Quoting from an Igbo proverb in his famous novel, “Things Fall Apart”, Chinua Achebe says, “A man who cannot tell where the rain began to beat him cannot know where he dried his body.” In his last but parting classical book, “There Was a Country”, Achebe tells us that to make Nigeria work again, there is need to go back to the drawing board, and with goodwill and altruism, fix the faulty foundation of the building (Nigeria), give it a solid foundation upon which it could take off again. Achebe advises that we do not forget the history of where and when “things began to fall apart” in Nigeria.
Our present article is necessitated by the INEC’s late minute postponement of Nigeria’s general elections last Friday, February 15, 2019. These are elections, scheduled to begin in the morning of the following day. That is, on Saturday, February 16, 2019, for Presidential and Federal Houses of Assembly elections, and on March 5, 2019 for Gubernatorial and States’ Houses of Assembly elections.
Those who follow my column in this platform in recent times would remember that most of my articles concerning the 2019 elections have been pointing to that direction. The precarious nature of Nigeria’s faulty foundation, suppressed historical memory as a nation state, and the present political system of unitary, over-centralized federal government will always frustrate the wishes of majority of Nigerian citizens at any election season.
What led to the postponement of the elections by the INEC last Friday, is something that is inbuilt in the political system and the 1999 Constitution upon which Nigeria is presently anchored. Unless we address that root cause of Nigeria’s problem, fashion a new political system and people’s Constitution, no election will ever take place in the country without the people passing through the same frustrations of postponement and even cancellation of elections.
In fact, only those who decided to look the other way, would say they didn’t see the INEC postponement of the 2019 elections coming. Thank God, it is not an outright cancellation of the elections yet. However, as things are now, no one should rule out anything yet.
In three of my recently published articles in this platform, I warned of the danger awaiting the nation if we go ahead with the 2019 general elections without fixing the faulty foundation of the country. That is, the faulty foundation of the country, especially, since 1966 that led to the Nigeria-Biafra War, but which unfortunately, those in the corridors of power have been sweeping under the carpet.
This point I tried to discuss in those three of my previous articles in relation to the feasibility of 2019 general elections. The titles of those articles are as follows:
- Will 2019 Elections Save Nigeria?
- Elections 2019 And Nigeria’s Disturbing Reality.
- Fundamental Issues before the 2019 Elections.
The above articles are still trending online. They can be assessed through Google search by clicking on my name.
We pointed out and warned ourselves in those articles that under the present dispensation of Nigeria’s political system and structure as well as the ruling lopsided federal government, conducting any election today in the country would amount to effort in futility. There is no enabling environment in Nigeria today to guarantee credible, free, fair and durable elections.
The faulty foundation of Nigeria needs corrected and fixed first before anyone could conduct credible, free and fair elections that will make a difference from what is on the ground already. Unless we first, revisit the nation’s founding story, replace the 1999 Constitution with a referendum approved Constitution and return to the political system of true fiscal federalism and regional autonomy we inherited at independence in 1960, no amount of elections conducted in Nigeria today will make any difference from what is happening now.
Therefore, the problem with Nigeria is not elections postponement. This is because no elections postponement will ever stop the riggings at elections. In the same way, Nigeria’s problem will not be solved by the much maligned and officially abused “anti-corruption posture” of the present notoriously lopsided federal government. These things will not change anything in the country unless we tell ourselves the naked truth and return to the drawing table.
Something is fueling corruption in our political system and governance culture. It is the denial of our historical memory and unwillingness of those at the corridors of power to turn a new leave for the country that made corruption become almost like a second nature to most members of Nigerian ruling class and politicians.
This is why when it comes to choosing new leaders at elections Nigerians prefer mediocrity and incompetence to meritocracy, character, and good name. For so long the country has continued to be ruled by people of mediocrity and incompetency. What qualifies one to win at elections in Nigeria is not your track record, merit and competence, but the accidental features of ethnicity, religion and place of birth.
Primitive divisive elements of ethnicity and religion guide the choice of majority of Nigerians for new leaders at any general elections. No modern nation will ever succeed if its leaders are chosen and elected on the basis of primitive whims and caprices of ethnicity and religious bigotry.
Because our political elections and governance culture in Nigeria have for so long relied on the primitive elements of ethnicity and religion, that is why the country has found itself in its present chaotic conditions: political and economic instability, ethnic-hate, religious bigotry, underdevelopment, insecurity, poverty, disease, Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen terrorisms, etc.
All this shows that the solution to our problem in Nigeria today lies in dialoguing with our suppressed history as a nation-state. Nigeria is an example of African country still living in denial of its historical memory. But as they say, ‘our salvation is in history.’ As a people and nation, our salvation is in that suppressed history of Nigeria. Unless we dust it, dialogue with it, correct the mistakes of the past, the country is moving nowhere!
The Reason INEC Postponed the General Elections 2019
The faulty foundation of Nigeria’s political system, coupled with the present lopsided federal government contributed to what caused the failure or rather the postponement of the 2019 general elections by INEC last Friday, February 15, 2019. Any knowledgeable Nigerian knows that the present INEC directorate since they took over from those who conducted the 2015 elections was never ready to conduct free and fair elections in 2019.
The lopsided composition of the present INEC top officials will convince any doubting Thomases that from inception of the present federal government, they have been gearing up for this moment. We are dealing with a government that wanted to succeed itself by all means, possible. However, when that was frustrated, thanks to the heavy presence of international monitoring observers on the eve of the February 16, 2019 Presidential elections, INEC was instructed by powers that be to suspend the elections to a new date.
Therefore, the sinister agenda of the INEC and the present federal government with regard to the 2019 elections are just beginning to unfold. This is what any discerning eye could see with the postponement of the elections by INEC. From what is now unfolding before every Tom, Dick and Harry, everybody knows that both INEC and the present federal government were up for something.
This is even when INEC and government officials were busy telling all of us to get ready for the elections that our votes count. Within themselves, however, INEC and their sponsors know they were not sincere with the people of Nigeria. They have been deceiving the people all this while. Now, we are at the crossroads. The moment of the truth!
The question therefore, we have to ask ourselves after the postponement of the elections by INEC last Friday, February 15, 2019, is whether the present federal government and the INEC are really sincere with the people of Nigeria about the 2019 elections? Related to the above question is whether we think that ‘something good or positive will come out of the rescheduled 2019 Presidential elections? That is, without our addressing the underlying issues that have been holding Nigeria captive and backward since after the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970)?’
Put in another way, will the rescheduled Presidential elections, conducted under a suppressed history and memory of the Nigerian people yield any positive and lasting result! Is our political elites and those in corridors of power continued culture of suppressing the history and memory of the victims of Nigeria’s crooked past not one of the major reasons’ for the country’s backwardness and perennial political instability?
That is, assuming that the rescheduled Presidential elections takes place on February 23, 2019, without reform of our political system and a new Constitution, ‘will the election yield any positive and desired result for peace, justice, freedom, security of lives and property, stability and progress of Nigeria?’
Furthermore, if INEC eventually succeeds in conducting the elections as rescheduled, will the 2019 Presidential elections for example, usher in a leader who will not operate on the principle of 5% versus 97% of Nigerians who voted him into power? Will the rescheduled 2019 Presidential elections usher in someone who will not operate a lopsided government like the one we have presently?
In other words, is the rescheduled 2019 elections not a clever way to help those in power now to succeed themselves since all indexes point to that fact? Can a Presidential election conducted under the supervision of a lopsided government as we have it presently in Nigeria, be free and fair?
More importantly, how are we sure it won’t be another round of elections by intimidation and imposition of selected candidates by powers that be? From lessons learnt from the buildup to the February 16, 2019 before the postponement, and from the recently concluded elections in Ekiti, Osun and Rivers States, among others, there is no way any right thinking person will expect the present lopsided federal government of Nigeria to conduct free and fair elections.
The fact is that in almost all the elections conducted so far under the supervision of the present federal government, the ruling party candidate won through intimidation and imposition. Moreover, in the buildup to the postponed February 16, 2019 Presidential elections, the rigging machinery was already in place until the frustration surged up. The powers that be could not have their way as planned, so the postponement for another day. Under this environment, who is sure the same fate will not befall the rescheduled February 23, 2019 Presidential elections?
We should not expect that something different will happen during the rescheduled 2019 Presidential elections. In fact, the reports of rigging reported already in the buildup to the postponed February 16, 2019 Presidential is a sign that we shall all brace up for more chaos if not worse scenario. Rescheduled or not rescheduled, the elections are already rigged.
Again, PVC or no PVC, the result of the rescheduled 2019 Presidential elections will not come from the votes of the people but from a prepared and rigged result sheet. Things are this way simply because of the type of system the country is running. It is a corrupting system, where the people are sidelined and are incapacitated from taking their government and politicians into task. In the present Nigeria political system and the 1999 Constitution, it is as if the people do not exist.
Therefore, during elections, Nigerian people will be killing themselves, struggling to cast their votes, but at the end, the power that be, will announce whomever they have selected. All this are so because of the faulty foundation of Nigeria. Unless the faulty foundation is addressed and corrected, nobody should expect even a miracle to happen during the rescheduled February 23, 2019 Presidential elections.
Furthermore, the problem with Nigeria and its elections is replicated in the country’s security agencies, especially, the army and police that usually, oversee the elections. The question is, ‘Is the present lopsided composed Nigerian army, the police and paramilitary personnel prepared for an impartial service to all political parties at the polling stations and electoral collation offices?’
Experience shows that Nigeria is more divided and more fractionalized along ethnic and religious lines today under the present federal government than any other time of our history. This is compounded by the lopsided composition of the present Nigerian army, air force, navy, police, customs, immigrations, civil defense, prisons, and other paramilitary outfits. Any election overseen by these lopsided security agencies, the army and police, is bound to be rigged in favor of the party of the government in power.
Another problem is that President Buhari just few days to the general elections suspended the Chief Justice of Nigeria who happened to be the only Christian among the top heads of the nation’s three arms-of-government, executive, legislature and judiciary. The country is gradually sliding into a full Islamic state. God forbid! The three-arms-of government, presently, are headed by persons from the same ethnic group and Islamic religion, the Fulani-Muslim North. Only a fool will be expecting from such a religiously and ethnic lopsided structured federal government, legislature, judiciary and security agencies, to conduct free and fair elections.
Nepotism of the present federal government is responsible for the failure of the INEC to conduct the 2019 general elections as earlier scheduled. The question is, ‘how can the present federal government and its INEC, so lopsidedly composed, conduct free and fair elections?’ Moreover, both the security agents and INEC feel that they owe their loyalty to the President than to the Nigerian state. That implies that on the part of the INEC, the President and his political party come first before any other consideration during elections.
All these imply that any Presidential election conducted today and supervised by the present federal government of Nigeria and its INEC is bound to be suspicious. The bottom-line of it all is that the present federal government lacks the moral authority and public trust to conduct free and fair elections.
In all, however, underneath the behavior of INEC and the present federal government of Nigeria is the faulty foundation of the existing political structure and the 1999 Constitution. The political structure and 1999 Constitution makes it impossible for the country to make any headway through any of these façade of general elections. This is independent of whether the elections are postponed, cancelled, or rescheduled.
The Way Out
In my opinion, what Nigeria needs most today before deciding for the rescheduled 2019 general elections is not postponement of elections themselves, but an ‘Interim Government of National Unity and Reconciliation’, that will see to a new election with a new constitution and political system for the country. Nigeria needs to dissolve the present failed federal government, disband the already maligned National Houses of Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives), and then, reinstate the unjustly suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria.
There is need to dissolve the present federal government and in its place, constitute an Interim Government of National Unity and Reconciliation, to be headed by the President of the Senate. The incompetence shown by the present federal government, its lopsidedness, arrogant discrimination and insensitivity to incessant killings of innocent citizens by terrorists and kidnappers, are enough reason to show it a way out.
Furthermore, the present federal government alleged complicity and inability to stop the massacre of indigenous ethnic populations of Nigeria living in the Middle Belt and Southern States by the Fulani herdsmen terrorists, is enough to dissolve the government, and in its place institute an Interim Government of National Unity and Reconciliation, to be headed by the Senate President. Fulani herdsmen terrorists in the past four years alone have killed thousands and hundreds of Christians and other citizens of mostly indigenous populations of the Middle Belt and Southern States while the government and its security agencies looked elsewhere.
This is in addition to the perennial massacre of the same indigenous ethnic population of Nigerians living in the North East and North West regions by the dreaded Boko Haram. All these are happening under the watch of the present federal government and its security agencies, which seemed incapacitated to stop the carnage.
As things are today, only the Senate President and few others in the National Assembly have demonstrated that they are on the side of the victims and the maligned masses of the country. From all look of things, the Senate President has demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that he has what it takes to head such an Interim Government of National Unity and Reconciliation that could unite the already fractionalized and terrorized Nigerian people. Moreover, the Senate President is the only one among the remaining top heads of the three-arms-of government that still enjoys the goodwill and confidence of majority of Nigerian citizens. Therefore, he could be asked to head the Interim Government of National Unity and Reconciliation.
In forming the Interim Government of National Unity and Reconciliation, the UN Security Council, EU, AU, ECOWAS, and especially, the present administration of the US should help Nigeria and serve as arbitrators or rather observers. They should supervise as observers the formation of the ‘Interim Government’ that will last not more than two years. The Interim Government should be charged with overseeing the convocation of a new Constituent Assembly that will draft a new Constitution and political system of true federalism and greater regional autonomy for the federating units. The Interim Government will then see to new elections with the new Constitution.
In this regard, Nigeria’s foreign partners should see beyond their economic interest in their dealings with the country. They should see Nigeria as a country of people, just people struggling for justice and liberation from the hands of bad leaders and unjust political system. Moreover, the geopolitical significance of Nigeria in West African sub-region and indeed the whole of Africa is such that the world powers must not allow the country to degenerate further before they come to its aid. If another war breaks out in Nigeria today (God forbid), it is obvious the UN and neighboring African countries and Europe will not be able to contain the inflow of refugees in their respective countries. This is why all hands must be on deck to help salvage Nigeria before it becomes too late.
Therefore, the new Constitution Drafting Constituent Assembly to be convoked by the proposed Interim Government should be composed of elected representatives, chosen from each of the geopolitical regions, cultural, ethnic and religious groups in the country. Other groups to have representatives are professional associations, Labor Union, Students Association, women and youth organizations, Nigerians in Diaspora, etc. In fact, all the members to be elected into the new Constitution Drafting Constituent Assembly should come from among men and women of proven character with progressive outlook and love for all Nigerians across the board.
The drafted Constitution must be subjected to public approval through referendum. To borrow an example from the Constitution of Switzerland, the new Constitution should not be signed into law until it has received the approval and assent of each federating geopolitical region of the country. Where any section of the country refuses to give assent to the Constitution, all should wait until everybody felt carried along. This is the most civilized way of living together in peace, justice and freedom in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural country like ours in Nigeria. Anything contrary is dictatorship and imperialism.
In fact, one of the tasks of the Constitution Drafting Constituent Assembly will be to see to the modernization of the federation Constitution of regional autonomy and fiscal federalism we inherited at independence in 1960 before the military incursion into the nation’s political governance. As a country of indigenous ethnic populations – natives of the land, Nigeria does not need the modified American Presidential system we have been using since 1979 Constitution, and now 1999 Constitution with its over favoritism to one particular religion and ethnic-group.
Rather, Nigeria as a country of diverse peoples who are indigenous to their fatherland, may need to borrow from the Constitutions of the United Kingdom and Switzerland. However, where we find something that suits our circumstances in the constitutions of other countries, e.g. US, we should not hesitate to borrow from there also. This is how a country grows and matures in its political system and governance culture.
This will pave way for a new elected government with a new political system and constitution that is people-oriented, a government of the people, by the people and for the people to take over power and leadership in Nigeria. Only when such a government of the people is in place, will the work for greater national cohesion, harmony and unity in the country have a meaning and positive results.
Only such a government founded on a referendum-approved Constitution, restructured political system of true fiscal federalism and regional autonomy, could bring about a culture of reconciliation and healing of our past historical memory as a nation. Deciding anything otherwise, whether it be elections, without changing the present templates upon which the country is functioning, will no doubt complicate the precarious situation the country already finds itself.
No serious nation would dare venture into political elections amidst reign of terror and lopsided regime of ethnic irredentists as we have it in Nigeria today. As things are today in Nigeria, the question of a new political system and new Constitution takes precedence over and above the ongoing campaigns for the rescheduled general elections 2019. The country’s present political structure and machinery of governance is rotten inside-out that no elections conducted with it will produce a different result from what we know already.
With too much bloodshed in the land, violence, insecurity of life and property, renewed ethnic divisions and religious bigotry, what type of rescheduled elections does the country expect to have that the postponed February 16 elections had not warned us of the dangers ahead? With too much frustrations, anger, hunger, unemployment, ethnic-hate and religious persecutions, military and police brutality, disrespect to rule of law and order even by those in corridors of power, in fact, national unrest and acrimony of all sorts, of what use will be the rescheduled 2019 general elections? That is, without reconciliation and healing through a new political system and constitution approved by the people themselves through referendum?
All this means that, as things are today in Nigeria, we should first, opt for an Interim Government of National Unity and Reconciliation before embarking on further general elections. The Interim Government will help the country fashion out a new constitution and political system that are acceptable to all the federating units.
With a new constitution and political system, the country will begin to turn a new page in its socio-political life, culture of living together as a heterogeneous modern nation state, where every citizen feels belonged, irrespective of differences in ethnicity, religion or philosophical persuasions.
Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic Priest. He lives in Rome where he is a Professor of missiology (mission theology) in a Pontifical University. He runs a column on The Trent. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.