By Bamidele Ademola-Olateju
True democracy exists only when voting is followed by established checks and balances – the missing link in Nigeria’s body politik today. Actually, there is an unhealthy collusion among the three tiers of government. We cannot assume we are free because we can vote. We must fight to uphold true democracy by fighting for stable and functional institutions: an independent judiciary, an informed legislature, a free press, an impartial police, professional armed services, an apolitical civil service and a free and dedicated civil society to enforce respect for, and adherence to, democratic principles by elected officials.
This can only be done by voting right – voting the right people into the right positions and by making our grievances known to them. When a people vote their conscience in a free and fair election without intimidation and harassment; politicians become more responsive to their constituents’ needs. The deployment of illegal military and militant cordon on Osun State to intimidate the citizens and harass opposition figures shows there can be dictatorship cloaked in democratic garbs. Mr. Jonathan is the first democratically elected President to attempt using election as an instrument of oppression and perpetuation of dictatorship in a democracy. For him elections in states governed by opposition parties have become a do or die affair when and where he cannot instigate impeachment.
Through inducement and manufacture of votes, Mr. Jonathan seeks to rubber stamp his own continued political existence, mocking democracy, using the power of incumbency to control the machineries of the state — the army, the security forces, the money train etc. He carries ballots on one hand and bullets on the other. Why is this? Politicians follow, project and protect their own interests. That is why they leave office kicking and screaming. Politicians do not relinquish power without being forced to do so, either through elections, dying in office or resigning when they are too old to care.
To guide them towards beneficial outcomes for all; we must work with elected representatives to build durable institutions with in-built checks and balances. It is institutions and not individuals that can protect our democracy from abuse, usurpation of powers and mechanisms to guide the electoral processes and enforce election outcomes, whether or not level-playing field exist! A good example that should have tested our electoral law was the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) insistence that individuals cannot take pictures of their ballot papers. No one can challenge INEC because the courts were on strike. How can a vital arm of government go on strike? The President imported state-sponsored terrorists from the creeks into Osun and no one could challenge him for fear of being killed because he has the power to truncate judicial proceedings, compromise the army and instruct the police to subvert justice. He’s done it before and he can do it again; even with greater impunity.
At the root of our problem is the fact that we only have a government but not a nation state. A nation state is a durable institutional framework; a layer above government. Most governments, like we have under the leadership of Goodluck Jonathan, think they are the state. Fortunately for us, they are not! Governments are temporary, governments come and go and have term limits. States are permanent and continue to exist long after many governments. Jonathan will find out sooner rather than later. He should ask his predecessors.
It is shameful that politicians continue to invent new stupid standards for Nigerians. Increasingly, voting comes with a price because poverty ravages the land. We have been reduced to a people who vote, not for the best candidate but for who is able to spend more on staple foods and other forms of inducements. When we sell our votes, elections will almost always not guarantee good governance because the credence of true democracy has been given in exchange. Voting and making your vote count based on a candidate demonstrable competence is important because credible elections are a great tool for transforming a society from backwardness to development.
The Osun gubernatorial election has shown we can get credible elections through good governance, awareness and advocacy. The voters collected Omisore’s money, rice and kerosene and voted convincingly for Governor Aregbesola. They were not swayed by his okada riding, corn-eating stunts. They saw through the charade and voted a deft and competent warrior who fights for the masses. The people sent a clear message – the defining feature of democracy is the power vested in the people to elect their representatives.
It is no coincidence that Mr. Omisore, the PDP candidate went into the elections awash wish stolen federal cash on one hand and money from fugitive drug baron on another. He acted true to type. To further complicate his misfortune, he had Chief Bola Ige’s death hovering around him like a dark cloud. Omisore firmly believed Nigerian voters are primarily short-sighted. He banked on age old belief that so long as majority of the voters remain poor and illiterate their choices will be short-sighted and they will vote against their interests once induced with crumbs. Omisore, coming from the chop-I-chop Nigerian school of politics enjoyed the militarization of the elections, offended his people by allowing masked militants free reign over his State. Will Jonathan dare take Odua Peoples Congress to Bayelsa? Desperate to govern Osun, he became rather too keen to serve certain interest groups that thinks of Yorubas as “rascals”. He got the shellacking of his political life in the process. He was roundly rejected.
The poor, the oppressed and the common citizens who make up the majority in this country have their native wisdom. Governor Aregbesola took his case to them fought from the trenches like an underdog. He campaigned the way of the locals. His adverts were steeped in the totems, traditions and deep invocations of his people. He took his campaign where it matters – to the people. He has shown us, the wisdom of the masses can be channelled through awareness, good programs and citizen action to bring about sanity in electoral politics. The great people of Osun proved it to us; it is within our power to dictate the course of our common destiny. We can stop the charade, we can heal this country. Progressive change takes time, but we can do it. It is not too late to weed out felons, alleged murderers, drug barons, traitors, thieves and their ilks from our political landscape. It is not too late to create a new Nigeria.
Bamidele Ademola-Olateju is reachable on Twitter: @olufunmilayo