Nigeria Today

November 8, 2020

Political integrity is getting more elusive everywhere

By Tonnie Iredia

Political apathy generally results from lack of interest in politics and the political process especially elections. Many people are dissuaded from politics because of the unwholesome behaviour of different political actors.

Although politics is no doubt a dirty game, we are all enjoined to embrace rather than shun it because if reasonable people decline to actively participate in elections, they will unwittingly leave the scene for idiots to determine the fate of a nation and her people. Painfully however, events have since shown that politics has the capacity of staining whoever joins the process, no matter in what country.

Nigerians and other citizens in developing societies who always assumed that politics was in good shape except in their parts of the world have much rethinking to do after the 2020 American presidential election. Who would ever have imagined that some of the things that came to light could happen in the US that prides itself as the bastion of democracy worldwide?

The covid 19 pandemic denied many of us, traditional election monitors, the urge to travel to the US to observe the process. But thanks to technology, it was as if one was virtually on ground. Indeed, from the many strange things unearthed by the Internet, I was almost tempted to think that observing from Nigeria was more beneficial, though no one is sure if the reports we got could have passed the official test set for fake news this way.

I always knew political lobbying and financial tips were legal in God’s own country, but the fine difference between them and out-right bribery was completely narrowed pictorially. I saw beautifully packaged gifts to voters allegedly dispatched by campaign officials of the Republican party!

The only difference this time was that there was no allegation that the gifts were sourced from hoarded covid 19 palliatives as was reportedly done this way. Again, the items were fresh-looking and neatly packaged unlike the cheap and mean vote-buying postures in our clime.

As for election rigging, it was President Trump himself who first revealed attempts to undermine votes. I had my doubts though, more so, as Trump remained the incumbent. If rigging was the issue, from where did the opposition candidate get the force to overwhelm an incumbent?

Perhaps the situation in the US is quite different from ours because for no less than four days, Trump kept raising alarm about illegal votes about which he could do nothing. Changing the electoral tide in Nigeria doesn’t take that long; a couple of hours was enough to get strong chaps to run away with some ballot boxes or to influence some electoral officials to just swap figures from a few polling centres.

So, to us, the noise about illegal votes was virtually meaningless considering that in a recent governorship election, a candidate reportedly secured more votes than voters. In fact, in many of our local government elections, some candidates often got credited with millions of votes in centres where election could not even hold. And here was Trump just wailing!

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May be Donald Trump joined the political process of the wrong country because it doesn’t appear as if the political system in the US tolerates his strategy.  In the early stages of the election process, the president did declare his own reelection while the end of vote counting was still far away. The general response was rather tragic for him as many people merely told him to shut up being a candidate who couldn’t reasonably double as an election umpire.

Even in Nigeria, our politicians have for long abstained from doing that. The last time we had an example of such electoral indiscretion was 37 years ago when the then Imo State governor, Sam Mbakwe used his state owned radio and television to announce his reelection in the governorship election of 1983 when FEDECO, Nigeria’s electoral body of the time was still counting the votes in the election.

Unlike Trump, Mbakwe had public sympathy because it was an open secret that his opponent belonged to the then leading party, the National Party of Nigeria that was notorious for vote stealing.

There are however strong arguments by many political analysts that perhaps there was institutional collusion against Trump. Unfortunately, that was contributed to if not entirely caused by the man himself. So many things had gone wrong well before the election which pulled together many forces against his reelection.

Most prominent of such wrongs was Trump’s irrational attitude towards the covid 19 pandemic. He spent more time insisting it was the handiwork of China than he did to save his people from the scourge. He tried to discountenance the large figure of casualties with he himself infected. During the electioneering campaigns, he encouraged mass movements of his supporters with none wearing face masks in breach of the rule.

He also exhibited a tendency to incur enmity from his abrasive approach of harping on things that several people disbelieved thereby creating a huge credibility gap between himself and the people.

Trump’s most incredible stance was his struggle to disenfranchise millions of eligible voters on the ground that posted ballots were susceptible to fraud. Whether or not there is any logic in the argument, it was hard to invalidate a convention that had been in place over the years. In addition, he was not known to have held a similar view when he won the 2016 elections.

Besides, with the unending prevalence of covid 19 infections, the option of using mailing votes was more transparently superior to his preference for voters who were physically at the polling centres to cast their vote. Above all of this, was the perception of some people that the president’s desperation to remain in office was not due to love for service to the people but an attempt to postpone several litigations that await the end of his tenure.

As aptly put by one analyst when Trump leaves office he will be confronted by ‘two divorces, six bankruptcies, twenty-six accusations of sexual misconduct, and an estimated four thousand lawsuits.’ Is Trump scared of life after his presidency?

History tells us that no American President has ever been charged with a criminal offence after his tenure notwithstanding that the nation’s constitution does not extend the provision on immunity to former presidents.  But, from the boisterous life style of Donald Trump, no one is sure if his successors would not seek to make him the first in history to be humiliated.

After all, many former Presidents in other counties have not been that lucky. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was so treated after being convicted of tax fraud.  The famous Jacques Chirac ended up as the first former president of France to be convicted on criminal charges. He thus descended from the status of a world-leading statesman to a man broken by ill-health and disgraced by his past.

In Nigeria, and elsewhere, the fact that many politicians were disgraced and imprisoned after leaving office has not stopped corruption in public offices in such countries. This has greatly helped to confirm our fears that political integrity has remained an elusive trait worldwide.