Shortly after Nigeria’s chequered elections—while the winners and losers were still on a war path with charged rhetoric’s, the British also held elections that had many important lessons for Nigeria. Chief among which was the civility and respect for democratic opinions that followed the outcome of the elections. In the course of the campaigns, there was no abuse, threats or intimidation and the social media was not turned into a battleground of vile and bigoted partisanship. The Labour party leader Ed Milliband congratulated David Cameron on his victory and promptly resigned his position. The Liberal Democrats which was in a coalition with Cameron’s Conservative party (Tories) lost many seats and their leader Nick Clegg likewise honourably resigned. In Scotland where the Labour party was hitherto always dominant, the Scottish National party (SNP) broke the jinx and won 56 of the 59 seats under the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon, radically changing the political landscape of Scotland.
In all these, there was civility, decorum and respect as each of the parties; winners and losers began the process of planning for the challenges ahead. For the winning party, they set about establishing a framework for the implementation of the promised program of government while the parties that lost began a process of electing new leadership alongside constructive debate as they prepared for their role in the opposition. I didn’t for instance see anyone equating David Cameron’s electoral victory to a war victory, neither did I see anyone abusing and ridiculing those who didn’t vote for David Cameron’s winning party. I also did not see anyone or group entertaining fears of exclusion on account of not voting for the winning party, nor did I see anyone or group considering those who voted for the losing party as having inflicted a political misfortune on themselves. The elections in Britain showcased democracy in its true essence as a competitive contest of leadership that respects the opinion of all voters, winners or losers alike. But even these important lessons in democracy must have been lost on Nigeria.
If anything, the 2015 electoral cycle exposed Nigeria as an address where people either do not understand the true meaning of democracy or are naturally inclined towards “do or die” undemocratic tendencies and the winner takes all syndrome that has haunted the nation since the 1st republic. This was sufficiently illustrated in the course of the campaign which was characterised by abuse, lies, tribalism, hate mongering and violence. The social media became a virtual theatre of ethnic war with Nigerians hurling all kinds of vitriol on each other to the extent that some even called for genocide. No less a person than the Oba of Lagos took partisanship, voter intimidation, tribalism and do or die democracy to a new height when he threatened a section of the country with drowning in the Lagoon if they didn’t vote for his preferred candidate. The world no doubt watched derisively as the most populous black nation typically made a mockery of every basic principle of democracy.
After a hotly contested/divisive election one would have thought that the historic concession of Goodluck Jonathan would calm frayed nerves and move the nation towards a consolidation of democratic principles; but that has hardly been the case as unfolding events are continuing to prove. For many of those who were tempted to ignore the brutish and patently undemocratic vituperations of Okorocha, Oyegun and other APC hawks who justified Buhari’s blatant exclusion of the Southeast in his appointments on the basis that the region didn’t vote for him and Buhari’s speech in the United States where he openly alluded to his intention of discriminating between those who gave him 97% of votes as against those who gave him 5%—the recent assassination attempt on Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the deputy senate president as he exited his residence on his way to the national assembly must have been a rude awakening to the reality of Buhari and the APC ’s concept of democracy as a zero sum war of conquest. Given the threats that occasioned the emergence of Ekweremadu as deputy senate president by the APC and their stated determination to get rid of him, the assassination attempt is suspicious, especially as it comes on the heels of harassment, intimidation of INEC officials, judicial abracadabra in reversing elections predominantly in PDP controlled states and extra judicial detention of various individuals by a DSS that increasingly resembles the infamous German Gestapo.
The extremism that marked the elections and the ridiculous post election smear campaigns and recriminations against those who didn’t vote for Buhari/APC has evidently continued with actual harassment, intimidation, exclusion, detentions and possibly assassination attempts that represent a throwback to the dark days of Abacha’s regime. A case in point of how not to run a democracy is the ongoing persecution of Sambo Dasuki who has faced the blunt edge of Buhari’s sword since the inception of this administration. First he was subjected to a humiliating ordeal by the DSS who invaded his home. After floating many spurious allegations that couldn’t stick, the DSS charged him with illegal possession of arms. Dasuki subsequently sought a release of his passport to enable him travel abroad for medical reasons, but no sooner was his request granted by a court than the DSS barricaded his home and subjected him since then to extra-judicial house arrest. Curiously, a few days later, the presidency released the report of an arms sales probe since 2007 that ended up strangely indicting only Sambo Dasuki even though Dasuki only became the national security adviser (NSA) in 2012. To make matters worse, Buhari usurped the duties of the Police, EFCC and the courts by “ordering the arrest” of Dasuki— and yes we are supposed to be in a democracy.
Nnamdi Kanu, the proprietor of Radio Biafra remains in extra-judicial custody of the DSS more than a month after meeting his bail conditions, several others have been arrested and detained by the DSS, while attempted assassination of political figures is subtly creeping back into the nation. All these in just 6 months of Buhari’s administration. Bottom-line, the ongoing extra-judicial detentions, harassment, exclusion of sections of the country, human rights violations and other intrigues in the polity has proven beyond any doubt that neither Buhari nor the APC believes in competitive democracy. Their concept of democracy is defined as a war of conquest where the winners are triumphant while the losers are abused, taunted, punished, trampled upon and excluded. For them power comes with no responsibility and the rule of law doesn’t matter. The President can punish whom he deems fit and spare or even reward whom he deems fit. The courts and the constitution are inconsequential. Only the president and not the court or the constitution can determine who will be free and who will not. Public opinion is disregarded as the citizens don’t matter. This much has been Buhari’s style of governance since he came to power which explains why exclusion, disregard for the rule of law, persecution, sectionalism and other acts of impunity have become prevalent. These excesses if not checked will destroy what is left of democracy in Nigeria with consequent multiplier effects across the continent.
Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu