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More than Just Elections

As Jega and his team prepare for the 2011 elections it is important tounderscore that the nation needs to pay more attention to how the INEC organizes the elections.

It is a good omen that both the executive and the legislature have worked together to secure for Professor Jega the money he says he needs to give Nigerians free and fair elections in 2011. The bill is too much. But most people think it is not unbearable for the good of free and fair elections.

Professor Jega deserves commendation so far for being forthright with the people. He has expressed his fears and anxieties about the election. Unlike Professor Maurice Iwu, he has not over-promised. He has also not hidden his intentions and has refused the urge to dismiss public concern about transparency and accountability. It is good that he has admitted some inaccuracies in the budget and promised to return any reminder of the huge 87 billion naira appropriated for INEC.

There is one reason we should give Jega whatever he requested even when he comes with a big bowel. The 2007 election is more than an election. Its meaning and consequences reach to the possibility of transformation and renewal for Nigeria.

Yes, we will be electing the President and his deputy, Governors and federal and state legislators for another term of four years. But more than that, we would be attempting to entrench a core principle of democracy, which is that the people can remove from power those they elect into positions of authority. This is a simple idea. But its great importance is further underlined by its absence in Nigerian politics.

There are many ways to look at the Nigerian situation. But one powerful perspective is that the stagnancy in democracy and development relates to the absence of incentive to invest in the wellbeing of the people.

I can’t help to wonder why any Governor would consider seriously the idea of selfless service to the people if it does not matter whether he serves the people well or not.

One powerful insight about life drawn from the study of economics is that if there is no cost for noncompliance then there is little incentive to do the act.

So, if the elected official suffers no consequence for refusing to serve the people, it will only be a moral saint or a fool who would devote his tenure doing good for the people. Even in matters of religious belief, if no matter what we do here we all inherit the same fate in the hereafter, why would reasonable persons sacrifice their pleasure on earth to be good?

We try to be good because it pays to be good, either in the here or in the hereafter. So, a little bit of incentive is required to make people fear God and live pious lives.

We might be tempted to think that what we need to get Nigeria moving is just to let the good man or woman become President. The argument about the role of the good man or good woman in power is a very attractive one because it harks to the idea of human agency.

The venerable Lee Kuan Yew, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore, argued powerfully that with good men and women managing bad systems we will still get good governance. Human beings make the difference.

We are always able as human beings to reinvent the conditions of human existence. There is no fatalism about the human condition. People make the difference. But this existentialist credo should not blind us to the reality of the powerful role institutions play in determining what people do. The character of the rule of engagement matters as well.

You cannot imagine how governance will change drastically in Nigeria if President, Governors and Legislators wake up in the morning of 2011 to realize that the votes of ordinary people count. It will have a sea-change impact. It will imbue in them a quick and pricking realization that there are new masters of the universe- the ordinary citizens.

It will cure the present foolishness and put a new urgency about engaging the people. If the votes of the people suddenly begin to count then those who occupy political offices will feel compelled to seek out the welfare of the people. If politicians can no longer easily rig themselves to power, they would begin to pay attention to issues in politics.

This is why scholars of development argue that there is a relationship between degree of dependence of the leaders on the people and the investment of public finance on human development. When the leaders need the people to survive in the power they take more care of the peoples’ business. Check out Governors Ngige and Obi.

In this sense, it is important that we have free and fair elections in 2011 than that some particular candidate win the election.  This may sound counter intuitive. But that’s the truth.

The real cause of the failure of leadership and development in Nigeria is the absence of strong incentive for good leadership in the Nigerian political economy and culture. The institutions of governance defined as the rules of political engagement do not allow for the sort of behaviors from citizens which sustain democracy as a way of life.

Democracy is foremost a matter of behavior before it becomes a matter of governance.

The implication of this abstract analysis is to reinforce the importance of vigilance and activism on electoral reform as we count down to 2011. It is good to be passionate, even fanatical, about candidate A or B. But it is more helpful to the public good if we all rally together to ensure that the elections arefree and fair, no matter who wins.

Having handed Professor Jega his requested financial support we should not go back to sleep. I remember when Iwu swept through the halls of the National Assembly and got huge financial support to conduct the 2007 elections. He promised everyone he would give Nigerians free and fair elections.

We all believed and when the tell-tale signs started showing we did not hold his legs to the fire. Jega is more believable and trustworthy than Iwu. Jega comes to the job with a pedigree better than Iwu’s. But we would be in error if we go to sleep singing “Oh we have found our man”.

The ordinary people of Nigeria should not lose this opportunity to structurally alter the character of election. Even if the leaders do not mean their rhetoric on free and fair election we should seize the moment and rhetoric. For one we can go throughout the country and get the people to come out in their masses and register to vote. Then they should vote and defend their votes on election days.

It is really difficult to rig elections when the people come out in multitude to votes. And if the 2011 elections are not rigged then Nigeria is getting on the path to recovery. 2011 elections are not ordinary elections.

Dr. Sam Amadi, Abuja, Nigeria


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