By Eric Teniola
I WAS a reporter under Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande (88) when he was Managing Director, African Newspaper Limited, publisher of THE NIGERIAN TRIBUNE, between 1972 and 1974. Eventually, Oga became Governor of Lagos State between 1979-1983 and later Minister of Works and housing between 1993 and 1998.
On February 7, 2002, he presented a paper at a workshop organised by the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. The contents of the paper are still relevant in today’s Nigeria.
He declared “The subject to be addressed is “Elections and the survival of democracy in Nigeria”. Democracy means different things to different persons. We must, therefore, start with a clear definition of our goal and the premises on which this paper is based. Abraham Lincoln, a great President of the United States, has given us an inimitable definition of Democracy as being “Government of the People by the People and For the People”. There can be no better definition. Government of the people is not necessarily democratic.
A monarchy, an oligarchy or dictatorship can be a Government of the people. Our own traditional institutions, in their variety, were government of the people and were accepted as such by them. Government for the people is also not necessarily democratic. A benevolent dictatorship or monarchy can pass for Government for the People, as long as it serves the interest of the people. But Government by the people is different from all these. It is government of the people by the people themselves. Of course, it is not practicable for all the people to govern themselves directly. Hence the people ‘delegate’ power to whom they wish to exercise government on their behalf.
That delegation is done by the election of persons to govern the people for a limited and specific period of time. That is democracy. From 1914 to 1960, the Government of the United Kingdom assumed and exercised the governance of Nigeria. But October 1, 1960, Nigerians have held five elections to elect their own Government. Elections were held in 1964, 1979, 1983, 1993 and 1999. Each of the elections was remarkable, historic and memorable.
The 1964 election was indisputably the worst of them. The conduct of the election provoked political violence of an unprecedented magnitude. The political violence was the spontaneous reaction of the people to the blatant and reckless attempt to impose a minority party, the NNDP, on the majority of citizens. We do not approve of violence, on any ground because violence injures the best cause. But in 1964, the conduct of the election was deliberately intended to incite the people against constituted authority of law and order.
One incident I can never forget illustrates this fact. A well- known politician in Ekiti Division of the then Western Nigeria contested the election in his constituency and won on the platform of the AG. But the official result announced from the state capital, Ibadan, gave his figure to his NNDP opponent and announced the latter winner. This politician travelled to Ibadan. There he lied that he was not a member of the AG, but that of the NNDP. Ibadan consequently changed the announcement and declared the true winner. When the politician got back to Ekiti he continued his membership of the AG. The information got to Ibadan, and Ibadan changed the’ result again declaring the politician as loser. This was not an isolated incident. It was the general pattern of the 1964 elections in the Western Region of Nigeria. While, therefore, we must condemn political violence. We must also acknowledge and condemn the acts of omission or commission which provoke political violence.
The 1979 elections produced the Second Republic of Nigeria, which has been described as the golden age of the Nigerian Federation. There were allegations of manipulation and malpractices. However, they did not come near to 1964. The 1983 elections were held, but the elected governments were overthrown by the military three months later. The reason given for this military intervention was rigging of the elections.
Then came 1993. This is a very important watershed in the history of our dear country. By all accounts, this was the best, the freest and the most successful election ever held in Nigeria. It signified a charge of baton from the conservative political parties to the progressive. But it was annulled by the military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida, in his absolute discretion.
That annulment was the greatest evil done to this country by any Nigerian ruler before and since independence. It made nonsense of democracy. It destroyed public morality. It destroyed party politics and the discipline that goes with it. It was a disaster from which Nigeria is yet to recover.
The 1999 election brought to office the present Administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo. It is the beginning of our New Democracy. In this new Democracy, party ideology does not exist; party discipline has disappeared, intra party crises are more prevalent than Inter party conflicts. We hunger for a sense of direction. We thirst for well-articulated people-oriented programmes. The suffering of our people is in the superlative degree in every sector – Education, Health care, Food, Housing, Employment, and Security of life and Property-, and now political killings on a scale which alarms every Nigerian.
As we prepare, we must bear in mind the lessons of our past experience.
The first lesson is that those who are privileged to be in position of legislative and executive power today should resist the temptation to manipulate the election process in their own favour whether or not the electorate rejects them. It is this temptation that has killed democracy at every turn of the road in our short political life as a nation.
The second lesson is that it is the ‘Almighty God’ who dispenses public office to whoever He wants. It is not by might nor by wealth that any person finds himself in a public office, it is entirely the will of God. Why then should we kill or maim one another when everyone’s position has been destined by his Creator?
The third lesson is that, without a definite programme of work and without a sense of direction and discipline within our political parties, we are like a rudderless ship State on the high seas subject to buffeting by ‘the wind and the ocean.
All the political parties should publicly renounce violence; particularly political killings, as part of our political culture. Special courts should be established for the speedy trial of cases of political violence. A person proved to be involved by sponsorship or otherwise in political violence should be disqualified from contesting any elections for five years.
All the political parties should publicly commit themselves to free and fair election. Any person who is proved to be manipulating electoral procedure or a person in whose favour it is manipulated should be banned for five years from holding any public office apart from any other punishment provided in the statutes.
These proposals will discourage the manipulation of elections and arrest the use of violence to achieve political ends.