Finally, the magical year 2023 is here with us! This is the year many believe will make or mar Nigeria. It is election year and elections in Nigeria are fought like wars. This year’s election will not be different; more than that, it promises to even be more “bloody”, if I am permitted to use that word metaphorically because some of the major actors are desperadoes on account of the fact that this may be their last, and or best opportunity to achieve their heart’s desire. So, they are likely to throw everything they have into the duel and be reluctant to pull punches.
When two elephants fight, the grass, they say, suffers; imagine what happens, then, when three, four or more elephants fight! The battle will be helluva! That is, if there will be elections because the other side of the coin is the apprehension, doubt, misgivings, conjectures, propositions and projections in many quarters that there will be no elections this year after all! Some say outright that there will be no election. Others say elections will be postponed. Some have gone a step further to say that the country will witness another contraption of an Interim National Government and have even named the would-be chairperson of such an ING.
The last time we had an ING (2 January, 1993 – 26 August, 1993), it led us nowhere good. Shall we learn from history or shall we condemn ourselves to repeating its mistakes? Or, this time around if the ING chances upon us again, will the outcome be different from the ING of Ernest Shonekan that the evil one, Sani Abacha, wasted no time to sweep away while imposing the vilest and the most draconian ever reign of terror on Nigerians?
I agree with my comrade, Tony Iyare, that it is better we have elections than not have elections, as imperfect as elections have been here and regardless that this year’s elections may not be anything different, offering little or no hope of ushering in significant changes that will be worth the resources and efforts committed to them. Election is the linchpin of democracy; it is the fulcrum of bourgeois politics that capitalism showcases as the best form of government. It is not but it is the best that capitalism has on offer.
Elections do not guarantee good governance. We have had elections since 1999; yet, good governance has been alien to these shores. Elections do not necessarily empower the people or give them the unfettered rights to choose or elect their own representatives; in other words, elections do not necessarily deliver participatory or representative democracy in the real sense. In many instances, elections are, at best, mere rites of passage, a game of musical chairs during which one set of oppressors either renew their term or another set takes over from them. The idea that the people rule or that sovereignty resides in the people is a ruse.
“Who says organisation, says oligarchy!” Robert Michel’s “iron law of oligarchy” stands true today as it was in the early 20th Century when it was propounded. In constructing what they define as the pyramid of power, theorists of political elites have shown that in every human organisation – be it political, economical, religious, traditional or modern – it is a few people that hold the levers of power. Power relations in any human organisation are constructed as a pyramid; on top of the pyramid sit the rulers or leaders while at the base are the mass of the people or the masses. It is usually not very difficult to identify one man who sits atop the pinnacle, even in the best-performing democratic set-up.
Power, influence, and remunerations decrease as you move from the pinnacle to the base. Conversely, they increase as you climb the ladder from the base to the pinnacle. You will not find any human organisation that defies Michel’s iron law of oligarchy. Little wonder, then, that it is called “iron law”! Even in a revolutionary set-up, elites rule (the vanguard of the proletariat, for instance); the purpose and direction of rule may, however, differ from that in a capitalist state. Theorists of elite rule posit that when a revolution takes place – like the French, Bolshevik, Chinese or Cuban revolution – what happens is that the existing (ancien, decadent, oppressive) power structure is toppled and another quickly replaces it. No vacuum is allowed. Nature, we have been told, abhors a vacuum.
Democracy as a carry-over from the ancient Greek city-states no longer exists. Population explosion alone has made it impracticable for every adult to gather in the village square to deliberate and take decisions on issues that affect them and their society. So, the best we can have today is what is called participatory or representative democracy, in which the people are given a semblance of rights to participate in the process of choosing their leaders or representatives through all manner of elections, be it direct or indirect.
Of course, these processes are themselves manipulated by the few who are assigned the task to conduct or supervise the process, making the Soviet Union-era maximum ruler, Josef Stalin, to quip that those who vote in elections determine nothing but those who count the votes determine everything! Stalin will turn in his grave to watch Nigeria rubbish his thesis: None of those who vote, count or declare the results (like INEC) determine anything in Nigeria of today! The courts do, at the apex of which sits the Supreme Court! Until the Supreme Court so pronounces, no winner can heave a sigh of relief here. We have witnessed that fact – a travesty of democracy – shoved down our throat again and again.
The goal of participatory democracy is for it to yield a representative government, in which case the people, because they cannot all be in government or parliament, send people there to represent them and their interests. But here in Nigeria, once the “representatives” get into office, they represent no one but their own selfish interests! The process of recall (for legislators) and impeachment (for the Executive), though technically available, is cumbersome, tedious, and costly. Weak institutions, a corrupt system, and a docile citizenry combine to make it a mountain to climb.
No two democratic systems are exactly the same; each has its own peculiar flavour, so we talk of home-grown variants of democracy. Some democracies are old, time-tested and settled while others are young, fledgling and yet to find their feet. Nigeria is copy-cat democracy, borrowed, as it were, from the United States of America. The vicious swing from the British-style parliamentary system to the American money-guzzling presidential system has been held accountable for some of the problems bedevilling Nigeria since its return to civilian rule in 1999. The prohibitive cost of governance is its corollary. The overbearing nature of the Centre, leading to the excessive concentration of powers in the president’s hands, is another. In a president like Muhammadu Buhari that has viciously violated the country’s principles of federal character and secularism in favour of his Fulani ethnic group and Islamic religion, the agitation for restructuring or even outright dismemberment of the country has never at any time in the past been as well-received as it is today.
One reason why I want the 2023 election to go ahead is because all the leading presidential candidates have pledged their support for the restructuring agenda. Restructuring is the only antidote to the country’s disintegration. It is also the only road to its rapid economic development. Conversely, one reason why I will support the postponement or outright cancellation of the looming elections and the enthronement of an ING or whatever is if it is for the purpose of restructuring the country. Legal luminary, Afe Babalola, posits that the elections should be put in abeyance for restructuring to first take place. He has his strong points.
Knowing our politicians for who they are, they make all manner of promises during electioneering campaigns but which they have no intention of honouring once they get into office. I once wrote a speech for a governor; the speech was well-received and he got a standing ovation. As reporters bombarded him with questions during the question-and answer session, he beckoned to me: “BB, come and answer their questions; after all, it is your speech!” Do you think such a governor will implement the promises made in that speech or even remember anything in it the next day?
Many of the promises being made right, left and centre as politicians go on the hustings are mere soapbox oratory or what my people call “adehun alagbada” - promises that will deliberately go unfulfilled! We have travelled that road again and again! Many of the politicians are just saying what they think voters will want to hear. Their media and PR people are the ones crafting the speeches and pushing words in their mouth. If this is not the case this time around, then, it will be a refreshingly awesome departure from the past.
For me, however, the elections are not an end in themselves but a means to an end – that of restructuring the country. That is my scoresheet for our politics in 2023 and beyond.
LAST WORD: Those who must prophesy – that could as well be their pot of soup – should please give us a break! If God has not told you there will be an election or who will win the election, does that mean He has not told someone else? Must it be you that He must tell? Has God lost His prerogative to act as He pleases? And can God “reveal” different, even conflicting, prophecies on the same issue to different so-called prophets? Pray, when did God become the author of confusion?
** Bolawole is a former editor & chairman of the editorial board of The PUNCH newspapers. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio, television, traditional and digital media.
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