ENGAGEMENTS By Chidi Amuta –
Yesterday’s governorship election closed a season of anxiety over democracy in Nigeria. After 24 years of democratic transitions, imperfect as they may have been, Nigerians have a right to claim that they now live in a democratic country. Even American democracy is still reeling from the injuries of Donald Trump and trying to answer numerous questions about its very legitimacy.
Democracy is of course a continuous festival of expectations. A good government excites a hunger for an even better one. A bad government creates an even greater and more urgent hunger for a different and better one. A campaign season quickens the expectation of elections and their outcome. A feverish campaign season wets our appetite for the real elections and for the coming of the paradise promised by politicians. A successful election, perfect or tainted, raises expectations of what replaces the incumbent order. Let the new order come quickly so that we can lay garlands on the path of the new king only to cast stones and rotten eggs in his face a few months down the road. The gale of expectations goes on indefinitely nonetheless. So, after our election season, what is left is for nerves to calm and the courts to adjudicate.
At this point however, Nigeria remains expectant of two things: the first is justice from the law courts on account of the myriad election related cases that will flood them. The second, more consequential one, is the expectation of a better government after eight years of Mr. Buhari’s season of darkness and locusts.
On the lighter side, the completion of this election cycle has regrettably shut a window of national entertainment in a time of hardship and despair. It has been a season of drama mostly of a comic variety punctuated by episodes of tragedy. Verbal emptiness has occasionally been punctuated by the arson of the lawless and the gun fire of dissidents.
The elections were preceded by very Nigerian primaries. A street bazaar of vote buyers and sellers helped produce a slimmed down list of 4 presidential candidates out of over 100 who expressed initial interest on the platforms of parties ranging from barber’s shop gatherings to simulated comic collectives. Like every typically Nigerian market, the highest bidders took the prize especially if they transacted in wads of dollar bills. The losers went home to grumble and point fingers in every direction.
Politicians were true to type in the campaign season that followed especially at the presidential level. We were regaled with a supermarket of promises. Paradise was on the way. Our pot -hole riddled roads would be replaced with Appian highways. The bandits and terrorists tormenting our people would be sent to hell. Terrorists would experience matyrdom much faster so they will not have to wait much longer for the promised virgins and limitless pleasures. Kidnappers would soon go out of business while angry youth will find work to keep them from the japa craze or the hunger for perennial street protests. But none of the politicians dared promise to deliver cheaper gasoline at the pumps or lower taxes on inessentials.
It was not just the promises that kept us engaged and hopeful. There was the sheer comedy of it all. Mr. Atiku Abubakar took to the dance floor a number of times without saying a word. When he did speak, he made few unfounded promises. He just promised to restructure the federation for better competition among states. He did not however summon the courage to say that he would replace the present chop-I –chop federal arrangement with a ‘competitive’ federation. But he never failed to remind us that he has taken wives from literally every zone of the federation. If we made him president, he would be the in- law of every Nigerian!
On his part, Mr. Peter Obi was perhaps the most ambitious in the field of promises. He promised to retire the like of Atiku and Tinubu and replace their genre of African “Big Man” politics with a government of the people. He would ‘give back’ the government to the people and return to Onitsha market to carry on with his trading concerns. He did not, however, quite say so but it was implied. If he could find enough good people to run his new improved style of popular democracy, he would gladly go home and man his shop in Ochanja market or Upper Iweka.
More seriously, Peter Obi raised the most hope on the basis of a youthful government and a departure from government and politics as usual. Somehow, Mr. Obi’s promises found the most attraction for the people as the crowds of “Obidients” would testify. They have not quite deserted Mr. Obi even after the elections and the declaration of interim winners awaiting the ubiquitous courts.
In this sphere of politics as entertainment, Mr. Bola Tinubu beat his competitors hands down. Here was a presidential candidate that literally said nothing. Healthy exchange between him and his competitors was beneath him. He shunned most media outings. He avoided town halls but instead created his won genre of “a town hall is a town hall!”. He invented his own political speak, a new language that ordinary mortals thought was full of gibberish but apparently communicated to his diviners and some unseen audiences.
The “Bula ba, ba ba blu” that we laughed off may have actually been meant for the ears of the deities that would return to crown Tinubu president-elect. The only line that stuck to memeory was perhaps rendered in his Yroruba language: “E mi lo kan”. Some thought he was incoherent because of some clinical infirmity but it turns out they were not listening between the lines.
He further confounded all by threatening to ‘recharge ‘ the lake Chad to neutralize the insurgents operating there. As if that was not enough, he would find the money to re-energize Nigerias’s electricity sector so that it can at least find power to “produce a roasted corn”.
Tinubu went to Chatham House in London and re-wrote the rules of political discourse. He opted to share the elevated podium with his ‘team’ who spoke for him by answering all the questions from Chatham House questioners. It worked for him perhaps since the end justifies the means in his brand of African politics. Yet those who insist that democracy is nothing if it does not allow for free discourse and canvassing of views between and among those who seek power may find the Tinubu strategy of interest. His campaign may have established a new parameter for scholarship on the place of open debate and rigorous exchange in democratic contest. It may not be necessary after all. Just say little but go ahead and win the election among the throngs and mobs out there.
Interestingly, since after being declared president-elect by INEC, Mr. Tinubu has addressed countless audiences flawlessly with rhetoric laced with oratorical skill and fluent English of his own variety. The question that may arise is as to whether the man was merely acting a script which has now served his political ‘end’. We shall soon find out.
We must not forget the many whose expectations have been smashed by the outcomes of the elections. The many who toiled, waiting to be appointed so so and so. The vendors of all manner of merchandise targeting specific inaugurations. Most importantly, the ambitious women, wives of their Excellencies in waiting who had rehearsed dance steps and commissioned special outfits waiting for the great day when their husbands would be crowned. All that is now in the ash heap of dashed hopes and mangled expectations. It is the way of the world and the language of democratic expectations.
Beyond comedy, however, this is a season of serious expectations. People expect their lives to imporive. Not so quickly I am afraid. A few lives will change for the better but the many may be for the worse. The bandits are not likely to close shop and go home. The kidnappers may tarry awhile. Bad roads may worsen in the next rainy reason. Many more of the youth may still japa! But then, there lives the stubborn hope that tomorrow is a better day and it is better to live a life of hope and expectation than to despair and die before the next season of expectations comes .
As it turns out, Nigerian democracy has evolved into a peculiar variety whose final outcomes are only determined by a series of tribunals and courts. Some people have suggested, rather wisely, that we should abolish the people and enthrone the courts to vote on our collective behalf since they ultimately decide who wins our elections. The cases go from loud protestations by injured political animals to copious courts filings. Then they go to the election tribunals, the Court of Appeal and ultimately to the almighty Supreme Court. Contradictory verdicts end with the finality of a Supreme Court judgment. Thereafter, all appeals go to either God or Allah depending on how the protester best chooses to worship.
Thereafter, the illustrious candidate of yesterday becomes a humbled supplicant that is hardly noticed at the airport as his retinue of hangers on and followers dwindles to a few lonely miserable souls who cannot quite find a job. Water finds its level while their new excellencies frighten the rest of us off the roads with humongous SUVs and authorized hooligans armed with horsewhips and AK-47s.
Somehow, Nigerian democracy in its perennially contentious outcomes has become a testing ground for the Nigerian judiciary. Some insist that our judges are some of the best and most credible in the world. On some occasions, judges have usurped the functions of INEC and taken to tallying contentious votes and announcing their own results right there in the courtroom. In order not to be beaten to it, they even proceed to order the victorious litigant politician to proceed to being sworn in right away.
I can only enter a brief for the Supreme Court which always has to end up carrying the can. The judges of our Supreme Court are not like their American counterparts. The American ones are chosen on the basis of what they believe in- whetehr they are liberals or conservatives. Ours believe in nothing in particular. They are ordinarily honourable men and women who may not like the sight or feel of dollar bills as to be swayed by money and political influence. They are above all people of great experience and voluminous learning. But when it comes to election related cases, they have a way of adjudicating on the basis of ultimate jurisdiction and philosophical jurisprudence.
They know that after them, all other appeals can only go to Almighty God. So, whoever the Supreme Court declares winner in an election matter is the Lord’s anointed. ‘God’s case, no appeal!’ as they say in my barber’s shop. Irtis even written on the tail board of the bolekaja on the way to Ore!
But there is also some other weighty consideration. If a verdict in a political matter is serves the end of justice but is likely to produce dangerous political consequences, every Supreme Court whether in Washington or Abuja will rule on the side of order and political expediency. The ready argument is always that it is better to deliver a judgment that maintains the status quo of law and order instead of one that will overturn the polity, send the society into tumultuous anarchy and erase the nation. You must have a nation before you have right and wrong, good and bad judgments and heroic judges. It is wiser to save the nation so that even the just man who loses a case today has a country in which to try his luck next time. There needs to be a ‘next time’ first before a Supreme Court is applauded!
In the says ahead, the nation that expects is like an expectant parent. No one knows whether what is expected will bless or curse the household. The joy and anxiety of expectation overwhelms us all and opens our hearts to infinite possibilities.