By Douglas Anele
In other words, given the choice to appease certain elements of the northern power block, his loyalists in the army and personal safety or hand over to a President that emerges through a fairly credible election who might not be amenable to control by the caliphate, Gen. Babangida preferred to play safe and chose the first option. He annulled the presidential election which Chief Abiola was poised to win and installed a lame-duck interim government headed by Ernest Shonekan.
In doing that, Babangida sent democracy back into deep coma after reluctantly attempting to revive it through his zigzag, highly manipulated, transition programme. Although for the uninformed the interim arrangement represents a flicker of hope that democracy might be fully resuscitated in the not too distant future, the unceremonious removal of Shonekan by Gen. Sani Abacha dissipated such illusory hope. Abacha embarked on a systematic entrenchment of himself in power, but his plan to mutate into a civilian President was permanently scuttled by death.
His successor, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, hurriedly organised a flawed democratic transition that produced Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who moved straight from prison to Aso Rock as the elected President on May 29, 1999. Nigerians were tired of military dictatorship; so, they overlooked Abubakar’s shenanigans and the electoral malpractices that helped Obasanjo to win. Of course, the 1999 return to ‘democracy’ was not a decisive break with the military. Rather, it was the transfer of power from a retiring general to a retired general and former head of state. As with other contingent ironic coincidences of history, the first soldier to hand over power to an elected leader in Nigerian history was destined to be the first retired military leader to be elected President.
With the conclusion of Abubakar’s transition programme, civilian governance was restored; but its outcome was inherently defective. Specifically, aside from weak democratic culture and institutions coupled with the continuing retrogressive influence of retired top military officers in the system, the 1999 constitution could never be a solid foundation for building an efficient and viable democratic federation. To start with, the document contains several suffocating unitarist provisions that drastically curtail the capacity of ethnic nationalities that ought to be the federating units to exploit optimally their human and natural resources for development.
For instance, the number of items in the Exclusive Legislative List (sixty-eight) is definitely inappropriate for a multiply diverse country like Nigeria. This issue has been a leitmotif in recent years, and it constitutes the major reason why a broad section of Nigerians across the three geopolitical zones in the south, including civil society groups and leading socio-cultural organisations, have been demanding the implementation of what is sometimes referred to as “true federalism” or “restructuring.” Now, the power structure at all the arms and tiers of government inherited since 1999 were designed during the regimes of northern military rulers to ensure that the north continues to implement its own agenda and also scuttle any attempt by the south to stop northern domination.
That is why northern politicians, members of the National Assembly particularly, always arrogantly claim that “it is a game of numbers” whenever important issues like constitutional amendment to address the structural imbalances which favour the north to the detriment of the south are tabled for discussion, knowing that they have the numerical superiority to torpedo any such amendment. To be clear, prominent northerners can pretend from now till the end of time that “the north is not afraid of restructuring.” They are only deceiving themselves because the moment Nigeria reverts to the 1960 or 1963 republican constitution that allows different parts of the country to retain the bulk of revenue derived from their areas, the relatively free money flowing from south to north will reduce considerably.
Expectedly, the northern elite benefitting from the current irrational, unfair and inefficient arrangement does not want that to happen. Southern politicians propping up the present political economy of Nigeria on the lame excuse of preserving “national unity” seem not to realise that they are actually sustaining the skewed system deliberately designed by the British which permits the north to dominate and dictate despite contributing far less economically than the south to the commonwealth.
The weaknesses in Nigeria’s democratisation process are evident in all the institutions that ought to work harmoniously together to promote the steady growth of democratic practice. Everyone knows that it is impossible to have a viable democracy without an independent impartial electoral body that can deliver free and fair elections. But since 1999, our elections have been seriously tainted by incompetent handling of the process by the so-called Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that seems incapable of insulating itself from the overbearing corrupting influence of the ruling parties in power.
In this regard, despite attempts by INEC to sanitise its operations and enhance the quality of elections through the introduction of new stringent guidelines and technological devices like card readers, this year’s elections are probably the worst in Nigerian history. The main reason for this disappointing situation is that politicians, especially top members of the ruling the All Progressives Congress (APC) seem to have determined that the party must win at all cost. From the presidential contest down to state elections, the Adams Oshiomhole-led APC was not genuinely committed to free and fair elections. In various parts of the country (Rivers and Kano states stand out in this regard) the party deployed state apparatus of power to intimidate the opposition, journalists and election observers.
For sure, the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also committed electoral malpractices especially during the sixteen years it was in power at the centre – and even in this year’s elections, though at a smaller scale. Unfortunately, APC took brazen rigging to a whole new level to the extent of surreptitiously using purported social intervention programmes, especially tradermoni, to buy votes. Let us be forthright on this tissue: electoral malpractices are coeval with the introduction of party politics in Nigeria. The elections of 2019 are unique because the APC performed far below expectations, and out of desperation to cling on to power masterminded a very audacious electoral fraud. Consequently, there is widespread feeling that the outcome of the presidential election did not really reflect the choice of majority of Nigerians.
I strongly believe that the flaws which characterised the last elections are partly attributable to the speeches and “body language” of President Muhammadu Buhari. In fact, he should not have presented himself for re-election, given his age, health status and, most importantly, his mediocre handling of the country since May 29, 2015. His obsession with winning, his rejection of amendments to the 2010 Electoral Act that, if implemented appropriately, would likely improve the electoral process, and the speed with which he replaced Chief Justice Walter Onoghen with a sharia judge who might decide in his favour should the outcome of the presidential election be a matter for litigation at the Supreme Court – all this gives the impression that Mr. President was determined to do whatever it takes to retain power.
Recently, Buhari made the startling outlandish claim that his re-election was a reward from Nigerians for his performance in office. The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who appears to be fixated with blaming the PDP as a scapegoat for the egregious failures of this government, believes that Buhari’s re-election is divinely ordained. For myself, it is sad that both men, who are devout Muslim and Christian respectively, can peddle the fiction of integrity and moral uprightness when the reality on ground is completely different. Consider this: when late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was declared winner after the 2007 presidential election, he frankly acknowledged that the electoral system was inadequate and set up the Muhammadu Uwais’ committee to articulate appropriate reforms.
His successor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who insisted that his political ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian, approved amendments to the 2010 Electoral Act close to the 2015 polls as an indication of his commitment to improved elections in the country. But “Saint” Buhari seems to be more interested in winning elections than in improving our electoral processes – he has never acknowledged that the two presidential elections he “won” were marred by serious irregularities.
To be continued