By this time next week the 2015 presidential election must have been won and lost. That is if all goes well with the schedule of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). And, of course, the wish of peace-loving Nigerians and friends of Nigeria is that the election should be credible and, therefore, conclusive. Not a few would insist that justice must be seen to be done.
Now, the implication of a conclusive election is larger than the declaration of a winner. In other words, besides the votes to be scored by both the winner and the loser, it is important to imagine what the election would say about Nigeria’s political development. The content of victory in the election is also important for consideration. In this context, the end may not justify any means possible. This point might sound abstract to partisans who are deeply rooting for votes for their candidates. A politician should not be concerned about such theoretical reasoning at this hour, you would probably say. Yet, it is a point Nigeria will have to come to terms with sooner or later.
When the different factions of the elite discuss development the focus is often on the socio-economic aspects of the nation’s life. This is understandable given the fact that the economic constitutes the substructure while politics is part of the superstructure of the nation’s reality. After all, to paraphrase Karl Marx, a man must eat, drink and be clothed and sheltered before he can think of politics, ideology or aesthetics. Nevertheless, there is the need to pay attention to political development. For Nigeria suffers from serious political underdevelopment.
To start with, the tone and tenor of the campaigns could not be said to be indicators of political development. Extremely crude and indecorous in many instances the campaigns have been more a demonstration of political immaturity than development. The publicists have put on display their mastery of campaigns of malice and prejudice. But they have not shown the capacity to stage a national conversation on the big issues of our time the way it is done in politically developed climes. Yes, it is more intellectually taxing to discuss issues of socio-economic development than to insult or tell lies about opponents. You don’t need to think deeply to rain curses on or abuse those on the other side of the partisan divide.
However, the efficacy of slogans in solving problems will certainly be put to test after the elections. The hard part will be later. This is regardless of who wins. Perhaps, one good thing about the slogans is that they have engendered rising expectations especially among the youths who are in the majority demographically. Although strategies of development have not been well debated, it is implicit in the various slogans of both the PDP and APC that government has a huge responsibility to drive the development process. The people are being told now what government has done or has failed to do depending on who you are listening to in the campaigns. Politicians are also talking of what government will do or should do in the future. It is important to keep this in mind. There may be the need to remind some technocrats of the central responsibility of government when they begin to lecture us about “market forces” as the solution to all problems. The voters are being wooed now on the basis of what government will do and not on a promise that government will abandon its responsibility.
Forget about the campaigns laden with hate speech, none of the 11 candidates contesting the Saturday election is a devil or a saint. In particular, no political publicist can deny the strengths and weaknesses of either of the two leading candidates, President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and General Muhammad Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). They are both human beings like the rest of us. The bitterness of the campaigns has blurred this irrefutable fact. This is not what you would expect from a country with a 93-year experience of elections. The number of votes counted at elections is growing, but the democratic culture is not developing. We are sadly reminded of the memorable phrase of the radical scholar, Claude Ake, that you could not build “democracy without democrats”. Regardless of their professional and occupational backgrounds, what the 2015 politics has proved again is that many of our politicians are not yet democrats.
The Nigerian political elite should be embarrassed by the “message to the Nigerian people” from President Barack Obama of the United States. That is the not the sort of statements issuing from Washington at the eve of elections to India, Brazil or South Africa. After all, the sort of pep talk you give to a primary school class is not the same as the speech you deliver to university undergraduates. Obama spoke probably having the level of Nigeria’s political development in mind. As a friend of Nigeria, Obama is concerned about the threat of electoral violence. While Obama is expressing concern, ECOWAS is also nudging the giant in the region to lead by example in matters of peaceful and credible elections. In recent times, when Ghana and Senegal had elections, there were no such regional fears about what could happen to those countries. They are smaller than Nigeria. Nigerians themselves are apprehensive that blood and tears may flow in the streets. The fear is far from being misplaced. In the build-up to the casting of ballots, bullets are already being employed in parts of the country. The death toll is rising.
It is certainly a symptom of political immaturity when a nation approaches elections as if it is going to war or resisting invasion. The problem is that of systemic immaturity despite the fact that some of the individual players have remarkably shown a degree of maturity. These few exceptions across the spectrum remain oases in the desert of Nigerian politics. Some people (who could afford it, of course,) are buying tickets to get out of the country in the season of election. It is unfortunately ingrained in the national psyche that restriction of movement on the Election Day with deployment of troops is normal.
In some other climes, it would appear primitive. It is hardly in the realm of hope for some “political strategists” that one day elections would be held in this country without the atmosphere of siege. When will the system be mature enough for a worker to take a few minutes off work, cast his vote and return to his desk? Does any one have that as a dream? Every election throws up its own prophets of doom. There is always a prediction of Armageddon. The end of the nation’s history is always proclaimed. When will this trend stop? When will the democratic baby be weaned?
The air of uncertainty heralding the elections is another symptom of underdevelopment. The processes should be regular and predictable. It would not be asking for too much that this should be attributes defining the political process.
All told, there is still a valid basis to hope for a conclusive election on Saturday. After all, as the Guild of Editors said in statement yesterday signed by its president, Femi Adesina, “no nation should die because it held elections.” To ensure national stability, INEC should rise to the occasion to deliver a credible election. The commission has a job to do and it must do it satisfactorily. In fact, it is possible for INEC to make history by conducting the most credible election to date. The commission should be assisted to fulfil its mandate in the interest of the nation’s political development. And as INEC’s chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, has said, other “stakeholders” should also perform their own duties within the ambit of the law. These “stakeholders”, of course, include the electorate, security agencies, political parties, the media and observers. The ethnic militias should also have a change of mind and assist INEC for the purpose of credible and peaceful elections.
Despite all the prediction of an Armageddon, it is feasible to conduct a credible election. When that happens, it will be a measure of political development. In the long run, the real winner should be liberal democracy in Nigeria.