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Friday, May 21, 2010

The Monster Ahead

The Monster Ahead
Dr. Aliyu Tilde

In our discussion today, we will examine the threat of a one-party dominated Nigeria following the ‘victory’ of the PDP in the last election. Voices of conscience are beginning to alert the nation of its dangers.

Without any ambiguity, it is universally accepted that one-party dominated state is a total negation of what democracy stands for: choice. Nevertheless, the President has been advocating for it, purporting that from our experience multi-party democracy accentuates our “disintegrative tendencies.” On the contrary, both theory and practice would easily convince the dispassionate that a widespread ‘victory’ won by fraudulent electoral practice will only result in further corruption, apathy and, possibly, a shutdown.

In his book, Democratisation, first published in 1993, Professor Ben O. Nwabueze, a prolific law author and member of The Patriots, noted that “election rigging is a tragic aberration more for what it portends for the future than for the harm it has done in the past and present… A political party which has no chance of ever winning an election will have lost the raison d’etre for its existence. Sooner or later it will fade away through its members defecting to the ruling party as the hazards of opposition weigh more and more heavily upon them. In the process, the ruling party will eventually emerge as the only party for all practical purposes.”
To appreciate how the author arrived at this conclusion, it is necessary to present other premises of his argument in addition to the effects of hazards of opposition mentioned above. He wrote:
“From the standpoint of the political parties and their candidates, rigging deprives election of its character as a competition in which all the contestants can equally aspire to win. Where the capacity of the contestants to rig is vastly unequal because one of them is in a position of irresistible influence over the electoral body and has power of control and direction over the organised coercive force of the country, represented by the police, as well as vastly greater resources of money and patronage, then the other contestants have no real chance of winning. An election in these circumstances cannot be a competition in any meaningful sense of the word.

"An election contest in which the result is not determined by the votes lawfully cast for the contestants but by fraudulent manipulation is a mockery of the very idea of a competition. And without free competition for power, politics loses its essence. It is part of the terrible thing about election rigging that once successfully employed by a political party to get itself into power the tendency is for the party, rather than give it up and thereby risk defeat at future elections, to try to perfect its forms and techniques to a point where it becomes entrenched as part of the political culture, thereby excluding altogether the chances of elections ever being conducted in a free and fair manner."
Let us summarize what the author said above by saying that where rigging becomes the chief instrument of winning election, equality in aspiration to win could only exist when there is equality in the capacity to rig. Capacity to rig here is defined by three parameters: one, position of irresistible influence over the electoral body; two, power of control and direction over the organised coercive force of the country – represented by the police; and three, vastly greater resources of money and patronage. Since the opposition doesn’t have any share in the ‘possession’ of the electoral body, the police and the treasury, it should never expect to win. The ruling party then can stay in power almost ad infinitum.

The experience of nations especially in Africa and the Middle East has proved the absolute validity of Nwabueze’s argument. Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, Kenya, Zambia, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Iraq – to mention few – have all claimed to be multiparty democracies while in actual fact each of them is ruled by only one party for decades. Toppling such parties, as we have seen recently in Kenya and nearly in Zimbabwe, is possible only after prolonged subjugation and final resolution of the entire nation, expressed through the ‘rainbow’ confederation of other parties. In the extreme, Iraq had to be ‘liberated’ from the clutch of the tyrannical Ba’athist Party only by foreign occupation.

The tendency in Nigeria is for any party in control of federal government to use its position to manipulate the electoral process to the total disadvantage of the others. Most of us will vividly recall how in August 1983 President Shehu Shagari’s government conducted national elections in which his party, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), won a ‘landslide victory’ that clearly resulted from rigging.

On the conduct of the elections, late Dele Giwa wrote an article, The Comic Republic, published in Sunday Concord of September 25, 1983, saying, “To say the elections which took place in Nigeria were rigged is to be guilty of inadequacy of apt language. The truth is that the word has not yet been coined to give expression to what has happened to the democratic process in Nigeria.”

The main opposition party then, Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), was among the first to right away raise the alarm against the emerging one-party state. Apparently condemning FEDECO’s declaration that NPN had swept the senatorial polls in Oyo State, the UPN said that such a development had confirmed the “total subjugation of the country and Nigerians into a one-party dictatorship.”

Then Ray Ekpu wrote an article in his column titled The Bogey of One Party State published in the National Concord of September 4, 1983, saying, “If it comes as a result of democratic process, as I am sure is going to happen in 1987, I don’t see anybody going to vote anywhere other than the NPN in 1987…

“I do not believe that the founding fathers of the Second Republic intended that we should spend one billion Naira and go through the excruciating motion of campaigning and elections if they didn’t intend that we should have a choice…”

Those were the voices of yesterday. Today, twenty years later, the nation is again under another siege, by a conqueror that is as clever in the art of rigging as the NPN. The PDP government has conducted elections recently in which it won 28 out of the 36 states in the country; with another majority in both houses of the National Assembly and, of course, the presidency. The dexterity exhibited by the party in manipulating the elections and sentiments of Nigerians is just excellent. In some local governments percentage voter turnout were as high as 100%. In what looks like magic, INEC reported a voter turnout of 156.7% in presidential votes of Plateau State and only 76.7% in its gubernatorial. And INEC was happy to publish these figures on the Internet.

While many Nigerians are disappointed with the outcome of the elections and we are still yet to hear the last from the courts regarding 4-19 especially, attention is starting to focus on the next four years and the consequences it entails on the future democracy in the country. If propriety over the electoral body, the police and the treasury is what is required to perpetuate the power of a party committed to fraud, then the PDP is here to stay. It is a reality, sad though, which we cannot run away from.

As for rigging in the future, the PDP will not “give it up and thereby risk defeat at future elections,” to recall Nwabueze’s thesis, but “try to perfect its forms and techniques to a point where it becomes entrenched as part of the political culture.” So in 2007, we expect INEC to be more inefficient and more compliant to the wishes of the presidency than it is today. Sure, the police force then will be better equipped and ready to assist INEC and the PDP in perpetrating more bizarre electoral malpractices than thumb-printing ballot papers in public view, arresting opposition leaders or candidates and chasing away their agents at polling stations. The greatest casualty will be the treasury. Without the fear of any accountability, it will be looted completely to finance party resorts, campaigns and election rigging.

Consequences and Choice
That is why opposition voices, the media and civil rights groups rose to fight against the victory of the NPN in 1983. Today, also, there are voices, few though, with the conscience to speak the truth and warn the nation of the dangers ahead. In a recent interview, human rights activist and author, Arthur Nwankwo, was unequivocal in raising the alarm of the impending disaster, as reported in the cover story of Insider magazine this week:

“The declarations or selections announced of the 2003 polling exercise represent the fraudulent, illegal and unconstitutional attempt of General Obasanjo, using his carefully-chosen and entrenched agents in INEC with Abel Goubadia as chairman, as chief agent, and unfortunately with the military and police supervising, to foist on Nigerians his own brand of dictatorship via a one-party state.

“The choice before Nigerians is, therefore, quite clear: either to resist and reject the attempt in all its manifestations or acquiesce to their eternal regret. I believe Nigerians will choose on the side of democracy. Victory in this present battle will set our democracy on an irresistible course.”

I am sorry to state that amidst the preponderance of PDP’s conquest and the tremendous resources – including primordial sentiments – it is ready to invest in an elaborate conspiracy to consolidate its victory, voices like that of Nwankwo could hardly be heard. And if they are ever heard, they will stand rejected.

There are enough arsenals in the hands of the PDP to subvert the efforts and unity of the opposition conglomerate, Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP). A good section of the press is already committed to brutalizing the image of the opposition as bad losers. The International Community was quick to disregard the reports of its observers and send its congratulations to Obasanjo through the voices of Bush, Blair and Chirac... How then could it support the voice of opposition? Perhaps, it is still subscribing to the belief that ‘despotism’ is what ‘the barbarians’ deserve, as expounded by John Stuart Mill in the 19th Century, or it knows fully that only despotism – not true democracy – could guarantee its economic interest in our country.

More disturbing for Nigerians, however, is the conspiracy of three factors that will enable Obasanjo to successfully forge ahead with his one party state. One is his ideological commitment to it. Right now he is ready to concede that only two or three parties are enough. But as the Insider has quoted from his reply to Arthur Nwankwo in 1989, he believes that “one party system is very much in consonance with a possible and logical outcome of our political development. And I still stand by that…” In another place he claims that “a well thought one-party system is “an effective panacea to the disintegrative tendencies in our political system.”

It is wishful to reason that by simply belonging to the same party, all ‘disintegrative tendencies’ of party members will dissolve or withdraw to a position of “integrative” alignment in the absence of any ideological force that will bind them to its grid other than the greed. The party becomes another heterogeneous body, as the nation it seeks to unite, expressing in it all differences regarding the national question and which, as a result of the internal friction will decelerate the system to standstill.

Two, the same ‘disintegrative tendencies’ that Obasanjo decried – regional and ethnic – are today the strongest pillars that support the hegemony of his party. In the last election, the Southwest supported him clearly not because it wants to belong to what its politicians call ‘the mainstream of Nigerian politics’ but because of ethnic considerations. Added to this, with active collaboration of the chairmen of the PDP and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), sectarian sentiments have become the claws that enable the grip of the party on many Christians outside the Southwest. Obasanjo is publicly presented on national television as a CAN president. His critics must therefore be ready to stand the intolerance of these clerics who have occupied the heart of the president.

Three, with a total control over his party, and the party having majority in national and state assemblies, nothing, practically nothing, can stop the President from amending the constitution to limit the number of parties in the country and review his tenure beyond 2007.

Obasanjo’s defendants are saying that his experience in the last four years has changed his penchant for a one-party Nigeria. That is for the marines! His record as a president clearly points at his intolerant tendency. He portrayed a complete disregard for the legislature, the arm of government that is the main difference between military and democratic rule in Nigeria and which, together with the judiciary, are assigned the constitutional duty of checking the excesses of the executive. He first preferred to foist on it unfit leadership, people with a screw thumb of forged documents: Evans Enwerem and Salisu Buhari. When Okadigbo and Na’Abba took over, he sponsored many attempts to impeach them, succeeding in the former. His opposition for the legislature took him as far as committing forgery.

The fear now is that, in consonance with the disposition of one-party states, tyranny will be the lot of Nigerians in the next four years and beyond. The dominant party in such a state appropriates the sovereignty of the nation. Opposing the party or the people controlling it is interpreted as violating the sovereignty of the state. Violence becomes inevitable and treason becomes the common charge used to imprison or annihilate opposition. In the words of Danlami Nmodu, one-party system “fosters the rule of terror. In most instances, the tragic tales of police state and Gestapo take root and opposition members are stifled with unmitigated ruthlessness…” Back in 1983, Ray Ekpu said, “You can’t look back at history of one party state without terror, nor look forward without despair.”

It is the despair of the future that all patriotic citizens of this country must move quickly to avert. This is a nation of over 110million people, 70% of whom are living under poverty, over 60% illiterates who in the last four years have shown their readiness to serve as foot soldiers of regional and sectarian causes. It is a highly inflammable country…

Thus, Nmodu concluded his article, The One Party Tragedy, saying, “It needs be stated that the logic of contemporary development imposes a special duty on the people to gird their loins against any recrudescence of autocracy, tyranny and dictatorship which the one party system seeks to foist. The freedom to choose is inalienable. It should be jealously guarded to save the nation.”

However the signal that Nigerians will stand up against the one-party monster is as weak today as it was in 1983. In The Guardian of August 25, 1983, Pini Jason described his disappointment that in spite of the massive rigging that took place, Nigerians will allow a government to be formed on the basis of that election: “In all we have done so far, our public functionaries have shown that generally, there is no beauty and no sense of the good in our lives. That we are not determined climbers seeking to reach the Everest of excellence. Our shoddy performance surprisingly imbues us with contentment – that most debilitating state.”

We expressed a similar degree of pessimism last week in this column. Very few Nigerians will be ready “to gird their loins against… autocracy, tyranny and dictatorship.” As a way out Nigerians prefer to look on to the other party – the military – for rescue. Nowhere was this better expressed than in the bargain between Chief MKO Abiola and the service chiefs in his bid to actualise June 12.

Carried by the desire to maintain democracy today, the military option looks illogical to many. However, it once made sense, at least economically, as calculated by Ray Ekpu in 1983 when he spoke against the then emerging one-party scenario:
“If this is what we want, I suggest that the civilians cannot do it right, in which case they may as well allow the soldiers to do it. And since a small band of generals or majors needs no Houses of Assembly, we may even get some change back.”

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