Democracy á la Africana and Human Rights Violations: Revisiting Nigeria’s Option A4 as an Antidote

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Day after day, democratic culture is increasingly tainted with unilateralism-driven protests in global politics. The current political crisis in Venezuela is a good reflection of this observation. Elections were held in Venezuela in May 2018, but largely boycotted by many opposition parties, allegedly because their candidates had either been barred, jailed, fled the country, or because of belief that the election would not be free and fair, or because of fear of possible imprisonment.

Whatever was the case, the incumbent President, Nicolás Maduro, was not only re-elected for a second-term of six years, but also made it clear that he would complete his first tenure of six years, before the commencement of the new term, which came to an end on January 10, 2019. On this very day, Juan Guaidó suddenly woke up to the idea of contesting the election results of May 2018.

Juan Guaidó is the President of the National Assembly, which is opposition-controlled. Juan Guaidó unilaterally declared himself the Interim President of Venezuela, assumed executive powers, and insisted on the organisation of a fresh election. And true enough, many countries, such as the United States, France, Canada, United Kingdom, and Spain, quickly lent support to the self-appointed interim president. This has been responsible for the political crisis in Venezuela, as Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó both enjoy different international support.

This factor of Juan Guaidó’s unilateralism is manifested differently in Africa, especially when seeking to understand the conduct and management of democracy in Africa. In Sudan, for example, protesting against the president or leader of the country is prohibited. In January 2019, President Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir imposed some emergency laws which prompted anti-government public protests. The Deputy leader of the opposition Umma party, for demonstrating against the president, was sentenced to one week imprisonment.

As reported by the Dailysun of Monday, March 11, 2019 on page 9, ‘Mariam Sadiq al-Mahdi, the daughter of Umma leader Sadiq al-Mahdi, was among a group of 19 arrested while demonstrating in front of Umma’s headquarters in Omdurman, across the Nile from the center of the capital, Khartoum… The court also fined her 2,000 Sudanese pounds ($42) for participating in the protest, which was calling on President Omar al-Bashir to step down.’ And perhaps more disturbingly, the report also has it that ‘another of Sadiq al-Mahdi’s daughters, Rabah, was also arrested’ on Monday, 11th March, 2019.

Three issues are raised in this report. First is the question of protest. Government’s sanction necessarily points to democratic intolerance because the protester is of the opposition party. The required role of any opposition party in any democratic setting is to oppose for the purposes of checks and balances. To engage in peaceful protests cannot and should not be taken as a crime. Unfortunately, it is a crime in Sudan. The protest took place at the headquarters of the Umma party’s headquarters. It did not take place in front of the presidential palace in which case the person of the president or the image of the State would have been directly affected or tainted. This is unnecessary limitation of freedom.

Second is the issue of nature of the protest: call on the president to step down. Thereis nothing wrong with the call. And true, Omar al-Bashir came to power on June 30, 1989 by coup d’état, ousting the then democratically-elected government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, to become the 7th leader of the country. He dissolved the government, political parties and trade unions and proclaimed himself the Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council.

Omar Al-Bashir manoeuvred himself to be elected four times thereafter. Following the dissolution of the Revolutionary Command Council and restoration of civilian rule, Omar Al-Bashir was elected president and re-elected in March 1996 with more than 75% of the vote. In December 2000, he was again re-elected with higher votes: 85%. He won the presidential election on April 26, 2010 with 68% of the votes cast. And perhaps most disturbingly, on April 27, 2015, the Sudanese National Election Commission certified the re-election of Omar Al-Bashir with more than 94% of the vote.

This is the immediate background to the various protests against al-Bashir and why on February 22, 2019, the president declared a one-year long state of emergency. This is the nature of democracy in Africa. That Omar Al-Bashir became the first African president to be indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 for genocidal crimes in Darfur should also be understood within this type of democracy in Sudan.

Put differently, President Al-Bashir has been in power for more than three decades, but the Constitution of Sudan as amended in 2005, only allows for two terms. In spite of this, Al-Bashir still wants an additional tenure by seeking a constitutional amendment that will qualify him to contest in the forthcoming 2020 elections, having been nominated on August 9, 2018 as the standard bearer of the ruling National Congress Party.

The Sudan Call, which groups opposition parties and armed movements in Sudan, is strongly opposed to this attempt. In a press conference, it not only said that ‘it is the goal of Sudan Call to topple the regime and not to arrange any kind of soft landing, ‘ but also adopted a campaign slogan, according to which ‘to amend the constitution means Al Bashir’s candidacy, the continuation of poverty and ignorance, more freedoms restricting laws, more corruption and producing fat cats’ (vide allafrica.com).

After more than 30 years of governance, good or bad, it is normal if people are beginning to get tired of him and are itching to have a new leader. The calling on him to step down becomes more thought-provoking when it is remembered that it was the same Al-Bashir, then a brigadier of the Sudanese army, that forcefully ousted Sadiq al-Mahdi, then the Prime Minister of Sudan. Now, the children of Sadiq al-Mahdi are asking for al-Bashir’s resignation and the government has simply decided to respond by taking another pound of flesh from the al-Mahdi’s. This experience shows one of the ways democracy is conducted and managed in Africa.

Democracy in Africa is generally dictatorial in character, that is, it is more about the sustenance of dictatorship, using the instrumentality of the freedom provided by democracy. It is the use of democratic freedom to entrench dictatorship and this is quite common with civilianised military politicians. As it is today, military coupists have thrown away their toga of dictatorship and have put the new civilian garment, but without forgetting their militaro- operational discipline of ‘obey before complaining.’ Military politicians have been civilianised while the civilian politicians have similarly been given a dosage of militarisation, in both cases, under the cover of toga of emergency laws.

If it can be argued that some Sudanese might have been fed up with al-Bashir, the same observation can also be tenable in the context of Algeria. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 82 years old, went to Switzerland for a two-week medical consultation. He suffered a stroke in 2013. On his return to Algeria, he still wanted to participate in the forthcoming April 18, 2019 elections for the fifth time. There were massive protests on Monday, 11th March against his intention to seek election for the fifth time. President Bouteflika cannot be said to be medically fit to govern, because he has been on wheelchair for some time and has not been appearing in the public. He does not live in the official presidential palace but in the suburb of Zeralda, and yet, he still wants to continue to rule.

In this regard, he has postponed the April 18 election and made clear his intention to reshuffle the cabinet. The Prime Minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, already tendered his resignation and was replaced by the Interior Minister, Mr. Noureddine Bedoui, who now has the mandate to set up a new government. This development does not suggest any intention to back out in spite of the president’s announcement that he had already accepted not to contest in the April 2019 elections and also in spite of continuing protests by thousands of people.

Unlike al-Bashir’s three decades of sit-in tight, President Bouteflika has only done two decades, if we reckon with 1999 as starting date. Again, this is another character of practice of democracy in Africa. The observation is not simply about the duration of stay in power, but essentially about the mania of self-succession, which is what the French would normally describe as political magouille.

The experience of Nigeria as recorded by Dr. Reuben Abati, former Presidential Adviser, regarding democratic election is particularly relevant at this juncture. He took active part in the 2019 gubernatorial elections. He was the Deputy Governorship Candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Ogun State. The experience he had compelled him to quickly agree with the common saying that politics in Nigeria is quite dirty. In his eyes, the 2019 elections clearly showed the dirtiness: ‘dirtied, muddled up, confused, uncertain, unpredictable zone of Nigerian life and society,’ to borrow his words.

Perhaps more noteworthy, Dr. Abati has it further that ‘the reality of Nigerian politics puts a lie to what they teach us in graduate school, in all those seminars we attend across the world and what we experience as political appointees. Nigerian politics does not follow the rule book, the theories, or what the book-makers say. This thing we call democracy, which Nigeria returned to in 1999, after mass protest and frustration with military rule, is not exactly the same democracy that they have in either the United Kingdom or the United States. Professional scholars of the subject may need to embark on a closer interrogation of a special sub-set called Nigerian democracy. Its features, post-1999, are unique.’

We cannot agree more with Reuben Abati. He said it all. The unfortunate thing about the international observation of Nigeria’s 2019 elections is that the observers consciously covered up this aspect of dirtiness of the elections. The observers simply noted that there were challenges and that there was substantial compliance with the electoral rules, and therefore, the elections were, most unfortunately, adjudged peaceful, fair, transparent, and credible.

The truth of the matter is that the outcome of the election has the potential to become a major determinant of national unity and security or disunity and insecurity in the foreseeable future and the dynamics cannot be far-fetched. First, Nigerian politics is built on a tripod of conflicting policies: pillar of conscious policy of dishonesty, pillar of deliberate rigging and pillar of tactical electoral policy of inconclusiveness. Honesty does not appear to serve any good purpose for professional politicians in Nigeria for one obvious reason: requirements for election contesting is unnecessarily very prohibitive. Every elected person wants to recoup all electoral investments before thinking of what value to add to political governance.

For example, many, not to say most, Governors are very hostile to the autonomy of the Local Governments, again for the obvious reason of the need to allow room to steal. When the Local Government reform was first carried out in 1976, the immediate objective was to ensure the autonomy of the Local Government and ultimately bring governance closer to the people. The intention was never to make them an appendage.

As explained in 2018 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, ‘when in 1976 we brought in Local Government reforms, it was meant to be the third tier of the government and not meant to be subjected to the whims and caprices of any other governments; just the same way that the State Government is autonomous from the Federal Government. Local Government is meant to be autonomous from the State Government.

But from what we know, by design, most States have incapacitated the Local Government system. They have virtually stolen the Local Government’s money in what they called joint account. They were to contribute ten percent, but (State Government) never contributed anything. So, what we have across the country are Local Government Areas that have functions but cannot perform the functions. They have staff, but most of them cannot pay the staff, and they keep getting excuses upon excuses’ (vide The Punch of November 13, 2018, p.2).

Many dishonesty-driven questions can still be raised here: why have a joint account? Why is a State Government relenting on the payment of ten percent of approved allocation to Local Governments under it? If a State is failing in its obligation to pay the required ten percent, what punitive measures are provided to ensure compliance and ensure a future deterrence? The truth again is the policy of ‘I rub your back, you rub my back.’
Secondly, the position of some Nigerians in Diaspora is also noteworthy. They, under the platform of the Global Coalition for Security and Democracy in Nigeria (GCSDN) have described the election as a sham. Mr. Frederick Odorige, the global coordinator of the group who spoke from Budapest, said the election was ill-fated and the worse that he had seen since he was born.

In his words, ‘the election was marred by killings, apparent rigging, ballot box snatching and destruction of ballot papers by hired thugs.’ Considering that an election that culminates in the killing of 47 unarmed Nigerians cannot be an election, Odorige has it that ‘Retired Muhammadu Buhari is not our democratically elected president.’ The election was ‘highly militarised by soldiers loyal to Muhammadu Buhari.’
What is important to note about Odorige’s viewpoint is that it reflects the outcome of a public enquiry. A general questionnaire was sent to members in 32 countries and all the members, that is, 100% of the respondents agreed that ‘the election was clearly not free and fair, while 95.5 per cent further agreed that some persons who played disastrous roles in the election should be declared personae non grata’ (Dailysun, Friday, March 15, 2019, p.44).

Regarding the second pillar of deliberate rigging, the intention is also clear: rig to win and subject complaints and controversy to judicial settlement, which does not prevent continuity of political governance until final determination of the matter by the court. In Nigeria, court processes are quite slow. Even if the electoral law requires complainants to go to court within twenty-one days following the announcement of election results and a new law compels the courts to deal with such complaints within ninety days, an aggrieved plaintiff or defendant can still get the matter further prolonged.

Rigging is a major phenomenon of Nigeria’s electoral politics. People complain about it but happily acquiesced to it. As a matter of fact, what is vote-buying if it is not another conscious act of bribery and corruption? The agents of anti-corruption in Nigeria are fully corrupt to the brim. If an APC-government or a PDP-led government induces voters into error and terror, by offering them money to vote in a particular direction, that act of inducement is in itself corrupt and dishonest. The receiver, regardless of the reason of economic poverty often given for the acceptance, is also corrupt and criminally. In other words, both the giver and receiver are equally guilty.

Consequently, when an individual is elected on the basis of vote-buying and is celebrating his or her election, that jubilation, again, is corrupt and fraudulent. meaning that ‘The Next Level,’ to borrow the words of the All Progressives Congress, of political governance cannot but be also corrupt. The foundation of it is already corrupt. The superstructure to be put on it cannot be different.

On the third pillar of policy of inconclusiveness, again, it is an aspect of election rigging strategy, which requires encouragement of violence in one form or the other, and then capitalising on the resulting violent attacks to technically nullify the results of votes already cast, and therefore finally declaring the election exercise as inconclusive. This necessarily and resultantly means that fresh elections should be organised. For example, on Tuesday, 12th March, 2019 a new date for supplementary elections in six States (Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Kano, Plateau and Sokoto) was fixed for March 23rd, 2019. Why? The INEC has it that ‘the elections were declared inconclusive for a combination of reasons, mainly the discontinuation of the use of Smart Card Readers midway into the elections or the failure to deploy them, over-voting and widespread disruption in many polling units.’

The point of observation here is that violent attacks often occur when the ruling party is not doing well in some places. Violent attacks often occur in areas that are the strong holds of the opposition parties. It is useful to ask how the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar scored very little (about 300 thousand votes) in the presidential election results in Kano and his party, the same PDP, has scored more than one million votes during the gubernatorial results that have been declared inconclusive. How do we explain the interest for the APC during the presidential election and the disinterest of the same voters during the gubernatorial elections?

Whatever is the case, the policy of declaration of election results as inconclusive is nothing more than a manifestation of intention to rig election in a scientific style. The intention is largely energised by dishonesty. One good illustration of this point is to espy the revelation by the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) of the would-be members of the tribunal that would hear the electoral complaints and prayers of Atiku Abubakar.

According to the CUPP, eight names were recommended to the Presidency, five of them were short-listed by the presidency. Of the five (Zainab Bulkachuwa, who is to preside over the court in the matter, Justice Abdu Aboki, Justice Peter Ige, Justice J.S. Ikyegh, and Justice S.C. Oseji), three of them (the first three) were reported to have assured the presidency of ruling in favour of Mr. President.

In fact, the husband of the would-be presiding judge is an APC Senator-elect. Besides, the CUPP also has it that Justices Aboki and Ige ‘had already started by rejecting Atiku’s application for forensic analysis of the materials used for the presidential election.’ This is why the CUPP is demanding that ‘Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, Justice Abdu Aboki and Justice Peter Ige recuse themselves from the probe… [T]hese three justices have already given their commitment to the Presidency that they will rule in favour of the President at the tribunal, hence, they cannot dispense justice.’
Without scintilla of doubt, this cannot but be a corruption of democracy and an intention to engage in scientific rigging, which already has a systemic character nationwide. As Imo Ugochinyere, the spokesperson of the CUPP, put it, ‘this idea of the Villa approving list of Justices that will sit over any matter, particularly the one where the president is a party, is novel and tyranny taken too far.’

The essence of the foregoing is that the Nigerian polity thrives on a foundation of institutional dishonesty and corruption. And yet, it is the gospel of anti-corruption that is preached by Government to Nigerians, but to which the Permanent Missions accredited to the United Nations, the Permanent Representations to the European Union and the European Union Delegations accredited abroad have different interpretations and meanings. In other words, essentially in Nigeria, the preacher is corrupt. The message of the gospel is corruption-laden. The medium of communication of the message is corrupt. How will the recipient not also be very corrupt or ‘fantastically corrupt’? Corruption is institutionally and constitutionally even protected directly under Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, under the immunity clause applicable to presidents and governors and their deputies.
Consequently, one way of gradually dealing with the hydra-headed problem of election violence and vote rigging is to revisit the policy of Option A4. It is the only way that has the potential of sending corruption and open vote buying into the dustbin of history in Nigeria.

Option A4
Option A4 is an open ballot system introduced under the military presidency of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida by Professor Humphrey Nwosu, then INEC Chairman (1989-1993). It was a system that required voting by queuing up openly behind a candidate or his photograph. Counting of votes was not only done on the queue, but also by everybody on the queue. The first person on the queue will count one, the next person will announce two, the next person after will announce three, and so on and so forth until it gets to the last person on the queue.

With this system, there was no room for vote rigging, or election manipulation or election fraud. Vote rigging or voter intimidation, especially through electorate manipulation, manipulation of demography or disenfranchising of the people was necessarily made difficult. More important, unlike secret balloting, which enables the display of dishonesty, vote buying and vote selling, as well as confidentiality, Option A4 enables the display of integrity of purpose. It is more about voting for the individual rather than for the party.
When the option was applied in the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the whole election process was generally, in fact, universally, adjudged the freest, fairest, and most credible in Nigeria’s political history. If this is so, what prevents revisiting the option?