The Charade Before the Ballot By Olusegun Adeniyi
At a campaign podium about three weeks ago, the otherwise urbane and very restrained Governor Ibrahim Shema of Katsina State made a rather dangerous statement that has attracted both local and international condemnation. Against the background that Shema is in his second and final term as governor, you wonder why he would lend his name to such campaign rhetoric that promotes violence. Unfortunately, the fact that he is an outgoing governor is precisely the point because Nigerian politicians are always more desperate when they want to install anointed successors.
For those who may still remember, President Olusegun Obasanjo’s infamous “do-or-die” refrain was not uttered while he was contesting for the first time in 1999 or when seeking re-election in 2003 but rather when he was campaigning for his anointed successor, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2007. Yet the futility of it all is that despite such desperation to foist “loyalists” on the people, the honeymoon between the godfathers and their anointed sons hardly lasts one year! But then, our politicians will never learn.
In Enugu State, Governor Sullivan Chime has endorsed Hon Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, an otherwise respected member of the House of Representatives and perfect gentleman yet most Nigerians can remember that in 2007, Chime had not even been sworn in before he started fighting his predecessor, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani by whose sleight of hand he got to power. Even in Abia State where Governor Theodore Orji was for more than a year subservient not only to Chief Orji Kalu but also to a powerful “Mother Excellency”, the moment he regained his Mojo, he became more ruthless than the man under whose tutelage he learnt all the tricks. And if we need a recent example of the godfather-successor misadventure, we can just find out what is happening in Anambra State where the name Peter Obi may no longer even open a kitchen door at the Awka Government House he left only a few months ago!
What the foregoing says is that whether they carry the “democratic” nomenclature or the “progressive” tag, what is going on today is a process by which some political lords are anointing and endorsing candidates that we would merely be expected to ratify in February next year. Even in Yorubaland where conventional wisdom teaches that no single man approximates to himself the power of the collective by saying “we have come”, in the only state where the incumbent is spending his second and final term, one man may have already decreed who the gubernatorial candidate of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) would be.
The big issue here is that by closing the political space within the parties, the power of the electorate has been circumscribed with regards to choosing between credible alternatives. In practical terms, by the general election in February, the choices the people may have to make would be between rotten oranges and rotten apples. That is because the primaries of both the PDP and that of the APC are not being conducted in such a manner as to allow the candidates emerge through popular choices anchored on democratic tenets. To compound the situation, in virtually all the states, the political warlords seem to have choreographed a strategic agenda to have their sons and daughters make laws for the rest of us in either the House of Assembly or in the House of Representatives.
On Monday, a prominent man who doesn’t want his name in print sent me a mail, containing a quote from a piece I wrote last year about the absence of engagement from political office seekers: “In most advanced democracies, politicians spend at least 18 months on the campaign train, during which they sell their ideas, have their temperament tested and are scrutinized even on the way they conduct their personal affairs and how they live their lives. But here, all it takes to aspire for office is to print some glossy posters with which they deface the environment and then make some outlandish promises on the pages of newspapers.”
Of course, the writer did not stop there as he now followed that old line of mine with his own comment: “We are currently in an election season. Now is the time to carry out the temperament tests on all candidates, especially those who seek executive offices. Our country, Segun, is in very grave danger. Unfortunately, our leaders, in government and in the opposition are failing to understand the nature of the disaster that could befall us. We need our best Nigerians to rise to the challenge of responsible leadership. I hope that you will give this your utmost consideration.”
I get the drift of the man. More than at any period in our history, Nigeria is today at crossroads on several fronts. With both oil price and value of the Naira on a freefall at a time the Boko Haram insurgents have been so emboldened as to make a play for some state capital cities, we need those who seek our votes to tell us how they would tackle the myriad of challenges that confront us. But with the matter practically taken out of our hands by some political mandarins who are imposing their candidates on the parties, the future remains uncertain because our people are basically going to cast their votes in faith.
In most countries, the process of nominating candidates gives more power to party members who are allowed to make their preferences. It is therefore not for nothing that in the United States, from where we borrowed the presidential system of government, there are usually series of staggered primaries and caucuses that take several months to conclude at practically all levels before the general election in November. The essence of the marathon exercise (during which the aspirants move from one town to another) is to subject the candidates to real scrutiny by the people they intend to lead (and in the process weed out the unworthy). But here in our country, where primaries are held at all, it is usually either a bazaar for moneybags or a charade for the outgoing incumbents to anoint their successors.
Despite all its pretensions, there are only few states where the opposition APC is holding any serious primaries since some godfathers have already anointed those to run in the name of “consensus” while the jury is still out about its presidential primaries scheduled for next week. As for the ruling PDP, Senator Eyinnana Abaribe, a former Abia Deputy Governor who had been seeking the party’s gubernatorial ticket, summed up the contradictions within on Monday: “when we had a meeting with the president, he told us that he wanted us back in the Senate so as to strengthen the legislature. He said we should allow governors to handle the states.”
What that means in effect is that outgoing governors were allowed to single-handedly nominate the PDP gubernatorial candidates to succeed them but in exchange for allowing some senators to also retain their party tickets. In that deal, there was nothing about the party members who ordinarily should choose those to carry their flags and it was not about performance in office but rather about loyalty to certain individuals or brute force. However, for our democracy to grow, we definitely need to reform our electoral process to give the people more voice and power in the determination of who gets to office. Right now, they have little say in the matter. Yet the situation we have found ourselves today as a nation compel those who seek public offices, especially those who want to be governors and president, to have ideas about how to reposition our country for peace and prosperity.
While it is too late in the day to ask leaders of the two leading political parties to give room for democratic ethos in the choice of candidates, it is important to remind them of their obligations, especially in this most crucial period in the life of our nation. If there is anything that the Boko Haram insurgency has taught us, it is the fact that nobody can take anything for granted in our country again. If anyone had predicted some six years ago that we would witness a situation in which suicide bombers, including of the female variant, would be operating freely in our country, I bet many Nigerians would say it was impossible. Today, that has become our unfortunate reality as a nation.
The lesson from that is simple: even when the Nigerian people may appear so docile and may be helpless today, there is no guarantee that things would continue this way forever. For that reason, the idea of taking the people for granted, thinking there would be no consequences is sheer folly. I hope the leaders of both the PDP and the APC in their enlightened self-interest will begin to take the Nigerian people more seriously and get them involved in their nomination processes. If they don’t, they may one day learn their lesson the hard way.
It should worry those in authority that the credo of the day is “defend yourself”, a clarion call to citizens that government may no longer be able to defend them. But taking their destiny in their own hands could also lead to the awakening that the power being misused by some people is actually held in trust for them. That should be food-for-thought for those who are too wedded to power to see the inherent dangers in a system that is not people-oriented.
With the travesty going on all over the country in the name of democratic succession, there is a strong temptation to conclude that our public officials are conforming to the model of the African Chief where the leader looks intently in his magical mirror of fortune for an apparition of his successor. That perhaps explains why, with the way things stand today, Nigeria may end up with a unique innovation in modern political theory: the advancement of the end of decadent absolutism using the means and infrastructure of multi-party democracy.
Beyond the OPEC Presidency
Petroleum Minister, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, last week assumed the presidency of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) at a momentous period not only in the history of the cartel but also in her own country whose economy is still rent-dependent in a season of upheaval. While I join in congratulating her for breaking the glass ceiling at OPEC as the first female President, I am sure Mrs Alison-Madueke is also aware that Nigerians would judge her not by whatever OPEC achieves in the next one year of her presidency but rather on how she is able to manage our hydrocarbon resources at home.
While conceding that there are a couple of things that Mrs Alison-Madueke has done right as Petroleum Minister (and she deserves commendation for the Local Content Act which has brought in Nigerian operators), the problem of transparency and accountability which predates her has become far more complex to deal with today than at any other period in history. There is also the unresolved issue of the management of subsidy in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry and whether such a regime can be sustained under the current economic downturn. Of course, we should not forget that the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) remains in the doldrums despite repeated promises from the government of the day.
The foregoing are some of the issues that will task the Minister at home while responding to the declining fall in the prices of oil in the global market. How she juggles all these balls in the coming weeks and months will be important not only for our country but also for her own place in history. I wish Mrs Alison-Madueke all the best in her dual-mandate as I extend to her my congratulations on the OPEC presidency.
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