There is nothing more dangerous for a developing democracy than for it's citizens to have no idea of when the next elections will be. For some reason, in this, the 21st century, that is indeed the case for Nigeria. After decades under military rule, protests, strikes and even deaths, a people that fought hard for democracy are now dazedly watching the little democracy they have disappear. This is because, although elections are to be concluded by the end of May 2011, there remains no clear idea as to when upcoming elections will take place. The consequences of this reality are dire and especially suggest that Nigerians will be ill-prepared to make an educated decision on who their future representative should be. Even more worrisome is the fact that the lack of adequate preparations for national elections increases the likelihood of fraudulent results. In a country where basic human and civil rights are not guaranteed to the majority of the people, the lead up to Nigeria's next elections are disappointing and spell catastrophe for the nation's political, economic and social future.
After late President Yar'Adua passed away, his Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, was sworn in as President. Jonathan soon replaced all ministers and certain other important officials. One important official that was replaced was Maurice Iwu. As head of the nation's electoral board, Iwu was the focus of much protest and was the face of Nigeria's fraudulent elections and politics. Although many had called for his resignation over the years, he was fired in April 2010, only weeks after the United States government insisted that he be removed to ensure credible elections. Iwu was eventually replaced with Attahiru Jega, a member of the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC).
However, despite much appreciation over his selection for the role, other related factors highlighted that the impending electoral confusion would be even more than he, an outspoken critic of authoritarian rule, could handle. For one thing, the nation's Electoral Act was being amended by legislators that were taking far too long to complete their task. Additionally, the Constitution was also being amended, and the finalization of that exercise would greatly influence who could run for public office (education requirements were under consideration), how individuals could run for office (there was an amendment on whether candidates could run as independents), and how the electoral body, INEC, would be financed, amongst other key issues. The modifications of these crucial political documents would also determine when elections would eventually take place as the Uwais-led ERC recommended that elections hold not earlier than 150 days and not later than 90 days before the swearing in of a new President, a matter that was to be included in the modified Electoral Act.
WHY ALL THIS CONFUSION IN AN ELECTION YEAR?
Given these issues, the fact that as of July 19th, the Constitutional amendment is yet to be finalized and that other factors still hang in the balance, highlight that no matter what happens, when election day comes, Nigerians will be ill-prepared to participate. As is typically the case with Nigeria, there are fewer confirmed, relevant stories dealing with the upcoming election than there should be. Even the basic question of whether current president Jonathan will run for President cannot be answered. At least not without unnecessary conjecture. And now, during such a sensitive period, Nigeria is apparently becoming a one-party regime with the major political party, PDP, swallowing up it's opposition. Already, the PPA is now a part of PDP and well placed sources share that ANPP will merge with the PDP as well. A nation without a political opposition is, for all intents and purposes, a dictatorship.
The lack of information on what exactly is happening makes it hard for true advocates of democracy to adequately form a concise opposition to the ongoing shenanigans that make a mockery of democracy. Politically, that is inherently anti-democratic and stunts the ability of all citizens to play a role in national politics, even when they do not support the party in power. This tactic effectively cripples dissent and will only worsen the lives of citizens who unfortunately have leaders that already cannot be held accountable because they do not depend on voters to get into office. And all this happens while President Jonathan continues to preach about his commitment to fair and credible elections. Yet, the tea leaves suggest otherwise.
With the fact that an election date is yet to be set and that opposition parties are falling by the wayside, it is likely that whatever remains of the opposition will be even weaker than before. This will make them impotent and ineffective, and make the majority party stronger. This dominance of the PDP will encourage the abuse of power and could lessen the need of the party to tackle problems such as healthcare, education, electricity and unemployment.
From an economic perspective, a one-party regime does not suffer from challenges and bureaucracy. Thus, it can introduce policies that are favorable to development and particularly foreign direct investment. This has been the case for countries like Angola and Sudan, which are democratic in name only and attract Chinese investors that build the roads needed to remove natural resources. However, these regimes are typically poor and if that was to become of Nigeria, an already bad situation would quickly become worse given that a majority of citizens live with less than $2 a day.
Another important consequence of a one-party regime is the possible voicelessness it creates for the most disadvantaged. When a people are unable to voice their needs and frustrations via normal channels such as engaging their leadership in discourse, as is the case in some authoritarian regimes, violence may erupt. Nigeria is already acquainted with voicelessness leading to violence in the Niger Delta where militants use violence to get attention for their causes, though for some, their intent is simply monetary. Given Nigeria's precedence with the voicelessness leading to violence, Nigerians must be careful to prevent the whittling away of all attempts to create a Nigerian democratically representational system that enables participation of all in national politics.
Nigeria already knows what life is like under authoritarian rule and it's citizens must insist that leaders do not take the nation off the track of creating an established democratic system. Too many people suffered and died for that right for the gains of democracy, no matter how small, to be squandered. It is time for Nigeria's leaders to actually prove that they are indeed committed to free and credible elections by finalizing the documents needed to create and announce an election calendar. That will enable better participation by all citizens regardless of what party or politicians they support. And, that will help to assuage concerns that Nigeria could become Africa's next one-party regime.
From The Archives:
- The Nigerian Coup Nobody Saw Coming
- Attahiru Jega: The New INEC Chair
- Iwu Is No Longer INEC Chair