Daily Trust - Burying our democracy
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Burying our democracy

There will be people who will celebrate victories in the just-concluded elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States. They will include those who have been announced winners; personnel of agencies of state that aided them directly or refused to prevent subversion of popular will; persons who deployed large scale violence against the opposition or members of the public that believe elections are about them; election officials who hid behind a corrupted political environment to  subvert fair outcomes; vote buyers, influence peddlers  ethnic and religious bigots and lawyers and judges who live fat on disputed results.

There are also many people who will  lament the death of our dreams to build a democratic tradition which will progressively improve with elections and the growth  of values and processes that are vital to its survival. They will include people who saw the writing on the wall during previous elections, but particularly during  the 2019 elections; people who understand that the nation is locked in a rotting system with very little room for relief; people who see connections between a corrupt electoral process, poor governance and the declining power of the state to serve popular interests. Those who ‘lost’ would have learnt valuable lessons on how not to lose future  elections, at all cost.

The real tragedy is that the circle of those who are becoming increasingly competent in subverting the electoral process is getting smaller and more effective, while those who agonize over this growing threat is growing bigger and more impotent. The farce we organize in the name of elections has finally played out, although it is by no means certain that more desperate efforts will not be deployed towards sustaining the charade. Nothing new about our elections will be witnessed in a nation numbed into submission by the brazen spectacle of organized theft of everything under the sun, from children to electoral mandates, to billions and billions of public funds, the integrity of state institutions and the security of our people. Kogi and Bayelsa merely represent the spasms of departing hope that a nation of 200 million can survive on the margins of a system which does not guarantee its own survival, but, if supported, can provide a basis for the survival of a nation with the complexities and challenges that define us.

Just before we go under, it will serve history well to identify the major undertakers of our dreams to build a democratic nation. The first has to be leaders who have emerged on the basis of elections since 1999.Every leader at all levels has made efforts to subvert the electoral process and diminish the quality of out democratic process. No leader has acquired power who was a democrat. From Obasanjo to Buhari, every governor and every major political party has acquired power under questionable circumstances, and has tried to retain it under all circumstaces. It has been said that the tragedy of Nigerian democracy is that it has no democrats. It is actually worse. Nigerian democracy has been destroyed by people who think acquiring power and huge wealth by all means necessary is the only goal of politics. Democracy and service to the people  has nothing to do with it.

In the last two decades, we had people who competed, using mostly  plundered public resources, to steal electoral mandates, shoot their ways into power, compromise desperately poor people with a pittance to vote for them, deploy massive state- controlled violence to muscle their ways to power (or organize their own violence if they have no access to state’s instruments of violence) buy-off INEC and the judiciary to concoct fictions and give them judicial cover, exploit dangerous fault lines in a nation daily discovering new ones, and then wait to repeat the process with greater confidence and impunity. If we had the stomach for humour, the spectacle of Kaduna’s el-Rufai kneeling to beg Kogi voters to ‘forgive’ their governor who could not pay salaries to state employees for years while the culprit himself stood and watched will bring a bitter smile informed by the knowledge of how little politicians think of us. So would the joy of President Jonathan at the ‘defeat’ of his own party and the fleeting hope that the nation will celebrate his enduring relevance in democracy’s wrecking crew.

Every once in a while more outrageous stunts are witnessed, such as Yari’s audacious misadventure in Zamfara, crushed by a presidency which itself was motivated by even less noble goals, or the payment of N10b to the APC state government  of Kogi State a few days to the elections, or the brazen, last- minute frenzy by Ganduje’s government  around a few hundred voters in a run-off election, or the breathtaking gambles  backed by gun barrels to elevate personal ambitions above popular will in Bayelsa State. The military, police, all security agencies and the judiciary have weighed-in with massive contributions in subverting the electoral process. Political offices have been debased. They serve as evidence that subversion of basic values  yield dividends, and corruption which they anchor finds deeper roots and spreads to feed all other forms of corruption.

The second undertaker must be INEC. Its game of exploiting an environment defined by corruption and violence to foist travesties dressed in claims of helplessness over circumstances under which elections are organized has now been elevated into a major part of our national culture. The law says INEC should conduct elections. It does not compel it to conduct elections where everything points to only one outcome: the subversion of popular will,  and the possibility that its election cannot produce a clear  and genuine winner. INEC’s greatest contribution would have been to decline to conduct elections unless it is satisfied that the process has a minimum chance of getting some credibility. Not brief postponements. Not getting politicians involved in wars to sign pieces of paper. Not shouting exhortations and sending observers to tell us it what it knows. If it takes constitutional crises to convince politicians that INEC demands an environment for credible elections, an honourable INEC leadership would have triggered one. We have not had one INEC leadership with the courage or integrity to even attempt a bluff. So INEC anchors the drowning of the nation’s hopes that the electoral process can be salvaged.

The third undertaker is the international community, or those countries who believe that a fairly healthy democratic tradition in Nigeria is vital to the nation, to Africa, and above all, to them. Those nations that sink billions to create the semblance of a democratic Nigeria have designed a special version of acceptable elections in Nigeria, whose hallmarks are not about credibility but  sustaining a rickety political stability. Their own  intelligence and armies of foreign and domestic observers routinely tell them that our elections are farce, our democratic pretensions have expiry dates, and they need to change their approach. These nations have our country pretty much sewn up, on its knees and begging for investment that will not come, and more particularly, visas for leaders and their family to travel and spend our stolen resources in their countries. There are one hundred ways these countries can reduce the excesses of politicians around elections, but they do not.

We just buried our democratic credentials in Bayelsa and Kogi states. Those with tears left to weep for the nation’s  future may do so. Others hardened by serial abuse and impunity should buckle up. The future does not include living with leaders emerging through credible elections

Abubakar wrote this piece from Abuja

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Burying our democracy

There will be people who will celebrate victories in the just-concluded elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States. They will include those who have been announced winners; personnel of agencies of state that aided them directly or refused to prevent subversion of popular will; persons who deployed large scale violence against the opposition or members of the public that believe elections are about them; election officials who hid behind a corrupted political environment to  subvert fair outcomes; vote buyers, influence peddlers  ethnic and religious bigots and lawyers and judges who live fat on disputed results.

There are also many people who will  lament the death of our dreams to build a democratic tradition which will progressively improve with elections and the growth  of values and processes that are vital to its survival. They will include people who saw the writing on the wall during previous elections, but particularly during  the 2019 elections; people who understand that the nation is locked in a rotting system with very little room for relief; people who see connections between a corrupt electoral process, poor governance and the declining power of the state to serve popular interests. Those who ‘lost’ would have learnt valuable lessons on how not to lose future  elections, at all cost.

The real tragedy is that the circle of those who are becoming increasingly competent in subverting the electoral process is getting smaller and more effective, while those who agonize over this growing threat is growing bigger and more impotent. The farce we organize in the name of elections has finally played out, although it is by no means certain that more desperate efforts will not be deployed towards sustaining the charade. Nothing new about our elections will be witnessed in a nation numbed into submission by the brazen spectacle of organized theft of everything under the sun, from children to electoral mandates, to billions and billions of public funds, the integrity of state institutions and the security of our people. Kogi and Bayelsa merely represent the spasms of departing hope that a nation of 200 million can survive on the margins of a system which does not guarantee its own survival, but, if supported, can provide a basis for the survival of a nation with the complexities and challenges that define us.

Just before we go under, it will serve history well to identify the major undertakers of our dreams to build a democratic nation. The first has to be leaders who have emerged on the basis of elections since 1999.Every leader at all levels has made efforts to subvert the electoral process and diminish the quality of out democratic process. No leader has acquired power who was a democrat. From Obasanjo to Buhari, every governor and every major political party has acquired power under questionable circumstances, and has tried to retain it under all circumstaces. It has been said that the tragedy of Nigerian democracy is that it has no democrats. It is actually worse. Nigerian democracy has been destroyed by people who think acquiring power and huge wealth by all means necessary is the only goal of politics. Democracy and service to the people  has nothing to do with it.

In the last two decades, we had people who competed, using mostly  plundered public resources, to steal electoral mandates, shoot their ways into power, compromise desperately poor people with a pittance to vote for them, deploy massive state- controlled violence to muscle their ways to power (or organize their own violence if they have no access to state’s instruments of violence) buy-off INEC and the judiciary to concoct fictions and give them judicial cover, exploit dangerous fault lines in a nation daily discovering new ones, and then wait to repeat the process with greater confidence and impunity. If we had the stomach for humour, the spectacle of Kaduna’s el-Rufai kneeling to beg Kogi voters to ‘forgive’ their governor who could not pay salaries to state employees for years while the culprit himself stood and watched will bring a bitter smile informed by the knowledge of how little politicians think of us. So would the joy of President Jonathan at the ‘defeat’ of his own party and the fleeting hope that the nation will celebrate his enduring relevance in democracy’s wrecking crew.

Every once in a while more outrageous stunts are witnessed, such as Yari’s audacious misadventure in Zamfara, crushed by a presidency which itself was motivated by even less noble goals, or the payment of N10b to the APC state government  of Kogi State a few days to the elections, or the brazen, last- minute frenzy by Ganduje’s government  around a few hundred voters in a run-off election, or the breathtaking gambles  backed by gun barrels to elevate personal ambitions above popular will in Bayelsa State. The military, police, all security agencies and the judiciary have weighed-in with massive contributions in subverting the electoral process. Political offices have been debased. They serve as evidence that subversion of basic values  yield dividends, and corruption which they anchor finds deeper roots and spreads to feed all other forms of corruption.

The second undertaker must be INEC. Its game of exploiting an environment defined by corruption and violence to foist travesties dressed in claims of helplessness over circumstances under which elections are organized has now been elevated into a major part of our national culture. The law says INEC should conduct elections. It does not compel it to conduct elections where everything points to only one outcome: the subversion of popular will,  and the possibility that its election cannot produce a clear  and genuine winner. INEC’s greatest contribution would have been to decline to conduct elections unless it is satisfied that the process has a minimum chance of getting some credibility. Not brief postponements. Not getting politicians involved in wars to sign pieces of paper. Not shouting exhortations and sending observers to tell us it what it knows. If it takes constitutional crises to convince politicians that INEC demands an environment for credible elections, an honourable INEC leadership would have triggered one. We have not had one INEC leadership with the courage or integrity to even attempt a bluff. So INEC anchors the drowning of the nation’s hopes that the electoral process can be salvaged.

The third undertaker is the international community, or those countries who believe that a fairly healthy democratic tradition in Nigeria is vital to the nation, to Africa, and above all, to them. Those nations that sink billions to create the semblance of a democratic Nigeria have designed a special version of acceptable elections in Nigeria, whose hallmarks are not about credibility but  sustaining a rickety political stability. Their own  intelligence and armies of foreign and domestic observers routinely tell them that our elections are farce, our democratic pretensions have expiry dates, and they need to change their approach. These nations have our country pretty much sewn up, on its knees and begging for investment that will not come, and more particularly, visas for leaders and their family to travel and spend our stolen resources in their countries. There are one hundred ways these countries can reduce the excesses of politicians around elections, but they do not.

We just buried our democratic credentials in Bayelsa and Kogi states. Those with tears left to weep for the nation’s  future may do so. Others hardened by serial abuse and impunity should buckle up. The future does not include living with leaders emerging through credible elections

Abubakar wrote this piece from Abuja

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