‘The problem with Nigerian democracy is capture of the electoral process by the state, political class ‘
In this interview, the Director of Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), an Abuja-based policy advocacy and research organization in West Africa, Idayat Hassan, bares her mind on many issues about developing democracy in Nigerian, insecurity and what could be done to get governance right.
How will you rate Nigeria’s democracy and its development since 1999?
Since 1999 it has been a mixed baggage; we are happy to have enjoyed unbroken democracy in the last 20 years. But it is the longest democracy we have ever enjoyed as a nation. It’s been a mix baggage of good and some challenges. At least we can confidently say that we’ve had six consecutive general elections for which we have seen development from where we were coming from. In the 2009 election till 2015, we got to a point where we had positive developments, and from there in the last years, there have been challenges with our elections. But we can see that there is a movement, not just of organizations but also of citizens, who want the right thing to be done and the need for reform in the electoral process. Beyond elections, we can also see that accountability has changed from where it used to be. Previously, nobody tended to hold the government accountable; they felt that people should not even talk, that they should be republics of their own, where they have to provide their own water, electricity and keep quiet and just go on. But this time around there is a difference, because even though people are republics of their own they are still making demands on their governments at different levels – local government, state and Federal Government – inclusive of government’s parastatals and agencies.
So, this is a welcome development, something, which was not previously applicable even from 1999. So there is a positive trajectory in terms of these developments.
The phase of the violence previously experienced in the country has changed. When democracy started in 1999, the prevalent violence was more of the agitation by ethnic determination groups. We had the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), and Movement for the Emancipation the Niger Delta (MEND). They were all talking of ethnic determination. Those were the first sets of unrest during the period. There has been a gradual shift from that, where, for instance, in the Southwest we no longer see the OPC people calling for self-determination. Of course, the issue is yet to change in the Southeast. Instead of just having the MASSOB, we have three to four active groups calling for self-determination or secession using different names. There is Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB); there is MASSOB, and there is Benjamin Onwuka-led Biafara Zionist Front previously Biafara Zionist Movement.
Though these are still prevalent, the phase of violence is completely different, because in different parts of the country we are confronted with different kinds of security issues. When you look at it from 1999 till date, you will see that in the north it was more of religious violence, where they will say Christians versus Muslims were killing each other or indigenes versus settler crises in places like Plateau, Kaduna and so on. These have changed now to where we are seeing a new phase of conflict, which is gradually showing itself in insecurity and criminality. Insecurity in the sense that you find Boko Haram extremist insurgents in the Northeast of the country, which almost took over the entire Northeast up to the capital city of Abuja at a point in time.
We witnessed the bombings of United Nations building and police headquarters. That was how hydra-headed the issue was, but it has now been contained. That is also violence, because we are talking of violent extremism; they wanted to carve a nation for themselves. It wasn’t about self-determination; they were questioning democracy itself out of Nigeria. That is what Boko Haram was saying, that democracy itself is unlawful therefore they needed to create a state within a state, where they want people to live according to sharia tenets and not recognise government of the day. They threatened national unity and cohesion.
There are also the rural bandits, who are busy going from one place to the other killing and stealing from people. If you look at what is happening in the Northwest, in Zafara, Kebbi, Katsina and Sokoto, there is still some form of banditry; then herders and farmers’ conflict, which is a contestation over natural resources unlike the way it was previously defined, like resource control in 1999 in the South-South region. Now thee is contestation is over land and water and then there was criminality. So land and water are affecting the herders and the farmers and this is also seen from the prism of religion, because herders are perceived to be Muslims, which is not necessarily so, and farmers are perceived to be Christians, which is also not true.
Criminality knows nobody, and then kidnappers and bandits operating in different parts of the country aside from the Islamic extremists. What these have done is to seriously threaten and question national unity.
Don’t you think something is fundamentally wrong hence the insecurity? What should be done?
It is the failure of governance. I think the main challenge with the insecurity is the failure to correctly diagnose what is wrong. From our diagnosis, we never agreed as to what the problem is and when you have incorrect prognosis of challenges you cannot come up with the right solution. We are not saying that the absence of governance or bad governance is largely responsible; governance conundrum is mostly responsible for most of the security challenges facing us. Why are people taking up arms against the state? When they see corruption, when they see elected officials fail to deliver good governance yet they see them ridding big cars; everywhere I hear of N1.1 trillion budget appropriation, but right on ground there are no good roads, and no water. Universities continue to churn out graduates but unemployment continues unabated and you have a youthful population, more than 50 per cent of the country’s population is made up of young people and this same set of people are excluded even from the governance process.
What about the electoral process whose clock has been turned back since our elections have started going from bad to worse?
What has actually happened to our electoral process is a state capture of the process. There is a capture, a political elite capture, which they call cabal. What the political class understands from the elections; look at the number of votes from all the elections since 2011; the number of registered voters, total votes cast in the presidential election and state elections started reducing. It was no longer like before; it started reducing. Many things are responsible for this: one was the biometric registration; after that we had the card reader itself, because what the card reader was doing was just infusing integrity into the electoral system, because it authenticates that the bearer of the card is indeed the owner. Even the modified open ballot system, which will not allow you to accredit one minute and you come back again to vote. The modified open ballot system is a very difficult system, which did not allow many people to participate. So, I’m supportive of the fact that it was removed, because people would vote and they can go back to their homes. But what happened was that the political class looked at the system, understood the system and they organised against the system itself. That is why at first they started by ensuring that card readers were compromised and from then they started introducing violence.
By 2015 one of the best ways of winning election was to go and scatter votes in your opponent’s stronghold so that elections there would be cancelled and the votes would not count. The political class continued to study the system, the law and the processes and they made use of these to organise and plan. What was added to it was the complicity of the security agents where they looked another way from some of these infractions during elections. They are accused of being actively involved; we all saw it in broad daylight during the 2019 Rivers’ election when men of different security forces were fighting themselves. They are sister forces but they are not supposed to be against themselves. In Kogi it is yet to be confirmed, where there are allegations that some of the security agents were busy going around intimidating the electorate; then there is the story of the helicopter…
I have been monitoring elections for a long time. In previous elections, what we normally wrote was police intimidating journalists and observers. Why do we say that? It is because of those roadblocks they used to mount. You will have to pass through several roadblocks, where they would be asking us to identify ourselves. By putting up those roadblocks, it prevents people from just driving all over the place to monitor elections, because they would not have that free passage. We were in Kogi, but there was none of those roadblocks. Being able to return from Kogi is worth celebrating and doing thanksgiving for, because our lives were threatened. From the analysis centre, we heard sporadic gunshots, systematic and continuous ones.
Again, the question being raised is, what is the purpose of governance? What is the purpose of this democracy? If really democracy is to deliver development to the people and the essence is for people to serve, then why are we institutionalising violence? Why is the political class, the candidates that contest elections intitutionalising violence to win elections? Politics in Nigeria is where the winner takes all. You know that once you are out for four years you are not going to have anything and the incentive there is too large, because they know that once you get elected into the National Assembly, you are going to get a big car and money as welcome package. So, even if you get N10 million as your welcome package that is something. You also get money which is not accounted for and, as you continue to get all these you would not want to leave because people are fulltime politicians, which is not what it ought to be. I should be allowed to be a politician, but continue to do my job so that I can have my daily bread.
The senate has passed a resolution that military chiefs and top security chiefs should use the Kaduna-Abuja Road rather than going by train so they can confront the kidnappers, but that is not being complied with. What is your take?
It is a matter of implementation and that is what separation of powers does. It is the responsibility of the National Assembly to make laws, oversight the executive, pass that kind of resolution but they do not have the power of implementation. The implementation power is in the hands of the executive. Again, it is very difficult; sometimes the president makes some policy direction that are not necessarily being implemented by people working for him let alone resolutions of the National Assembly. You find that there is not much respect. In previous years you find that the executive, not just the president, ministries, parastatals, and MDAs have little or no respect for the National Assembly. I think it is part of the culture of impunity. There is nothing the National Assembly can do, because what you don’t have you can’t give. That is why there is separation of powers. They make the law and the executive implements.
Every now and then the Senate president talks about the National Assembly being on the same page with the executive. Are they supposed to be on the same page?
They are not meant to agree on everything. The fact is, there is separation of powers, but that does not mean they should be fighting each other also. Having a cohesive National Assembly should be of immense benefit to the country, because the policy direction of the nation would be followed through and there would be implementation and there would be better life for all. That does not mean they should be in agreement in every area. So, where is the check and balance? They have to know that there is separation of powers and the doctrine of check and balance, because those things work hand in hand. We have the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. You will see that they have different duties, but they also act as check and balance towards the executive, as there is this belief that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ If there are no checks and balances you can only imagine what becomes of governance.
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