2015 Elections: Your Vote is Not Enough!
As the 2015 elections approach, politicians are now seeking every means to win the election primaries on the platforms of their respective political parties with the hope or even assurance they will be elected to represent their chosen constituencies. Other politicians hope to win the election primaries, but really do not mind losing the election proper because such will guarantee them political appointments, “settlements” for stepping down for another candidate, access to party big wigs and more.
The Nigerian elections are really all about the primaries, the major elections are secondary. The voters are thus technically secondary in the elections of Nigeria.
How can voters be primary or important to elections? The phenomenon of ricism has reduced the Nigerian voters to less than beggars; votes are often rigged and politicians do not care about the plight of the voters or their constituencies once they get in power. This is because the politicians are not concerned about voters and have the license to treat voters as if they are not even worth flushing down the toilet, if they so choose. It is only the voters especially those who can very effectively organise politically that can redeem their worth in the eyes of politicians.
A common theme in the speeches of Chris Hedges, an American Pulitzer-winning journalist, is that in the Open Society and it Enemies, Karl Popper makes us understand it is an endlessly futile effort to seek ways on how to elect good politicians into office. The reasons are that men who aspire to power are usually either mediocre (Shehu Shagari, Yakubu Gowon, Ernest Shonekan, Umar Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan) or venal (Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Abdul Salami Abubakar) . Murtala Mohammed and Muhammadu Buhari were arguably neither mediocre nor venal and we saw what happened to their tenures in office. You need to be venal and mediocre to remain in office it appears.
Karl Popper’s solution to the problem is to make the predictably venal or mediocre politicians when elected into office to be afraid of the voters. Yes, they have to be afraid of their voters and existential threats are not too great to serve the purpose. Anytime voters organise very effectively in protest against governments it frightens the leaders. Some may wonder why Nigerian leaders have not been made to be afraid of the electorate in democratic times or the masses in military rule times? The truth is most Nigerian leaders, regardless of their tough or impervious exteriors, have known great fear in office.
Just to present a few examples, Babafemi Ogundipe fled to the United Kingdom not for fear of his life as popularly recounted but for fear of multiple secession threats. Yakubu Gowon was seriously afraid of the fragility of “One Nigeria” and its consequences. According to George Ayittey, it was intellectuals who advised Gowon to remain in office to serve their own self-interests when he wanted to return Nigeria to democracy. Shehu Shagari was afraid of the ultra-venal dynamics of the ruling elite and the lengths to which they would go to satisfy their desires. Muhammadu Buhari was afraid of the ‘power of the pen’ as wielded by journalists and intellectuals, hence the enactment of Decrees 2 and 4. These Nigerian leaders were afraid of the actions of elite, but not the actions of the masses or electorate.
The only Nigerian leader to experience major fear of the voter or the potential voter was Babangida. He saw that the pro-democracy protests were going to overwhelm him and he could no longer provide political rents to keep innumerable clients supportive. Babangida was forced by potential voters to, famously, “step aside” by quitting office. He realised the painful truth that money and military might could no longer save him from the rejection and wrath of the masses. Such is the most necessary condition that the Nigerian voter should place firmly and untiringly on elected officials governing the democracy. It has been done very successfully before and can be done again. Think about it.
The ‘dividends of democracy’ are possible to attain, but the voters must realise that their votes alone are not enough to make it happen. The voter must make his or her elected politicians afraid enough to necessitate their pursuit of ‘the public good’ constantly and consistently. Who ever said proper democracy is just about voting should think again.
- PERSPECTIVE is published every Monday. Dr. Nane is an errant scholar and economist. Follow him on Twitter: @Grimot