As the TV showed Wednesday night, as a mob stormed the United States of America’s national legislature, I bemoaned Africa’s weak democratic institutions.
Now and then, my “Big Sister,” Professor Tess Onwueme, she who has been nominated for the Literature Nobel Prize, that giant of African and world poetics, one of the purest diamonds that God decorated Nigerian intellectual firmament with, came across on the phone to ohhhhh and ahhhhh at the sorry sight.
On leaving her, I would return to my phone conversations with Prof. Kingsley Macebuh—the younger brother of that incomparable original thinker, the late Dr. Stanley Macebuh, trying to make sense of the American tragedy and its lessons for Nigeria.
Ambassador George Obiozor (ah! another Prof), once told me at the Abuja Sheraton Hotel in 1999, that Dr Stanley Macebuh was Nigeria’s Immanuel Kant, and were he still alive, he would have given a stimulating insight into how the insurrection would affect the US for he was a philosopher; hey! Stanley was already an Associate Professor at the City College of New York and Columbia University when he returned to Nigeria.
Obiozor made me study Kant, (1724–1804), still the central figure in modern philosophy, despite the passage of the centuries. Kant once enthused: “Our age is the age of criticism, to which everything must submit” and that “Enlightenment is about thinking for oneself rather than letting others think for you”, according to the essay, What is Enlightenment?
There, Kant expresses the Enlightenment faith in the inevitability of progress; a few independent thinkers will gradually inspire a broader cultural movement, which ultimately will lead to greater freedom of action and governmental reform. A culture of enlightenment is “almost inevitable” if only there is “freedom to make public use of one’s reason in all matters.”
So, how much reason goes into government actions? Why did reason not tell US President Donald Trump that Joe Biden won the election clean and square?
What lessons lie for Nigerians in the sacking of the US Congress? What if President Olusegun Obasanjo had lost the 2003 presidential elections to Buhari? What if Obasanjo’s Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar had won the 2007 election, would Obasanjo have allowed that result to stand? What if the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari had lost the 2019 election? What would have happened?
I ask these questions because if any supporters of any Nigerian president had stormed the National Assembly as we saw on TV on Wednesday night, blood would have flowed across Nigeria as it would have assumed ethnic and religious colourations.
Nigeria stood at the brink of the precipice when Obasanjo lost the third term bid. But I will forever thank Obasanjo for knowing where to stop once the Senate voted down the scheme. What if he had dared everybody? What if some tough official in his administration had employed real strong-arm tactics against say, the National Assembly?
What if former President Goodluck Jonathan did not concede defeat to Buhari but had attempted to stop or reverse the release of the results which did not favour him?
Please consider this: At 3:33 a.m., Thursday morning, Mr. Joe Biden received 270 Electoral College votes. At 3:39, the count was finished. Sen. Amy Klobuchar read the results—Mr. Biden’s victory—to a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle. Vice President Mike Pence completed his duties and announced Mr. Biden as the winner just after 3:40 a.m.
And Pence is VP to Trump. Get the meaning? Mr. Pence had said he would obey the US Constitution … and he did. The US Congress had sat from 1pm on Tuesday till 3: 40 am, Wednesday Trump was President but he could not send the FBI, the Police or the Army to sack the Congress.
Trump did not know where to stop. He tried to uproot the foundations of American democracy but failed. Would the members of the Buhari administration know when to stop if things went against them? Of course, I remember how a sitting Chief Justice was treated and a security agency invaded the National Assembly, but who has checked the effect of such on Nigerian democracy?
An aide to Obasanjo, when it looked like Dr Alex Ekwueme would win Peoples Democratic Party nomination to contest the 2003 presidential election, asked me pointedly: “What if Obasanjo would invite the military to take over power? Who will stop him”? That aide, from Delta state, is in Britain now.
I shudder at such scenarios. Democracy is fragile; Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida annulled a free and fair election and that still haunts Nigeria. To that we are adding Buhari’s suspected one-sidedness, killer herdsmen issue, disappearing Naira value. They will fester. Leaders’ shortsightedness bear disastrous results. But don’t ask how Americans elected Trump; ask the same question of yourselves.
What if a Nigerian Trump were to ask the courts or our National Assembly TODAY to reverse an election result? I shudder; our democratic institutions are really fragile and when we humour dictators we enable them and enfeeble democratic institutions. National legislators and state Governors were more democratic and independent under Obasanjo than today.
What about the judiciary? What about Nigerian Federalism? And is that not retrogression? Ah! history will terribly condemn some leaders for debilitating, instead of strengthening, our democratic sinews.