US elections and lessons for Nigeria by foreign policy experts
It was a nail-biting long drawn presidential poll. The United States election, which pitted incumbent President Donald John Trump of the Republican Party against the Democratic Party challenger and immediate past Vice President, Joe R. Bidden, had all the trappings of a high stakes contest.
The controversies that trailed the election proved true to type with everything associated with the Trump administration. How far the disputations that revolved around the balloting and result of the exercise will go to smear US reputation, as the bastion of democracy would be seen after the inauguration.
As the US presidential election formed the major talking point around the world, the mail-in votes, which greatly enhanced the number of ballots cast, helped the poll to make history as returning the highest votes. Not minding that feat, President Trump’s utterances, the particularly unverified allegation of rigging and vote theft as well as attempt to return himself as winner midway into the process, raised questions about the credibility of the entire exercise.
Responding to some of these curious fallouts, including the recount in Georgia, a US-based journalist, Simon Ateba, writing from Washington DC said: “For those who may believe Trump’s baseless allegations of fraud, the election being reported stolen from him, I would like to state that in Georgia for instance, there is a Republican governor and the Secretary of State in charge of the election is also a Republican and also a very close ally of President Trump. Dismiss Trump’s claims; he’s a bad loser. He’s telling the world that even his party members are conspiring against him.
“What happened was that Trump told his supporters not to vote by mail because he was trying to downplay COVID-19, while Biden encouraged his supporters to vote by mail and protect themselves against COVID-19. And in many states, they counted the in-person ballots first and Trump was leading by hundreds of thousands of votes and he went on television to falsely claim he had won. But when they began counting the other votes, he began to lose and to claim fraud without any evidence. When challenged to provide evidence, he set up an office in Arlington, Virginia; to solicit evidence from his supporters. The reality, however, is, Republicans are the ones overseeing the elections in many states that Biden is winning.”
With the near semblance of the claims to what obtains in third world countries, could there be positive features for Nigeria to take away?
Former Director General (DG), Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Professor Bola Akinterinwa, observed that a country could learn lessons from anything if it has capacity and capability to do so. Capacity, he noted, is in the context of enabling environment and capability in the context of political will.
According to Akinterinwa, present-day Nigeria cannot be rightly said to have the capacity and the capability to learn from the 2020 US presidential elections.
His words: “Besides, the presidential electoral system in the United States is quite different from that of Nigeria. For instance, the President of Nigeria is elected on the basis of universal suffrage directly, while it is not so in the United States. Election of the US President is first at the level of what is referred to as the popular vote, involving the generality of the American people.
“After the popular vote comes that of the Electoral College, whose members are called the slate electors. This group of electors, comprising 538 people, is responsible for the eventual election of the US president and the Vice President. In fact, the election of the 538 electors is as a result of the allocated number of votes to the constitutive states of the US on the basis of the size of the population.
“However, if the situations were to be normal in Nigeria and there is capacity, there is the capability and the environmental conditionings are all favourable to translating whatever is learnt into action, some pertinent lessons can still be learnt. First, there is a need to take the issue of electronic voting more seriously in Nigeria. Electronic voting will help to reduce attempts at rigging, prevent periodical dissipation of energy and time, and eventually nip in the bud electoral corruption.”
To the former NIIA DG, the regular public appearances of both President Trump and his challenger, Joe Biden, to brief voters to either calm down, reassuring them of hope is noteworthy. He stated: “Presidential and other candidates for whatever level of election, should learn from this as it expresses responsibility and readiness for public accountability, which is not part of the political culture in Nigeria.
“Similarly noteworthy is the management of crisis or emergencies, particularly the impact of COVID-19. Without doubt, it was the fear of the possible spread of the virus that largely informed the need to encourage voters to cast their ballot by mail, rather than in-person voting. This was more convenient. It enabled the involvement of more voters. It enabled unprecedented voter turnout and made forceful social distancing unnecessary.
“In fact, it was democracy at play. In this regard, lessons can be learnt from both mail and electronic voting. Whether there will be the political will to provide the required infrastructure remains another kettle of fish entirely.”
The former diplomat noted that President Trump showed tolerance and patience, just as the former Vice President Biden, stressing that although Trump was fuming for the delay in counting votes, “the truth was that the delay came from the unexpectedly large turnout of votes coming through mails.”
While extolling the sermon of patience and understanding frequently preached by Biden, Akinterinwa said: “Political leaders need to imbibe this virtue of tolerant understanding. Every vote was made to count one by one. The commitment of election officers, working all day and night, eating light snacks and inserting voting cards into the counting machines at the same time is worthy of emulation.”
Independent Candidacy, Social
Akinterinwa urged Nigeria to adopt the idea of fielding independent candidates as obtains in the US, adding: “There was a Nigerian-American, who contested in one of the districts in the US as an independent candidate. This is beautiful; contesting is only possible through the medium of political parties in Nigeria. This should not be. Independent candidacy has therefore become a desideratum in Nigeria in order to advance democratic culture.”
He remarked that Nigeria electorate should learn from their American counterparts in terms of objectivity of voting, saying that in some swing states, where the Republicans have been kings for decades and which the Trump administration took for granted such as Arizona, voters acted on the basis of individual convictions and interests.
“There is nothing like vote-buying in the mania of Nigeria. Nigerian voters should therefore stop selling their conscience for whatever reasons. Above all, it is important to note that a country, where corruption has become a way of life, where political chicanery has become reckless, and perhaps, where freedom of peaceful protests are sanctioned by military shooting and killing innocent lives.
Also, where the gagging of the press, the social media, has now become a new element of political governance, and for that matter, in a democratic setting, it makes very little sense talking about lessons from the US elections as such lessons cannot be translated into meaningful action in Nigeria,” Akinterinwa stated.
On the implications of the possible emergence of Biden for Nigeria, the former DG argued that the implications can be multidimensional, essentially as it is important to note that US foreign policy is not likely to change under a Biden presidency.
His words: “It is the technique of diplomacy, or tactical diplomacy, that has the potential to change. In this regard, the expected changes cannot be constructively addressed now for reasons of conjectural limitations.
“However, there is no disputing the fact that every US democratic administration has been more sympathetic to African concerns than the Republican administrations. This means that better understanding between the United States and Nigeria can be expected.
“The controversial issue of Tucano aircraft to fight the Boko Haram insurgency has the potential to be given full expression. The mere fact of election of three Nigerian-Americans on the platform of the Democratic Party is also a major dynamic that also has the potential to be taken advantage of. Because Joe Biden is virtually a negation of what Donald Trump stands for in international relations, it can also be expected that he will normalise relationships with US traditional allies, take the US back to some international organisations from which it had withdrawn, reconsider some critical international agreements that Trump had rejected, and by so doing, impact significantly on a relationship with Nigeria.
“In fact, under Donald Trump, the making of foreign policy is essentially done at the White House. The Department of State is often sidelined. This is not likely to be so under Biden, being an establishment man and a seasoned public administrator. This cannot but also enable more foreign policy interactions between Nigeria and the US.
“What is important in all cases, is the capacity of Nigeria to impact on US foreign policy. Most unfortunately, however, Nigeria’s foreign policy is unnecessarily too reactive. It lacks focus and lustre. It is not programmatic. Consequently, there cannot but be very little to gain from the election of Joe Biden, unless there is a deliberate attempt to first address the domestic challenges. Whatever is the case, Joe Biden is most likely to be friendlier to Nigeria, and therefore, we should salute his courage, pray for the longevity of life for him and ask God to make him have eyes that can see objectively and maintain very cordial relationships with the Nigerian Diaspora in the United States.”
Also, a professor of history and development studies at the University of Ibadan, Prof Tayo Adesina, said the presidential election drew significant attention and interests all over the world, also because just like within the US itself, the whole world was arrayed into anti-President Trump and Pro-Trump groups.”
Adesina noted that, despite the tension generated, there are take away, especially as the emergence of Trump is a lesson to both emerging and old democracies that democracy itself is not foolproof.
“It can be manipulated and subverted. With its enduring institutions, there emerged a man who could subvert processes, values and ideals to the extent of dividing America down the middle. But, a day of reckoning came when men and women of goodwill rose to say enough is enough. They did not use extralegal means. For a young democracy like Nigeria experiencing the same irruption, we just have to follow the same democratic processes in resolving our problems. Organize, preach and move towards a goal.”
On her part, an International Politics analyst, Dr. Rosemary Oyinlola Popoola, said it seems Nigeria has nothing to learn from the US election, given the events leading to and during the election.
“The most difficult thing to watch for me in the last few days has been the US election. For many countries of the world, including ours, America is the inspiration and example of everything good about democracy and governance, despite its flaws. When things happen in Nigeria, it is not unusual to hear people say, ‘this will never happen in America.’”
With the emergence of Biden as President of US, what are the implications for Nigeria, Popoola noted that it is a perennial question that countries readily ask anytime there is about to be a change of guard in major countries of the world that are strategic to their interest—real or imagined.
“Specifically, for us in Africa and Nigeria in particular, this is a question that we are always fastidious about. I remember prior to and after the historic election of 2008 that brought in the first African American, President Barack Obama, the question was the same. What does this hold for us since our “brother” an African is in power? And since the ongoing election in the US, I have seen similar analysis and projection everywhere, from pessimists to optimists.
“One forecast by Renaissance Capital (RenCap) analysts project that a win for Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden “will attract $700 billion investments to Nigeria and other emerging markets”. Yet I am careful to align with any of this because I am yet to fully comprehend how a President’s priority will be people who live outside of his own country who did not elect him at the expense of the people he governs.
“ I know this may appear to go against my training, I am a graduate of International relations from undergraduate to doctorate. In international relations theory, the idealist standpoint is that given the strategic role of United States in global affairs, America’s manifest destiny and its self-assigned role as the police or “moral “conscience of the world, it is difficult for America to look away from the world’s problem.
“But through the years, I have found this idealist viewpoint challenged and inconsistent with enlightened self and National interest which is the fuel that drives every nation’s interaction with the world. Regardless of who becomes the President, their citizen will always be first as much as they are interested in helping others. Whether the candidate’s rallying word is MAGA or otherwise, their citizenry and National interest are first. That may likely explain the recent rescue of a kidnapped American in Nigeria. More so, it appears to me that every country is faced with the Gareth Hardin lifeboat ethics. Every country is trying to survive and its survival is not always guided by some ethical rule that put others before their own interest. Countries don’t mind ruining others with the debt burden as long as they remain afloat and preserve the future of their citizen.”
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