As I tap my keyboard to begin this article, I feel much fulfilled with the outcome of the US 2008 presidential election. Never has an election generated so much interest worldwide. The manner the campaign was conducted from the primaries to the final election is everything that is called democracy.
Americans should again be congratulated for proving to be worthy of being the true leader of the world. Only in America could a first generation candidate be elected president. Americans have proven that USA is a collection of people with worthy ideas and vision and have taken a decision and a step forward. But how does that impact on the rest of the world. How does the ideals and philosophy of democracy and election affect democracy worldwide especially in developing words, Nigeria for instance? Are there things to pick from this election for us?
Most commentators have focussed on the Man Barack Obama. It’s however pertinent to look at the impact of the American social and political system on the making of Barack Obama and see how the whole world especially the developing world could benefit from the American dream. America has fulfilled its Obama. Whither Nigeria’s Obama(s). Many would agree that there are many Barack Obamas in Kenya and indeed Nigeria or any other developing countries of the world. But where are they? Why haven’t many visionary leaders emerge in third world generally?
Though racial prejudices has long dominated America’s social and political landscape, the people of America rose above the shackles of mental deluge and cast into endless dungeon centuries old racial bias. Barack Obama was voted as the 44th US president by all races, whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians and the many more not mentioned here. In Nigeria the ministry of ethnicity is the federal character commission and the instrument the quota system both constitutionally recognised. Politics and public service is strongly tied to ethnicity just as well as education, national planning and others. Eligibility to public office is determined by zoning, not until the post goes to your zone can you have a shot at it. How can our best hands get to the right positions at their peak with this type of system?
Entrenched internal party democracy is really worth considering. Barack Obama, a first time Senator opted to vie for the highest office in the world. Though, party leaders did not necessarily believe he was ripe for it, he was not barred from running either. He was given level playing ground given to Hilary Clinton and John Edward. In the Nigeria context, such effrontery by a political featherweight would have been branded an insult. Irritating Insult and would have attracted serious tongue lashing by compromised party leaders. In Nigeria, party members who dare to challenge dictatorial tendencies are branded traitors, rebels, disloyal and ultimately ruined politically through compromised party structures. Femi Pedro and Atiku Abubakar readily come to mind here. In Nigerian political parties, ideas, vision, and intellect does not matter as much as your age, and the years one has spent blndfollowing. Even if new members have better credentials, party structures dictates old members take precedence over the idealistic new ones. Here, age is synonymous with vision, ideas, and wisdom. It was no surprise at that Ex-president Obasanjo was the wisest during his tenure. All must shut up when Baba speaks.
I recall after the primaries at IOWA where Barack Obama led Hilary Clinton, the campaign became more intense and issue based. Clinton doubled her effort and fought with everything she got. She even went negative atimes but she consistently fought Barack Obama on issues related to the election and his associations which were relevant. After all, show me your friends and I tell who you are. However, the party did not annul or tinker with the electoral process to favour Clinton thought to be favourite at the general poll. The rules governing the process were long in place and will not be tampered with for any reason. The parties in Nigeria would have come up with a flimsy reason to cancel the electoral process or tinker with it. The result would be the emergence of the party elder’s candidate. How would Nigeria’s Barack Obama emerge then?
The effervescent press delivered a splendid coverage for the election. Much as we may say press freedom could and is sometimes abused, we are better off with a free press than a censored one. The American press gave us the news, the good and the bad, the positive and the negative. The press had a field day, an almost insatiable appetite for the campaign news coverage. That Bristol Palin became pregnant would never have mattered to us but we came to know who Bristol’s boyfriend is and their plans to be married. The press reported John McCann was previously treated of Cancer and his wealth and that of Barack Obama. As the press probe, the candidates were forced to explain to Americans, and the Americans got to know who to entrust their destiny to. Was there any regret in this for Americans? No. Even if Barack Obama did not work out eventually, the people have been properly informed of the issues surrounding the man.
Now, how much do we get to know about Nigerians seeking public office? Do we know the health status of the public office seekers? Some are rumoured to have gone for mental rehabilitation before assuming public office. Nigeria is on slumber because a prominent government figure is sick and unable to discharge the duties of his office. Should we not have the right to know the health status of the public office seekers through appropriate legislation and the freedom of the press? In Nigeria public office holder’s asset is still not public information. We do not know how much our leaders are worth. Whatever they call asset declaration is done with so much secrecy that one wonders if it is not a cult thing at the code of conduct bureau.
Some declare what they do not have hoping to fill in the difference as they grab and plunder the public treasury. Thanks to the system that does not verify anything. Not even academic qualifications are verified before election. Otherwise how would we have ended up with Salisu Buhari?
This brings us to the freedom of the press. The FOI bill was recently castrated by the wise men at the national assembly. In their revered wisdom, Nigerian press men are not ripe enough to enjoy total press liberty; there must be some censorship. Off course, with a dead press, the plundering can continue to no end.
Please tell these wise men that access to information is a non-alienable right of the people. The present leadership of Nigeria has carried on like the military era. Everything seems similar. Pocketed legislature and judiciary has brought back same scenarios as in military government. The press remain the only arm yet uncompromised, and seems to be running out of time too. The politicians are buying into existing press houses with the aim of controlling the information that is printed.
Election funding system in America is not without its flaws. Both candidates received from illegal sources and did not verify the citizenship of some donors. This is most common to the money raised via internet. However, the electoral system has limit to which individual can donate. Hilary Clinton focussed more on big donors at the early part of the primaries. When the big donors have donated the maximum legally permissible, they could give no more despite having the fund to donate. The Clinton has to widen their fund raising base in order to keep up with the campaign expenses. A single Clinton donor probably could bankroll the Clinton campaign but the law forbade it. The law also forbade foreigners from donation to prevent foreign influence of what is considered a US domestic affair. Definitely, no money bag can hijack the US electoral system.
Same cannot be said of funding election in Nigeria. No regulation or lack of adequate regulation on election funding is pervasive here. A single individual sponsors as many candidates as possible. In return for the funding is government contract or in many cases being witnessed at the states are rubber stamp houses of assembly. All sorts of money end up in the Nigeria electoral system. Drug money, advanced fee fraud money or internally looted fund. Assembly men have been fingered as 419 or drug barons. Fund looted in the state have been used to fund elections at Federal level. Resultant effect is the emergence of men bigger than the laws of the land enjoying their loot while we look on like spectators in our own Country.
Nigeria is indeed a Country with potential to be great. But right now, Nigeria craves growth socially, economically, democratically and ideologically. Nigerians are indeed very intelligent and adventurous. We dream and we aspire to fulfil our dreams. We are tough and have strong fighting spirit. But the social economic system in Nigeria must address basic problems. Both the leaders and the followers have roles to play for Nigeria to be great.
Nigerians must massively participate in partisan politics. Citizens must become members of political parties especially the working class elite. The Bankers, the Doctors, the Engineers, the office workers, the accountants, the statisticians, the logisticians, business men and others not mentioned here. The objective is not to get everybody to vie for elective office but their participation will infuse ideas and help to strengthen internal party democracy. A party with high moral values definitely will field better qualified candidate for elections than the less virtuous one.
Citizen should aspire to press for freedom of information bill to be passed in its uncorrupted version. Access to information is absolutely not negotiable and should not be compromised.
Appropriate legislation and enforcement should be put in place to prevent money bags from hijacking electoral process. Politics is for all and not for a few money bags with questionable wealth. We should as a matter of urgency address the imbalances in rewards to politicians and the rest of us. A Counsellor earns more than a professor. It’s ridiculous.
We should rise against ethnic divide and together use the benefits of our diversity as a pedestal to launch Nigeria to super power. In an atmosphere of just and fairness, we do not need the quota system. Let all men live on their effort.