties.
Miliband maintained that ‘we have come back before and we will come back again’; Clegg vowed ‘we will not allow the values of liberalism to be extinguished overnight. Our party will come back [and it] will win again.’ Leadership is the courage to take responsibility for the good and the bad times. Furthermore, no one is going to court to challenge the people’s verdict, nor is anyone threatening fire and brimstone for being rigged out. As far as the political parties were concerned, the people had spoken.
Edward Miliband, born on December 24, 1969, is just 45 years old; Nicholas Clegg, born on January 7, 1967 is 48. But since the character, wisdom and the courage to lead has little to do with age, it is easy to see why they can, without a second thought, without nudging, choose the path of honour.
So far, and unlike in this clime, there are no reports of politicians from the smaller, or unsuccessful parties defecting to the Conservative Party; and there are not likely to be. As long as politics is regarded and played not as an avenue for service to the community but as a profit-making ‘business’, Nigeria will be be-devilled by desperate, morally bankrupt political leaders and migrant politicians who defect to wherever their bread can be buttered.
The Nigerian political elite must learn, imbibe and practise democracy correctly as there can be no functional democracy without genuine democrats.