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Political culture of impunity as bane of Nigeria’s democracy

Culture is regarded as the way of life of a people, it refers to their arts, morals, the way they dress, marry, bury their dead…

Culture is regarded as the way of life of a people, it refers to their arts, morals, the way they dress, marry, bury their dead and how they greet and what they eat. It also entails their basic values and beliefs.  In sane communities, every member or individual is required to conform to the dictates of the culture and is rewarded for doing so while non-conformity is regarded as deviance and punished.

Culture is therefore an aspect of identification for a group of people in a given society. Culture in totality speaks of people in a given society.

On the other hand, Political Culture, Jurgen Winkler asserts, “is a set of shared views and normative judgments held by a population regarding its political system.”  Dare and his co-authors’ definition of political culture is not diametrically opposed to that of Jurgen Winkler. Their position is that political culture is an offspring of the pattern drawn from the history of both the political system and the interaction between the individual members of the community.

What this suggests is that political culture reflects the larger culture as it is an overall dispersal of citizen’s alignment to political matters that have to do with government. On his part, Nwanko sees political culture as a sum total of the attitudes, beliefs, emotions and values of society that relate to the political system and to political issues. Rollo cites an example of political culture as can be seen in America where it is defined by freedom, equality, and justice.

Almond and Verba as well as Elazar, and Huntington provide us with the three most significant types of political culture. Almond and Verba defined the parochial, subject, and participant cultures, Elezar believed there was a traditionalist, moralistic, and individualistic political culture.

Political culture of impunity, as described by Finer, is a “minimal political culture.” According to him, in countries with minimal political culture, “government ignores public opinion, principally because of the paucity of the politically articulate.” Expanding on Finer’s description, Chinedu and Uchechukwu both of the Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, state that political culture of impunity “translates to that attitudinal and behavioural tendency among some politicians, especially those in power or those close to them, which offers that despotic sense of freedom to commit offence without punishment, retribution, reprisal or injurious consequences.”

They further observed that political culture of impunity thrives in countries whose civilian rule is heavily influenced by long periods of military interregnums such as Nigeria where the supposed democratic values and institutions still echo and quill with varied tinges of dictatorship. The unfortunate consequence of long periods of political culture of impunity is the erosion of democratic virtues.

Another negative consequence of the political culture of impunity is the lackadaisical attitudes of the populace to state matters that emboldens the few political elites to lose all sense of moral decency resulting in unbridled graft on the part of unscrupulous leaders and their cronies, especially civil servants and contractors.

Chinedu and Uchechukwu lament that when leaders “mortgage their conscience to and murder their sense of humanistic disposition in the court of impunity, they unabashedly deep their hands into the common wealth of the people to line their pockets for their own selfish personal aggrandishment most times, at the detriment of the people’s aspirations.”

By far, the most burning manifestations of the political culture of impunity are election rigging and result manipulation whose product is electoral violence. Nigeria’s political history is replete with incidents of electoral violence occasioned by rigging and alleged result manipulation.

For instance, allegations of fraud that trailed the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 sparked off the widespread violence that claimed about 80 lives. Similarly, at least 100 people were reportedly killed during incidents of electoral violence triggered by claims of result manipulation in the election of 2023.

Again, in 2007, over 300 people were killed in the electoral violence that erupted after the election results were declared that year.

In 2011, Adebayo Kunle reported that post-election violence led to the death of at least 800 people over three days of rioting in 12 states of northern Nigeria. According to the International Crisis Group, over 100 people were killed during and after the general elections in 2015 while the European Union Election Observation Mission reported about 150 deaths occasioned by violence linked to the 2019 elections.

The last election in 2023 had its own fair share of violence and deaths as a report by a Civil Society Organisation, Kimpact Development Initiative (KDI) shows that a total of 238 violence and 28 deaths were reported during that election.

Arising from the above statistics, it is safe to aver that elections, which are the hallmarks of democracy, have been blemished by cases of violence and deaths since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999.

Worried by the relentless pattern of violence after every general election in Nigeria, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, Dr. Mercy Tartsea-Anshashe blames the political culture of impunity whose strands include abuse of power, “winner-takes-all” mentality, brigandage and political alienation for the erosion of democratic norms and values in the country.

Chinedu & Uchechukwu posit that a political culture of impunity threatens democratic rule and contradicts the democratization process by breeding attitudes that militate against democratic values. It is diametrically opposed to the democratic spirit with all its gamut of benefits such as good governance, freedom of expression, rule of law and security of lives and properties. Indeed, the political culture of impunity thrives in the breach of the rule of law.

All the indicators of political impunity have been witnessed in the history of Nigerian politics and this endangers the nascent democracy.


Tartsea-Anshase and Akurega wrote from Abuja

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