2019 and the Ibadan Conversation

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At the invitation of Dr Tunji Olaopa, I was at the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) last Thursday for what turned out a most interesting conversation on elections in Nigeria as critical stakeholders interrogate my book, ‘Against The Run of Play: How an incumbent president was defeated in Nigeria’. The ISGPP’s monthly book reading series to which I was invited is an innovative platform for community engagement on issues of governance, democracy and development and draws participants from the huge population of intellectuals within and around the city of Ibadan.

It is indeed a testimony to the reach of Olaopa, a retired federal permanent secretary, that the participants for my session were drawn from the academia, private sector and the civil society with respected Professors from the University of Ibadan, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-ife, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-iwoye and University of Lagos, in attendance. Some of the accomplished people who stayed throughout the entire session that lasted almost five hours included Professors Akin Mabogunje, Bolanle Awe, Femi Osofisan, Adigun Agbaje, Olabode Lucas, Olabisi Ugbebor, Lai Olurode, Abiola Odejide, Ayo Olukotun and A.O. Popoola. There were also Dr B. A. Olarewaju, Dr Ademola Oyeleye, Dr Ashindorbe Kelvin, Dr Kayode Salman, Dr Irene Pogoson, Dr Wumi Akin-Onigbinde, Dr Festus Adedayo, Mrs Yemi Alabi and several others whose invaluable contributions made the event very enlightening. Ms Chienye Ogwo, the CEO of African Initiative for Governance (AIG) also came from Lagos.

In his opening remark, Olaopa commended many of the attendees whose passion and commitment have given the ‘ISGPP Book Readers Club’ its uniqueness, and whose regular participation at their events “have continued to buoy the drive for a continuous treatment of high-quality works that have direct implications for governance and public policy in Nigeria.” This, according to Olaopa, can only help in creating public awareness on the contemporary challenges of development while exploring ways in which they can be tackled.

As one would expect in a gathering of such intellectual heavyweights, the interactions were very engaging and one thing that came out clearly from the session is the fact that defeating an incumbent president is not an easy task anywhere in the world. I particularly made that point very clear by referencing Hal Furman’s paper titled ‘Why Incumbents Rarely Lose’ published in the nevadajournal.com, where he stated that “Incumbents have a much easier time getting re-elected than challengers have at even coming close to beating them”, and he gave reasons that validate my long-held position as I explained at the session before reading a section of the book.

I reiterated the same position in the interview I granted reporters after the session which some people have misinterpreted to mean I was dismissive of the presidential aspirants who are currently challenging the incumbent. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

I was asked about whether the massive campaign for Nigerians to get their Permanent Voter Card (PVC) can help the opposition in the election and I responded in the affirmative but with a caveat: “Yes, it can play a part, but what I think basically is that Buhari’s biggest challenger today is ‘go and get your PVC’. That is not a candidate. Yes, the people will get their PVC but who are they voting for? It’s also important. I like the awareness, I like the consciousness and the fact that people are really ready to go out and vote, but it also matters who they are voting for and the platform and what those people are bringing to the table.”

The emphasis is on the platform because as eminently qualified as many of the presidential aspirants are, there is also the issue of the political party that will serve as vehicle for their ambition. This was how I answered that question: “Right now, if you are asked who would be the opposition candidate against Buhari next year, you can tout many names but you are not sure. And for me, there are only two political parties right now; there may be others in the future, but now, it’s either APC or PDP. All these Red Card, Third Force, and all those things… are helping the incumbent because he already has his support base. It is the opposition that is being divided along all these lines.”

The challenge for the opposition, as I explained, “is that they have to get their acts together. I keep saying that by the end of 2012 for instance, we already knew who was going to challenge Jonathan in 2015. You can’t say the same thing today. And you need a cohesive opposition to defeat an incumbent.”

There is nothing new in what I said. I was not in the country for much of 2010 and 2011 and did not witness the 16th April 2011 presidential election won by the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. However, having completed my research paper on such elections at the Harvard Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs, I shared my perspective on why the outcome of the Nigerian election of that year could not have been different. After editing the paper to make it readable as a journalism text aside putting it within the then prevailing Nigerian context, I published it on 22nd May, 2011, exactly a week before Jonathan was sworn in.

Titled, ‘Divided They Run, United They Lose’, it is noteworthy that some supporters of the defeated Major General Muhammadu Buhari, quite naturally, did not take kindly to the piece because they were still laying claim to being ‘rigged out’ at the time. My position was that Jonathan defeated Buhari and that it would be more productive for the opposition to accept the result and begin preparation for the future. That was not a popular opinion at the time given the post-election violence that claimed the lives of many people in the north.

In the paper, I wrote: “The lesson is that the fixation of the Nigerian opposition with voters’ turn out in the South-east and South-south may not carry much weight. In any case, no presidential election result has ever been upturned by court anywhere in the world. While not advocating against the legal option already taken by a section of the Nigerian opposition, my contention is that it is more productive for them to begin to plan and organize for future elections. The perennial narrative that they are rigged out by the ruling party is becoming hollow. In a milieu where political parties are not only weak but lack financial wherewithal while there is no ideology binding members together, forging an electoral alliance is a long and arduous task. Waiting till weeks or days to the election to begin the process for such an alliance is therefore no more than an open invitation to a sure defeat.”

Less than a year after the election, common sense eventually prevailed. Buhari – whose support base in three presidential elections that ended in defeat had been restricted to only two of the three geo-political zones in the north without any appreciable showing in the entire south – got together with the former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and others, to begin the process of building a serious opposition coalition against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The rest, as they say, is now history.

Last Thursday, following the reviews of my book by five eminent scholars, including Olurode, a former Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Commissioner as well as Prof Olukotun, Dr Festus Adedayo, Dr Pogson, Mrs Alabi and Prof Olabisi Ugbebor, who posed a question about why our politicians are never really concerned about strategies to make Nigeria work, certain conclusions were drawn. But not before Ugbebor likened the politics being played in Nigeria to a game of Ludo by practitioners to whom cross-carpeting has become a way of getting off the hook for crimes committed.

At the end, some of the conclusions from the session were: One, the core values that should support our system are almost irreversibly totally eroded with impunity fast becoming a way of life in Nigeria today. Two, we would be playing the ostrich if we fail to understand that the involvement in our politics by the United States, United Kingdom etc. and the choices they make during our elections are primarily to protect and perpetuate their interests and influences. Three, the autonomy of INEC must be vigorously defended and upheld because the gains derived from the 2015 election cannot be divorced from the very strong electoral bureaucracy. Four, several hurdles are still placed against the participation of our women in politics. Five, it is important to take another look at the political structure of our country in a bid to make it accountable and deliver on public good. Six, President Goodluck Jonathan deserves accolades for accepting defeat notwithstanding the reservations about some people within his party on the conduct of the election, especially in some northern states.

My visit to Ibadan was made enjoyable by Tobechukwu Nneli, the ISGPP Research and Programme Manager who will soon be leaving for the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford as one of the six successful applicants for the AIG scholarship for this year. Prof Awe also sent me a much-treasured handwritten letter of appreciation for the copies of my books that I gave her. But while I thank Dr Olaopa and the distinguished personalities who graced the book reading, the take-away for me is that there is an urgent need for us to be more serious about the leadership recruitment process at all levels of government in Nigeria.

It is sad that a nation so blessed with an abundance of highly educated (in all fields of human endeavour) and very competent men and women is almost always saddled with leaders who are ill-prepared for governance. Yet, for as long as our leaders continue to emerge based on the wild cards of chance and luck without preparation while relying on ‘body language’ to muddle through, good governance will also continue to elude us as a nation.

The Road to Anarchy

On Tuesday, as the two priests and 17 worshippers murdered in Benue State on 24th April were being buried, the Catholic Mission in Nigeria held a nationwide peaceful protest against incessant killings and the violence that defines this season in the country. On that same day, unknown gunmen killed scores of people in a fresh attack on Egbura communities in Umaisha, the headquarters of Opanda chiefdom in Toto Local Government Area of Nasarawa State while armed bandits that are also terrorising and killing people in Birnin Gwari axis of Kaduna State, invaded Maganda village and abducted three housewives.

Given Max Weber’s definition of the state as the entity that “upholds the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order,” it is rather ominous that such coercive power seems to have been lost to sundry criminal cartels that daily prowl our country as we gradually sink into an abyss of chaos and anarchy. What makes the situation even more worrisome is the growing number of private militia and gangsters in possession of lethal weapons who now operate freely in many corners of the country. That has also led to a situation in which many governors are establishing their own armed security outfits, including those with dubious mandates, despite the fact that security is within the exclusive preserve of the federal government.

From Governor Rochas Okorocha who has since established the ‘Imo Security Network’ to Kogi State where Governor Yahaya Bello early this year created his own ‘Vigilante Service Group’ to Rivers State where the bill creating the ‘Neighbourhood Watch Corps’ was signed into law in March this year by Governor Nyesom Wike to Taraba State where the ‘Tabital Pulaaku Njode Jam vigilante group’ has been in operation for years to Kaduna State where the ”Vigilante Service” was established two years ago to tackle cattle rustling and associated crimes, there is hardly a state today that does not have one form of security outfit or another. And since practically all of them bear arms, with extrajudicial execution as their modus operandi, anarchy is not too far away from Nigeria.

What the foregoing says very clearly is that the conception of the state as an entity with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force is being eroded in our country, given a preponderance of violent actors who prey upon the weakness of the official law enforcement apparatus to impose their own order. I hope President Buhari and his men will begin to address the situation before it is too late.

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