By Eze Onyekpere
What is the value and meaning of democracy especially in the Nigerian context? What were the dreams and aspirations of a majority of Nigerians, including the activists who fought the military to withdraw to the barracks in 1999? Did we envisage that after getting freedom from the military dictators who “legally” had the power of life and death through their draconian decrees, we would end up with another set of dictators now in traditional native wears? This discourse will review the proper place of democracy in Nigeria – where we are and where we ought to be.
Democracy is about the people, their welfare, the exercise of the freedom to choose their leaders and the sovereignty of the people. In the early elections from 1999 to 2007, the votes were severely manipulated, and the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, got a very bad name. This led to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua acknowledging the electoral heist that had happened over the years and sought to reform the electoral system, but the reform was still born. The opposition parties presented Nigerians with the vision of a system that respected the rights of Nigerians to choose their leaders and in 2015, the opposition All Progressives Party came to power on the promise of change when there seemed to be a little semblance of the votes counting despite manipulations of the votes on both sides of the divide.
But where are we with the right to choose our leaders? Since 2015, the powers of government vested in the executive and the judiciary have been consciously working to erode the right of Nigerians to choose their leaders. The Osun State governorship election was incredible, procured by the executive through the security agencies and the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, to the judicial intervention which refused to answer the basic question of who got the mandate of the people of Osun State to lead them as their governor in accordance with constitutional stipulations.
Then, we have the brazen electoral robbery in Kogi State – before our very eyes, impunity manifested writ large and without apologies. The police were implicated and all we could get from the Inspector-General of Police is about fake police officers and flat denials of self-evident facts. Thugs belonging to the ruling party allegedly murdered a woman by pouring petrol and burning her house while preventing her from escaping and there is no statement from the investigative authorities. No one cares, no official, outrage and the President who swore on the constitution to protect lives and property is not alarmed, sees no evil, hears no evil and orders no investigations known to Nigerians. Election is now the same as a war situation where anything is allowed, and the authorities are not concerned. Even war, under international law, is governed by laws. It is not an open season, free for all in committing atrocities. This informs the existence of the laws of war including humanitarian law.
The Buhari government, through the executive and legislature, approved the release of N10bn to the Kogi State Government a few days to the election with the full knowledge that the money could be deployed to manipulate the election. And can anyone ask the state governor what happened to the money? Where is the money? Here is a governor who was owing salaries of workers and teachers several months in arrears and could not even promise to pay them anytime soon, held the people in contempt and now claims to have won a landslide. And all the President of the country could say was that anyone dissatisfied with premediated acts of electoral robbery should go to the tribunals. There was no condemnation of the atrocities and the killings. The idea of going to court has now become a favourite pastime to mock the people considering that everyone knows of the virtual impossibility of proving this magnitude of state-sanctioned election robbery,
So, what is the difference between a group of persons who planned a coup and shot their way to power and supposed democrats who plotted and ensured that votes did not count? Both got their mandate against the will of the people and there is absolutely no difference. Both were ready and indeed could have killed on their way to power. Indeed, the recorded killings are more during elections than military coups.
Beyond rigging elections, the idea that a civilian government will flagrantly be disobeying court orders rankles. Yesterday, it was Sambo Dasuki, Ibrahim el-Zakzakky and today, it is Omoyele Sowore. It does not even stop at the disobedience to court orders but the impunity of arguing that the agencies and officials in contempt of court judgement such as the Department of State Services, the Attorney-General of the Federation are right to do so. This makes every pretence to Nigeria being a democracy to fall on its face. The bare knuckles are out, and every Nigerian should know that the current government has thrown democracy to the dogs.
Nigerians never envisaged that we will be held by the jugular by persons or groups of persons and political parties who were supposed to be our servants 20 years after the first elections in 1999. Unfortunately, most of the people in power today were not part of the groups that fought for this democracy. Some of them were even part of five leprous fingers of Gen Sani Abacha that pretended to be political parties and today, under the cover of democracy, they are subverting the rights that were won through conscious struggle and the blood of the innocent. If the excuse in 2003 and 2007 was that we were proceeding on the learning curve, what is the excuse now for the votes not to count? Nothing can excuse the process of putting the country in the reverse gear while pretending to be moving it forward to the next level. Only a conquered people will accept this approach to electoral governance and still think they are in a democracy.
Democracy is not about the rule of men and women; it is about the rule of law, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and where they are violated, to provide remedies for victims under the “ubi jus ubi remedium” principle. When a government refuses to respect the constitutionally guaranteed human rights, it desecrates the constitution from which it derives all its powers and authority. Such a government has lost the right to demand obedience to its directives. Jurisprudentially, and in the eyes of the law, the occupants of high office in such government are simply lording it over the citizens because of their access to the levers of power including state violence. Pray, how should a reasonable judge react to the disobedience of his orders by an executive agency whilst the same executive prosecutes an accused person before the same court for the enforcement of the law? How can an agency in contempt of the orders of the court be still asking for the court to exercise its powers in its favour?
Nigeria cannot continue like this. The government should disengage the reverse gear of our democracy and put Nigeria’s democratic vehicle in the gears that will allow it to proceed in the desired forward direction.