Despite the soundness of the radical critique of the electoral component of democracy in the western world as a process that restricts and suppresses voters and hence election is seen as a reformist ritual, reformist as it is, there are some lessons for Nigeria in the American election.
Election as a moral act – Perhaps the overarching lesson Nigeria can learn from the American election is ethics of choice making. In the American election, there is the sense that the election creates choices. As divided, as the country appears to be, it is that sense of democratic choice driven by election that unites the country. The election thus becomes a moral space of choice to resolve national problems. In Nigeria election is a closed business space to resolve personal and sectional problems. We need to move beyond this.
Election as a voter’s act – The voter in the American election considers himself or herself rightly or wrongly but both consciously and unconsciously as a moral agent that has the power to choose and make a difference. Hence, even when there are divides of all sorts, every voter watches, and is always trying to make the best decision. And because the voters are taken to be moral agents, and they take themselves as moral agents, candidates are obliged to go to them to present themselves and persuade them. That is not the case in our country, Nigeria. The parties are business companies. In Nigeria the party that controls the electoral body and police wins. These two are instruments of rigging. The voter does not consider himself as a moral agent of choice, neither is he so considered by the candidates. So the voter is not voting in or voting out programs. Having been bought, the voter is doing a paid job, hence he is forgotten immediately the ‘result” of election is announced except when he is needed to cause violence. Because the voter does not consider himself or herself as a moral agent who candidates must come to, to seek for support for a program, candidates do not go to Nigerian voters to present their programs, candidates buy Nigerian voters. The consequence is that the ethnic rather than the rational dominates us because the ethnic leader buys the ethnic voter!
Election as a rational act – The rational is that which one can turn into a universal law. To this extent a lot of rationality is brought into losing and winning elections in America. In other words, losing and winning become an indivisible duality. The losing party knows it can win, while the winning party knows it can lose. In our country Nigeria, election is embedded in complete irrationality for the ruling party, which controls the police, and electoral body knows it will always win. Hence, our elections lack any moral content to it because of this irrationality. Hence, we are dominated by ethnic talk and ethnic gossips after an election for wining and losing was never a rational act with rational projections. In American election, winning and losing are projected based on clearly stated criteria such as demographics such as gender, age new and old, class, faith, etc. The programs of each party galvanize these demographics. For us to move beyond the ethnic we need to embed our electoral conversations in contesting programs and visions about the future of our country.
Election as a programmatic and a problem-solving act – The Republican and Democratic parties in America remind one of politicking in first and second republics in Nigeria when there were stark choices to be made from party manifestoes and programs even if we did not make those choices because we are always dominated by the ethnic in us! Nigerians who took a programmatic view of party politicking could see stark choices among Northern Peoples Congress, National Council For Nigeria and Cameroons, Northern Element Peoples Union, Middle Belt Union and The Action Group. Bourgeois as they were, Nigerian political parties then strove to be programmatic and problem solving tools. The political tradition of the party as programmatic tool and problem solving tools continue with some of the parties in the second republic when we had the National Party of Nigeria, Nigeria Peoples Party, Great Nigeria Peoples Party, Peoples Redemption Party and the Unity Party of Nigeria.
Then some of the parties attempted to define the electoral conversation around education, rural development, agriculture and food production, full employment, economy and health. American election today re-echoes that. It is about issues and programs such as taxation, employment, economy, health, immigration, foreign policy and defense. Just as some of Nigerian political leaders in the first and second republics tried to do, Mr. Barak Obama and Mr. Mitt Romney went to the American taxpayers to ask for their votes on the basis of clearly defined programs. Today, the PDP, ACN, CPC etc are no parties either in the sense of parties in Nigeria’s first and second republics or the current American sense. Talk with any Nigerian voter and ask him why he voted or will vote for any of these parties, you will not get a rational answer. There is no clear choice among the parties, because there is no program and road map on any issue.
The ethnic dominates our conversation even among the so-called elite and educated. To change this killing ethnic conversation the parties must be vessels of programs. Like the Americans, let us disagree vigorously and vibrantly on competing programs, visions, and manifestoes rather than on some silly sectional ethnic talk. Can we bring back the old Nigerian political party tradition based on programs and manifestoes rather on persons and the ethnic in us?
Election as a post victory listening act – Listening and the capacity to listen is a moral act. Though, Nigerian politicians never asked for the trust of Nigerian taxpayers, they in turn do not trust the politicians. The Nigerian politician maintains an immoral relationship with Nigerian taxpayers. This is not the case with the American election. Immediately after the recent American election, Mr. Obama is out again meeting voters on his programs. It is a moral act. He knows he has to check on his promises again with the American taxpayers before taking his programs to the American congress-the equivalent of our House of Representative. In this, Mr. Obama cuts the image of the president as a paid worker of the American taxpayers, and he truly is. To be hired to do a job is to be trusted. And to be trusted is a moral act. The American taxpayers have trusted Mr. Obama for the next four years. Mr. Obama knows this hence he is out on the streets checking the soundness of his programs and promises with the American taxpayers who hired him to do a job. We need to learn this moral act in politics in Nigeria. Time is no longer on our side. Other African countries are moving on. It is only by investing this rational and moral act in our politics that we will begin to solve the so-called national question that has subtly destroyed our country.
Adeolu Ademoyo (email@example.com) is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.