The Presidential Elections and a Potential Democratic Farce, By Olu Akanmu
If President Jonathan contests election against himself, without an opposition, essentially a national referendum on his performance, it is doubtful given his approval rating that he would win more than 50% of the votes. Public confidence in the government has been eroded by the perception of a weak commitment to fight corruption occasioned by series of corruption allegations and scandals.
Whatever is left of public confidence in the administration was further damaged by Chibok, the view that is held by many Nigerians that the administration failed to rise above politics at critical times to provide decisive, rallying and confident-building leadership in the war against terror. Positive directional policy reforms of government in agriculture and the economy have been obliterated by corruption and Chibok. Social contract of the state with the citizen, that the Nigerian state would guarantee security of life and property for its citizens in exchange for their submission to the state, has virtually collapsed under the current administration.
Nigeria is now officially rated the 15th most failed state in the world, in the same peer group with Yemen, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Somalia. It is not a descent that we would have imagined ten years back. Watching Afghanistan and Iraq and their bombings on CNN a decade ago used to look so remote, so far away until the bombing of St Theresa’s Church in Abuja on Christmas day, 2011. Whatever political issues are around Boko Haram, the buck stops with the President as the leader of the country to fix them with the right combination of toughness and political dexterity, ensuring that no Nigerian citizen would be murdered in cold blood or kidnapped from fulfilling their life dream.
As we ascended on the failed state index to fifteenth position, we continued to descend to the bottom among the least transparent and most corrupt countries in the world. Nigeria was 37th from bottom among about 180 countries in the Transparency International Index in 2011, 35th from bottom 2012 and 33rd from bottom 2013. At the current non-linear growth rate of corruption in Nigeria, it will only take us some few more years to sit firmly among the top ten most corrupt countries in the world. The twin combination of corruption and the failure of the state to guarantee security of life and property for citizens could further accelerate the descent of the Nigerian state into a de-facto failed state like Somali or South-Sudan. While this may sound alarming, we only need to ponder whether we could have imagined this current state of the nation some years back. Anything is possible if the citizens do nothing about it or if they are constrained by the weakness of our political institutions from doing nothing about the current situation.
Given that currently, President Jonathan is not likely to win more than 50% approval for his Presidency in a national referendum if he was contesting against himself, ( assuming that there is full and high voter turn-out, for such referendum), one would have expected that the opposition would be guaranteed a victory at the next Presidential elections. This is not so especially with the state of the opposition. While there is a significant and large disenchantment with the current administration, the opposition is failing to harness this disenchantment into a rallying movement beyond its members and its traditional loyal base. A key feature evolving in the next Presidential election is the emergence of a clear large independent swing political voting base, disenchanted with the ruling party but unconvinced by the opposition that it is any different from the ruling party by policy and character to win its votes. This is the base depending on how it votes or its apathy to the election that will swing the Presidential elections assuming the elections next year are truly free and fair.
The opposition seem to be suffering from two major critical problems that stand between it and electoral victory. First is the lack of a rallying clear and articulated governance value that stands clearly above any perception of politics of political exigency and opportunism. While it is true, that there is no permanent friend in politics but permanent interests, it is also true that those who take this political principle too far cannot stand for any political value, as their politics become a cocktail of political self-interests and exigencies. How come those who were in the vanguard of NADECO in the days of Abacha, with the highest of democratic values are in the same boat with those who will lay a red carpet to welcome from prison those who tormented and maimed members of the same NADECO democratic opposition as field commanders of the Abacha junta? How frightful it is that those who lay this red carpet are even contemplating picking up the opposition’s Presidential ticket and will expect the old NADECO base to vote for it? The second problem of the opposition is the critical fault-line in its party between the Conservative North and its South Western wing. The Northern Conservative wing of the opposition seem to be in the politics of political exigency of returning power to the North by any convenient political alliance after learning in three election failures that the North is no longer politically homogenous. Its conservative governance and right wing values seem to be anathema to the centre-left political origin and the values of its South Western wing. These two related internal contradictions seem to be the bane of the opposition, affecting its homogeneity and delaying the emergence of a rallying Presidential ticket to challenge the ruling party. How the opposition resolves these internal contradictions will largely determine the outcome of the Presidential elections next year assuming that it will be free and fair.
There are two scenarios that could play out in the political opposition. They are the emergence of sectionally popular but nationally unelectable Presidential ticket, or the emergence of nationally electable Presidential ticket but with the widening and probable cracks in the fault-lines between its conservative North and South West wing which works to weaken its nationally electable Presidential ticket. In the first scenario, the independent swing voters feeling disenchanted and seeing no real alternative to the PDP may be apathetic towards the election. A Presidential victory on a narrow electoral base, below 50% of registered voting base becomes a possibility, assuming a free and fair election. In the real sense, such victory will be unpopular and genuinely undemocratic as the large majority that became apathetic to the elections would be really expressing a clear lack of choice among the Presidential candidates. The institutional weakness of our electoral system with regards to party financing and its capture by a narrow elite, and weak internal party democracy would have conspired not to offer real choices to the people. With regards to the two scenarios, a potential opposition victory is possible only if its internal democracy is strong enough to resolve its internal contradictions democratically and heal its fault lines. In the absence of this, the kind of fault-lines that has emerged in its Ogun and Oyo state wings and how it could be potentially exploited by the ruling party at the centre might play out. History beckons.
The challenge of nation building that we face today with regards to national security, healing our ethnic fault lines and building a strong economy that creates wider prosperity for the majority of our people demands a strong and credible President that can rally the nation together. The emerging scenarios however seem to be leading us to the opposite of this. We seem to be approaching a lame-duck Presidential scenario in which the critical problems of our nation building will become even more magnified to our own embarrassment and that of the international community. The institutional weakness of our electoral system that does not throw our best men and women forward for national leadership has never been this obvious. Beyond the Presidential elections, civil society must push for serious and urgent reforms of internal party democracy that ensures stronger and more democratic political parties that reflect the broader will of its members rather than the will of a narrow elite that has captured these critical democratic institutions. Stronger and more democratic political parties will also attract wider citizen participation as the people begin to see political parties as true institutional mechanisms to influence society and put their democratic aspirations forward.
It will not matter whether we have a pluralist democracy of many political parties. As long as all these parties lack internal democracy, our democracy will be tantamount to a farce, a government of a narrow elite (that have captured our political parties) for the narrow elite by a narrow elite. What we have today is a near optical illusion of the real democratic aspirations of our people. We have a selectoracy rather than a real democracy. Yet we must not give up on our democratic aspirations. Civil society must push actively for electoral reforms, an agenda that transcends the coming Presidential elections. We must push without compromise for the adoption of the Uwais electoral reform report for laws and regulations that ensure internal party democracy with heavy sanctions for breach of those regulations. Truly, democracy is a journey but we have today in our emerging presidential elections context shows that we are very far from our democratic destination.
Olu Akanmu publishes a blog on Strategy and Public Policy on http://olusfile.blogspot.com