By Adewale Kupoluyi
This unfortunate craving for political positions often fuels wanton killings and assassinations occasioned by power struggles due to the importation of westernised democratic system devoid of local peculiarities.
Over the years, Nigerian politics has suffered from one problem or another. This unfortunate situation makes it difficult to elect credible leaders and enjoy good governance. Providing incisive insights into the subject-matter is a renowned Professor of Research Methodology, Nigerian Government and Politics with an emphasis on Elections and Party Politics. A careful study of the 31st Inaugural Lecture of the Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State could be the needed blueprint to change the political narratives of Nigeria from that of a quagmire to an enviable polity. The foregoing was the thrust of the Babcock’s 31st Inaugural Lecture delivered by Prof. Michael Abiodun Oni; the incumbent Head, Department of Political Science and Public Administration of the institution titled, “Conception and misconceptions of majoritarian democracy and elections in Nigeria” and chaired by the President/Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Ademola S. Tayo.
The Don developed an interest in academics, Nigerian elections, and politics through the positive influence of his parents and family members, spouse, teachers, and colleagues in the course of his working career. During his primary school days, he informed that he was exposed to the media – newspapers, radio and television. On getting to the secondary modern school, one of the subjects was civics, which was related to government and current affairs. As a polling clerk, he was opportune to be in charge of cross-checking the authenticity of voters’ cards and electoral register at the polling unit. He became curious about what he saw, saying “What I was witnessing was disturbing, males were bringing cards belonging to females, boys and girls of about 15 years were bringing voter’s cards bearing 50 and 60 years to exercise their ‘franchise’. This was contrary to what I had learned about democracy and elections in our classes – social studies in primary school, civics in the secondary modern school, and government in secondary school”.
The rest is now history as the inaugural lecturer’s quest to answer the riddle made him end up studying Political Science and also bagged a doctorate at the nation’s premier University of Ibadan, Oyo State. For him, theory looked different from reality, as what he was taught about democracy is ‘one man one vote’ but having to turn down voters’ cards bearing fictitious names caused a lot of discomfort for his supervisory officer and party agents. However, he was reported and cautioned. He said the supervisory officer suspected that he was planted by ‘demon’, a euphemism for anti-group behaviour in Yorubaland. To test his loyalty whether he was a ‘demon’ or not, he was given 12 ballot papers to thumbprint and supervised by the only party agent around came to crosscheck. Again, he was confused about the disagreement between theory and pragmatism. Then he queried: Where is the principle of the neutrality of electoral officer and principle of one man, one vote? Sharing his experience further: “Few minutes to the close of the voting exercise each day, all of us made sure that we thumb-printed the leftover ballot papers without any remainder. The police officer attached to our polling unit was not bothered by our political abracadabra. The ballot box itself was metallic and non-transparent”, he wondered.
Aside from the field experience, his study of the country’s elections further convinced him that there can hardly be fairness and justice as long as the nation continues to rely on the politics of majority rule as majoritarian democracy is sought through fraudulent means. Prof. Oni supported his captivating presentation with several scholarly authorities, statistics and case studies, noting that at the beginning of the Fourth Republic in 1999, he was recruited by one of the observer groups to monitor elections. He revealed that by the time he left the polling unit to observe what was going on in another unit, hundreds of “voters” had voted and dispersed, alluding that no ethnic group or tribe in Nigeria is neither an Angel nor saint as far as electoral fraud is concerned. The series of anomalies made him become a change agent with the mind-set that genuine participation in partisan politics should be motivated by selfless service even though this has not been the case in Nigeria. This unfortunate craving for political positions often fuels wanton killings and assassinations occasioned by power struggles due to the importation of westernised democratic system devoid of local peculiarities.
He gave the imperative for stakeholders in the management of electoral politics to design democratic tenets that would be suitable for Nigerian democracy. Such a concept of democracy should empower the people; confer authorship of government; allow for majority rule; guarantee free, fair and periodic elections; elicit popular participation; and ensure the rule of law and peoples’ fundamental rights. However, the interpretation, misinterpretation, application, and misapplication have brought a lot of crises into electoral politics. Key research questions bothering his mind include: Is it true that this government and others before it have been popularly elected? Has the majority been ruling in Nigeria? Has the consent of the people been sought by those in government, let alone participate in government? Have our elections been free and, fair even though they had been periodic? Have there been popularly-elected governments and the process that bring the government into being flawless? Has there been a peaceful atmosphere in Nigeria arising from the adoption of a democratic government?
Being unable to find satisfactory answers to the knotty questions, he believes that there is no democratic form of government in Nigeria. Hence, the reason why there are fundamental flaws in either the process that ushers in democratic government because it is either the operators are faulty or the operations are problematic. The inaugural lecturer examines the nexus between democracy and elections and avers that the correlation is like the Siamese twins. Going further, he clarifies that a direct election qualifies all citizens that are 18 years and above to cast their votes while the indirect one is a stop-gap election between the electorate and their representatives. Elements of credible electoral politics involve being organised and supervised by a neutral and impartial umpire, ability to assign equal weight to votes cast, the neutrality of security agencies, and impartial of the judiciary, among others.
The Head of Department observed that the incessant acrimonious and uncomplimentary relationship between elections and democracy in Nigeria can largely be blamed on the historical process that led to the adoption of federalism and the imbalanced structure thereof. This has reduced the competition for power at the centre among the ethnic groups resulting in a theatre of war and a matter of life and death. The nation’s voting trends had been along the ethnic lines before and after independence because of its constitutional history. If the process that led to the emergence of federalism in Nigeria had impacted on the ethnic politics, the structure can be said to have complicated it as the existing structure tends to favour a particular section of the country than the others. Hence, this lopsided and imbalanced federation coupled with ethnicity in the voting pattern makes the polity prone to political domination. He noted that this imbalance was further accentuated by the controversial voter registration exercise that was held before and after the political independence in 1960. This arrangement had promoted political domination and heightened power struggle between the North and South.
The Professor of Research Methodology, Nigerian Government and Politics recalled that the serious political violence that erupted during the 1983 general elections in Nigeria, ignited by an attempt to resist the domination of the polity by self-seeking politicians, who were bent on manipulating the electoral process. He went on to draw an analogy between elections and violence in Nigeria as explained by the Professor Emeritus, Richard Joseph in his Theory of Prebendal Politics, which is politics of the belly, unlike the political violence that took place in the 1960s and early 1980s that were instigated strictly by ideology, principles and the desire to stop continuous political domination by the centre. The reverse is the case as electoral violence has come to stay in the politics of the late 1990s to date that are propelled by self-interest and inordinate desire to remain relevant in politics and what has become the norm today is that many politicians see participation in politics as an investment that must yield dividends or interests at all cost. These politics of godfatherism started featuring during the first and second republics although the politicians at the time rendered service to their fatherland. He added that thugs and trouble-makers during elections were usually sponsored and protected by godfathers.
Prof. Oni said the prevalence of electoral malpractice and violence had accounted for why it has been difficult to have the Electoral Offences Tribunal in Nigeria, saying that another issue fuelling electoral violence is weak democratic institutions. This is because the institutions are meant to ensure free, credible, and transparent electoral processes but unfortunately, they have become weak and lacking integrity. For instance, he said the courts that are regarded as the last hope of the common man and arbiter in disputes appear to have disappointed Nigerians on several occasions as there have been allegations and proved cases of miscarriage of justice. The Don revealed that the state of the economy can also be linked to electoral violence. Many people are not sure of their meals in a day and for some, the next meal is not certain. For others, they cannot afford the payment of their house rents and children’s school fees because they are not gainfully employed. These set of people that are mostly weighed down by economic problems are youths, who are in their productive and tender ages. He added that the traditional, erroneous belief and false conceptualisation that politics is conflictual and crisis-ridden is another factor aggravating electoral violence. With this parochial perception of politics, many politicians in the developing countries are made to feel that the traditional conceptualisation of politics, struggle for power, conflicts, and conflict resolution mechanism must be practicalised on the field, as this parochial thinking had erroneously been extended to Nigerian departments of political science in universities and colleges of education where knowledge is imparted.
Prof. Oni, a seasoned journalist and former lecturer at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ),