Flawed elections, military’s role in our democracy and future of Nigeria
By Idris Abiodun Usman
With the Fourth Republic having lasted for 20 years, it can then be safely said that Nigeria has fully embraced democracy. The current Republic has seen four presidents within that time. Against the foregoing, Nigerians are supposed to be upbeat about the fact that democracy has come to stay. But can we really thump our chest and celebrate, believing that democracy in deed has turned the corner in Nigeria?
We have just witnessed the 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections conducted on the 23rd February by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the chairmanship of Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu. My worries are not about President Muhammadu Buhari or his main challenger, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. They are both significantly over seventy years and I believe the time for them to control the affairs of Nigeria is limited.
My greatest worry then is when I listen to very young people, either appearing on television or in the social media, celebrating what they see as the gains of the 23rd February elections. Each time I see them postulate in defence of what happened on that day, I become afraid about the future of our country, Nigeria.
There are basic questions I want them to note. Is our standard of governance improving following our system of democracy? Is our process of conducting elections to elect our leaders in tandem with standard democratic exercise? Is the struggle for these routine elections helping us?
As a nation, we should be really worried, watching the video clips of what happened on election day, being circulated after the just concluded Presidential and national Assembly elections. The killings and other gory pictures are quite disturbing.
Perhaps the greatest cause for concern is the use of soldiers to monitor polls. For quite some time, the Armed Forces have been participating in elections in Nigeria. Before now, what we knew about their participation as citizens is that men of the Nigerian Airforce helped in moving election materials by air while the Nigerian Navy helped to convey materials to the riverine communities. The Army is usually deployed to block major roads to prevent hoodlums from moving freely.
Soldiers had never gone into polling booths in all the previous elections conducted in this country. This is the first time soldiers would be deployed almost like party thugs carrying weapons into the polling booths.
We tend to forget that the electoral law does not allow even the police deployed for elections to bear arms. It is clear that the Nigerian Army has been politicized. This has a grave consequence which most people overlook.
With soldiers authorized to enter polling booths, politicians now sew army uniforms for thugs, making it difficult for one to differentiate between the real soldiers and the political thugs. There is no doubt that the Nigerian Army is now bastardized and extremely politicized. Many Nigerians now feel that this may be the reward for the extension of the tenures of Service Chiefs. Sadly, its is a very dangerous venture and an unfortunate development for our country. In any case, these are manifestly the fallout of democracy devoid of ideology. And from what we know about this kind of system, it usually yields cataclysmic outcome, both for the nation and for the military.
We should recall that when President Obasanjo assumed office after the 1999 election, he retired all members of the Armed Forces who held political offices. This was to sanitize and professionalize the Nigeria Armed Forces. As a result of that development, many young officers had their military careers cut short. The result was that some very brilliant and fine officers left the service as Lt. Colonels and Colonels or their equivalent.
I am clearly seeing a situation where one President may one day retire so many military officers for their involvement in partisan politics. All those who are being used or misused today are known and it is not difficult to bring them to book. I am afraid that when the time comes, some officers may even be brought back from retirement and even dismissed. However, I pray it doesn’t happen.
The greatest price we are paying as a nation is the destruction of our institutions. No nation can develop if its institutions are destroyed. Foreign investors must have confidence in our judiciary and the rule of law before they will develop the confidence to invest in our nation. Presently, the level of confidence we have in our key institutions is vey low.
The Parliaments at the Federal and State levels are mere superficial institutions and rubber stamps, shy of carrying out their constitutional roles. The Judiciary is also gone. Nigerians no longer believe that Judges and Justices give judgements based on the laws of the land. The Department of State Service (DSS), Police and the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) have long been extremely compromised and politicized. Nigerians no longer have faith in these very important institutions critical for building a nation.
Today in our society, politics has turned thuggery into a well-paid profession. They (thugs) travel first class out of this country while University Professors travel economy class. These thugs drive the most expensive cars and live in expensive apartments while University Professors drive second hand cars and live in houses that are hardly renovated. Is this the dividend of democracy that as a nation, we should celebrate? It is that tantamount to celebrating criminality and mediocrity?
Look at the quality of our elected officials. Some of them at the Local Government, State Assemblies, and to some extent even the National Assembly, are thugs or cultists. Where are the benefits of democracy in our country? Politicians who are holding high offices protect criminals and use them as thugs for elections while security agents like the Police, Army and Navy are seen guarding and protecting these criminals.
At this rate, another twenty years of our democracy will be a clear manifestation of what Fela Anikulapo-Kuti called, “demonstration of craze”. How I wish those Nigerians that are happy with our present electoral process should realise that in Africa, ours is one of the countries with the lowest record of credible elections.
It sounds bizarre that some people would be happily pushing the argument that more people probably died in 2011 and 2015, than in the just concluded 2019 elections. When they do that, they conveniently forget that nobody’s blood should be shed for election purposes. Even if they continue to gloat in their comparison, have they looked at the circumstances of those deaths? I know that the deaths in 2011 including the ten NYSC members murdered in Bauchi were post-election incidences. It happened because some people were not happy because a particular candidate from a different section of the country and from a different religious group won the Presidential election.
We should not forget that the deaths were not as a result of soldiers shooting at unarmed INEC officials and civilians. I am not aware of any electoral violence that led to reported deaths during voting in 2015.
Regardless, even if there were victims in 2011 and 2015, do we still have to celebrate same in 2019, the year that General Buhari is presiding over the elections as the President, Commander-in-Chief?
Maybe some of the Children who are behind the disturbing various write ups and television appearances discussing these issues do not know that Gen. Buhari toppled President Shagari’s government in December,1983 on the understanding that the then ruling party, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), bastardized the general elections. Frankly, I can say without any equivocation that what the NPN did in 1983 was not half as nasty as what took place on the 23rd February 2019!
It is true we may not have officers like Abacha in offices again as maximum rulers, but we have to be careful as citizens of this country.
I have always advised ruling parties not to convert Nigeria into a One-Party System because of the inherent threat of dictatorship and misgovernance. If One-Party System is very good, countries such as Zambia would not have changed from One-Party System to Multi-Party democracy. If you have One-Party System, the enemies within will create havoc that can cause a president, sleepless nights. At one point in this dispensation, the Peoples Democratic Party had maximum control of the National Assembly, yet President Obasanjo’s third term agenda failed. The Sarakis and Amaechis were members of the PDP yet they revolted against President Jonathan. Who are those who revolted against President Buhari’s APC-led administration to the extent that the Federal Government felt threatened and jittery? Were they not members of the All Progressives Congress, APC?
I advise the Federal Government to be cautious in managing the elections especially as the State elections approach. An APC win for most or all the States in the country, as is currently being touted, will be extremely dangerous. If that happens, I fear, the victory song may not last long.
*Idris Usman is the publisher of Corruption Reporter