The Governorship elections of April 26 (April 28 in Bauchi and Kaduna) drew a curtain on the current election season. And with these, it may be worth assessing the democracy project, which the nation embarked on May 29 1999 when the Fourth Republic was inaugurated under Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency. How have we fared so far?
If politicians are like diapers that require periodic change, then an examination of our conduct of elections and the issues such elections throw up will provide an insight into how far we are faring in our democracy journey. Several issues were thrown up by the just concluded election cycle:
One, Jega had two things coming into the elections – one worked in his favour, the other against him. His predecessor in office, Professor Maurice Iwu, had organised a sham in 2007 which any breathing goat would have no difficulty dismissing as non-election. The baseline for comparing Professor Jega’s efforts was therefore extremely favourable. But Jega also came with an over rated credibility tag, which raised expectations beyond realistic limits. Fortunately for him, the high expectations nose-dived on April 2 when he announced the abortion of the National Assembly elections that were already under way. Paradoxically the false start of April 2 and the extremely low bar of public expectation, which it engendered (in addition to the ‘no bar’ of expectation set by the 2007 elections), helped to exaggerate the perception of success of the National Assembly elections. The euphoria that followed muffled all contrary voices as killjoys or sore losers.
Two, based on the above, the presidential election of April 16 and the Governorship elections that followed are better baselines for assessing Jega and the new INEC. Though the violence that trailed the outcome of the Presidential elections in some Northern States cast a dark shadow on the exercise, my personal opinion is that Jonathan won hands down, despite legitimate complaints by the opposition parties, essentially Buhari’s CPC.
While there may have been rigging, I had in two previous articles on General Buhari taken the position that his charisma and credibility might not be enough for him to win the election. CPC’s organisational weaknesses for instance showed in the elections and were not helped by the deleterious effects of the in-fighting among the CPC’s gladiators in the North. It also appears that Buhari remains distrusted by some Northern power brokers who probably felt that Jonathan’s non-threatening personality would be easier to live with than the assumed unpredictability that would come with a Buhari presidency.
Three, the popular explanation for the outbreak of the violence in some Northern states after the presidential poll is that people took to the streets because they felt the outcome did not reflect their wishes. This, in my opinion, is at best only a partial explanation. While it is true that some people probably equated the support for General Buhari in their locality and among their peer groups to his support across the entire North or the country, my personal opinion is that people resorted to violence for unconscious reasons that were beyond Buhari’s performance in the elections. Eminent Nigerian political scientist Professor Isawa Elaigwu has for instance argued that the North- South interaction has been held together by a sort of balance of fear. The South, he argues, fears political domination from the lopsided nature of the federation in which the North accounts for some 79% of the land mass and 53.5% of its population – according to the 1963 census. Elaigwu argues that the North equally fears the South’s ‘tyranny of skills’, (arising from its head start in Western education), which it allegedly uses to dominate the economy and the bureaucracy. In essence in this balance of fear, the North holds the political lever while the South holds the economy/bureaucracy lever, with each suspecting the other of trying to use its lever to neutralise the other’s advantage. In this sense, the violence that followed the presidential election in the North may be less a show of support for Buhari than an unconscious outpouring of the fear of total Southern domination. To allay the fears of some people in the North about a Southern presidency therefore, Jonathan needs to convince them that the old levers used in maintaining the balance of fear have become anachronistic (the skills gap between the North and South has for instance closed up considerably) and that he will be a fair President to all.
Four, the elections threw up conflicting signals about the direction of our democracy. On the positives: The number of incumbent governors that were defeated in the elections – in Oyo, Nasarawa, Zamfara and possibly Imo States – showed that the ballot box is becoming a more potent vehicle of regime change. The influence of political godfathers also seemed to have become less significant in electoral outcomes. For instance candidates backed by Obasanjo, Governor Gbenga Daniel, Olusola Saraki, Edwin Clarke and Dr Chimaroke Nnamani all lost woefully. The elections equally showed that the political space is opening up in many parts of the country. In Anambra, Benue and several other states of the federation, the ACN, generally seen as a ‘Yoruba party’ gave a good account of itself. In the South West however, the ACN swept the polls, meaning that with the exception of Ondo State (which is controlled by the Labour Party), the entire Yorubaland is now under the control of ACN. It remains however debatable whether the victory of the ACN in the South West is a triumph of Yoruba irredentism or triumph of progressive politics.
Five, the elections also revealed that while the perception of INEC as a neutral umpire has improved, several gaps need to be plugged to improve the integrity of the process. For instance the number of votes that were voided remained unacceptably high, calling for a massive voter education campaign. Also there remain issues with the voters’ register, which calls for the routinisation of the registration and clean-up exercises. Our politicians also showed that they are always ahead of efforts to cage them, meaning that INEC has to step up its game to be at least one step ahead of the politicians when it comes to ballot snatching/stuffing, rigging, underage voting and falsifying the results at the collation centres. In summary while it is still not Uhuru for our democracy, we are making steady, even if slow, progress.
Governor Peter Obi’s revenge
As chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum, Governor Peter Obi was very visible in the negotiations between the South East ASUU and the governments of the South East States over the implementation of a new salary structure for academics. The university lecturers had gone on strike insisting on the implementation of the new salary structure. After some six months of strike, the governments of the area largely acquiesced to the lecturers’ demand. In Anambra State however Governor Peter Obi seemed to have taken his revenge on the largely indigent students of the State-owned Anambra State University by hiking the school fees from about N35,000 per annum to more than N100,000 per annum. While it is understandable that school fees have to be increased, I struggle to find decent words to describe the level of increase.
Governor Peter Obi also needs to level up with Local Government Chairmanship aspirants under APGA who were made to pay 1 million Naira each for the expression of interest forms as far back as July/August 2010. The indication then was that the elections would hold in December 2010. Though the elections have been postponed indefinitely, there has not been a word about refunding the aspirants their money. And given APGA’s relatively poor performance in the just concluded National and State Assembly elections, not many people believe that Local Government elections will be held any time soon. Has Governor Peter Obi lost his halo?