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Published On: Mon, Jun 30th, 2014

The summer that never began

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By Hussaina Ishaya Audu

The summer solstice which occurs yearly in the northern hemisphere is the longest and brightest day of the year. It falls on the 21st of June and traditionally marks the first day of summer. That was the day on which the Ekiti gubernatorial election was to be held; and I, like many others, had attached some symbolism to that day and to that state. Ekiti became a microcosm of Nigeria and many of us hoped fervently that not only would this election be the dawn of another summer for Ekiti state in which Fayemi’s policies would blossom into a lush harvest, but also for Nigeria. If Ekiti state could break away from its predisposition not to vote for an incumbent and return Fayemi because of his proven track record, then perhaps this would be an augury for February 2015 and we as a nation would break from our predilection for electing bad leaders.

To say I was highly disappointed by the outcome of the election is an understatement. But more than that, I was perplexed. If the election was indeed credible as seems to have been the case, then what went wrong? Rational people just do not reject good leadership. Unless the people of Ekiti lacked the most basic common sense, they had to vote Fayemi. Well, they didn’t and from all I have read, there were multiple reasons why.  Fayemi neither understood the language nor the cultural ethos of the people of Ekiti. Fayose, on the other hand, clearly spoke their language. It wasn’t merely about distributing bags of rice; it was about being chummy with the electorate, being one of the boys.

Fayemi ascribed to the electorate a sophistication they did not possess campaigning more vigorously on social media and on the pages of the newspaper than at the grassroots. His policies aimed at sanitizing the system were not popular with those directly affected by it. He pitted himself against the very people that would vote for him because he denied them their opportunity to make an extra buck. He believed, perhaps rather naively, that having proved himself, he could cut loose from the umbilical cord tying him to the godfather(s) that had secured his victory in the first instance.

The federal government used government machinery to frustrate Fayemi’s campaign and facilitate PDP’s. APC failed Fayemi. The party’s inability to cohere into a functional and effective unit deprived Fayemi of a structured network through which to carry out a focused campaign. APC is viewed suspiciously in the south because of a perception – real or imagined – that it has significant links to Boko Haram and Islamic fundamentalists. Nigerians just don’t want good leaders. In spite of our constant complaining we want to maintain the status quo.

Analysts and election observers have congratulated INEC for the successful conduct of the election asserting this as a victory for Nigeria’s democracy. Fayemi has been commended for conceding defeat like a gentleman, and so he should be. We are saying the right stuff. Sadly, while the reasons advanced for Fayemi’s failure at the polls may be valid, we have failed to see that this event ought to constitute the basis for us to reject the concept of democracy for this nation altogether. People who, for whatever reason, cannot be trusted to elect a leadership that will benefit them do not deserve to be given that right. They are not ‘rational’ and they do lack the ‘basic common sense’ required to make democracy a viable system of government.

Nigeria’s naïve acceptance of democracy without considering its suitability to our context is proving to be a serious mistake. But no matter how long we have travelled down the wrong road, the only reasonable thing to do when we discover our blunder is to turn around. It’s the height of folly to insist on continuing on the journey just because we feel we’ve travelled for too long down that road. If we are now discovering that this concept called democracy is not working for us, shouldn’t we stop and rethink? We keep telling ourselves that Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither should we expect our democracy to be. However, no matter how much you try to fit a square peg into a round whole it’s not going to work unless you change the fundamental structure of the peg. Even if you’ve been trying to do so for 55 years.

Between 1959 when Lee Kuan Yew became the country’s Prime Minister after its independence and 1990 when he retired voluntarily, Yew transformed Singapore from a third world nation to a first world nation by uninstalling the democracy inherited from their British colonizers and introducing a unique model of ‘soft’ autocracy. Yew argued that there is no one-size fits all model of good governance. ‘Groups of people develop different characteristics when they have evolved for thousands of years separately. Genetics and history interact…Now if you gloss over these kinds of issues because it is politically incorrect to study them, then you have laid a land mine for yourself.’

Yew maintained that before progress can be made there must, first and foremost, be order in the society. Central to this order is the family. ‘Eastern societies believe that the individual exists in the context of his family…The ruler or the government does not try to provide for a person what the family best provides.’ Democracy basically contradicts this structure of community by affirming the ‘inviolability of the individual’. For Yew, human rights cannot be absolute because the nature of man cannot be changed. ‘Man needs a certain moral sense of right and wrong. There is such a thing called evil, and it is not the result of being a victim of society. You are just an evil man, prone to do evil things, and you have to be stopped from doing them.’ It is not an accident that today, Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

Yew introduced policies that promoted Singapore’s values and were accepted by the country’s multi-cultural population. As Yew said, we must share certain attributes and values because ‘you cannot have too many distinct components and be one nation.’ What are our core values as a nation? Can someone please tell me, because if Fayemi’s supporters shared the same values as Fayose’s then the outcome would not have been so unexpected.

Once Yew had identified the attributes and ambitions that unified Singaporeans the next step was to ‘educate rigorously and train a whole generation of skilled, intelligent, knowledgeable people who (could) be productive.’ Education was key to ensuring that the youth bought into the vision of a New Singapore. Today, Singapore’s educational system is one of the most advanced in the world. Singapore made the transition from a third world country to a first world country in one generation. This success is attributable to a relevant and progressive public education system.

Yew did warn that for his system of benevolent dictatorship to thrive, there must be an enabling climate. ‘If you have a culture that doesn’t place much value on learning and scholarship and hardwork and thrift and deferment of present enjoyment for future gain, the going will be much slower.’ Slower yes, impossible no. If Fayemi had won Ekiti I could have celebrated democracy’s victory. But summer didn’t come that day. And it’s horrifying to imagine what may happen come February 2015. We need a change. And neither PDP nor APC can give it to us. I am now ready to accept Nigeria’s equivalent to Lee Kuan Yew.

Ms. Ishaya Audu, a lawyer, resides in Abuja.

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