Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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The most popular definition of democracy today is taken from the template provided by President Abraham Lincoln at his November 19 1864 Gettysburg speech where he declared that democracy is “a government of the people for the people and by the people.”
In Nigeria, we have been trying our hands on this form of government since 1960 when the British left us to run our fairs; that was one hundred years after that popular definition was given. Our attempts have met with varying degrees of successes and failures.
Our first attempt was modeled after the British Parliamentary system but came to grief when soldiers shot their way to power in 1966, barely six years after independence. They held on to it until 1979.
In our second attempt, we ditched the British system and went for the American Presidential template. The first President to emerge under this system in 1979 was Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria NPN. Like the Americans, we had a Constitution in 1979 which allowed Shagari a maximum of two terms – four years each.
By 1982 when his first term was coming to a close, there were rumbles in his party the NPN. Chief MKO Abiola the money bag of the party wanted to take a shot at the Presidency. But Shagari’s hot headed men who controlled the party machinery would not give him that chance. Alhaji Umaru Dikko, the powerful Minister in Shagari’s government and the most outspoken of his enforcers told Chief Abiola bluntly that he could keep his money as the presidential ticket of the NPN was not for sale.
That statement drove the wealthy chief out of the NPN and out of partisan politics temporary. He was later to plunge himself into the same game in the 90’s with tragic consequences for him and a lot of turbulence for our country Nigeria.
After Abiola left in 1982, the party remained a closed shop for presidential politics. Unlike in the first primaries of the party in 1979 which featured Adamu Ciroma, Joseph Tarka, Olusola Saraki, Maitama Sule, Kam Salem and Ibrahim Tahir in a hot contest against Shagari, the 1983 primaries were a no contest. It was in fact a coronation exercise where Shagari was crowned the flag bearer of the party. He went ahead to win the presidential elections of 1983 and then on 31st of December that year, the military struck.
Military dictatorship held the country down for long until May 29th 1999 when they handed over power to an elected government. Prior to that date, a new party, the People’s Democratic Party had emerged. It held a convention in Jos the Plateau State capital at which Olusegun Obasanjo a former military dictator defeated Alex Ekwueme, Shehu Shagari’s Vice President and five other contestants. The primaries were said to be transparent and Ekwueme who came second embraced and congratulated Obasanjo. The Presidential election itself came up later in the year with Obasanjo emerging as the winner.
As his first four years came to a close, it was speculated that he would play the Mandela card by serving only one term and handing over power to his youthful Deputy, Atiku Abubakar. This was not to be as Obasanjo decided to go for a second term. A team of governors who would have preferred Atiku and who believed they had the vote to give him the ticket pressurized him to run and he almost ran. He chickened out at the eleventh hour.
In the end, Obasanjo contested against Alex Ekwueme, Chief Barnabas Gemade and Alhaji Abubakar Rimi. With Obasanjo’s chief bouncer Tony Anenih declaring that there is no vacancy in Aso Rock, his victory was a forgone conclusion. And so unlike the Jos convention of 1999, the 2003 convention was smeared by allegations of heavy inducement of delegates and widespread cheating.
He went ahead to win the election regardless. Then he stretched his luck too far by trying his hands on the clumsy and juvenile dream to make himself a perpetual president by amending the constitution to award himself a third term in office. He failed, rather woefully.
His successor Yar’ adua died in office, making room for Goodluck Jonathan who was his Vice President to take over and complete his first term as President. Goodluck then contested the primaries with Atiku Abubakar and after defeating him went on to win the presidency on his own steam in 2011.
It was in Goodluck Jonathan’s attempt to win a second term in office that we started hearing the old song. In 1983, Umaru Dikko told Abiola that the presidency is not for sale; in 2003, Tony Anenih told aspirants in the PDP that there is no vacancy in Aso Rock Villa. The enforcers of Jonathan in 2015 even went the extra mile. They produced only one form for the many presidential aspirants in the PDP. The lone form was then sold to Jonathan only. All other aspirants were told to go away. He was of course the sole candidate of the party. Tragically, he was roundly defeated at the general election itself.
Given this background, it is rather disturbing to hear APC governors singing the same old song about Buhari as the only presidential candidate of the party. True, Buhari has all the right to contest for a second term as President. But how does he get the ticket? When and where did the people of the states concerned give the governors the mandate to go and anchor for Buhari as a presidential candidate? If democracy is really a government of the people, by the people and for the people, we need to see how this is executed in practical reality.
Option A4 emerged as a popular demonstration of the peoples will during the Babangida transition period. It started from the ward to the local government, the state and then the federal level. This open and transparent form of democratic practice produced the election of Chief MKO Abiola in what has been described as the freest election in Nigeria. Unfortunately with the annulment of that election we have thrown away the baby with the bath water.
We have now gone back to the same old song. Today somebody will just wake up from sleep and declare another man a sole candidate for president. This is undemocratic and dangerous. Our politicians should be please be more creative and save us the agony of this old weather beaten song.