By Tonnie Iredia
Political leaders who took over power from the Nigerian military in 1999, when democracy was restored to the country can in all honesty be said to have performed far below average.
Analysts who took them up on their poor performance at the beginning were admonished to be patient arguably because our politicians were seen at the time as new comers to the scene who were thus still learning.
The period was in fact popularly described as the era of our ‘nascent democracy.’ That was 22 years ago; perhaps enough time for Nigerians to begin to see some improvement. But a critical look at how democracy has fared since then, would clearly reveal that it is the country’s political system upon which the biggest financial investments have been made that has experienced the highest level of stunted growth.
This seems to explain why it is the legislature, the arm of government, made up wholly of politicians that has been the weakest link in our march towards democratic maturity. An appropriate point of departure is law making and its many embarrassing letdowns.
Quite often, the legislature at federal level especially the senate always involuntarily portrays itself as a body searching for laws to make in the midst of several obsolete legislations dating back to the colonial times that are begging for repeal or amendments.
It is ever so easy to see futility in each cosmetic or anti-people bills they enthusiastically embrace. In the recent case of the social media bill for example, they proposed provisions that replicated existing laws under the guise of a patriotic desire to stop fake news and hate speech whereas the real goal was press censorship.
Worse still, our legislators are always seeking to make laws even in such transparent no-go areas like the control of the electoral body. During the 8th Assembly, they sought to regulate the order and time table of elections until they met a dead end.
No one disputes the omnibus constitutional power of the legislature to make laws which in their opinions would make for good governance, but it is irrational to imagine that such omnibus powers can stretch to areas expressly taken away from them by the same constitution.
Last week, the federal legislators reportedly dropped the provision they had earlier passed in the new electoral bill to unconstitutionally place INEC under the control of an inferior National Communications Communication NCC.
Although a few people thought their new posture was commendable because they showed humility in bowing to public pressure, I would have joined in commending them if the initial error was not premeditated.
Is it reasonable to commend people who merely strategized to rig elections? Who actually deserves commendation, is it those who wrongly voted in support of the anti-people provision or those who abdicated from duty when it mattered the most?
Irrespective of the answers to these questions, it is now obvious that those who were circumspect in commending our legislators are vindicated now that the legislators have replaced their opposition to electronic transfer of election results with the proposal to impose compulsory direct primaries on political parties.
While we are not unaware that such imposition may temporarily reduce some unwholesome behaviour by political parties, the nature of primaries has never been the real cause of the inexplicable excesses of politicians during the selection of party flag bearers for elections.
Anyone who has followed the political culture of the average Nigerian politician ought to know that there is no system that our politicians cannot corrupt or circumvent. During the last generation general elections, the ruling APC claimed it was using modernized direct primaries.
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The PDP made a similar case about how she had reformed her indirect primaries. But what the nation saw was how both parties skewed to subvert the will of the people thereby confirming that head or tail, Nigerian politicians cannot be trusted to be faithful to even their own internal rules.
Against this backdrop we submit that the attempt to summarily outlaw rancorous primaries is as bad as a military decree. It will be recalled that the judiciary had indicated where and how to go when it held that party matters should be left to the parties to manage while laying down conditions under which such management can be brought under judicial review.
For instance, the conditions under which the winner of a party primary can be substituted by a party are now listed. So, rather than take away from political parties the power to run their affairs, aggrieved candidates should be encouraged to seek redress in court.
That is the best way to allow our parties to grow, otherwise what would be the difference between Babangida’s creation of two parties which politicians condemned in 1989 and the attempt by legislators to now kill political party initiative and discretion? It is not difficult to see that legislators supported the provision just for the purpose of reducing the powers of their governors during primaries.
What has been said so far appears like hitting at only one set of lawmakers. Why, some would ask, do analysts always overlook the lethargy of legislators at state level while criticising federal legislators only? In fairness, it is not a question one analyst can answer alone.
The other day a colleague shared on a platform, his perception that there are no legislators at state level, what we have at that level according to him is a group of people who are mostly members of the governor’s choir in each state.
They sing when directed to do so occasionally while at other times, they do non-verbal singing such as breaking chairs or beating-up the few colleagues who are not trusted by the governor.
This appears to explain why they suspend such distrusted colleagues even when the judiciary has determined more than once that legislators have no powers to suspend fellow members. Therefore, the only relevance of state legislators to this piece is that with them, it is not hard to conclude that the pace of Nigeria’s political maturity is exceeding low
There are many other politicians who have contributed immensely to our subsisting political immaturity. Nigeria’s political party system is legally one of the strongest in the world.
This is because unlike other countries which have independent candidates, the Nigerian constitution provides that no one can contest and win an election in the country except he or she is sponsored by a political party. In other words, it is political parties not individuals who can win elections in Nigeria.
This has been tested in court more than once and has been consistently upheld. Yet, some governors in Nigeria, are able to keep a mandate after decamping from the party that won the election which gave them the mandate making us a country that does not know that democracy is premised on the rule of law where a game is played according to its rules.
The next governorship election in Anambra state is around the corner. Once again the tension in the state is reverberating across the nation. Political violence, interlocutory injunctions, existential threats are all happening daily as they did during the last elections held exactly four years ago.
Those who know are aware that nothing new is happening. Anambra at a time was where governorship elections were determined at the famous Okija shrine. When Professor Jega introduced computerized voter registration, almost every Direct Data Capturing machine allocated to Anambra state vanished into the bush.
The current threat of emergency rule came in a different shape. The then Inspector General of Police IGP withdrew the security details of the then incumbent who was seeking reelection until President Buhari intervened to save governor Obiano. So, nothing new, we are only just having a confirmation that political maturity is far from Nigeria.