Nigeria’s Democracy On Life Support

By Suyi Ayodele

In chapter one of their 2018 book, “How Democracies Die”, Steven Levistsky and Daniel Ziblatt, both professors of Political Science, Harvard University, USA, gave an anecdote of how elected leaders can subvert democracy and increase personal power. The book, which is described as “comparative politics”, narrates how people, all over the world, give out their liberties to tyrants, who disguise themselves as democrats and helpers. The tale, which opens the chapter titled, “Fateful Alliances”, is adapted from an Aesop’s Fable tagged: “The Horse, the Stag and the Hunter”. It goes thus: “A quarrel had arisen between the Horse and the Stag, so the Horse came to a Hunter to ask his help to take revenge on the Stag. The Hunter agreed, but said: “If you desire to conquer the Stag, you must permit me to place this piece of iron between your jaws, so that I may guide you with these reins, and allow this saddle to be placed upon your back so that I may keep steady upon you as we follow after the enemy.” The Horse agreed to the conditions, and the Hunter soon saddled and bridled him. Then with the aid of the Hunter the Horse soon overcame the Stag, and said to the Hunter: “Now, get off, and remove those things from my mouth and back.” “Not so fast, friend,” said the Hunter. “I have now got you under bit and spur, and prefer to keep you as you are at present”. This is exactly what Nigerians did in 2015, when they sold the PDP monkey because it had an uncanny penchant for squatting too much and used the proceeds to buy the APC dog, which has turned out to be the greatest squatter of all animals. 2023 is around the corner and we are asking the APC to get its cancers off our already bedraggled body. The response from the ‘ruining’ party is what the Hunter told the Stag.

When a diviner tells his client what the oracle reveals about his (client’s) future and the predictions come to pass almost immediately, he beats his chest and says : “a iti ko Ifa nile, Ifa nse” (we have not even packed the divination objects and the prophecies are being fulfilled). A week ago on this page, in a piece titled, “The No-Choice Before Nigerians”, an analysis of the two leading presidential candidates for the 2023 general election, I wrote inter alia: “In the long run, whoever becomes the president between the two candidates will be the one who can outspend the other; and not the one who is more competent, patriotic or loves the masses”. Exactly five days after the piece was published (June 14, 2022), Ekiti State had its governorship election. In the history of political perfidy in Nigeria, never has the nation witnessed the brazen display of vote buying that characterised the June 18, 2022 Ekiti guber election. At the end of the charade, the ruling APC candidate in the election was declared winner with 187, 057 votes, beating the new party, SDP, to a distant second position with 82,211 votes and the self-destroyed PDP to an embarrassing third position with 67,457 votes. What played out in Ekiti is not a case of the most popular candidate or party winning the election but a case of the “richest” candidate or party succeeding in buying the voters. The beauty of it all is that no one among the three leading political parties or their candidates and supporters can swear that they did not offer money for votes while the election lasted.

What happened in Ekiti is a new dimension in our democratic journey as a nation. The event is therefore not only sad for Ekiti people, who hitherto, were regarded as men and women of honour, but for Nigerians in general. Morning, they say, shows the night. Another round of guber election will happen in Osun State in a few weeks’ time. Nobody needs a seer to reveal what should be expected. And without looking at the crystal ball, one can easily predict, off hand, that the 2023 general election will be worse than anything we have hitherto seen. This trend is more troubling given the fact that the bad behaviour is assuming a monstrous dimension under the APC, a party which Nigerians invested their goodwill on in 2015 with the hope that it would bring about decency and hope as opposed to the political roguery the PDP foisted on the nation while in power. The reality confronting all of us now is that the APC-led government of General Muhammadu Buhari has suffocated the very sick baby we asked it to nurse back to health. How unfortunate! But the APC leadership is not to be blamed, totally, for the very mess we find ourselves in today.

No, APC did not start the idea of vote buying. As a matter of fact, vote buying is not a native of Nigeria. In yet another seminar book, the American author and lawyer, Mark Joseph Green, in “Losing Our Democracy: How Bush, the Far Right and Big Business Are Betraying Americans” (2006), on page 21 writes: “The evidence that money shouts in politics is mountainous: 94 per cent of the time, the bigger-spending congregational candidate wins and 98 percent of House incumbents win. The average price of a House seat rose ten-fold from $87,000 in 1976 to $840,000 in 2000. Spending in the last New York and Pennsylvania gubernatorial elections, for example, tripled within one election cycle. It cost Ken Livingstone 80 cents a vote to win the London mayoralty in 2001, compared with Michael Bloomberg’s $100 a vote in New York City that year”. Green, in this analysis sub-titled: “The Evil of Access: Money and Members”, compared what Democratic and the Republican parties do with voters’ conscience on election days. He posits that “money primarily weeds out good candidates”, and that “as more and more multimillionaires run and win…the pressure to hustle special-interest money becomes even more intense”. In all the postulations by Green and the two earlier quoted authors, the American democratic values diminished a great deal when characters like George Bush and Donald Trump were allowed to access power. Levistsky and Ziblatt, after analysing how coups d’état have accounted for nearly three out of every four democratic breakdowns, submit that “Democracies may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders- presidents or prime ministers- who subvert the very process that brought them to power. Some of these leaders dismantle democracies quickly as Hitler did in the wake of the 1933 Reichstag fire in Germany…”.

Could all the three authors have had Buhari’s APC and its corrosive democratic tendencies in mind when they wrote the books above? Which of the vices the PDP was accused of perpetrating before it was shipped out of power has the APC not taken to a more brazen level today? When the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua won the 2007 election, he admitted publicly that the election was marred by many irregularities and immediately began the process of reforming the nation’s electoral process to forestall a repeat of such irregularities. At his passing, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who took over from him, dusted the books and reformed the electoral process such that in 2015, he lost the presidential election to the incumbent General Buhari. Hardly had the opposition APC taken over power when it introduced a new lexicon to our political lexicography by declaring, glaringly won elections inconclusive in Kogi, Osun, Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Kano, Plateau, and Sokoto states at different times. The shameless attitude is such that anywhere where the APC appears to be losing grounds, the election will be declared inconclusive such that at the isolated elections held to “conclude” the polls, its candidates must win. That perfidy has now been perfected and modified to outright purchase of voters and their ballots. Whatever the PDP thought to be its “winning strategy” has now been taken to the next level by the seemingly redeeming APC and the people are worse for it.

For the first time in my life, I felt ashamed to be an Ekiti man after the last Saturday election. I have since made countless calls to relations, friends and some community leaders to find out what happened and how the honour we used to treasure in Ekiti took sudden flight on Saturday. Of all the responses, the one that keeps ringing in my ears is the folksong by an elderly fellow. In response to my question on how our people did not consider the future of their children before collecting money to vote, the elderly fellow sang: “E si umole bi ebi, ebi yoo paniyan ku o” (meaning: there is no deity like hunger, hunger kills a person). In summary, when people are hungry, they do despicable things. If indeed Ekiti people are that hungry such that they would collect as low as N10,000, and in some cases, N3,000 and even N500 to sell their votes to the various political parties, did they ask what brought about the hunger? If a government is accused of impoverishing the masses and the same government puts forward a candidate and backs him up with cash and the people go ahead to sell their votes, who is to blame? That should make an average rational mind to be worried. If Ekiti people with their claims to education, integrity and honour could be so cheap on election day, what happens to the Almajiri population of Kano, Jigawa, Bauchi, Adamawa and other northern states? What does the Ekiti election portend for the 2023 general elections? What lessons are the candidates for next year’s elections taking home from what happened in Ekiti? If a gubernatorial vote sold for N10, 000 in downtown Ekiti in 2022, how much is the presidential vote going to cost in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Kano, Ilorin, Ibadan, Owerri, Aba and Umuahia in 2023? And you may wish to ask: where is this humongous war chest coming from?

The above scenario has far reaching implications for our democracy. Men of honour without money will stay away from our ballots! What happened in Ekiti on Saturday and what will surely happen in Osun State in the next few weeks will ensure that at the end of the day, our democracy will be on oxygen till the 2023 general election when it will suffer an irredeemable cardiac arrest which will eventually hand its cadaver to future generations for scientific studies on how not to run a democracy. Democracy dies when talented people and those with natural administrative ingenuity stop contesting elections because they don’t have the financial wherewithal to compete with moneybags who own mountains of ill-gotten wealth to buy votes. The ‘ruining’ elites are sustaining the poverty conundrum against the citizenry so that they will not be self-sufficient enough to resist the pittances offered them on election days in exchange for what could have been a viable future for them and their innocent offspring who would have nothing to inherit other than their progenitors’ poverty. What the current plague of locusts who call themselves our political leaders have told the masses through massive vote buying is that it is not wrong for their cats to eat pregnant rats. Nothing kills democracy more than that!

(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Tuesday, June 21, 2022)

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