Elections are ordinarily festivals of liberal democracy in which all contestants should be congratulated on their participation.
That seems to be the rather subdued point made last Thursday by the chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Abdulahi Ganduje, at the premises of the Supreme Court . It was soon after the highest court in the land affirmed the victory of President Bola Tinubu in the February 25, 2023 election.
Ganduje duly acknowledged the fact that the two petitioners – Waziri Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) –
acted in the true spirit of a democratic festival. In particular, Ganduje praised the petitioners for opting to go to court to dispute Tinubu’s election rather than resorting to violence.
It takes a proper reflection on the consequences of post-election violence on the polity and society to appreciate the point the former Kano state governor was making as he savoured the victory of his party.
Besides, all the candidates and their political parties should be saluted for going through the rigour of campaigns round the huge country, expending so much resources, time and energy. After all, some cynical pundits initially expressed doubts about the ability of some candidates to campaign in person in all the states of the federation.
The participation of all the candidates and voters was a demonstration of how seriously they took Nigeria in the process of the election. Such was the seriousness of some participants especially supporters of candidates in the cyberspace that you would think that with their views about the election they were writing the last chapter of Nigeria’s history. Yet a look back at 2023 in another generation would only show that an important chapter of the nation’s political history was recorded. There would still be many more chapters of the history.
All that could possibly be done at the moment is to take note of some observations about the 2023 politics as the nation prepares for its future.
The impact of what has happened to the political culture as a result of the 2023 politics is worth examining by psephologists (experts in matters of elections) as well as non-experts. This is important especially for the sake of those who were participating actively in the electoral process for the first time. It would be unfortunate if they grow up in the polity believing that some of the odious things that happened in the cyberspace were normal to the democratic process. The tone of the campaigns was extremely toxic. Hate speech and disinformation were freely employed as if the electoral season made these anti-social behaviours legitimate.
The matter was made worse by the notorious fact that party publicists placed little or no premium on policy debates. Policies and programmes were hardly articulated. Politics of ideas was relegated. Up to the date of election you could hardly pin-point the polarising issues of the elections. The electorate were seldomly told the issues on which the candidates and political parties differed. Even when some policies were mentioned (not articulated! ) publicists and technocratic supporters rarely stated the differences in approach to solve the problems. For instance, virtually all the front runners in the presidential election promised to remove fuel subsidy. And Tinubu said in his inaugural statement that “subsidy is gone.” Intriguingly, in response to the President’s statement the opposition elements began to question the manner of the removal. The truth is that while the various parties subscribed to the removal of fuel subsidy, it was not made clear the different approaches to be adopted in implementing the policy.
The factor of policy articulation was generally missing in the 2023 politics. It involves stating what a party would while in power and how to go about it. In 1979, Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) promised free education among other things. Awolowo did more than promising. He explained how the “cardinal programme” would be funded – eliminating wastes and some elite privileges while making education a priority. He clearly defined the policy trade-offs. That was the battle cry of his party’s publicists. The UPN did not win the presidential election of that year; but the free education of his party, the UPN, was competently implemented in the five states where the party was in power. In the Second Republic, a political party was more than a mere electoral vehicle to board to power by a governor. The political parties had some moral and organisational fibres. Unfortunately, the decline of politics in the 21st Century makes the UPN’s style of politics now a fairy tale. Instead of the intellectually tasking discussions of programmes aimed at solving multi-faced problems, the publicists found it easier to insult and curse the opponents of their principals. Hence what was on display was a rain of abuses instead of harvest of ideas. It is expected that with the election over the government will gird its loins to put the nation on the part of progress with its policies and programmes while the opposition parties will be reinvigorated to play their roles of providing policy alternatives. The defence of policies about which a party or politician is passionate is not meant for only the period of campaigns. Alternative ideas could be pushed to solve pressing before it is time for another election.
So this is now the time for policy discussions. It is a task for politicians and technocrats alike. Policies in this respect are expected to derive from the constitutional definition of the purpose of government in Nigeria: “the security and welfare of the people.”
Apart from the economic agendas, some other observations about the elections were a poignant reminder that national integration could not be taken for granted. A clearly articulated political agenda to promote national unity is an imperative in the circumstance. The divisive deployment of ethnicity, regional prejudices and religion in the elections has brought to a sharp focus matters of national integration. They are crucial for the future. Nigerian nationalism would be impaired when more patriots become ethnic and regional champions. The orientation of Nigerian citizens towards Nigerian unity would, of course, not be achieved by words or symbolisms alone. Policy steps aimed at inclusion, equity and justice should be taken to make the Nigerian federalism work better in its historically peculiar context. This is a different thing from the advocacy for a phantom true federalism. The Tinubu administration should take a look at the report of the 2014 Constitutional Conference to see what aspects could be implemented to further enhance devolution of power and make governments at the lower tiers more responsible and strengthened for governance. The federal character principle must be scrupulously adhered to as enshrined in the constitution. The secularity of the Nigerian state in a multi-religious nation must not only be upheld but should be demonstrably so. While security agencies have their duty to perform, the government’s response to separatist agitations should include finding political solutions to the problem. For instance, the federal attorney-general should withdraw forthwith charges against Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and his fellow partisans of the cause of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) who are standing trial. The governors of the southeast as the chief security officers of their respective states and other leaders in the zone should work with the federal government in forging a political solution that would foster peace in the southeast after years of insecurity. After all, the Yoruba separatist agitator, Mr. Sunday Adeyemo (alias Sunday Igboho) is now a freeman.
Even a year before the 2023 elections, there was the palpable fear in many informed quarters that the exercise could not take place in some parts of the country. The defence and security agencies should be saluted for securing the country substantially for the elections. The job of the defence and security sector is well cut ought for the authorities. The current tempo in the sector should not only be maintained; it should be rapidly improved upon so that development could take place in an atmosphere of peace. The implementation of the programmes of governments at all levels is indubitably hinged on security of the respective territories. Nigeria should be made so secure in the next four years that in the preparation for the 2027 elections that will be no ungoverned space anywhere to be scared of in Nigeria.
Electoral reforms have become inevitable given the criticisms of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). The chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu and other officials of INEC performed their tasks within the institutional limits. While the law should be applied against any INEC official found to have committed electoral crime, the conduct of the elections should be put squarely in the wider political context. So instead of demonising Yakubu and his colleagues one lesson of the 2023 elections is that electoral reforms should begin in earnest. The government should listen to the suggestions from the public that the the recommendations of the report of the committee on electoral reforms headed by former Chief Justice Muhammadu Uwais should be implemented. The panel set up by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua submitted its report over a decade ago. Some aspects of the report worth considering include the appointment of the INEC chairman with inputs from a neutral body and the establishment of the electoral offences commission so as to lessen the burden on INEC. There are suggestions that some logistical aspects of INEC’s jobs could be handled by other bodies so that the commission could focus its energy strictly on election administration.
The conduct of the 2023 presidential election has also proved that it is not yet digital democracy in Nigeria despite the arguments of tech-optimists. A lot of clarification needs to be made about the role of technology in elections. For instance INEC’s promise of electronic transmission of results in real time is being misconstrued in some quarters as electronic voting. Even in Europe electronic voting is still a matter of vigorous debate. In Germany, for instance, the reluctance is still evident about the full use of technology elections. Issues of cyber security and the access to the technical skill to make a verification of results. In making laws for a greater use of technology in elections, the extent of the application of technology and the attendant risks should be well examined. Technology can also be manipulated to commit fraud in the conduct of elections. This is actually a matter for another day.
It is also important to ponder the low voter turn- out in the 2023 presidential election. Only 26.72% of the 93.47 million registered voters bothered to vote. Meanwhile, the electoral demography indicated that it was to be the election of the youths, representing 76.56 % of the voting population. The election was about the future of the youths. The young people were expected to translate their remarkable enthusiasms into a huge turn-out at the polling booths. What really happened ought to be studied.
It must be noted, however, that the cash crunch arising from the currency redesign by the Central Bank of Nigeria and fuel scarcity barely a month to the election severely disrupted socio-economic life. Movement of people was adversely affected and not a few voters got dispirited.
All told, there is a basis for an optimistic outlook about the future of democracy in Nigeria. So, with the legal conclusion of the presidential election, it is time the nation looked beyond the 2023 politics by drawing important lessons in order to deepen democracy and strengthen nation-building.