Sir, there is a remarkable side to the 2015 General Elections that Nigerians are yet to understand and appreciate. And yet, it is as extra-ordinary as it is profound. This is in the parallels between 2015 and 1983, and how, in His infinite mercy, God used INEC, under your superintendence, to avert a military coup; thus, saving our democracy.
Through your uncommon courage, you ensured that INEC took the concept of One-Man, One-Vote beyond song andsloganeering. And this has eventuated in a democratic earthquake: with the incumbent president tumbling from power; and his party – with its habituated impunity, concentrated arrogance and a compounded sense of entitlement – becoming an opposition party; this, after its celebrated boast of remaining ion power for a minimum of 60 years!
Sir, by weaning INEC from executive strings, you enabled it to move from the Arithmetic of Politics to the Mathematics of Votes. In other words, you insisted that votes must count. And so for the very first time in our electoral history, the voter has become king. And parties that depended on factors others than votes to win elections are disintegrating in quarrelsome catharsis.
Furthermore, sir, under your guidance, the Commissiondemonstrated that it has: the introspection, to sober-reflect; the capacity, to re-invent itself; the awakening, to fulfil its mandate; the resilience, to withstand pressure; and a sense of history strong enough as to re-attune its processes to the mechanics and dynamics of electoral integrity. You virtually dragged Nigeria into the hallowed Chambers of Best-Practices Democracy.
INEC has, thus, served retirement notices on the political god-fathers, the political contractors, and the political thugs as well as the political fixers and impunity merchants of all colorations.
Succinctly put, you have saved our Democracy from collapse. The surprise is that the country (the politicians, the political parties, the electorate…) has yet to realize that it owes you a debt of gratitude.
Sir, this is how you saved our democracy. There were four things in the 2015 General Elections that have uncanny parallels with the elections of 1983. In a bizarre case of life imitating art, history repeated itself, and this, with surrealistic details.
First, there was a debilitating insurrection of the Maitatsine Sect, which gripped parts of what is today known as the North-West and North-East, specifically, Kano (1980), Kaduna (1982), Maiduguri (1982) and Bauchi (1983). As Shagari was unable to contain the menace of the dangerous Islamic Sect all through his tenure, Dr. Jonathan too was not able to contain the menacing Boko Haram Insurgency throughout his extra-four-year tenure. Although the loss of lives and property under Shagari was nothing near the scale of carnage and destruction under Jonathan, in both instances, the intractable insecurity challenge raised posers as to the respective incumbent’s capacity to be presidential where and when it mattered most to the nation and her citizenry.
Second, Sir, in mid-1981, there was a burst in the Oil Boom in the global market. It was to have a direct bearing on government’s capacity to meet its obligations to the people. The same thing happened in the run-up to the 2015 General Elections as Oil Prices plummeted in the International Oil Market; and suddenly, the government, used to big budgets, big spending, and big promises was left stranded on the island of squandermania.
In late 1981, when the Leader of the UPN, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, warned the Shagari-Government that the economy was heading for the rocks, presidential spokesmen labeled him an alarmist, but a few months later, the Federal Government was forced to declare an Economic Emergency remembered more as the Austerity Measures. And under Jonathan, when the (then) opposition warned against profligacy and depleting foreign reserves, presidential spokesmen called them anarchists. But a few months down the line, the Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was forced to concede that Government was living on credit!
Third, Sir, although the NPN was intent on perpetuating itself in power, there was a rueful disconnection between the NPN-led Federal Government and the people. All that mattered was re-election. It did appear the then Federal Government abdicated governance. This is why the President would see the smoke billowing from the burning NET Building in Lagos in mid-1982, but would wave, enthusiastically, to pockets of party supporters at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) and jet out to India, the second trip to India that year!
In the same vein, sir, it would appear Jonathan gave up on governance department: in the end, all that mattered was a second term. This is why just a day after the deadly Nyanya bomb blast, the President left Abuja to lead the PDP campaign train to Kano, where he showed the nation some of his best dancing moves.
Sir, So all the three ingredients, which made a military coup ripe in 1983, were present in pre-May, 2015 Nigeria! But there was yet, a fourth ingredient: it was the FEDECO-orchestrated and Police-supervised, landslide-victories of Shagari’s NPN in the 1983 General Elections. There was incredulity in the Old Anambra state (where Zik hailed from): Chief Christian Onoh sent Chief Jim Nwobodo (NPP) packing. In Bendel State, where Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia upstaged Prof. Ambrose Alli (UPN), there was numbness. There were hues and cries in Old Kano, Old Kaduna, Old Borno and defunct Gongola states where opposition governors were all replaced by NPN governors! But where protests were mild in the other areas, in the South-West, especially Oyo, where Dr. Omololu Olunloyo up-staged Chief Bola Ige, and Chief Akin Omoboriowo tried to do same in Ondo, where UPN’s war-horse, Adekunle Ajasin held his ground, it was the sights and sounds of war.
Clearly, it would seem the NPN-landslide was one landslide too many, taking into account the landslide-dip in oil revenues, thelandslide-plunge into insecurity and the landslide-tumble into the cesspit of “indiscipline, lawlessness and squandermania,” (apologies to Sani Abacha). And somehow, this FEDECO-engineered, electoral landslide gave birth to other landslides in the polity.
Sir, the first of these follow-up landslides was from Onuiyi-Haven, Nsukka, where the larger-than-life Owelle of Onitsha and Presidential Candidate of the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, gave his famous reaction to the brazen vote-theft: “History will vindicate the just, but God will punish the wicked.”
And when Presidential Adviser on Political Matters, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, dismissed his protest as “the rantings of an ant,” and rubbed salt on the injury by adding that: “Zik is the leader of 2000 Igbos who do not know their origin,” the somber Owelle capped his landslide-prophecy with a tremor, an after-shock: he placed a curse on Okadigbo!
But, sir, the more significant landslide came in the direction of the barracks, where Babangida, a newly-minted Major-General, began holding highly secretive meetings with his select-group of conspirator-officers. In fact, shortly after the FEDECO chief, Justice Ovie-Whiskey, gave Shagari his certificate of return, Downing Street alerted Ribadu Roadof these “clandestine meetings.” And on December 31st, 1983, just three months after taking his second oath of office, Gen. Sani Abacha (then a Brigadier), interrupted the FRCN dawn-broadcast to give his now famous: “My fellow-countrymen”speech.
Like Josef Stalin, it would seem that Shagari’s henchmen i.e. the Umaru Dikkos, the Adisa Akinloyes, the Okadigbos, the Maitama Bellos and the Ahmed Ubas esteemed FEDECO staff over voters: for while the latter merely voted, and no more; it was the former who did the counting!
So, of the four ingredients that necessitated a military take-over in 1983, three were in evidence, namely: collapsed oil prices, insecurity in the North occasioned by fringe Islamic groups, and rampaging official corruption. The missing one was the fourth i.e. the manufactured and counterfeit, “landslide electoral victories.”
This is where INEC, under your chairmanship, came in. And your master-stroke was the Card-Reader.
It is interesting to note that where the IGP in 1983, Mr. Sunday Adewusi, received presidential commendation, his counter-part in 2015, Mr. Suleiman Abba, got a stinging rebuke plus a presidential sack! And while the government of the day shielded a compromised Ovie-Whiskey from opposition attacks, in 2015, it was the ruling party and its leaders in government that led the sustained and acerbic onslaught against INEC, and especially your person.
This is how you saved our democracy. You have even saved our politicians from themselves. Where the politicians were not able to moderate their greed for power, you checked them with your master-card. There is now hope for our democracy, our democratization process, our politics and our country. And this is the debt Nigeria owes INEC!
Sir, in one deft and strategic move, you have returned power to the people. As American Economist and Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution, Anthony Downs has postulated in his seminal work, An Economic Theory of Democracy, the Nigerian Political Market now parallels the Economic Market: our Political Parties now have to sell their programmes in the Market-Square; and politicians will become Political Entrepreneurs – who will seek votes competitively!
Sir, although you have now left, INEC has turned the corner. A paradigm-shift is on the horizon.
The challenge before INEC is now that of consolidation. And if your successor keeps faith with the democratic concept of one-man, one-vote, 2019 will inaugurate the era of empty/ceremonial Elections Petitions Tribunals! Lawyers may complain, and judges may not be too happy, but a stable, functional and best-practices democracy would have taken root in Nigeria, and in our lifetime.
Imobo-Tswam, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja.