By Tonnie Iredia
Wednesday, January 6, 2021 would go down in the history of the United States as a special and unforgettable day. It was a day when demonstrators invaded and seized the Capitol, the nation’s legislative complex. The country’s lawmakers led by Vice President Mike Pence were holding a joint session of the two chambers in line with the Constitution to certify the results of the last Presidential elections.
The last time an invasion occurred there was during the 1812 war, making the attack an unparalleled shock to all. The demonstrations which were in favour of the incumbent President Donald Trump were certainly not unexpected considering Trump’s high level of mobilization of party supporters against the outcome of the elections.
It was perhaps his last strategic effort at upturning the election results after the failure to use vote-recounts in several polling centres to validate allegations of vote-stealing and other election malpractices. Unfortunately, similar efforts made to get the Judiciary to reverse the results failed suggesting that President Donald Trump was essentially a bad loser.
The attack on the Capitol no doubt derogated markedly from the reputation of the US as the acclaimed bastion of democracy where every political action was expected to be in accord with the rule of law. Democrats whose party had won the election were shattered by the affront on the nation’s pivotal political institution.
Across the globe, many leading nations – UK, Germany, France, Russia etc. condemned the development while a few, notably China, mocked the US. In Nigeria, some critics wondered why we did not formally condemn the US as the latter was fond of doing at the end of each of our own general elections.
Only last September, she warned that she would place a visa ban on any political actor who contributed to election malpractices before, during and after the Edo governor election. The same threat was similarly issued weeks later during the Ondo governorship. With what happened on January 6, 2021, not even the greatest admirers of the US would credit the Americans with a better political behaviour than Nigerians.
However, a closer look at how politics and elections are managed in both countries would point at noticeable differences. To start with, the right to protest is a privilege in Nigeria notwithstanding our leaders’ claims to the contrary. Demonstrators in our clime can hardly get close enough to our National Assembly whether legislators are in session or not.
Indeed, to assemble at a public place like the Lekki toll gate is offensive enough to warrant official action that could lead to fatalities. Traditional demonstrators in Nigeria must have wondered aloud how aggrieved people were allowed into the Capitol with the audacity to ransack places like the Speaker’s office. One can only conjecture what would have run through the mind of our Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila while watching the destructions that took place at the Capitol last Wednesday with a near scoundrel taking over the Speaker’s seat.
Interestingly, many Republicans publicly condemned the demonstrations by their supporters. It would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find Nigerian politicians who would have similarly dared to disagree with any conduct, that was intended to benefit their party. Indeed, if the protests had occurred in Nigeria, the other party would have rented large crowds to attack the protesters.
So, let no one attempt to use the protests at the Capitol to insinuate that Nigeria and the US are the same. In fact, if it were Nigeria, those who voted in support of an election disowned by their President would have since been ordered to recant. There would even have been no need to resort to recounting of votes when we can easily ask our election officials to simply declare the election as inconclusive.
Honestly, the decision of the Republican-controlled states to accept the reality of the defeat of their candidate confirms that Nigerian and American attitudes to elections are basically dissimilar.
If in any case, our politicians were to pretend to believe in judicial determination of issues, no Nigerian political party including the opposition party would remain at peace without seeking to influence our judges. While the ruling party may use its incumbency etc. to intimidate the judges, the opposition party would raise enough resources to buy several consciences.
Hence, a recent investigative research on corruption in the country rated our judiciary as the gold winner. Let us remember that in our system, there are enough technical issues to be used to determine any case. One of them is to check the attendance register of the election tribunal to see if any of the members was absent any day or failed to sign the register.
That would be enough to reverse an officially unwanted victory. Although President Trump tried ahead of the election to bring in more pliable hands to the Supreme Court, he failed to get them to record non-existent votes to enable him to “win” more votes than voters which can easily be done in Nigeria.
The principle of responsibility by which leaders resign from office over negative issues or controversies is another obvious disparity between the US and Nigeria. The resignation of appointments by Trumps’ officials namely: Attorney General, Secretaries (Ministers) of Education, Transportation etc. over the President’s political indiscretion is alien to us. No one resigns here.
During the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan when insurgents attacked the least expected places like the UN building and Army barracks, no one was asked to resign, not the even the then Inspector General of Police (IGP) whose headquarters was also attacked. Instead, that year, the concerned IGP and our service chiefs were listed among those to receive our National Honours Awards.
The situation in the states is more interesting. At a time, a governor in Taraba state who was involved in a plane crash, remained incapacitated; but his state legislators voted for him to remain in office. Hearing from the media that US Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asking for the resignation of the relevant police chief as a consequence of the invasion of the Capitol underscores a basic difference in our political expectations.
There was also another call by the Speaker on Vice President Pence to use his good offices to remove President Trump. Based on the posture of the House, she threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump if Pence didn’t act. While none of the two actions can be consummated in the remain two weeks of Trump’s tenure, without breaching some rules, such calls are laughable in Nigeria.
Can our cooperative Senate President preside over an impeachment proceeding against our President? The other day some legislators allegedly apologized for supporting the motion to invite our President to address the House of Representatives over unending insecurity in the land. To some people that was insolence.
Nigeria cannot threaten to revoke the visas of offending US political leaders because unlike us, they have no business struggling to visit Nigeria. Besides, they have no ill-gotten assets hidden here for us to seize. In all, whereas the assault on the Capitol by Trump’s supporters is humiliating for the Americans, the difference in the political development of the two countries remains transparently clear.