A Case For Canceling The 2015 Elections, By Okey Ndibe

Okey Ndibe
Okey Ndibe

Once again, Nigeria has entered an awful, familiar season. The country’s air is rent with talk of power. Not electric power, no; we’re talking raw political power! And the general elections of 2015 seem to have concentrated the mind of every politician in Nigeria, incumbent and aspirant alike. Nigeria is gravely tense. The country’s political rope has become extremely taut, threatening to snap.

I’d suggest that Nigeria cancel the 2015 elections. The country should then be put in a controlled comatose state, ready for the commencement of urgent, critical care. First, let me offer a sketch of the country’s pathologies.

Nigeria is beset by myriad crises. Boko Haram continues to make life in parts of the country nasty, brutish and short. After a few years of relative quiet, the creeks of the Niger Delta are flaring with sporadic acts of violence, much of them directed at police officers. Other parts of the country are in the vice grip of kidnappers who, when it suits them, murder their quarry even after ransom is paid. Businesses and individuals face a bad – some argue, worsening – state of electric power supply. The streets of many (I suspect, most) Nigerian cities are rife with clogged, fetid gutters that are both eyesores and health scares in-waiting. Hundreds of thousands of university and polytechnic graduates, many of them with cash-acquired or sexually transmitted degrees, haunt the streets, unemployed – some unemployable – and hopeless. Hospitals are so ill-equipped, so scary, that a good percentage of sick Nigerians now fly to Europe or North America (if they can afford it), or flock to India or South Africa (if they don’t have the means for the top-tier destinations), or make do with Ghana (if all farther locations are too expensive), or head for some money-grubbing, “miracle”-minting pastor or imam. The road networks are a shambles.

And there’s much else that demands fixing – schools; oil bunkering; waste disposal; civil services that are shadows of what they ought to be; a police force that engages in widespread extra-judicial executions; judiciaries so corrupt that Nigerians often resort to self-help rather than take cases to court; large-scale embezzlement of public funds by federal, state and municipal officials – to leave it at that.

Nigeria is the perfect place for any leader who welcomes challenges and wants to apply her/his mind to the solution of deep-rooted problems. In other words, there’s plenty of work crying for tested, serious men and women willing to transform their spaces – not just those ready with a facile phrase or two.

If President Goodluck Jonathan realizes the enormity of the crises in Nigeria, then he has kept it a secret unto himself. He has hardly demonstrated an understanding of what real leadership is all about. In the build-up to the 2011 elections, Candidate Jonathan was a factory of promises and pledges. Once sworn-in, Mr. Jonathan seemed to ball up all those promises and toss them in a trash bin. It’s as if he split like an ogbanje, the promise-spewing part of him no longer in touch with the snoozing, alienated president he’s become. On occasion, Mr. Jonathan has shown flashes of an imperial mindset, though not to the same degree as former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

At any rate, our man in Aso Rock leaves the impression of being baffled, intimidated by the sheer size and weight of the day-to-day demands of his office – to say nothing of the long term dimensions of Nigeria’s problems. Quite simply, the task of running Nigeria effectively appears to be far, far above Mr. Jonathan’s pay grade. Yet, that hasn’t stopped him from gearing down (or up, depending on one’s perspective) to campaign mode.

Like the president, most of the first-term governors have reset their priorities to – re-election. The second-term governors are rearing for their next power move. Some, I understand, are figuring out how to corner a seat in the Senate, a chamber whose members are addressed, with a verbal inflation that’s quintessentially Nigerian, as “Distinguished Senator.”  – Others are darting about, cozying up to one presumed presidential player or another, their eyes set on prizes that range from VP through minister to ambassador.

The official line is that Mr. Jonathan hasn’t decided whether to seek re-election. But that line is about as credible as former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s insistence that he never wished for a third term in office. Unless you’re a political fool or a visitor just come from outer space, you know President Jonathan is desperate to return in 2015.

Let’s be clear: he has a right – under the constitution – to run. So do those governors seeking re-election, coveting a vice presidential nomination, or eyeing a legislative post.

I think it was former dictator Ibrahim Babangida who once mused that Nigeria’s continued survival defied logic. But even the hardiest of resilient entities finally reach a breaking point. I fear that Nigeria is hurtling to its breaking point – in 2015.

Almost two years before the next round of elections, we witness a ratcheting up of belligerent rhetoric. Mr. Jonathan’s acolytes, Asari Dokubo and Kingsley Kuku chief among them, have threatened Armageddon unless their man was allowed to shamble through another four-year lap. Some Northern politicians have served notice that hell would be unleashed if Mr. Jonathan did not abandon his dreams of occupying the presidential villa beyond 2015.

The threats strike me as real. Those making them have the resume – as well as the wherewithal – to deliver on their warring words. With a wretched legacy to his name, Mr. Jonathan can hardly win without manipulating the powers of incumbency – without rigging, in other words. Bereft of vision and too lazy to articulate a set of viable answers for Nigeria’s maladies, the opposition forces seem bent on out-rigging the PDP. Elections cost too much in Nigeria; they take up scarce resources sorely needed for developmental purposes – and they invariably end up rigged, anyway. It’s all a perfect recipe for certain disaster. Some of us think that the current climate of insecurity in Nigeria is absolutely unsustainable. I shudder to imagine the post-2015 scenario.

Nigerians may not be able to bear – should not bear – the burden of yet another clash of naked ambitions. Neither President Jonathan nor the Northerners who want his job nor the coalition of opposition forces has shown any indication of possessing an antidote to Nigeria’s complex of problems. All of them seek political power, it seems, for its own sake. Let me correct that statement. They appear to share a dream: to preside over the unabated dispossession of the Nigerian people.

Nigeria is highly combustible, ripe – at the slightest instigation – for horrific bloodletting. Were the global mood and circumstances different, today’s Nigeria would be a prime candidate for a coup d’etat. That such an occurrence is unfeasible has not stopped some Nigerians from fantasizing about military intervention, conveniently forgetting the horrors that came with such past military incursions. The fact is that a coup is highly unlikely, above all because the international community is now highly allergic to uniformed poseurs who seize power.

I recommend what amounts to a “self-help” coup, a dismantling of the dismal apparatus that we have misnamed democracy. Here’s a quick outline. President Jonathan, the 36 state governors, and the municipal councils should stay in office till 2015. Instead of holding elections that are bound to carry a staggering price tag and result in massive rigging, Nigerians should have a big convocation of vital interest groups – labor, students, the military, religious leaders, professional groups (doctors, lawyers, accountants, academics etc). The body should then invite experts in different fields to assume control of various sectors of the country – health, education, sanitation, the judiciary, security, infrastructure, and so on. Each of the thirty-six states should also have similar arrangements at the state and municipal levels.

The caretaker administrators, chosen on the basis of expertise alone, should run Nigeria for a minimum of ten years. The first five years should be devoted to designing and building a truly modern Nigeria – one in which power supply is regular, healthcare is sound, education is reformed, and infrastructure developed. During the next five years, the caretakers should begin to draw up a draft constitution that contains noble ideals, spells out what it means to be a citizen (duties, responsibilities and rights), decentralizes power, establishes stable, independent institutions (the judiciary, law enforcement, electoral commission), and expunges such oddities in the extant constitution as “security vote” and immunity for crime-committing governors and presidents.

I’m afraid, really afraid of what lurks in the corner if we bumble into 2015 determined to hold elections when – as usual – no contending party (least of all the ruling one) is contemplating playing by honest rules. I fear, then, that the alternative to a caretaker arrangement is to have a blood-soaked Nigeria in the hands of undertakers.

Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe  

 (okeyndibe@gmail.com)

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