By Tonnie Iredia
The controversy as to whether our people prefer military rule to democracy raised last week by Senator Smart Adeyemi (Kogi West) was unnecessary because those who controverted him were living in denial. Adeyemi was not talking about ‘democracy’ and ‘dictatorship’ as abstract terms, he was talking about the results of governance which both systems of government had bequeathed to Nigerians over the years. He was indeed, talking about democracy not in its ideal form but as currently practiced in Nigeria. We have no iota of doubt that Senator Adeyemi spoke the minds of the generality of our people. However, if a plebiscite is organized in Nigeria today concerning our peoples’ position on the subject, democracy can only be helped to win. Many votes would be concocted by election riggers just to validate the common saying that military rule is an aberration. Put differently, people would be coerced to vote in line with current global reality that democracy is the peak of modern government.
Our premise is that the plebiscite would be rigged the Nigerian way leading to the real winner losing in many voting centres. In other words, democracy would be summarily declared the winner. Any election petition by the lawyer for military rule may likely be struck out at the election tribunal for lacking in merit. If by chance some strange judges at the courts below mistakenly do the right thing by pronouncing military rule as the rightful winner, the appeal court would reverse the victory on account of a rumour that one of the judges below failed to sign the attendance register on one day. At the supreme court, democracy might even win with more votes than voters. Should there a call for a correction of that error, the court will with finality insist that it has no power of review not withstanding that history records instances where the apex court subordinated its power of finality to the reality of the fallibility of humanity. Thus, there is no way Senator Adeyemi could have won the controversy he initiated in the senate.
But then, that many senators would not agree with Adeyemi must not be taken to mean that any of them disagreed with his reasoning; their only resentment is with his bitter conclusion that Nigeria’s fake elections bring charlatans to power. Interestingly, the senator said nothing new. At the beginning of our current democratic experiment, one senator described some of his colleagues as ‘confirmed distinguished crooks’ whose criminal tendencies he once investigated while he was Deputy Inspector General of Police. Like Adeyemi, the man was similarly hounded in the senate at the time because as usual Nigerian politicians abhor truth. Painfully, they succeeded in stopping him from naming the culprits thereby making it impossible for the nation to know their numerical strength. But no one could hound another courageous senator who admonished his colleagues at one public hearing on INEC bill. At the event which held on April 20, 2005, the senator said “most of us came here (senate) through electoral malpractices in the 2003 elections. So, we should be mindful of how we handle this bill.” In 2018, a former deputy senate president who claimed to have become ‘a born again’ confessed on national television that he played active roles in rigging elections in favour of his party.
Based on the above stories and bearing in mind that one of the cardinal features of democracy is free and fair elections, Nigeria is not qualified to distance itself from anti-democratic countries. To start with, soldiers are not part of elections in a democracy, but they are in Nigeria. Just before the 2015 general elections, some opposition politicians who are now in the ruling party got a court judgment disallowing the use of soldiers in the conduct of elections. But since they got into government, they have been illegally deploying soldiers to election venues. During the last governorship elections in Kogi state, the home state of Senator Adeyemi, Nigerians watched what one analyst called ‘bullet shelling’ of polling booths from a special helicopter in the air operated by ‘fake’ police. Adeyemi is thus well positioned to deprecate our pseudo-democracy which is not centered on free and fair elections; and which would thus neither know the winner nor embrace the democratic feature called majority rule. At a time, our governors organized an election to determine who should be their chairman. The election ended with two candidates scoring 19 and 16 votes respectively. But the federal government and the ruling party recognized the candidate with 16 votes.
Another feature of democracy which Nigeria does not possess is adherence to the rule of law – a constitutional concept on liberty where everything is expected to be done according to law and its due process. Of course, great jurists such as A. V. Dicey who popularized legal slogans like ‘everyone is equal before the law’ and ‘no one is above the law’ never imagined that there would be countries such as Nigeria that would brazenly discountenance the principles of the rule of law and yet count themselves among world democracies. Only three days ago, we saw how members of the ruling party went to two Courts of coordinate jurisdiction in Abuja and Kano to respectively suspend and quash the suspension of their national chairman. Some years earlier another party acted similarly and obtained orders from Port Harcourt and Lagos Courts to remove and retain their interim chairman. The trend is sustained because ours is not a proper democracy where there is judicial independence. At a recent valedictory session for a retiring judge organized by the Akwa Ibom state judiciary, the judge revealed that he was trailed by suspected security operatives for over two years after delivering judgment in a particular case.
Perhaps the most crucial evidence that ours is not a democracy is exemplified by our disregard for the most important feature of democracy which is the sovereignty of the people. In a democracy, power belongs to the people because they are the source of political power. Accordingly, everything is expected to be done on their behalf but every day in Nigeria we see politicians elected to represent us in government using sirens and horsewhips to chase away from the roads, the same people they purport to represent. It is foolhardy to seek to differentiate this behaviour from that of the military or to dispense our energies identifying which is better as the difference is exactly the same between six and half a dozen.
Politicians with a military hangover are same as the military which is why in line with military tradition, every top Nigerian office holder while addressing people always has a security operative standing behind him. We don’t want military rule; we also don‘t want democracy run by political charlatans. Senator Adeyemi no doubt said precisely what he wanted to say. His staff who came out to clarify the statement merely translated into ‘local english’ what the senator said in Queen’s English.