Simon Kolawole! by Simon Kolawole
My favourite comedians are Bovi and Okey Bakassi. Governor Benedict Ayade of Cross River state and Hon Gudaji Kazaure are also gifted entertainers. Their theatrics are primed to calm your nerves. But the real deal in politics has to be US President Donald Trump, by far the most entertaining president I have seen in my life. Trump makes us laugh and cry in equal measure. I know he could be very irritating with his tantrums — like your kid crying that the ice cream is not big enough — but no other president in modern world has defiled dignity and decorum so much that every time you see him, you are expecting some drama. He has the uncanny capacity to amuse and amaze at once.
Were it not that it would be tragic, Trump’s latest dramatics in his failed re-election bid would have been his ultimate contribution to political drama. Long before the election, he had been making statements that would ordinarily be regarded as unthinkable coming from an American president: alleging that the poll would be rigged. Americans pride themselves as the divine custodians of democracy, rule of law and freedom. For their president, supposedly the leader of the “free world”, to be consistently and persistently assailing American values, it would be considered a sacrilege, but Trump has normalised the absurd. He has embarrassingly turned the White House into a theatre.
With the 2020 presidential election obviously not going his way, Trump plunged into more theatrics — absolutely bizarre even by his own comic standards — by claiming victory when the count was more or less halfway through and, in the same paragraph, declaring that “this is a sad day for our democracy”. You said you won an election and then said it was a sad day? That moment, I knew he knew he had lost it. You cannot be claiming victory and defeat at the same time. If you actually won, or you believe you actually won, the line would be: “I have won the election… this is a great day for America… We will Make America Great Again — again!” Or so I should think.
Trump began to, systematically, savage the American electoral process, alleging fraud without evidence but with just anecdotes. His team did present an elderly woman who complained that someone appeared to have used her identity to vote but how much this impacts on the statistics is hardly anything to debate about. He launched a series of legal battles across the states to stop the counting of votes. He began tweeting “Stop the Count” in areas he was losing (meaning Americans who had voted legally should be disenfranchised because the votes were going to his opponent) and “Count the Vote” in places he was having an advantage. He amuses and amazes all the time.
During his campaign, Trump had unwittingly injured himself by discouraging postal vote — thereby handing an advantage to his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, who encouraged his supporters to cast their ballot by mail in this coronavirus season when reasonable people are doing everything to avoid crowded places. Before election day, over 100 million Americans had cast their votes, mostly by mail. This is more than those who turned out on November 3. More so, mail-in was more likely to improve turnout among the Democratic support base: they are predominantly working class and would rather be at work earning their dollars than burning precious hours on voting queues.
The childish Trump had all along reduced the pandemic to a joke, asking his supporters to vote in person, perhaps as further proof of his defiance of Covid-curtailing measures, such as face masks and physical distancing. He insinuated that Covid was being exaggerated, despite about 10 million infections and over 200,000 deaths in the country he presides over. At one rally, he declared: “Covid Covid Covid Covid Covid… On November 4th (a day after the election), you won’t hear about Covid anymore.” He even said: “Look at me, I had Covid…” This would be viewed as a heartless and shocking comment by those who have lost loved ones to the disease — although Trump hardly shocks.
In the meantime, this election has exposed the underbelly of the American electoral system. Their brand of federalism can impact negatively on their elections, as we have seen. Because of their unique history and how the American federation was founded, it is state electoral commissions that conduct the presidential election. But that is not the problem. Each state has its own laws, rules and regulations — and that is where the problem lies. So, an election whose winner is usually known within 24 hours stretched into days without anyone being able to call it until Saturday. This was as a result of the slow pace of vote count in a few states because of their local peculiarities.
Here is the stumbling block. Some states counted mail-in ballots before election day and were able to deliver the final results after in-person voting on November 3. However, in a handful of other states, their laws stipulate that in-person votes must be counted on election day before mail-in ballots are tallied. To make matters worse, some states allow mail-in ballots to arrive up to three days after election. A state like Georgia mandates a run-off if no candidate scores up to 50 percent. I should think a presidential election would have unified rules. The hidden danger is what we have seen in the last few days. It doesn’t look tidy but how is that my problem?
In the whole drama, my problem is that Nigeria and many developing democracies may pick negative lessons from Trump. Nigerians, in particularly, like to point to America as the example of everything good. Many arguments, meant to show how politically backward we are in Nigeria, are punctuated with “In America…” Our presidential system is modelled largely after America’s and many are advocating that our federalism should also be a photocopy of theirs. With the bad examples being pushed out by Trump, I won’t be surprised if Nigerian politicians begin to model their behaviours after his, especially as we are extremely good at copying bad things.
The way Trump has been rejecting election results and screaming “fraud” will give our fraudulent politicians the fillip to be saying “even in America, their elections are not perfect”. They would not say Trump was making the allegations without any proof, and his claims of burnt ballots, fraudulent votes and inflated or suppressed figures were disproved. For instance, Trump’s supporters claimed his ballots were burnt in a video that went viral — although it turned out that what was burnt were sample, not actual, ballots and they were not marked in favour of Trump or any other candidate. Our politicians will soon start saying “even Trump’s votes were set on fire in the US!” I know them.
There is one positive lesson for our judiciary though: all the courts refused to play Trump’s game. His desperate attempt to stop counting in Pennsylvania only succeeded in delaying it by two hours; he eventually lost with the judge dismissing the case. He lost several other cases. My feeling is that the judges wanted to respect the process and save the country from an avoidable crisis, no matter how strong Trump felt about his electoral misfortune. America is greater than any single individual. I hope Nigerian judges will learn from this. The way they grant ex-parte orders and turn the system upside down is one of the biggest problems with our democracy. Nobody is bigger than Nigeria.
A lesson for Nigerian politicians: loyalty to Nigeria is more important than party affiliation. Senior Republicans did not allow partisanship to blind them. They tried to put Trump in his place when he started throwing his tantrums. Mitt Romney, his fellow Republican and former presidential nominee, said Trump has every right to “request recounts, to call for investigation of alleged voting irregularities where evidence exists, and to exhaust legal remedies. Doing these things is consistent with our election process. He is wrong to say that the election was rigged, corrupt and stolen.”
Romney warned that doing so “damages the cause of freedom here and around the world, weakens the institutions that lie at the foundation of the Republic, and recklessly inflames destructive and dangerous passions”. I believe the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election would have been reversed if the losing National Republic Convention (NRC) had joined hands with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) to protect our democracy. But they were petty. They allowed the military to play up party lines and divide the political class. Nigerian politicians must know that despite our ethnic, religious and political differences, there are lines they must never cross. Nigeria first, always!
Nevertheless, something still worries me deeply: Trump has so divided America and activated the worst of them that we may have to be dealing with the toxins for ages. It is so disturbing that Trump could get over 70 million Americans to vote for him — despite being clearly a racist and a religious bigot, paying more for sex than he did in taxes in recent years, openly denigrating women, trivialising the COVID-19 pandemic, separating mothers from their children over irregular immigration, taking away food stamps from little children, and actively seeking to deny affordable healthcare to millions of poor Americans. It is really time to get worried about the American Dream. God save America.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
The Abia State University recently asked returning undergraduates to pay N15,000 as “pandemic prevention fee” ahead of the resumption, otherwise they would not be allowed to write their exams. You heard me right. Acho Elendu, the school registrar, actually sat down and composed the notice. Although Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, the state governor, has overruled the school and even promised a palliative bursary of N30,000 to each student, it just shows you the height of wickedness in this country that a school will be imposing another tax on students at these times of economic hardship. I have not heard anything like “pandemic prevention fee” anywhere in the world. Shylocks!
In the wake of the #EndSARS campaign, have you heard that state police is the solution to brutality in Nigeria? I have heard too. I live in Lagos and I can testify to the brutality of the special task force attached to the governor’s office and which is basically under the control of the state. I have also witnessed the highhandedness of the state-owned LASTMA, which manages traffic flow. There was also one body called Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) which used to arrest pedestrians for crossing the road without using the foot bridge, after which KAI would make them do a frog-jump before loading them into their “Black Maria”. Nevertheless, state police is the solution to our problems. Simple.
On Friday, members of the Lagos judicial panel began to review the CCTV footage of the events surrounding the Lekki shootings of October 10, 2020. There were initial reports of “massacre” and “genocide” but it has been difficult establishing the identities of the people said to have been killed. Relatives are also not forthcoming. Some commenters on social media have alleged that relatives have been intimidated into silence. I don’t believe everybody can be cowed. That is why no stone should be left unturned in this investigation. We need the identity of every single person that was allegedly killed in the shootings and those responsible must be brought to justice. Waiting…
UNILAG AND NECO
The University of Lagos has fixed its post-UMTE exam for November 25, 2020 at 8:40am. Meanwhile, secondary school students will also write a National Examination Council (NECO) paper same day at 10am. Many students will travel from far and wide (some may even come from Rivers and Kano states) to write the post-UMTE in Lagos, and they are expected to be at their exam centres to write the NECO paper almost simultaneously. Is there any other evidence we need to confirm the poor thinking that pervades leadership in this country? Sometimes you don’t know if to laugh or cry at the level of dissonance in the education system, where students are NEVER the priority. Disheartening.