Thursday, May 17, 2018

Nigeria: Is There Any Democracy Here?

By Lewis Obi 
The last fortnight has been dominated by the miserable stories emanating mostly from the All Progressives Congress (APC), its local congresses, its attempts to select officials for its grassroots, choose delegates to attend the all-important party convention next month, and conduct primaries for its governorship contests.
*President Buhari 

It is hard to know where the sordid tales should begin. But I watched two contending officials of the River State APC trade blames on TV. The Port Harcourt headquarters of the party was eventually set ablaze, and the High Court of justice attacked and for a while was seized by a faction to prevent the other side from seeking an injunction by the court to stop the local government congress.
But it was clear that a great deal of hanky-panky was going on. But before then, the state official of the party said the “forms” for candidates were ready for distribution but could not be sold until officials from the national headquarters had arrived from Abuja. Who were the officials sent by the national headquarters? He did not know their names. Why was it necessary to wait for them before selling the forms? “We want the headquarters people to witness everything we do to see that it is all transparent.”

The regulations state that the forms must be bought, paid for and completed 24 hours before the election. Missing the deadline automatically disqualifies a candidate. The congress was for Saturday and yet at 5 p.m. on Friday, the State APC was still withholding the forms. At least 28,000 candidates needed to buy the forms for various positions, and these candidates come from all over the state. How do you sell 28,000 forms between 5p.m. and 8 am of the next day when the election is to begin? Tension over the forms, suspicion, contest for power, eventually pushed people to violence.
On Saturday, the state party officials said the congresses held. A faction of the party swore that nothing like that happened. Both sides returned to Abuja, one side asking for a re-do, another asking for a ratification. All this, for an exercise that would not make anyone to break a sweat in other countries. In neighbouring Imo State, the stories were not far different. Governor Okorocha who had presumed he had all things under control suddenly found that he had gravely miscalculated, and took the next plane to Daura to complain to President Buhari, the official leader of the APC.
The discovery of a gang with electoral materials filling out the results of Imo congresses in an Abuja hotel seemed to have vindicated the governor’s charge that a criminal gang had stolen APC’s electoral materials and hijacked the state congress. The same situation played out in Zamfara State. The Governor, Abdul’Aziz Yari said there was an election. Senator Kabiru Mafara swore there was none. It was an eyesore watching as Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, was attacked and luckily was rescued.
In Kaduna State, the State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, finally took revenge on the three senators of Kaduna State whom he had cursed in so many words for not supporting the loan application of the state in the Senate. Apparently he ensured the three senators were buried in the local congresses in the state. Senator Hunkuyi declared that
“Democracy was raped in the state on Saturday. The exercise was not transparent enough. We join all APC members and supporters in mourning the death of democracy and its burial in Kaduna State where its resurrection may be an impossible task.” In Oyo, Enugu, Abia, and Plateau States, parallel congresses were held.

Apparently there was no state without its APC problem all over Nigeria. In other words, not a single state could conduct internal party election to select its officers without bribery and corruption, without thuggery and violence, and, as in some cases, tragically, murders. And you say this is democracy?
The most spectacular scandal was the televised violence in Ado Ekiti during the APC gubernatorial primaries where it was said some 33 contestants sought the party’s nomination for the governorship contest billed for July. The men who perpetrated the violence at the venue of the primaries were not masked; they made no pretences about their intentions, as they overturned ballot papers, scattered paper work, and carried on as if they were licensed to disrupt what was billed to be a democratic process. The primary was thus aborted.
The Ekiti primaries were re-scheduled. When eventually they held last week, former Governor Kayode Fayemi won with 941 votes; his nearest opponent former Governor Segun Oni polled 481 votes; third was Kayode Ojo with 281 votes, Opeyemi Bamidele was credited with eight votes. The candidates made no bones of the results. One of them who scored 11 votes was said to have spent N100 million. It was now left to the imagination what the others had spent.
The APC is the ruling party, which has made a song and a dance of fighting corruption. And how is it possible to spend so much and expect the spender to govern with integrity? And this is supposed to be democracy where votes are expected to been freely cast.
The sordid tale of Nigerian democracy was also in full play in Kano where the Police prevented the Kano State House of Assembly from holding by barricading the chamber and preventing entry. The Assembly had removed some of its officials and seemed minded to table a resolution to remove the Speaker of the House. The House already secured 21 signatories and was hunting for seven more to reach the constitutional requirement. The Police ensured that the House did not meet so it could not vote to impeach and remove the Speaker. Kano Governor Abdullahi Ganduje helped out with arbitration and the issues now seem resolved. The endangered Speaker Abdullahi Ata had replaced Kabiru Rurum only 10 months ago following allegations of corruption.
In other lands, these congresses are like bazaars, fun things, held in the open and given an atmosphere of celebration, for that is truly what it is – the celebration of democracy. They are usually manned by primary school teachers, mostly female. It is unthinkable to see a police man near the venues, because he has no role. People go in and vote on their way to work, or on their way from work. No one wastes a breath. In many cases the candidates are known in the neighbourhood, they might put up a poster or two. Even gubernatorial primaries do not engender anything else but efforts of the candidates to differentiate themselves from others.
Now the fundamental difference, in my observation, is that whereas in the US and other countries no one owns the party or deigns to do so, here, the political parties seems to be bought and paid for by certain individuals who insist they must have their way because, being the payers of the piper, they must dictate the tune. This is one factor that disqualifies Nigeria as a truly democratic country. Until a solution is found to the funding of our politics, it is a delusion, or, better, living in a fool’s paradise to imagine that this is a democracy.

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