By Matthew Ayibakuro
The Historic 2015 Presidential Election in Nigeria has been hailed as the most free and fair election yet, that the country has witnessed since its return to democracy in 1999. Apart from the conduct of the election, the actions and reactions of the major contending political parties and especially of their presidential candidates have made headlines around the world. As expected, the encomiums have been pouring in from all over the world. But do these headlines tell the whole story about the just concluded elections in the most populous black country in the world? Is Nigeria, by the singular fact of this election, now a model of democracy in Africa? Has it now heaved out the many demons that have bedevilled its democracy up until this moment? Is Nigeria now strategically placed to achieve development through democratic governance?
The Significant Positives
It is beyond doubt that there are many positives to draw from the just concluded presidential election in Nigeria. It was freer and fairer than any previously conducted in the country. Despite the many challenges, the use of card readers and permanent voter cards during the election was itself a milestone which, if leveraged upon, provides a lot of promise for future elections in the country.
Perhaps the most positive development for which the 2015 presidential elections would be remembered is the phone call by the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan to the winner Muhammadu Buhari, conceding defeat and congratulating the latter, even before the results had been officially announced by the electoral body. This action was surprising as it was unprecedented in the electoral history of the country and indeed of the continent of Africa. It left the opposition shocked, and the supporters of the president overwhelmed. The ghosts of post-election violence that was predicted were immediately expelled even before they had a chance to surface. The country got the praise for it. Democracy got the medal, and in the midst of all this, it could easily be forgotten that this was the singular act of one man, not his party, or his supporters; I doubt if any of these groups would have approved. Whether or not the opposition would have done the same is anyone’s guess, but no harm done. The country is peaceful, and our ratings for democratic governance for 2015 would skyrocket when they are released, no doubt.
There are however many salient trends that emerged from the elections that have the potential of detracting rather than enhancing democratic governance in Nigeria; trends which should probably be making headlines too, or at least providing a cause of worry for Nigerians, and everyone else who is interested, or at least claims to be interested in strengthening democracy and achieving development in the country.
The Underlying Blindspots
A look at the above map showing the voting pattern by states in the country, show the deep lying divisions in Nigeria. These divisions are not based on progressive factors like performance of current and past governments or on levels of development in various parts of the country. They are rather drawn clearly on religious and ethnic lines. To deny this palpable fact would mean adhering to sheer hypocrisy. The muslim-dominated northern states voted en masse for Muhammadu Buhari who is a muslim, whilst the largely christian southern states did the same for Goodluck Jonathan, a christian. The BBC graphically portrayed the ethnic colouration of the election when it reported that the election was a tale of two hats: one representing the north, the other representing the south. It has not been this obvious for a long time. There were a few variations here and there, but these were way too insignificant in the context of strengthening democratic tenets in the country. The voting pattern makes vivid ethnic and religious lines that are deeply rooted in the history of the country’s unpleasant past; lines that are best forgotten in the best interest of everyone.
The UNESCO International Panel on Democracy and Development (IPDD) in 2002, highlighted a number of factors in its proceedings which aptly describe the concerns for democratic governance in Nigeria as revealed by the 2015 presidential elections in the country:
“A democratic society should be aware of three potential pitfalls. First, the domination of the majority does not constitute democracy. Minority groups deserve representation and without it, democratic governance is simply a tyranny of the majority. Second, minority political representation in and of itself does not guarantee harmony and in some cases can exacerbate problems. Finally, despite a need for cultural diversity in politics, minority status should not be the basis for access to power. That is, ethnicity, cultural and religious ties should not be prerequisites to political power”
The reality of the above truths, do not only define the just concluded election, but aptly describe the democratic culture of Nigeria from a broad perspective. It provides insights on how Goodluck Jonathan, a minority, became president of the country in the first place, and why he had to contend with many issues such as Boko Haram throughout the duration of his tenure.
In just over a month, the opposition party in Nigeria, the APC will officially become the ruling party. It promised change to Nigerians. The most significant and perhaps most challenging change it can deliver to Nigerians would be to change the democratic culture of the country. This is the only way it can consolidate on the gains that have been made so far in terms of entrenching democratic practices in the country. Democratic governance cannot thrive or be sustained along the path it is threading currently in Nigeria.
Although some may not agree with this, in my reckoning, it fell to the predisposition and strength of character of one leader to provide the framework which allowed the opposition in the country to thrive without harassment or intimidation, to ensure that free and fair elections take place, to concede defeat without compulsion, thereby saving the lives of many Nigerians and perhaps the very existence of democratic governance in Nigeria. In doing so, he allayed the fears of many, and made Nigeria a beacon of pride for democracy in Africa.
Post May 29, 2015, it would ultimately fall to yet another man to build on these milestones. Whatever his agenda is for anticorruption, for socio-economic development and the many other things that would foster development in the country, establishing a truly democratic culture in Nigeria has to be an objective as significant as any other. Until this is achieved, it is probably too early for Nigerians to start counting their blessings as a country.