By Chris O. Nwedo
The democratisation efforts in many states of Africa have the knotty challenges of jumping complex hurdles. The challenges are principally compounded by enduring legacies of dictatorship and repression. For instance, the repressive ‘ rule by an institutionalized oligarchy constitutes the main structural obstacle to deepening democratic rule in Nigeria. The oligarchs are composed of self-serving politicians, business persons, political fixers, ‘godfathers,’ former military officers, and elite bureaucrats who share a common interest in sustaining oligarchic power.1 Notwithstanding the oligarchy’s claims to represent democratically based regional, professional, and ethnic constituencies, their record falls far short of their claims. Constitutional provisions, state centralization, and accumulated political experience have nurtured far greater national integration within the oligarchy than among the fragmented groups they rule.2 And to ‘maintain power, the oligarchs trade offices; co-opt rivals, distribute concessions and contacts; and bleed the public treasury to fund their private fortunes, clients, political parties, and political thugs. Unable to show how their incomes could explain their life-styles, fortunes, and patronage, they have institutionalized a political order indifferent to legal, ethical, or even communal accountability.3
The anti corruption crusade introduced in the year 2000 in Nigeria was seen as potent instrument of stemming the tide of malfeasance of high profile sleaze, but the crusade ended up a strong cover by the nation’s thick-skinned elite. The crusade was transformed into a chastising tool for all who do not really belong, and it became a political tool for witch-hunting. For instance, in 2006, the then head of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, estimated that Nigeria lost some US$380 billion to corruption between independence in 1960 and the end of the military rule in 1999. Some western diplomats estimated that Nigeria lost a minimum average of $4 billion to $8 billion per year to corruption over the eight years of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. That figure would equal between 4.25% and 9.5% of Nigeria’s total GDP in 2006. Though these figures may not be very reliable, it is incontestable that corruption has assumed a ludicrous dimension in Nigeria.4 As expected, this has debilitating impact on the nation’s socio-economic and political development. There is an hypothesis that “the levels of economic development and democratic stability have been found to be mutually supporting. The bulk of liberal democratic theory establishes a close relationship between the economies, refered to as developed, and a stable democratic rule.5 According to Ogundiya the contention here is that the level of corruption in Nigeria has adversely affected the performance of the economy in that the resources which would have been deployed to facilitate development found their ways into private pockets and individual accounts in foreign countries. This is indeed the reason for high level of poverty, insecurity, widespread diseases, and high unemployment rate. All these provide unsuitable ground for democracy to thrive.6
Oligarchic rule in African states particularly Nigeria ‘is founded on two reinforcing structural factors: total economic dependence on the redistribution of petroleum and gas revenues, and the centralization of financial and political power in the office of the president. Whatever stability is achieved by the redistribution of patronage among the regional interests constituting the national oligarchy, the positive contribution is simultaneously undermined by the resulting political uncertainty, regulatory weaknesses, and economic disorder.7 Together, the combination of insecurity, petro-dependency, and the need to hold or have access to the presidency drives members of the oligarchy to fix elections, organize political violence, constantly reshuffle alliances, clamour for ethnic representation and deinstitutionalizing stable political parties.8 After People Democratic Party (PDP) was jacked high beyond ordinary access of proliferating political ‘god-fathers’ by the ‘absolutely powerful’, the drying sources of criminal wealth drove many of Nigeria’s fading oligarchy to syndicate into personal political parties that conspired and merged in All Progress Congress, (APC).
Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigerian Peoples Party,(ANPP), factions of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and the CPC etc led by the same old crooks and dilapidated politicians have schemed to come together in an unholy alliance to cease power by whatever means. With the do or die determination of these elderly tyrants to return to prominence again in 2015, the general elections turned to be the most vicious in terms of political treachery. The statesman-like decision of the then incumbent President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan saved the nation from the most evil of all carnage. Threats of the consequences of failure of the APC by the supporters were indescribable. At the support base of the party in the north, the danger of imminent bloodshed was palpable. The seeming consensus among the common tools, ordinary Muslims, was that the failure of Muhammadu Buhari to win the presidency was an invitation for jihad against infidels. There was readiness and sufficient weapons for final chastisement of the unbelievers, and Buhari’s electoral failure was to prompt battle-cry The allegations were that the criminal minded supporters mapped southerners to be attacked and massacred. The plan was to vent the anger of APC’s failure as conspiracy of the southerners and therefore force them to pay with their blood and that of their wives and children. The conspicuous substantiation of the fear of imminent massacre of the southerners forced them to feverishly relocate to the south. In the interim, plans were allegedly made to have the election slanted in favour of APC in the north, and in the south election results were discriminately cancelled to create disadvantage for the ruling party. It was said that the foot soldiers have hands on trigger ready and determined for war while the groups of think-tank co-ordinated widespread sabotage of the electoral processes. In fact, the sabotage was total. The massacre and displacement of the southerners in the north during the 2011 elections reinforced the conviction that the failure of Buhari would be absolutely and irredeemably bloody. My prediction is that it will be difficult for Nigeria to survive again the brand of hypertension she had in 2015.
Ethnic emotionalism was manifest in 2011 April election where the insistence on zoning of the presidency to the north almost plunged the nation into regional war as a section of northern oligarchy represented by Northern Political Leaders Forum, (NPLF), threatened fire and brimstone if Peoples Democratic Party rejected a unilateral imposition of Alhaji Abubakar Atiku as presidential candidate of the party. Atiku was rejected at the primary level of the competition and since then the nation was scourged by wrath of heavy violence, killings and displacements with intensification of suicide attacks by series of radical Islamists detonating bombs indiscriminating and destroying lives and properties. It may be coincidental that terrorists invaded Nigeria since the election of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan(GEJ) but what is not probable is that Nigeria has not remained the same. With GEJ in power, people feeling too bad about the development turned their resentment on harmless citizens. It was a continuous history of horrendous narratives of deaths and destruction. 2011 election was an alarming picture of the havoc wreaked on the Nigerian nation. Since the election, Nigeria was engulfed in conflagration of violence and the north was pounded with bombs attacks and all manners of deadly weapons were deployed in discriminate slaughtering of citizens by religious militants with cells dotted around the north. At a point in the rebellious terror attacks, the terrorists ceased states and carved out territories within Nigeria. The battles to take back some sections of the country from the multiplying terror groups over-stretched military resources; it was a free rein of death and destruction.
The desperate intrigues, defamation and campaigns of violence by awfully self-centred people must not be blamed on every northerner. The problem with the north just like other zones of the country is the self-centredness of those claiming to represent them. These groups of unprincipled elites make emotional statements, insinuated crisis and use their people as canon folders in the fight for their own political and economic survival. Contrary to the stance of NPLF, the north is not marginalised. The north has had the greatest access to power comparative to other zones of the country. It has always had absolute advantages in relation to power distribution in Nigeria. The advantages were intentionally or instinctively never translated into anything meaningful for the region. And even when political powers are distributed along ethnic considerations and presidency given to the north, as usual, the benefits will never go beyond the reach of its brands of insensitive elites who have no regard for the so called common people.
According to Buba Galadima, ‘those pushing for the zoning of the presidency to the north are out to protect personal interests. Zoning talk is not in the constitution and we believe that qualified Nigerians should be free to contest for presidency. The most important issue is for Nigerians to choose their leader in free and fair election.9 The simple fact is that the north has not evidently shown quality leadership to its people, particularly, considering the unprecedented chances the north have had. Quality leadership could have had strong impact in the endless problems of the region. ‘The north is in a crisis with itself, and it now seems the region has been infiltrated by forces outside the shores of Nigeria, as a result of the crisis. This is a challenge to the region, but a bigger one to her political, traditional, religious and business leaders. They have to return the region to her earlier, simple and brotherly way of life.10
Political self-seekers have always depended on, and manipulated regional and religious sentiments as instruments of perpetual oppression of the less discerning masses. The post-election violence in the north that included among the victims, the people considered sacred-cows of the northern political and religious oligarchies was profoundly unfortunate and indubitably informative. According to Ba’a Saleh, the Talakawas and the almajirai took the opportunity of the violence to ‘tell the entire world that our northern leadership and the traditional institutions have deceived, enslaved and failed us and it is time the world knows about it.11
Another pertinent lesson is that change in the northern society and politics demands not the decrepit statuesque of self-seeking leaders carved out of divisive politics and sectional hatred but new leadership who would return dignity, integrity and rule of law, ones who would fulfil promises of better society, ensure dependable physical and psychological infrastructure for needed growth and development, pay special attention to education, implement reforms and deepen positive governance. The signs are that the discerning northerners no longer need masters in invectives and jingoism but a leadership of uncommon commitment to squeeze out corruption in the polity of the north and raise high the stake of committing crime, committed to robust development of the region and ensure right of creed, security and harmonious coexistence. Security implies freedom from fear and want, freedom of speech and worship. Security is an organic concept without which nothing works. Security is a condition that must exist for legitimate activities to take place. “The nation expects the North to make certain sacrifices for the mutual wellbeing. We have a responsibility to restore confidence in our diverse people and ensure the prosperity of the North within the context of a united Nigeria. Northern leaders should translate their concerns to concrete actions in their various communities and at various levels of leadership for the good of the North and Nigeria as a whole”.12