ENGAGEMENTS with Chidi Amuta
The ballot elections are over now. The next stage of Nigeria’s democracy warfare will soon shift to courtrooms at various levels of the judiciary. The morning after, we are in a nation that looks and feels more like the scene of a recent battle. After the bitter fights, now the head count of casualties. The season of campaigns and elections which ought to have climaxed in a ritual of political self -renewal was converted into a series of pitched battles between political hounds. What just took place was a bewitched national frenzy of fraud and disruptive violence. It left no section of the country out. In every sense, we all are now, as the poet said, ‘all casualties of a war’ of democracy that was unintended and uncalled for. It was a war of everybody against everybody in which a blighted system democratized pain and disappointment instead of the promise of goodness.
Politicians as literal war commanders deployed their foot soldiers and all their lethal arsenal to unleash near anarchy and blood. A war in which every combatant wants to win is bound to produce a landscape of carnage, ruin and lingering bitterness. That is why the mood of the nation after this election is one of sourness and bitterness.
In some places, neighbours and friends have suddenly become unspoken adversaries. People ordinarily bound together by decades of peaceful coexistence have suddenly discovered that they are divided by differences of primordial nativity. Suddenly, tribe and tongue now differs after many decades and vast resources spent in efforts to unify the nation and manage a diversity that should have been our major strength.
In the process, numerous casualties are now on open display. First, individual citizens have died. Many have been wounded or maimed for life and are now languishing in hospitals. Some persons are missing, unaccounted for by both family or police. All these trauma and tragedy for no other reason other than that they went out to vote their conscience or participate in an electoral process as a civic obligation.
The electoral process as the ultimate test of the integrity of a democracy has been trivialized and shredded. Ballot boxes were snatched by force and carted to unknown destinations. Election materials were snatched and vandalized and in some cases set ablaze in full view of those who came out to vote. In some places, hoodlums invaded the polling units with prepared result sheets to replace the authentic ones.
As we speak, no one is certain as to what version of the election results INEC uploaded onto its tainted IREV platform. There is no certainty as to what version of the controversial results INEC used to declare key outcomes especially at the presidential level. An estimated close to 10% of the results of the presidential election that took place since 25th of February have not yet been uploaded onto the INEC platform! Attention has since shifted to an equally contentious gubernatorial election. As an indication of public disdain and disappointment, the voter turnout in the governorship election was abysmally low.
It is curious and even tragic that politicians deployed hate and ethnic bigotry to undermine the sense of unity and community in the nation. Politicians and political interests deliberately deployed divisive hate speech and the resurrection of primitive tribalism of the most shameful variety to advanced their goals. In Lagos, a primitive type of ethnic stereotyping and profiling pitched the Igbos against the Yorubas in a city that has been the melting pot of Nigerian cultures and ethnic groups for decades. All manner of decadent myths of ethnic origins have been popularized by otherwise educated and supposedly enlightened citizens just to win one governorship election kin a state that has been producing elected state governors since 1979.
An atmosphere of lingering bitterness and increasing bigotry in all directions has been created and is festering in the social media and private conversations. Lagos was literally at the brink of a xenophobic meltdown because of the March 18th governorship election. But the politicians who planted and weaponized the virus have since withdrawn to celebrate their victory or protest their defeat, leaving a bitterly divided citizenry to wallow in lingering hate.
In the desperation to manipulate the elections, INEC’s recourse to technology as a source of solutions that defy our human frailties has also fallen casualty of this recent war. A political class has allegedly collaborated with some deviant election officials to sabotage the BVAS system. A new system that worked flawlessly in recent governorship elections in Edo, Anambra, Osun and Ekiti was deliberately allowed to fail in the presidential election of 25th February. In the absence of a functioning BVAS regime, the system in some places reverted to the discredited manual compilation of results or the uploading of badly altered result sheets to the INEC platform. The result was a collapse of the credibility of both the electoral process and INEC itself.
In the clear and present danger of a breakdown of law and order following the widespread endangerment of the safety of innocent citizens, the apparatus of law enforcement and public security failed the citizens once again. The police and security apparatus of state was either overwhelmed or became a shamefully partisan and compromised. In Rivers state and a few other places, police vehicles were used to truck away snatched ballot boxes in full view of international observers and a televised public audience. In some cases, persons in doubtful military and police uniforms were deployed to facilitate a widespread election rigging enterprise.
Among the casualties of this undeclared war, the biggest and most consequential is perhaps democracy itself. Nigerian politicians and their facilitators defamed and abused democracy both as a leadership selection mechanism and as a system of values and cultural index. All the basic elements of democracy were either destroyed or called to question. Freedom of choice was rubbished by goons and ethnic war lords who insisted that some voters should vote for particular candidates rather than others. The plurality of democratic choice in a plural society was reduced to an either or ethnic equation as processing centres sprang up in voting vicinities to filter voters on grounds of ethnicity and partisanship criteria. Now the abiding question is whether Nigeria is indeed ready to be counted among democratic countries.
The flagrant abuse of process and system was so widespread that many international observers who had come to observe the presidential elections left in disappointment and anger. Those who have insisted on reducing the incidents of bad behavior in the elections to a statistical minority do not get the point about the essence of democracy. A system is either a democracy or it is a primitive autocracy with demagogues as contestants. The question as to whether Nigeria would eventually graduate into the league of democratic countries is now open to speculative debate.
The most fundamental requirement and end of democracy is freedom. An atmosphere in which citizens are afraid to go out and discharge a basic obligation such as voting for candidates of their choice is at variance with a democratic order.
The search for explanations for this warlike version of democracy is deeply ingrained in what has emerged as the defining character of the Nigerian state and its political architecture. It must take into consideration Nigeria’s emerging national character and long standing reputation as a crime scene state merely pretending to use the veneer of democracy to earn respectability among nations. Joining the club of democratic nations is different from cultivating a culture of credible democracy.
As this reporter recently opined in this column a few weeks back, “Nigeria’s institutions of nationhood are essentially administered more like criminal cartels than as tools of collective sovereignty in any enlightened sense. At best, Nigeria under Mr. Buhari has degenerated into a sovereign crime scene. A crime scene with flag, anthem and the insignia and paraphernalia of sovereign nationhood is itself a dangerous proposition. It is made even more dangerous when it is a nation state presided over by a revolving conclave of gangster collectives. It exports crude oil but insists on importing refined petroleum products to line the pockets of a handful of oligarchs. It runs on multiple exchange rates so that patronage can feed unfettered on the commonwealth. It arms a security force to supervise the routine stealing of half of its crude oil production. It buys arms and ammunition to fight an insurgency funded and created by known political figures so that a “security industry” of corrupt officers can thrive. Who needs a more elaborate crime scene than this?
In such a crime scene state, it is foolish to judge the actions of any state institution by rational moral parameters. Politics is ordinarily said to be amoral. Worse still, the politics of a sovereign crime scene cannot but reflect the essential morality of a jungle ruled by the ethics of gangsters. In such a place, the quest for political preeminence can only be a battle among captains of a pirate ship, a stampede among treasure raiders. The rules of engagement in that battle can at best only be a code of dishonour drawn up by thieves in a jungle retreat.”
Yet the possibility of collective retrieval is not beyond us. We have survived worse times. At those moments when the world fears that the Nigerian house is about to fall, our Tower of Pisa has endured. Our exceptionalism as a nation resides in the fact that we have become the come back nation. It is precisely that quality of resilience and resurgent renaissance that we now need to remake our democracy and heal our nation. The burden of that resurgence lies most heavily on the shoulders of the youth who trooped out at this election to answer a different call,
It is a long route and a treacherous path. But we must begin again now to build a new national order founded on unity and the abiding principles of credible democracy. Here then is the well-defined agenda of the next set of ‘elected’ leaders of our land.