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Nigerian leaders have failed to remain faithful to democratic vision, Jinadu

By Muyiwa Adeyemi (Politics Editor)
16 August 2022   |   4:11 am
We must avoid being ensnarled by the fetishism of design, particularly the fetishism of constitutional design, implied in the faith placed in, for example, True Federalism or Restructuring, as the solution, impliedly the final solution to the problem of democracy and federalism in our country.

Prof. Jinadu

Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Adele Jinadu in this interview with MUYIWA ADEYEMI spoke on how to resolve multiple challenges facing Nigeria, leadership recruitment process and how to secure the electoral system.

How will you describe the federal structure and multiple challenges retarding the progress of Nigeria?
We must avoid being ensnarled by the fetishism of design, particularly the fetishism of constitutional design, implied in the faith placed in, for example, True Federalism or Restructuring, as the solution, impliedly the final solution to the problem of democracy and federalism in our country. Yes, constitutional design or restructuring is important, can make a difference, and does matter, contrary to Alexander Pope’s hypothesis that, “For Forms of Government let fools contest. Whate’er is best administered is best.”

The larger picture emerging from the country’s democratic struggle against colonial rule, particularly against the 1947 Richards Constitution, which set the regional mould for the transmutation of regionalism to ethnoregional and then to ethnofederalism in the country, shows that, for the leadership of the anti-colonial democratic struggle, constitutional design matters and can make a difference to the character, structure and processes of democratic rule in the country. Since independence, the detailed analysis in the Report of the Constitutional Drafting Committee in 1976, the Report of the Political Bureau of 1986, and of the constitutional conferences and constituent assemblies following each of them, held in 1978, 1986 and 1999 to produce the 1979, 1989, and 1999 Constitutions, make unassailably clear a preference for an ethnofederal political system, under limited constitutional government, defined broadly by the rule of law.

However this is not to assert that there is a true democracy and a true federalism, as the notion of ethnofederalism as a species of the genus, federalism suggests. The Federal Idea, as a universal, an Ideal Form, should be separated from its empirical manifestations and representations. This is due to the constraints imposed on the designers of such federal representations and those who operate them, particularly the political class, public authorities and the institutions in state and society, by their background, the quality of the material they work with, and the milieus, in short, the cumulation of the socio-cultural environment in which they operate.

In short, what we need to turn the searchlight on are the contradictions spawned by the political economy within which we have been practising our variant of democracy and federalism since independence. It is easy but analytically unhelpful to place the blame on the Constitution. The much harder task is to beam the searchlight on the contradictions that make the Constitution fail to work as it is designed and is expected to and should work. The larger picture that emerges for me, from the searchlight on the contradictions is that the grave and deepening fault lines in our practice of democracy and ethnofederalism since independence remain the failure of competitive party and electoral politics to serve as the buckle that secures firmly and strengthens the interlinked nation-building and state-formation process through democratic institution-building in the country. This is the core challenge of federalism in our country

Will you say democracy is working in Nigeria?
The question is not whether democracy, including ethnofederalism is working in Nigeria. Democratic and federal politics everywhere is inherently in a state of perpetual crisis because of its unfulfilled promises, its “mix of hope and dissatisfaction, its highlighting a hope that will never be fulfilled,” to appropriate O’Donnell’s formulation of “the perpetual crises of democracy” and the revolution of rising expectations that episodically flow from them. Moreover, the very notion of democratic and federal politics is a contested one because it is a value-laden one, over which we rarely can secure inter-subjective consensus or agreement on why it is working or not working well, its strengths and weaknesses. There is an ebb and flow in the working of political systems because there are politically salient issues driving or militating against consensus politics, if ever there has been, or ever could be one. The “weight of the past” befuddles the direction of and solution to current problems, as does the convergence of the structure of regional and global politics with domestic politics.

But I find the most problematic contradictions in our democratic and federal politics in the larger picture that emerges in my attempt to understand and explain it, in the following complex combination of (a) the persistence of an anti-democratic political and legal culture, which is anchored on (b) a political economy of booty capitalism in which the mainstream political, bureaucratic and business class have historically preyed on for the corrupt accumulation of wealth; (c) the failure of our public authorities, as required under Article 13 of Chapter II of our Constitution, to provide for and guarantee facilities and capacities for human development in critical areas, such as education, health, water and sanitation, and shelter, to enable the ordinary citizen enjoy “the dividends of democracy,” necessary if they are to have an enduring commitment and loyalty to the state; (d) a party system, mired in and locked into the political mobilisation of ethnicity for competitive and electoral politics, with the result that the country has neither developed a national party nor national political leaders as symbols of our unity in diversity. Our practice of electoral democracy constitutes a millstone, fetters around our necks in our efforts at nation building and state-formation; and (e) our practice of ethnofederalism as confrontational, coordinate and not cooperative ethnofederalism.

Since 1999 Nigeria has experienced unconscionable state capture by public office holders. What is your opinion about leadership recruitment process in Nigeria?
The underlying factor diminishing the feasibility of democracy and ethnofederalism in our country is the failure of competitive party and electoral politics to serve as a positive and constructive mechanism for the management of diversity and the promotion of human development. Nigeria’s mainstream political leadership, as it circulates and reincarnates itself through civilian and military rule, has failed to remain faithful to the democratic vision and aspirations that drove the struggle against colonial rule and against military rule in the country.

No clearer evidence of this failure exists than their failure to compact unproblematic political succession according to the canons of electoral integrity. At the same that they are proclaiming their commitment to electoral integrity, they are also engaged in unconscionable subterfuges to undermine, distort and subvert it.

This doublespeak is the core of the betrayal of the euphoria of the exciting possibilities of democratisation that followed the culmination of the post-June 12, 1993 democratic struggle with the return to democratic civilian rule in the country in 1999. A clear evidence of the betrayal is the role, which some of those who claimed to have championed the democratic struggle after the June 12 annulment have been playing as frontline actors in governments formed at the state and federal levels since 1999. They have become “oppressors in their turn, losing sight of all which they had struggled for,” to quote William Wordsworth’s condemnation of the leaders of the French Revolution in his epic poem, The Prelude. For what the country has experienced since 1999 is an unconscionable state capture, the use and criminalisation of political power for corrupt personal enrichment by elective public political officeholders, unparalleled by and vastly beyond the country’s earlier state capture detailed by many tribunals, dating back to the Foster-Sutton Tribunal in 1956 and the Coker Commission of Inquiry in 1962.

Unfortunately, the country has failed to institutionalise strong democracy-promoting institutions in state and society to serve as countervailing social forces against such criminalisation of our politics. Sadly, we have seen a progressive decline of professionalism and its anchoring code of public and professional ethics to serve as democratic guardrails. We need to reinvent professionalism and enforce the code of public and professional ethics, founded on the democratic values of accountability, ethics and transparency in our public political life. Doing this, we must go beyond the political class to develop a culture of civic and republican responsibility, captured by the Jeffersonian aphorism, “eternal vigilance is the price of democracy.”

Why is it difficult for Nigerians to elect quality leadership at both federal and state governments.
Our country’s dismal experience with poor political leadership, implied in my answers to previous questions, is mainly due to: a) flawed and problematic democratic political succession, including a glaring lack of internal democracy in our political parties; and b) huge deficits in the promotion of positive rights that gravely continue to diminish leadership recruitment and institution building, especially at the local and grassroots level, as durable pillars on which to improve and strengthen democracy and ethnofederalism in the country. What we have been witnessing in the country since 1999 is the deepening and loosening, almost to the point of evisceration, of the material and ethico-cultural guardrails of democracy and federalism, that is due more or less to the self-serving pursuit of the national question as an ethnic question, the conversion of competitive party and electoral politics into a struggle not only to promote corruption-invested patron-client relationships but also to criminalise electoral politics, particularly in our urban areas, and securing ethnic voting banks to draw upon for compacting electoral alliances by a party system which, more or less, serves as mechanisms for nurturing political parties, not as national parties but as proxies for ethnic groups.

No less important is the sad “death” of local government as a level of government in our democratic and federal politics, through the centralisation of politics at the state level by those who decry the trends towards a centralised federalism but who yet refuse to extend the decentralisation logic guiding federal-state relations to state-local government relations. This is sad because of the potential of local government to serve as a laboratory for nurturing a political culture of ethics, accountability and transparency in public political affairs but also political leadership recruitment bottom-up is thereby vitiated.

America has electoral college, is it not time for Nigeria to have something like that especially for ethnic and social balancing?
There were cultural, economic and political factors in the United States in the early years of the republic, which led to the choice of an electoral college in the election of the country’s President. The choice was a compromise between an election (a) based on popular vote; (b) which, to avoid “mob-rule” and the tyranny of an uniformed electorate, is restricted to a group of electors, specifically elected to cast votes for presidential candidates; and (c) regarding option (b), based on counting slaves as part of a state’s population in allocating electors to each state, an issue which pitted slave-owning against non-slave-owning states in the country. The electoral college system has come under attack with calls for its reform or replacement because of its potential to result in a presidential candidate, who loses the popular vote winning the election, as has happened in five presidential elections (Presidents John Quincy Adams, Rutherford Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, George Bush, and Donald Trump) in the country’s political history. Despite the obvious undemocratic nature, class, and racial discriminatory undertones of the electoral college system, it has been difficult to change it to conform with canons of electoral integrity, such as universal adult suffrage, specifically one man/one woman, one vote, and safeguards for marginalized groups defining electoral politics in the modern liberal democratic state. Our constitutions, since 1979 have sought to provide for some level of ethnic and social (essentially other identity-based criteria than ethnic based ones) in their federal character provisions for public political and public service appointments, and in their spread clauses for the election of presidents and governors. More recently the Uwais Election Reform Committee in its 1978 report made important recommendations, including draft legislation to further modify the first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all electoral system for (a) legislative elections at the federal and state level with elements of the proportional representation system to ensure that the number of seats won by each party is “proportional to its share of the votes it secured during elections; and (b) to ensure that cabinet and other public service appointments by governors and presidents take into an account and reward “opposition” parties who cross a minimum threshold in the number of seats won by them under the mixed proportional representation electoral system it recommended.

Furthermore the Uwais Election Reform Committee recommended, as is the practice in some other countries in Africa, that constitutional provisions be made for political parties to reserve a per cent of their elective party political offices to be reserved for women and other historically marginalised groups, such as the youth, the physically challenged, among others, and that our constitution should entrench similar provisions for such groups. Unfortunately, there has been a glaring lack of political will by our mainstream political parties, their leadership, as well as a worrying reticence on the part of our mainstream civil society organizations to aggressively take up the challenge of these progressive and thoughtful recommendations of the Uwais Committee. Concentration on the inter-party and inter-agency (executive branch/legislature) squabbles over the minutiae of electoral law amendments have apparently and generally taken the sting out of civil society efforts to push for these recommendations of the Uwais Committee.

What implications of vote-buying characterizing elections in the recent times and how can the menace be curbed?
My answer is the following. Vote-buying as well as vote-selling the other side of the coin, is a species of electoral corruption, which includes voter-intimidation, voter-harassment, and the abuse of the power of incumbency for partisan political advantage. It is a crime. It dents electoral integrity and emasculates the legitimacy and power of the electoral mandate. It has become increasingly a feature of our electoral process, paradoxically so; in view of the commendable success of INEC since 2010/2011 to sanitise the country’s electoral management process and elections with its own internal administrative reform and more competent deployment of electoral logistics and materials and its more determined application of ICT to the voting, collation and transmission of election results. Doing this, INEC has reduced considerably the possibility of padding both the voters’ register, actual votes cast at polling units, and actual results announced with imaginary figures. The remaining opportunities for electoral corruption are mainly those provided by vote-buying/vote-selling, voter-intimidation, the abuse of the power of incumbency for partisan political advantage and the instigation of outright violence before or during voting at the polling units to make sure voting does not take place at such polling units.

Three medium-to long-term possibilities for curbing vote-buying/vote-selling are (a) creation of a wealthier population of voters by accelerating poverty eradication, enlarging socioeconomic facilities and infrastructures in education, health, shelter, water and sanitation as “dividends of democracy” to minimise the allure of “stomach infrastructures” for voters who are tempted to sell their votes by the offer of buying then; (b) increased and persistent voter education aimed at increased voter-turnout to minimise the cost of vote-buying for a big population of voters at polling units; and (b), related to (b) a night watchman approach to the electoral process at the polling unit level by citizen task forces committed to discourage, and shame those buying and selling votes.

Some people blame the 1999 Constitution for most crises facing the country; in fact some have called for the postponement of the 2023 general elections until the Constitution is completely reviewed. What is your take on this?
I think the problem of the 1999 Constitution, as indeed of earlier ones, is a very complex one that goes beyond the Constitution itself to raise questions about the political economy that drives constitutional and governance processes in our country. In this respect, the political vocabulary of the leadership of our mainstream parties has recently tended to privilege ethno-religious diversity, over other cross-cutting diversities, especially class ones. The demand for true federalism, which is really a code phrase for privileging ethnically constructed unit levels of government, i.e. state governments over the federal government. There has been a gradual shift in the vocabulary from priviledging the ethnic group as the basis for state-creation to priviledging ethno-regional geopolitical zones divisions, as the basis for reconfiguring or restructuring the Nigerian state and achieving “balance” in the Nigerian federation, between the North and the South. The vocabulary has been typically confrontational, fanning the embers of animosity between “us” and “them,” emphasising what divides narrowly in ethnic terms, while weakening solidarity ties that cut across multiple identities, on which the unity of the Nigerian state should be firmly anchored, with All-Nigeria institutions, such as the Nigeria Police, federal universities and unity schools the casualty. This process of “retribalisation,” championed by the mainstream leadership of the political parties in the country hides an underlying accommodation among ethnic fractions of our political class to maintain their priviledged and hegemonic position in state and society, through a limited, self-serving definition of the national question, as an ethnic question, which is framed around state-creation and the weakening of federal government. “Retribalisation,” therefore, not only reflects but also nurtures and aggravates the historic mutual fear of domination among the country’s ethnic groups that gave rise to the origins of the representation of the federal idea in Nigeria as ethnofederalism.

The other side of the vocabulary of federalism is that it conflates federal constitution as the ideology of ‘unity in diversity,’ with federalism, as a governance process. The conflation obscures the fact that democratic and federal governance processes and their institutions require dialectical analysis to understand the contradictions spawned by the push and pull of cultural, economic, political and social forces within and outside the country. Process issues spewing out of the contradictions are centrifugal ones about policies to address the burdensome price of federalism borne by some of the unit level governments, which the constitutional design of ethnofederalism as “unity in diversity,” may be unable to assuage because of the psychology of the mutual fear of domination that reflects lack of both trust and reciprocity in ethnic relations, among ethnic fractions of Nigeria’s political class.

The psychology continues to reflect two salient features of our federal practice. The first is the failure to compact significantly unproblematic political succession, especially at the federal presidential elections level, and in our electoral governance generally. The failure points to serious challenges about competitive party and electoral politics as a mechanism for the democratic management of diversity in our country. The second is that we need to go beyond a structural-material explanation to focus on the challenge posed for federal constitution making and ethnofederalism in our country by the unwholesome consequences of a dominant anti-democratic political and legal culture among our political class.

We should therefore avoid the fetishism of constitutional design because the major fault may not be in the design but may be a function of the skill, resourcefulness and the dominant cultural orientations and values of political class, public authorities, and the general public. We should proceed with a cautious optimism that moderates, shifts, supplements or reinforces our searchlight on constitutional or legal reform by anchoring it on other legitime and constitutional “instruments of reform,” such as political education, the force of public opinion, a robust, and public-spirited civil society and cultural reorientation, which approximates the cultivation, nurture, and interposition, where and when necessary, of peoples’ power, as a countervailing force to arrest the excesses and arbitrariness of our public authorities and political class.

Recently the altercation between PDP and APC presidential candidates diverted attention from real issues expected from them and created signals of how the campaigns could shift. How can Nigerians demand for issue-based campaigns in order to assess the candidates?
Nigerians must begin to ask not only serious issue-based questions but also ones about the moral character of candidates contesting elections in the country. Civil society organisations and, more particularly the mass media must be in the frontline of posing hard issue-based and character questions to candidates for elective office in the country. There is a general tendency in the media to treat the political class with reticence, to shy away from raising searching questions and conducting investigative research into the antecedents and public record of candidates for public political office. The political mobilisation of ethnicity has fueled a false consciousness that obscures focus on where the candidates stand on broader, cross-cutting issues, such as their commitment to implementing the human development objectives of Chapter II of our Constitution.

Recent political experience has revealed that candidates’ and parties’ manifestoes are not the same and never harmonised before elections. Which ones should Nigerians believe, that of the candidates or the party?
The problem that the question illustrates touches wider ones about the irrelevance of ideology and issue-based differentiations in our country’s party system. In a political environment which is undergirded by patron-clientelism and Godfatherism, and the political mobilisation of ethnicity for winning elections or forging electoral coalitions across ethnic lines among the ethnic fractions of the leadership of the political parties in our country, ideological preferences of the parties, their candidates, and of the electorate are consigned to the fringes of political debate. This is a more troubling development because of the general retreat from and indifference to politics and the character question in politics, despite episodic manifestations of antipolitics in the country, such as the EndSars Movement and the so-called Third Force Movement, which are yet to generate a sustainable culture of people power and cross-cutting identity affiliations across the country, in line with the provisions of Chapter II, Article 14(2)(a)(c) of the country’s Constitution.

How would you want Nigerians to vote in next year’s general elections to have a Nigeria of your dream?
We need to start looking beyond 2023 to the next two to three electoral cycles (2023-2027; 2027-2031; and 2031-2035) to develop a culture of cross-cutting people power to demand from the political parties faithful embrace of and adherence to the Fundamental Principles and Directive Principles of State Policy in Chapter II of our Constitution. Nigerians must begin to ask hard questions about candidates for political office, what they have to offer, their pedigree, and the values that have defined their political career.