Monday, December 20, 2010

In the past, I have praised Cote D'Ivoire, also known as the Ivory Coast, and recommended that Nigeria's politicians look to that country for some inspiration. Specifically, policy makers in the Ivory Coast slashed their salaries in response to complaints from citizens in 2008. Today, however, I can only pray that Nigeria's politicians do not pick up any of the horrible 'habits' displayed by Ivorian politicians in recent days.

After years of political limbo and insecurity, the Ivory Coast was one of many African countries, including Rwanda and Tanzania, that conducted presidential elections in 2010. A run-off poll resulted in the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, losing to another top contender Alasane Ouattara. Instead of stepping down in a respectable manner and submitting himself to the will of the voters, Gbagbo insisted that he will remain president. He went on to have himself inaugurated as President. His flouting of democracy was not missed by the world. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which is currently led by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, suspended the country's membership. In a communique supporting the move by ECOWAS, the African Union (AU) also suspended the Ivory Coast. Similarly, the United Nations, European Union, the United States, France and others spoke up against Gbagbo.

The comments on Gbagbo's reprehensible actions have thus far, been merely rhetoric. There have been threats of sanctions but the Kenyan Prime Minister has been the first to speak much more forcefully on the issue. Raila Odinga said,

"Gbagbo must be forced out, even if it means by military force, to get rid of him...[t]he world must be prepared to move, even with military force, to preserve democracy."
Odinga went on to criticize member states of the AU, saying,

"The AU should not be sitting and lamenting all the time... otherwise they will become irrelevant. The AU should develop teeth, ... [t]his is rape of democracy, in an electoral process there must be winners and losers."

Odinga's frustration is one that I share. There seems to be very little that can be done to peacefully remove those who arrogantly usurp power from citizens, especially those of the African variety. This reality gives me sleepless nights when I think about Nigeria and it's own oncoming dance with democratic elections.

Nigeria's unfortunate history of corruption has meant hotly contested elections with allegations of fraud bandied around. The 2007 elections, for instance, were condemned for their fraud by local and international election observers. Despite that, many of the world's economic giants, the United States included, sent their representatives to the inauguration of the now-late Umaru Yar'Adua. That show of support was a confirmation that "democracy, though important, will sometimes play a back seat to other concerns." Nigeria's importance to the world has not changed as it continues to be a source of oil. Strategically, that importance has grown in regard to it's role in the war against terror. As the United States and other countries see a rise in terror threats, they need the support of their African allies in managing said threats and a country like Nigeria is therefore crucial. That need to have allies in the quest for affordable oil (energy) and in the war against terror, could encourage Nigerian politicians to misbehave even more than normal during the elections.

My concern is that tense divisions between Nigeria's north and south and other factors could cause certain elements to go beyond merely stealing the vote, as is customary. I hope that Nigeria's politicians will not use the elections and any potential election-related violence or insecurity to consolidate power in the hands of an even smaller minority than those that already control the country. If that were to happen, Nigeria's citizens would be the clear losers. They need democracy to become stronger and not weaker if they are ever to have a true say in the nation's future. Unfortunately, the lukewarm reaction of the international community to Gbagbo's coup can only embolden others across the continent, including, most certainly, certain unscrupulous and corrupt Nigerians.

Nigeria's current president has spent considerable time promising credible elections and there is great hope that the country's electoral body will deliver on that promise. But, the best intentions are often the source of significant problems on the African continent, especially when other important elements are not committed to the promised cause. In the case of Nigeria, it will once again be up to ordinary citizens to not tolerate any misbehavior from politicians and others that might try to ignore the importance of democracy.

From The Archives:
- Soiled Hands & Strategy'': What Nigeria Says About Democracy
- Yar'Adua, Mugabe & The "Rule of Law"
- Talking Through Both Sides Of His Mouth
- Nigeria, Darfur, Mugabe & the ICC

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