Nigeria’s (misnamed) Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has released the schedule for the 2015 set of general “elections.” The presidential and National Assembly “elections” will be held on February 14, 2015, followed by state “elections” on February 28, 2015.
I have put elections in quotes to underscore a given: the electoral exercises are bound to be another Nigerian-made mess, a fraud fest, a classic of rigging. Even INEC has signaled this by warning Nigerians not to expect a “perfect” election. That’s a Nigerian shorthand that translates as, “Expect a massively rigged election, as usual.” When a Nigerian (politician or a politician’s apologist) announces, in reaction to accusations of corruption, “Nobody is perfect,” it’s a coded way of saying, “Yes, I (or my oga) stole, but who doesn’t?”
It’s become settled practice: every four years, INEC puts together an obscenely expensive show called “elections.” But the point of the bazaar is to enable the various political parties to exhibit their varying levels of versatility at rigging. Yet, at the end of the show, determined to dress up the event in borrowed garbs, INEC and the “winners” declare that “no election is perfect.” Or, to explain away the more mystifying aspects of the hollow exercise, the “winners” declaim that God, not the electorate, voted for them.
Many wonder whether Nigeria will survive past the 2015 “elections.” It depends on what they mean by survive. Nigeria has subsisted as an increasingly lawless place for decades now. Post 2015, the degree of lawlessness will be compounded. Violence, already the currency of Nigeria, will be writ larger. The endangered species called the Nigerian citizen will be further diminished and crushed. The instruments of the Nigerian state, at the local government, state and national levels, will be hijacked anew by a set of buccaneers. Filled with disdain for so-called citizens, driven by the singular mission of transferring public funds to their private pockets, unable or uninterested to legitimize themselves through the popular consent of citizenry, the hijackers of state power will resort, more and more, to the use of violence.
INEC’s timetable for the next set of a rigging jamboree is not the only source of foreboding in Nigeria. Nigerian politics—which is often reduced to politicking—is amazingly bereft of issues. Yet, it is a country that has a lot of issues.
The organized scam that bears the name Nigeria has not addressed the most basic of questions. With the exception of the few who run the shop, Nigerians can’t claim to possess any rights as citizens. I know: somebody is going to flip through the pages of the Nigerian constitution and read the bla bla bla it says about the rights of citizens. But the words are baloney. The fact is that, all too often, the Nigerian constitution wilts and the law courts shiver when the occupant of Aso Rock sneezes. It doesn’t matter what the constitution says, any sergeant in the Nigerian police can arrest, beat up, and lock up any poor Nigerian who crosses a big oga. The security detail of a any Nigerian state governor can wreck the car of any driver slow to move out of the governor’s way in traffic—and expect not to be called to account.
The recklessness of the police is matched by the timidity and corruption of the Nigerian judiciary. Many of my Nigerian lawyer friends despair of the willingness of too many judges to cheapen their bench by accepting lucre in exchange for judgment. In a country where custodians of the most exalted offices are the boldest, grandest thieves, few are tempted to stick to the right path. To insist on doing the right thing in Nigeria is to risk losing your job, being passed over for promotion, being jeered at by peers, friends and relatives, and being excluded from the list of recipients of national honors.
Nigerian “elections” are such violent affairs because political posts are a sweepstakes. The Nigerian president, governors and local government chairmen rake in billions each year in a scam called security vote. The Nigerian president and governors enjoy immunity from prosecution, even when they commit grave crimes. Nigerian legislators have become legislooters in popular parlance, and for good reason. Elsewhere, political office holders function as servants. In Nigeria, they exchange knowing winks as they announce, in jest, that they are our servants. Americans pay President Barack Obama $400,000 per year for the job he does. Each month, each Nigerian governor pulls in five to seven times Mr. Obama’s annual salary as security votes.
Nigeria’s public officials are like domestic house helps who have been allowed to set their salaries, and have set them at billions of naira. Yet, they are house helps who don’t know their right from their left. Their pay packets may dwarf Mr. Obama’s, but they and their hired hands are first to protest that they must not be held to American or European standards of performance.
It works for Nigerian politicians not to set any store by issues. Ideas-based politics is the graveyard of hollow politicians, the surest way to expose their mediocrity. That explains the recourse to such trite, boutique phrases as “dividends of democracy” and “moving the nation forward.” The Nigerian politician’s worst nightmare is to be challenged to specify what s/he means by “dividends of democracy” or to articulate the particular means as well as philosophic underpinnings of “moving the nation forward.”
It is this absence of discursive rigor in Nigerian politics that has brought the country to yet another absurd moment. The absurdity lies in the way in which a faction of the PDP establishment has joined an opposition coalition, and is now presuming to represent a fundamental alternative to the ruling party. With each passing day, the All Progressives Congress (APC) resembles a re-baptized PDP. In fact, a part of me suspects that the APC is something of the PDP’s Plan B, a part and parcel of the PDP’s threat to run Nigeria for a minimum of sixty years, or until the country collapses and dies.