‘Democracy is meaningless without dividends for Nigerians’

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‘Democracy is meaningless without dividends for Nigerians’

Professor of Political Science at the Lagos State University (LASU), Sylvester Akhaine, in this interview with MUYIWA ADEYEMI, spoke on high expectations on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the conducts of the forthcoming Edo and Ondo governorship elections, and ideals of democracy in the flawed Nigerian State, among sundry issues.

Concerning the just concluded primaries in Edo and Ondo states, how will you describe the process of electing party candidates in Nigeria compared to how it is done in other democratic climes?

The essence of any electoral process is consent. For consent to be achieved, there must be fairness. The recent primaries of APC were anything but free and fair. The exercises underscore a major deficit of the democratic process, that is the absence of internal democracy. The INEC process in retrospect appears to be more open than primaries that are conducted by parties.

The exercise in Edo was trailed by controversies. Three candidates declared themselves winners even with evidence that results were simply written without voting in some places. The resolution of the crisis that had involved litigation was simply by imposition. Ondo was also trailed by controversies, an affirmation of the axiom to the effect that incumbents don’t lose elections. These things rarely happen in advanced democracies, and some ‘third world’ democracies respect the rule of the thumb. We just saw the Senegalese election where the opposition won. Ours needs a lot of work.

Is it possible to have a rancour-free primary?

Yes, where the elite are disciplined and ready to respect the rules of the game. In Nigeria, there is no elite consensus, and the only game in town is politics. In a non-productive society, politics is the passport to the primitive accumulation of public resources, and in our instance, it is done with impunity.

Electioneering campaigns will soon begin in Edo and Ondo states, is it possible to ensure issue-based campaigns, devoid of violence and name-calling?

It will feature both acrimony and issues. Acrimonious issues are already on between the supporters of APC and PDP, as well Labour Party (LP). The same predictably will happen in Ondo. For the electorate, it will be a choiceless process.

What do you mean by a choiceless process?

We scholars of democracy use the marker, ‘choiceless democracy’ because of the great deficit of the liberal democratic process. Actually, they are neither liberal nor democratic. Liberal principles include a free press, political liberty, the rule of law, free and fair periodic elections. It also translates to consent, the rule of the thumbs. The political parties are parties in name, lack longevity being ad-hoc formations, lack ideology, no membership financing etc.

In the electoral arena, there is vote-buying, electoral violence, destruction of ballot buses, voter intimidation, and outright killing. It was in this country we had statements like ‘spilling the blood of monkeys and baboons’, and ‘do-or-die affairs’. These are obviously not free and fair processes. The electorates are repressed, resulting in the imposition of candidates, who do not necessarily enjoy popular mandate. So, such a process as I have tried to describe above is choiceless.

What are those issues that are likely to come up during the campaign in Edo?

Partly, the issue of equality and justice in terms of zoning of the candidates to the central district appears somewhat resolved. Both APC and PDP have zoned their flagbearers to Edo central senatorial district.

The next dominant issue would be the provision of social amenities, such as potable water, and road infrastructure over which the Obaseki administration scored low. Others are job creation. The quality of the candidates will predominate, and the social media warriors on both sides will run with this.

Do you see INEC performing better in Edo and Ondo guber elections?

The general perception of INEC in the last election is that it failed the Nigerian voters by the non-application of IREV, which would mean transmission of election results in real-time. So, both local and international observers faulted the commission for this.

Therefore, the Edo and Ondo states’ elections will afford a historical opportunity for it to burnish its battered image vis-a-vis the last election by ensuring a clean, transparent process in the two states. INEC can do better with the political will of the leadership to resist meddlesomeness from any quarters.

Local government elections have been described as a sham, and there are suggestions that INEC should take up elections at that level of governance.

The local government question in Nigeria is messy and a function of the skewed federal structure in the country. The military compounds the problem through the arbitrary creation of local governments. They did so to the extent of awarding local governments and their capital to themselves and creating a basis for the allocation of revenue to the tier of government. The arbitrariness is so stark. Lagos for inst ance has 20 local councils and Kano 44.

In a true federal structure, local government ought to be a creation of the state government merely as a subsidiary administrative unit for its convenience. The centre and state or region are the true parties to a federal covenant.

So, the subversion of the electoral process by the governors, who are now like emperors with rubber stamp legislative Houses of Assembly is possible by the foundation error in the grund norm. State electoral commissions conduct with no chance in hell for opposition elements to win a place. Alternatively, they imposed caretaker committees and took charge of the state-local government joint account, which is the main attraction for total control of the structure as presently constituted. But if they are the creation of subnational governments, the state and its legislative Assembly will have to make laws appropriate for the local governments. By implication, the allocation to the state will increase. That is the way to put them in good standing. The call for INEC to help is because of the prevalent contradiction.

Oyo State electoral commission requested INEC’s BVAS to conduct last weekend’s local council election in the state but was denied the opportunity to use the technology. Is it right?

Given the argument I have made about federalism, you don’t really need INEC to conduct local council elections. From the point of view of intergovernmental and interagency cooperation, there is nothing wrong with asking for logistics support such as BVAS. The obvious indication from the request is that the state genuinely wanted to improve its electoral process in relation to the state electoral commission. The state should be encouraged. It does not in any way undermine the point about state structure reform. All that is currently being done is offering prophylactics for a cancerous tumour. The 10th Assembly should do the needful so that the Constitution can accommodate obvious necessities.

What was your experience like as an APC governorship aspirant in Edo? Will you advise academics to venture into contesting for elective positions in Nigeria?

If the intelligentsia refuses to participate in the democratic process, the current debauchery would continue. I enjoyed my participation. Coming in with intimidating credentials rattled them. Without the participation of intellectuals, we cannot move forward, our democracy will be reduced to incestuous leadership. We need men of ideas to edify the democratic process. I will encourage more academics not to be intimidated, but to join the movement to rescue Nigeria from the grip of a very backward and superstitious elite.

What is your opinion about the power play in APC and Ganduje’s ongoing travails?

The chairman of APC ascended leadership of the party without due process. Salihu Lukman pointed out the irregularity. He was ignored, and he resigned from his position in the leadership of the party. It is not surprising that the matter is coming up. I think the party has the mechanisms to resolve the crisis.

Will you say democracy is working in Nigeria and people are getting dividends of democracy?

Nigeria’s democracy frankly speaking is illiberal, and largely choiceless. With the right attitude and internal reform, the ‘ill’ can be removed from the illiberal. Then, our democracy will move forward towards consolidation. Nigerians are not seeing the dividends of democracy. They are being daily impoverished by Bretton Woods-inspired policies and elite malfeasance. For Nigerians democracy is only meaningful, if it provides dividends of democracy. Its absence makes possible vote-buying and other subversion of the electoral process.

God endowed Nigeria with natural resources, but the ruling elite can’t harness them. Nigerians are paying prohibitive prices for petrol and related energy sources. Basic amenities are not available, and they are daily regaled by stolen billions of naira.

India has its general election ongoing with about one billion electorates and less friction in the process. Is there any lesson for Nigeria to learn from this largest democracy?

India is the biggest democracy in the world today. For it to conduct elections in weeks, not a day or two, and without manipulation, which such a lengthy period allows, it deserves to be praised. The fundamental point about India is that there is a degree of elite consensus on the status of India in global affairs and with two rivals, namely, Pakistan and China, it can’t afford to mess around, and incur instability despite the perpetual tension fuelled by the castle and religion matters.

Also, India is a federation and its subnational units enjoy a great deal of autonomy.

Nigeria needs to emulate India by constitutionalising true federalism. There is no core national value that we can say that the Nigerian elites agree on, except the pillaging of the national resources. Nigeria needs to arise from its slumber and assume its manifest destiny of leading the continent, a role that South Africa is playing. This is impossible without elite consensus, and it is impossible without arriving at the right state structure that is federal.

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