When the Yoruba want to justify intervention in a hopeless case, they invoke the anecdote of the madman in possession of his mother’s corpse. Their argument is if, for the sake of protection of the sanctity of order of things, we allow a madman to take custody of his mother’s corpse, in the moment of his maddening chasm, the madman could mistake the remains for a venison and roast his mother as suya. This Yoruba anecdote is euphemism for the theory of paternalism which George Orwell, in his 1984 novel espoused through the Big Brother who watches over everybody. It is also justification for intervention in extreme circumstance of threat to the collective good.
Coincidentally, this year 2020 marks the centenary of elections in Nigeria. The first election in the country was conducted on March 29, 1920 into local councils. This came after the introduction of elective democracy into the country in May, 1919 which resulted in the Township Ordinance that gave right to vote for three members of the Lagos Town Council. Since then, it has been same tale of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. General elections subsequently held on September 20, 1923 which saw the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), formed by Herbert Macaulay, winning three of the four elected seats earmarked for the Legislative Council.
Like a natural mystic, in the words of Immortal Bob Marley, electoral malpractices, violence and rigging have become the wind that blows in the Nigerian electoral air. “If you listen carefully, you will hear,” Marley the Prophet had sermonized. As I write this, Edo State has concluded its own grisly circus of the Nigerian natural mystic. Unlike the sermon of the great reggae music star Prophet, the Edo electoral mystic is not the first trumpet and it will certainly not be the last. Confirming the words of Marley’s prophecies, from the beginning to the end of that Edo election, many people suffered and many died. Many were maimed and several lost their deposits. Many more still will never recover from the wounds they sustained from this orgy that Nigeria calls electoral politics. As regards elections in Nigeria, the Prophet said: “many more will have to suffer; many more will have to die;” however, “Don’t ask me why,” he pleaded.
But, must elections be miniature artillery warfare where armaments are deployed, blood spilled and eternal pains inflicted on the populace? “No one tries to find the answers to all the questions they (we) ask,” said the Prophet. To his submission that, for electoral violence in Nigeria, things are not the way they used to be, with due respect, the Prophet lied! In Nigeria, electoral violence is as old as electoral politics. Since 1999 when Nigeria began her untruncated democratic journey in an electoral history, however, this electoral malaise has taken a supersonic dimension. Dirty rigging chemistry, stuffing of ballots, inducement, violence and a recent stratagem of deploying hunger as tool for inducement of voters, ingeniously patented in Ondo State and nicknamed di’bo ko se’be! (cast your vote and stuff your soup pot!) are the order of the day.
There is no doubting the fact that the twin of rigging and electoral violence is the albatross of genuine democracy in Nigeria. In the just concluded Edo State elections, 30,000 policemen were said to have been drafted to quell violence, in a Nigeria where its Southern Kaduna loses lives almost every week and sparse security is in place. Not only does violence weaken voter confidence in the electoral process, it frightens voters from the polling booths. This in turn leads to apathy, aloofness and unrepresentative figures that do not mirror the wishes of the people. In the 2019 elections, according to a report from SBM Intelligence, over 620 people were killed in electoral violence which erupted in several spots in the country.
In the First Republic, politicians dragged dead bodies to the frontage of their rivals’ homes to instigate police investigation that would keep them off polling booths. Gradually, electoral malpractice morphed into a bigger demon. As advanced democracies matured into a seamless, foolproof computer system of elections, with equipment like Card Reader, Nigerian electoral demons matured into elections as dread of specters. Today, cloning of voters’ cards and other evils have taken over. The icing on the cake is killing, maiming and burning of rivals’ homes. The 2019 general and parliamentary elections of March and April 2019, for instance, rankled men of goodwill with its orgy of violence, vote-buying and wanton rigging.
In the midst of this cycle of violence, malpractices and outright theft of people’s will by Nigerian politicians, there is still no meaningful way through which Nigeria can get out of the murky waters of bad leadership, other than electoral politics. When we complain of the misrule of Muhammadu Buhari and his array of lieutenants in the states and the 774 local governments, the only time-tested, sure way of replacing them with leaders we desire is through the ballot box. We however enter into a cul-de-sac if that same ballot box is this unrepresentative, tainted with the blood of fellow Nigerians and is despised home and abroad as a trough of ignominy.
Thus, ostensibly bothered by this slide into anarchy, the United States of America, during the week, placed travel restrictions on some unnamed Nigerian politicians from Bayelsa and Kogi states perceived as architects of the unrepresentative-ness of Nigeria’s ballot boxes, who according to it, undermine “democratic process or organize election-related violence,” this action provoked hues and cries from their ranks. This latest move by the US government follows in tow a decision made by it in January, 2019 denying visas to individuals who participated in electoral violence. Same 2019, the US placed restrictions on individuals it identified as purveyors of the Nigerian cankerworm of corruption and electoral violence in the general elections that held in February – March of that year.
We do not need anyone to tell us that electoral madness has seized Nigeria. Nigerian leaders care less about the consequences of their actions and are not accountable to their people. They subvert the will of the people in elections with impunity and brazenly steal votes, just as they steal from the people’s vaults.
According to Morgan Ortagus, US State Department spokeswoman, the US government “condemn the acts of violence, intimidation, or corruption that harmed Nigerians and undermined the democratic process” and could not but slam the visa restrictions on “individuals (who) have so far operated with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and have undermined democratic principles.” Ortagus further said that the US government was poised to help Nigeria “end corruption and strengthen democracy, accountability, and respect for human rights.”
The above however disgusted the Federal Government and some neocolonial activists who canvass sovereignty of nationhood. To them, this is an example of America’s overbearing attitude on Nigerian democracy and unbridled paternalism. In a statement issued by Ferdinand Nwonye, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, government regarded it as disrespectful to the Nigeria’s sovereignty.
Enters Yahaya Bello, governor of Kogi State. Bello it was whose off-season election in November, 2019 has become an empirical example of the malady of Nigerian electoral politics. Last week, specifically on September 17, 2020, he wrote a letter of protest to the American Ambassador to Nigeria, published in some Nigerian newspapers, complaining that, by the visa ban, America has exhibited unnecessary paternalism in Nigeria’s internal affairs. Bello’s impudence in the said letter was writ large. He began by sermonizing on how the Nigerian Supreme Court’s “well reasoned” pronouncements gave him victory over the four petitions brought before it. By that very fact, said a governor notorious for his brawns rather than governmental brain, any charge of electoral malpractices against him by America or any other entity, cannot hold.
Hear him: “we do register the (sic) strongest protest possible as a state to (sic) the collateral and unwarranted interference in our political and social processes which it represents.” First, did any of those petitions dismissed at the Supreme Court, level allegations of vote-buying, unbridled violence as reason why the Kogi election should be nullified? Isn’t it common allegation that the judiciary is in amorous dalliance with politicians of Bello’s hue? So why was he mouthing the Supreme Court judgment as his alibi of electoral righteousness, as if God had just pronounced him winner of that ostensibly massively rigged election?
In the off-season election in Kogi State under reference, on November 18, under the tip of the nose of Bello, the Supreme Court-pronounced electoral saint of Kogi State, Salomeh Abuh, Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Woman Leader, who hailed from Aji-Obala, Ofu Local Government Area of the state, was burnt alive at Ochadamu. Several other people lost their lives for Bello to be made to chest the tape in a brawn-supreme election that saw sophisticated guns, machete and other violent weapons on parade. There were also allegations that some Bello hirelings tear-gassed opposition party members via helicopters in their strongholds to prevent them from going out to vote. The election was so violent that the Oyo State governor, Seyi Makinde, was allegedly smoked out of Kogi by these dare-devil Bello thugs. As if to add salt upon injury, a viral video of some Kogi young ladies aligned to Bello’s APC legitimizing the ta-ta-ta-ta sound of a rifle as weapon of election surfaced, as testimonial of the Kogi sabre-rattling election. So Bello thought Big Brother was having a nap while he rained those volleys of impunities?
Nigerian elections are fiery spectres because the actors see political offices as merchandize. In the recently concluded election in Edo, the parties were agitated and fought with their lives because the stakes were too high. Ego, untrammeled cash and vanities were at stake. You can imagine Bola Tinubu throwing whatever was left of his political capital to the winds to address some ubiquitous persons via the social media and making very illogical claims that he himself was not totally removed from. If Osagie Ize-Iyamu loses, Tinubu and his hireling, Adams Oshiomhole and so many other captives, would kiss their ego canvass. If Godwin Obaseki loses, he probably would go to jail. Thus, the fight to win was fought with blood, with stolen money and unimagined brawns. To stop this fiery circus, the stake has to be highly defrosted of its huge ice.
The Nigerian politician is the proverbial mad man left in possession of his mother’s corpse. He has loaned his sense of righteousness, justice and knowledge of what is right to unseen and unknown demons. America and the West, havens where our politicians funnel stolen funds and where they run to, to enjoy those loots, are the Orwellian Big Brother who must wield the big cudgel to whip for the sanity of the collective. The visa ban may also be the proverbial Caesar’s ghost which has appeared to their Brutus. Theatergoers during Shakespeare’s time and readers of Shakespeare’s classics know that, at the appearance of the ghost, bellowing, “thou shalt see me at Philippi,” it foreshadows the fact that Brutus was doomed to die for his ignoble role in assassinating Caesar. In the same vein, perhaps if Nigerian politicians’ camp-beds are lit underneath with a gas-lamp by the appearance of this ghost that has come to judgment, their senses may well come back to normalcy. Or, it may just dawn on them that the party of electoral gangsterism is over. In any case, isn’t it America’s prerogative to determine who it offers its visa? Bello, Buhari and their choristers are indeed palace jesters!
▪︎Nigerian politics and lessons from Enugu State
Enugu State is perhaps handing over some very practical lessons of life, politics and society to the rest of the world. During the week, gladiators in the state politics entered into a reconciliation that pleasantly baffled the rest of society. A political group that goes by the name Ebeano, which had been producing the political leadership of Enugu for the last 21 years, recently came together to articulate its path to further grips of the state.
Ebeano had suffered serious damage in the last two decades. The group began to mirror contradictions that usually emanate from a group of such magnitude, shortly after eight years of being in power and rising to become a political behemoth. Members rose against one another and these multiple spats were going to lead to the sudden death of the group. Though three governors of the same family – Chimaroke Nnamani, Sullivan Chime and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi – belonged to the same group, they manifested fissiparous tendencies which threatened to swallow the group.
The Ebeano group produced the former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who was former Secretary to the Government of Enugu State; Ugwuanyi, ex-Reps Member; Frank Nweke Junior, ex-Minister; Ambassadors and so many others.
The hugest arrowheads of the dissent between the group were Nnamani and Chime. Allegations of treachery were bandied which badly polarized the group. Ebeano was going to die a natural death until providence used Ugwuanyi to bring back the group.
The most moving force of the reconciliation, it was learnt, was Nnamani, the group’s leader, who reportedly called his long-term political beneficiary and of recent adversary, who he single-handedly made governor – Chime – having allegedly betrayed him. Nnamani reportedly called Chime and asked that they should reconcile. “We are in our 60s and we should not go to our graves with bitterness,” Nnamani was said to have told Chime.
Chime also did well by visiting his secondary school friend, ex-boss and erstwhile enemy, at his Ojiagu village, Agbani, Nkanu West Local Government Area home at the close of last week.
Nigerian politicians, their followers, leaders and the led have a lot of lessons to pick from the reconciliation in Enugu. The state was one of the first examples of political betrayals and near-collapse of a closely-knit political empire. Humility of political leadership and the vanity of all that man holds aloft is another lesson.