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When a democracy breeds dictators

By Ikechukwu Amaechi
As the national chairman of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Chief Bisi Akande made a very telling comment in 2011, which grassed the mindset of the average Nigerian politician.

In the heat of that year’s party primaries, the assumption was that the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, would implode for lack of internal democracy, while the ACN, the main opposition party, would reap bountifully from the implosion.

That did not happen because the PDP had a more transparent primary election than the ACN.

Many who were not attuned to the asinine politics of the so-called Nigerian progressives were aghast.

That was when Chief Akande weighed in. The self-proclaimed avant-garde of democracy argued that his party was right in denying bonafide members the opportunity to elect candidates for the elections, leaning, deliberately, on fallacious argument.

Justifying imposition, he invoked a spurious authority, thus stretching the limits of deceit.

“The British democracy is the oldest in the world and you cannot see political parties there conducting primary elections before choosing their candidates. They do it by picking competent hands that are trustworthy in the judgement of the party. So, we believe that election under a democratic setting is when we are contesting with other political parties during polls. If election within our party is what you are trying to describe as internal democracy, then we reject such idea.”

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The respected former Osun State governor was being economical with the truth and I said so on January 28, 2011. Writing on “ACN primaries and Akande’s fallacious argument,” I said:

“For the party which had all along presented itself as being different from the pack, the chickens have come home to roost. The party’s primary elections have put a lie to all the claims that its members, particularly its leading lights, are a different breed of politicians. If anything, they have proved that ACN leaders are less democratic, in orientation and temperament, than the PDP leaders they castigate at every turn.”

Is it true that party members are not allowed to choose their candidates in Britain; that they delegate the responsibility to a few wise men who claim to be the owners of the party?

No! And Chief Akande knows that in Britain, members of a political party wishing to contest election make their intentions known to the national leadership. It is the duty of the party apparatchik to ensure that such aspirants meet the membership requirements and after scrutiny they are approved to contest the primaries. Such candidates, once cleared, go on the hustings in their primary constituencies. It is only after these political meetings and speeches that last for weeks that votes are cast to decide the flag bearers. This is true for both the Labour and Conservative parties.”

I concluded that article by raising some pertinent issues.

“Even if ACN decided to adopt its deceitful ‘home grown’ method where only a few members decide who became a candidate, and assuming that was not an infraction on the Electoral Act, were the aspirants told when they were purchasing nomination forms that there would be no primaries? Were they told that ‘party elders’ rather than members would decide their fate?

“If they were told and they still went ahead to buy nomination forms, then, it is their problem. But if they were not told and Chief Akande and his ilk took their money and gave them the impression that they would contest in a competitive free and fair primaries, that is not only unfair, but also an infraction on Section 419 of the country’s criminal code. That is OBT (obtaining by trick). It is a crime.

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“It is scandalous that the leadership of ACN is brazenly promoting nepotism and cronyism as core values of the party.

“If foisting of wives, concubines, biological children and political godsons on hapless members, rather than allowing them choose their candidates is the style of ACN, so be it, but it is disingenuous for the chairman to claim that the style was an attempt to stop those who want “to come and hijack the party because of their dirty money.”

That was eight years ago. Today, ACN no longer exists and Chief Akande is in his political twilight. Yet, nothing has changed. If anything, almost two decades after the bombast, the democratic reflexes of the political elite have become more dictatorial as the political processes increasingly become less democratic.

The unfortunate tales emanating from party primaries across board where the will of a powerful minority prevailed have left many patriots worrying if democratic culture will ever take root in Nigeria.

Recently, Dr. Boniface Chizea, a seasoned economist, lamented thus: “In almost all cases across parties, the selection process was so brazenly negligent of any known civilised procedures, you are left wondering if there were no guidelines provided by INEC.”

On Tuesday, November 13, the INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, joined the lamentation orchestra, howling that the Commission had been sued over 200 times because of the 2018 primary elections.

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He identified growing trend of vote-buying, do-or-die political mentality, absence of internal democracy in political parties and poor management of intra-party contests, incendiary speeches, insecurity, impunity and lack of consequences for electoral offenders, as some of the challenges facing INEC.

What he missed out is the incipient sense of entitlement of the political elite, particularly the governors.

What is going on in Nigeria in the name of democracy is sheer travesty. The impunity of the political elite is enervating and mind-boggling. Those who orchestrate the electoral heist mock all of us. They dare all of us with their imperious in-your-face attitude.

Truth be told, this malaise is not a 2018 phenomenon. It started with the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency. But the APC government has taken it to a dangerous height so much so that Aso Rock decided for the leadership of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, who their governorship candidate in Imo State should be.

There was no primary election. It was simply payback time. For being “magnanimous” not to play what is now known in local political parlance as the “Osun card” in last year’s Anambra State governorship election, Governor Willie Obiano  agreed that henceforth, APGA would become an APC political satellite. In all these deals, the people don’t matter. Merit is inconsequential. Flawed leadership recruitment process is the nemesis of our quest for national renaissance.

Governors decide who gets what

In all the states, across party divides, governors appropriate, forcibly, the nomenclature of party leaders. They, therefore, decide who gets what. People become candidates of their political parties not because their members wanted them to fly the flags but because godfathers said so.

Even after “winning” the primary election, would-be candidates relocate to Abuja to “police” their mandate.

From the time primaries are held till INEC publishes the names, the lists are changed multiple times, with names deleted and relisted whimsically. There is absolute contempt for the will of the people.

The governors who are crying today are doing so because they have been outflanked politically. But they are lamenting because they know that the impunity of imposition is the norm and they also know that those who claim to be standing on moral high ground like the APC national chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, are not the saints they claim to be.

That is the nature of Nigeria’s democracy, a democracy that has become a training ground for dictators.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.