By Owei Lakemfa
Nigerians last week had no democratic choice but to have their ears on the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal verdict. It was not that they hoped the result would assuage their hunger or reduce banditry, which has made a steady inroad in the most protected city, Abuja.
They could as well have switched off their television sets as all networks for over half a day covered the verdict live. But for many, it was the fear of the verdict. No matter where it swung, it was the beginning of wisdom; the spectre of violence was all over.
The judiciary itself was on trial. All eyes were on it. Whatever verdict it gave, would not discharge or acquit it. It was guilty as charged and no allocutus would reduce the harshness of the sentence by the losing parties. How can it hope to be innocent when each of the three main candidates in the elections, at least by faith, believes he won the election?
I must commend the efforts of the Justices who for over 12 hours, laboured through the verdict they had written, in a vain effort to plead innocent.
When the verdict was given, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar cried foul and headed to the Supreme Court which has the final human say. So did His Excellency Peter Obi, who added he was on his way to the highest court to seek justice. In contrast, President Bola Tinubu in far away India, broke into dances that reminded me of Queen Salawa Abeni’s ‘India Waka’.
Elections in an orphaned Nigeria are so contentious and fractious because that is what democracy has been reduced to: a winner takes all high stake in which the winner has so much powers that he is virtually the state.
Dr Kayode Fayemi, immediate Past Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum had on the eve of the verdict, questioned whether the current electoral system where only one winner amongst contending parties, emerges, is democratic. Speaking on Tuesday, September 6 at the 60th birthday and presentation of 21 books by heavyweight intellectual pugilist, Professor Udenta. O. Udenta, the former Governor had made a case for proportional representation. Under this system, political parties in the elections get in government the percentage of electoral votes it secures.
At that forum, I posited that our system is basically the form rather than the content of democracy as it does not necessarily translate to dividends for the people nor development of the country. I said the democratisation of the country is far off because basically it lives on the lie that Nigeria is a federation while in practice it is a unitary system where whoever wins the election has control over the resources of the entire country. This is partly why the national elections are so contentious and highly fractious.
As what passes for debates and analysis of the election petition verdict went on, I reflected that in the First Republic when we ran a federal system, the leader of the majority party, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, could elect to remain a regional premier rather than move to the centre to govern the country. This was partly because a lot of power and resources laid in the regions. In those days, the best brains could decide to stay in the regional service rather than being drained to the Federal Service.
As I write this, with the inauguration of President Bola Tinubu, some of the best brains in Lagos State and its environs are being drained to Abuja, a city with no major factories and whose major industry is resource-sharing.
Elections are not the issue, an unviable system is at the core. How can a huge country of 220 million people with hundreds of nationalities, cultures, languages and experiences have a single police “force”? How can such behemoth provide effective police services to the country? What effective police work can a policeman from Abeokuta carry out in Bulunkutu when he does not speak the local language, does not understand the people and their cultures and does not even know the names of streets in the area not to talk about finding his way? What kind of security can such a policeman provide or what assistance or information can he get from the populace when in the first place he cannot even communicate with them? Such a policeman finds his environment strange and the populace he is supposed to serve, regard him as a stranger.
What kind of democracy is it when a man can sit in Abuja and site a school in Ugep, a place he has never been and knows nothing about? In the first place, he does not even know whether a school is the major priority of the people or water sanitation. What kind of dividends can a democracy that does not consult the people deliver?
Elections cannot cure over-bloated bureaucracy such as having two chambers: a 109-member Senate and a 360-Member House of Representatives performing the same essential function of law making. Rather than scrap the House and let the treasury breathe, the country is multiplying or splitting ministries and agencies.
The issue is not that democracy is not working, it is that we are not running one; all we have is civilian rule based on who can corner the most formal votes by any means possible. So, we need to evolve a democratic process that delivers the basic needs to the people. Just as the Americans and British essentially run two-party system that builds strong structures, the Cubans run a democracy which guarantees the populace the best possible healthcare and qualitative, free education for all, and the Chinese run a democracy that unfailingly feeds 1.412 billion people daily and has abolished extreme poverty, so should we also have a democracy that delivers.
One way is to build an Afrocentric system that takes in our cultures and traditions and guarantees the sovereignty of the people. A way of ensuring such sovereignty and good governance, is to have a parliament in which professional politicians will constitute no more than 30-40 per cent, while the balance would be representatives of mass organisations like those of market people, youths, trade unions, community-based organisations, farmers associations, professional bodies like those of doctors, lawyers, accountants and builders.
The executive can also be tailored on a similar line of representation.
The judiciary can be democratised in such a way that almost all cases will be adjudicated at community, local and state government levels. For appeals, the states can be bunched into six or eight regions. These will be the highest courts except the Constitutional Court. In other words, the Federal High Courts, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court can be scrapped. The Court of Peoples Democracy shall rise!