In perhaps the most stunning electoral surprise in modern political history, American billionaire businessman Donald Trump last week defeated Hillary Clinton to win the American presidency.
Everywhere else, Mr. Trump would have ended up as the loser, having come second in the popular vote tally. But the United States system is, to borrow the words of Mr. Trump himself, “rigged…very corrupt.”
He was commenting on the Electoral College, which is not your classic definition of democracy. When you inspect it closely, the electoral college mechanism would be cheaper, less cumbersome and far more democratic if, instead of hiding behind the citizens, it simply asked the States to vote their preferred candidate into the presidency.
Not so. Which was why, coming into the home stretch, and firmly believing he could not possibly surmount the intricacies of the Electoral College, Mr. Trump denounced it as “a disaster for a democracy.”
I am sure not even Mrs. Clinton agreed with him at the time; her opponent imagined a situation where he won the popular vote but was “rigged” from power by the Electoral College. It is easier to see when the smoke and tears, clear: the power that the constitution gives to the voter in the polling booth it appears to take away with the Electoral College.
In the end, that “rigged” system delivered for the man who never ceased to denounce it.
But Mrs. Clinton didn’t lose at the Electoral College, or last Tuesday. The seeds of her tragedy and loss were sown eight years earlier when Barack Obama was elected.
That day, November 11, 2008, was when the avengers who swept Trump into power last week woke up to find, to their historic dismay, Mr. Obama had won. That singular event insulted their sense of self and of America.
The outrage of that demographic would be expressed in the next eight years through the refusal of the Republican Party-dominated Congress to work with the President; through the birther movement championed by Mr. Trump; and through personal insults leveled at Mr. Obama by opposing politicians that could never have been leveled at any other president with the “right” skin colour.
That outrage not only defined how limited Mr. Obama’s presidency would be, it automatically set the stage for the rejection of any Democratic nominee for President, particularly Mrs. Clinton.
Mr. Obama’s 2008 “Yes We Can” movement and the power of incumbency were enough in 2012 to keep him in the White House but in the eyes the demographics that denigrated him, he remained the “wrong” President. That sin: association with Obama, along with being the poster child for the dysfunction of Washington politics, is what Mrs. Clinton ultimately paid for.
Yes, you can cite a multitude of other sins she was guilty of. But place them side by side with Donald Trump’s, and they pale individually and collectively. But on November 8, the critical demographics forgave him for everything and crowned him king.
Through the Republican party primary and the national campaign, Trump demonstrated a singular recourse to name-calling. He ridiculed and insulted whoever was in his path. In Trump’s world, anyone who is not pro-Trump is wrong and deserves to be ridiculed. There is nothing in-between.
But we must be clear what the most important issue is: who will President Trump be? If he honors his electoral promises, a notion Nigerian politicians scoff at, he will create far-reaching complications for Nigeria. And I write this principally because, of those he ridiculed on the way to the White House, Nigerian leaders deserved it.
I know many dual-nationality Nigerians who voted in the US presidential election last week, some of them for the first time in a final act of surrender because they don’t expect ever to vote in Nigeria.
Why not? Many examples exist of the duplicity of the Nigerian state, but few are as poignant and as sad as the betrayal, by successive Nigerian leaders, of the right of Nigerians in the Diaspora to vote in Nigeria’s elections.
It is now standard practice for Nigerian leaders to make politically-correct promises on this issue, but only promises. Soon enough, the next election is undertaken without the input of a demographic which pumps into the Nigerian economy $20-$30billion per year.
It is of interest that President Muhammadu Buhari and former President Olusegun Obasanjo were quick to congratulate the American President-Elect last week, each expressing readiness to work with him.
To begin with, I don’t know why Obasanjo gets his wires crossed. Someone ought to tell him he no longer leads anyone, and that Trump does not know who he is, except perhaps as one of those African leaders for whom he has shown so much disdain.
But for the present, and in case it is unclear, Trump wants to build a wall on the southern border. But the other, unstated wall, will be bigger. That is the one represented by the Atlantic, over which, in effect, he wants to deport illegal aliens and prevent people he doesn’t want from crossing towards the United States.
As much as anyone might criticize Trump, the truth is he wants to put his country first. Trump has had a few choice words about corruption in Nigerian and our citizens, denied opportunities at home, flooding illegally into his. The option for Buhari, given the large size of the Nigerian population in the US, is not readiness to work with Trump. It is a contingency plan to accommodate an army of deportees, and convert it into an energy boost for the economy rather than a source of crime and regret.
It is plain to see that if Nigeria could make no headway with the US in the past year and a half, despite all the promises preceding the 2015 election, it is unrealistic to expect Trump to cast one favorable glance in Nigeria’s direction. To begin with, we have not even had an ambassador in the US for 16 months, or a Permanent Representative at the UN throughout this year. This is no argument to Trump and the hawks he is bringing with him that anything has changed in Nigeria.
What it is: a good time for Nigerian leaders to think seriously, imaginatively and proactively about our Diaspora population, not just those who may be uprooted by Brexit or deported by Trump. There are good examples of other nations that have been boosted by Diaspora populations returning or merely coming home to invest, in response to policies designed to attract them. For Nigeria, given our infrastructure dreams and scarce foreign exchange, there is no better time than the present to implement a policy of this nature.
Finally, Nigerian leaders may wish to keep in mind how seamless election-management was in the US last week. Voting materials neither arrived late nor were ballot boxes snatched.
The reason is that voting, even Diaspora voting, is neither rocket science, or a favor. Especially if you plan, and if your commitment is to a flawless process rather than one with loose ends.