The Whirlwind of a Democracy Coming to Nigeria

By Osuolale Alalade

The rumoured interim administration in Nigeria, denied by the authorities, has a historical context. In June, 1993 the Babaginda administration nullified what indelibly remain the fairest and most transparent democratic elections in the country. By that treasonable act, the military brought the country close to the very edge of the precipice. Accordingly, 12 June, the anniversary of those elections has since fossilized itself as the watershed for democratic entry into the Nigerian political firmament. As part of the counter offensive against the ascendance of progressive democratic praxis in the politics in Nigeria, anti-democratic forces that emerged in post Abacha dictatorship developed numerous controversial concepts that included “do or die” politics in the context of a contrived democracy that revolved around pivotal god fathers and “garrison commanders” led by Olusegun Obasanjo at the national level. This process upended and hollowed out the democratic space in Nigeria. The current crisis is the renewed charge of democrats to reclaim democracy in the country. Notwithstanding the many paradoxes thrown up by the sad state of affairs, the dilemma in the choice between a sitting president and a former dictator that Nigerians face represents an encouraging turn of democratic advancement of the country. The fact that the political space in Nigeria has ripened enough to give Nigerians a possible prospect to reject an incumbent administration is indicative of how far Nigeria has come since June 12, 1993.

Under this hollowed out phenomenon of political contestation, General Olusegun Obasanjo was schemed into office by the post Abacha vanguard of the northern hegemony. The empty tank democracy that brought him into office had its unique underpinnings that seemingly became established as the normative anchor for the elite circle of political opportunists and poll rogues and poll robbers that held Nigerians in a stranglehold. General Obasanjo, heading the political class, has since imagined that as a product of this brand of democracy, authentic democracy itself was a convenient abstraction to be exploited to advance parochial and his personal objectives. That had been the logic of Nigeria’s democracy since June 12, 1993. “Do or die politics” as a process, unaccountable, unelected but preeminent and dominant actors outside of the constitution acting as “garrison commanders” in the political process were formally coined by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. These concepts visibly directed his approach to power struggle at all levels. Between 2005 and 2007, the alleged massive funding by former President Obasanjo of conspiracies to amend the Constitution to allow him to extend his rule by another term to twelve years was defeated. The challenge created unprecedented ripples that riled his presidency and the political class down the line.

Under the peculiar tenets of this democracy, Obasanjo, after the failure of his attempt to change the constitutional term limits, arranged for the consummation of an Umar Yar’adua and Goodluck Ebele Jonathan presidency. Given the personality profiles of the two, Obasanjo hoped to be the real ruler behind the scene. This ticket borne out of mischief making was ushered into office on the platform of a most formidable coalition of political marauders any country could be saddled with. At all levels true democratic contestation across the country was derailed. Politics under this travesty revolved around the activities of ubiquitous political godfathers. They had emerged at the various sub-national levels as part of the culture of counterfeit democracy now personified in Obasanjo at the national level. The god father was the political dynamic. Intra-party primaries were just to go through the motions of the anointing the god son into the gubernatorial, senatorial or House race. The choice of the people did not matter and the elections were expected to be rigged. Brigandage was the norm. The democratic space was cluttered with unrepentant and famous rogues, recycled treasury looters, time-worn discredited radicals, brigands, opportunists of various hues and outright social renegades. This was odious democracy that operated on its own peculiar Nigerian axioms. These foundations deviated from the conventional principles and tenets associated with real democracy. The outcome was predictable. Obasanjo’s brand of democracy was not designed to deliver the dividends of democratic openings. Its internal procedures were a modified or civilianized version of a command hierarchy. Every one called him not Mr. President but “Baba”, reminiscent of the era of omniscient Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. It was scandal filled and led to the complete disaffect from the population who had no voice.

What has changed in today’s Nigeria is the cumulative impact of the incremental sensitization of the pro- democracy movements such as Save Nigeria group, the Bring back our girls campaign, and the efforts of the many well-meaning civil society and their unending mobilization initiatives throughout the country. An important first factor is the national character of these social movements. By this character, they have helped to undermine the solidity of the hitherto entrenched parochial worldview of all Nigerian constituencies and stakeholders. Although, Nigeria has yet to witness the massive pro-democracy mobilization associated with spontaneous public upheavals of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, a critical mass of people across the country that are acutely politically and socially aware in civil society has emerged. What the rise in social consciousness has meant in the emerged crisis is to narrow or constrain the choices that the Jonathan administration, has in wriggling out of a very bad situation. In the past, the General Muhammadu Buhari/ Tunde Idiagbon administration came to the rescue to relieve the Shehu Shagari administration of its burden and to ensure that the interest of the North was supreme. This same mindset later directed the Ibrahim Babaginda truncation of the MKO Abiola mandate that never saw the light of day. The Abacha regime drew its legitimation from the silence, connivance and unhidden satisfaction of the northern elite to the horror of its oppression of the South, and in particular the Yoruba of the west.

The second important context is the Nigerian Armed Forces is fighting two major wars. The obvious is the war against Boko Haram that has not, until recently, gone too well. A second is an internal struggle to restore a modicum of respectability and legitimacy within the institution itself and in the perception of a large majority of discerning civilian population. Without this own sense of legitimacy, its internal cohesion is febrile, such that any attempt on its part to seize political power would doom it into self-destruct. A mere attempt of this throwback to past military adventurism in politics would import grave consequences for the longevity of the Nigerian state. The rise of a pro-democracy movement with a largely national outlook and the unenviable state of the military have meant that the current crisis cannot be resolved through the rumored interim arrangement An interim arrangement, as we saw with the marginal Shonekan interim post Babaginda administration is very vulnerable to any ambitious adventurer in the military. There is no guarantee that such an accursed intervention, if it survives public agitation, would not probe all or the most damaging of the sins and “gates”.

It is however an encouraging sign that the robust national contestations in the public realm have been mainly in the joust of ideas. This discourse has articulated as deeply as humanly possible the dilemma that Nigerians face in the choices before them in the now postponed 2015 presidential elections. Yet, this dilemma has also brought to the fore the stark confrontation between the old arrangee way of resolving political conflict in Nigeria and the increasingly universally acknowledged democratic imperatives that leave the Jonathan presidency and its cohorts with no alternative than to face the loaded fury of Nigerian ballot boxes. Perhaps this reality of a changing society creeping on the old adherents of contrived democracy has led to the many theatrical somersaulting that we have witnessed in the past few weeks. These factors impelling these political acrobatics reflect a great national reawakening that has imposed on all to be on the right side of history.


About africapeacesupport

Former Representative of the United Nations SecretaryGeneral in Guinea-Bissau and Head of UNOGBIS.
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