ver the years, Nigerian politics has suffered from one problem or another. This unfortunate situation makes it difficult to elect credible leaders and enjoy good governance. Providing incisive insights into the subject-matter is a renowned professor of Research Methodology, Nigerian Government and Politics with an emphasis on Elections and Party Politics.
A careful study of the 31st Inaugural Lecture of the Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State could be the needed blueprint to change the political narratives of Nigeria from that of a quagmire to an enviable polity.
The foregoing was the thrust of the Babcock’s 31st Inaugural Lecture delivered by Prof. Michael Abiodun Oni; the incumbent Head, Department of Political Science and Public Administration of the institution titled, “Conception and misconceptions of majoritarian democracy and elections in Nigeria” and chaired by the President/Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Ademola S. Tayo.
The don developed an interest in academics, Nigerian elections, and politics through the positive influence of his parents and family members, spouse, teachers, and colleagues in the course of his working career. During his primary school days, he informed that he was exposed to the media – newspapers, radio and television. On getting to the secondary modern school, one of the subjects was civics, which was related to government and current affairs.
As a polling clerk, he was opportune to be in charge of cross-checking the authenticity of voters’ cards and electoral register at the polling unit. He became curious about what he saw, saying “What I was witnessing was disturbing, males were bringing cards belonging to females, boys and girls of about 15 years were bringing voter’s cards bearing 50 and 60 years to exercise their ‘franchise’. This was contrary to what I had learned about democracy and elections in our classes – social studies in primary school, civics in the secondary modern school, and government in secondary school”.
The rest is now history as the inaugural lecturer’s quest to answer the riddle made him end up studying Political Science and also bagged a doctorate at the nation’s premier University of Ibadan, Oyo State. For him, theory looked different from reality, as what he was taught about democracy is ‘one man one vote’ but having to turn down voters’ cards bearing fictitious names caused a lot of discomfort for his supervisory officer and party agents.
However, he was reported and cautioned. He said the supervisory officer suspected that he was planted by ‘demon’, a euphemism for anti-group behaviour in Yorubaland. To test his loyalty whether he was a ‘demon’ or not, he was given 12 ballot papers to thumbprint and supervised by the only party agent around came to crosscheck. Again, he was confused about the disagreement between theory and pragmatism. Then he queried: Where is the principle of the neutrality of electoral officer and principle of one man, one vote?
Aside from the field experience, his study of the country’s elections further convinced him that there can hardly be fairness and justice as long as the nation continues to rely on the politics of majority rule as majoritarian democracy is sought through fraudulent means. Prof. Oni supported his captivating presentation with several scholarly authorities, statistics and case studies, noting that at the beginning of the Fourth Republic in 1999, he was recruited by one of the observer groups to monitor elections.
He revealed that by the time he left the polling unit to observe what was going on in another unit, hundreds of “voters” had voted and dispersed, alluding that no ethnic group or tribe in Nigeria is neither an Angel nor saint as far as electoral fraud is concerned. The series of anomalies made him become a change agent with the mind-set that genuine participation in partisan politics should be motivated by selfless service even though this has not been the case in Nigeria. This unfortunate craving for political positions often fuels wanton killings and assassinations occasioned by power struggles due to the importation of westernised democratic system devoid of local peculiarities.
He gave the imperative for stakeholders in the management of electoral politics to design democratic tenets that would be suitable for Nigerian democracy. Such a concept of democracy should empower the people; confer authorship of government; allow for majority rule; guarantee free, fair and periodic elections; elicit popular participation; and ensure the rule of law and peoples’ fundamental rights. However, the interpretation, misinterpretation, application, and misapplication have brought a lot of crises into electoral politics.
Key research questions bothering his mind include: Is it true that this government and others before it have been popularly elected? Has the majority been ruling in Nigeria? Has the consent of the people been sought by those in government, let alone participate in government? Have our elections been free and, fair even though they had been periodic? Have there been popularly-elected governments and the process that bring the government into being flawless? Has there been a peaceful atmosphere in Nigeria arising from the adoption of a democratic government?
Being unable to find satisfactory answers to the knotty questions, he believes that there is no democratic form of government in Nigeria. Hence, the reason why there are fundamental flaws in either the process that ushers in democratic government because it is either the operators are faulty or the operations are problematic. The inaugural lecturer examines the nexus between democracy and elections and avers that the correlation is like the Siamese twins.
He observed that the incessant acrimonious and uncomplimentary relationship between elections and democracy in Nigeria can largely be blamed on the historical process that led to the adoption of federalism and the imbalanced structure thereof. This has reduced the competition for power at the centre among the ethnic groups resulting in a theatre of war and a matter of life and death. The nation’s voting trends had been along the ethnic lines before and after independence because of its constitutional history. If the process that led to the emergence of federalism in Nigeria had impacted on the ethnic politics, the structure can be said to have complicated it as the existing structure tends to favour a particular section of the country than the others. He recalled that the serious political violence that erupted during the 1983 general elections in Nigeria, ignited by an attempt to resist the domination of the polity by self-seeking politicians, who were bent on manipulating the electoral process.
Prof. Oni said the prevalence of electoral malpractice and violence had accounted for why it has been difficult to have the Electoral Offences Tribunal in Nigeria, saying that another issue fuelling electoral violence is weak democratic institutions. This is because the institutions are meant to ensure free, credible, and transparent electoral processes but unfortunately, they have become weak and lacking integrity. For instance, he said the courts that are regarded as the last hope of the common man and arbiter in disputes appear to have disappointed Nigerians on several occasions as there have been allegations and proved cases of miscarriage of justice.
The seasoned journalist and former lecturer at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), affirms that in the search for majoritarian democracy, the underlining demands of democracy and elections tend to be the bane of Nigerian politics. The first prescription of ‘one man one vote’ and the second of having a majority rule are two requirements that are in sharp contradiction as far as Nigerian politicians are concerned. He said the reality is that many political actors find it difficult to ascend to power as long as the principle of democracy and elections require ‘one man one vote’.
It is also the contention of the major ethnic groups and their sympathetic minority ethnic groups that reliance on these two principles may not be sufficient to either attain or retain power without recourse to rigging and malpractice. He cautioned that because of this erroneous belief by politicians, everything inhumanly possible is being done to secure the ‘majority votes’ at elections in a crude, barbaric and do-or-die manner.
He disclosed that majoritarian democracy involves direct and indirect manipulation before, during, and after elections. While an direct method is visible to the eyes, indirect method usually comes in the form of mental or psychological manipulation of the people as the electorate could be brainwashed into yielding to sponsored propaganda, manipulated polling or orchestrated electoral ‘prophetism’ during electioneering just as manipulated research are equally being used to perpetrate electoral fraud.
He suggested that making our electoral process less problematic would require tackling the malaise of vote-buying and the use of financial inducement in politics, the continued use of smart card reader machines, and the construction of forensic laboratory across the country’s 109 senatorial districts to carry out scientific investigations on ballot papers and result sheets to authenticate their genuineness before use.
Another salient point given by the don has to do with the mode of appointment of the leadership and members of electoral management bodies and the rationale for zoning executive and legislative elective offices for equity and fairness across the country. These innovations would promote peaceful co-existence, political stability, and equitable power-sharing between the people and different geopolitical zones.
The professor proposed that the appointment of Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Resident Electoral Commissioners should be limited to serving or retired vice-chancellors, rectors of polytechnics and provosts of colleges of education in federal and private institutions, while those to be selected, should have not less than between six months to one year to conclude their tenure in office and must not serve more than one term of five years only.
The second option proposed by the don requires the use of regulatory agencies such as the National Universities Commission (NUC), National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), and National Commission of Colleges of Education (NCCE) by nominating qualified candidates through the INEC Administrative Secretary. He called for compulsory education in political science and public administration at the diploma level to enable both leaders and the led to having a clear understanding of politics, government, and governance.
He recommended that INEC should conduct elections on weekdays to allow members of the Seventh Day Adventist denomination, which coincidentally owns the Babcock University, to participate in the voting exercise as this would not only boost voters’ turnout during elections but also promote the politics of inclusiveness. He recommended legislated cross-tabulated zoning and rotational arrangements, the adoption of two-party systems, and six years single term for specific elective positions to ensure that no segment of the country continues to dominate others.
The inaugural lecturer then made a case for the nation’s democracy to be a mixture of both the majority and minority rule. Majoritarian democracy, as presently being practiced would only fester the politics of exclusiveness and domination by the privileged section at the federal, state, and local government levels and that westernised majoritarian democracy is anathema to the Nigerian political environment, which should be discarded. He emphasised that until Nigeria takes into proper cognisance, its environmental peculiarities, the search for majoritarian democracy would continue to encourage maiming, killing, and making widows and widowers out of Nigerian politics.
Prof. Oni, who had been engaged in several local, national, and international assignments, submitted two memoranda to the 2014 National Conference, headed by the late Hon. Justice Idris Kutigi, is currently one of the 9,000 professors in the country and among the 100 given award by NUC, and one out of the two chosen in Babcock University in 2019. More importantly, the Don solicited for attitudinal change on the part of the people why politics should be seen as a call to service, the electorate should realise the implications of the new development while those in charge of public affairs in Nigeria should correctly understand the concept and attributes of good governance, which should truly be the essence of virile political participation, politics and political process.
•Kupoluyi writes from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State