Nigeria: As a new democratic cycle begins
By ASIWAJU BOLA AHMED TINUBU
Our beloved country, Nigeria, last Sunday, May 29, commenced the fourth cycle in the democratic endeavour we started 12 years ago. It has been a challenging and difficult period during which we have gradually but surely been transforming what was initially a mere transition to civil rule into genuine democratic governance representative of the will of the people.
Democratic transitions the world over are hazardous enterprises and Nigeria has been no exception. The transition from authoritarian political cultures such as communist, military or civilian dictatorships to open, democratic societies tend to be long, drawn out processes. Any promise of instant, full blown democratic transition is nothing but an illusion.
This is because democratization involves fundamental institutional re-structuring and deep-seated value re-orientation that take time to evolve. In many instances, the process of democratization is made more tortuous by the inevitable conflict it breeds between entrenched forces intent on maintaining the autocratic status quo and agents of the emergent new order.
Indeed, Nigeria has every reason to be grateful to God Almighty for the milestones achieved so far. There are countries that have not been as lucky and successful in effectively managing the societal and psychological traumas associated with democratic transitions. After initial, false steps towards democratization, they tend to regress either to disguised forms of dictatorship or outright descent to anarchy.
Nigeria could easily have been in that category. Prolonged praetorian rule had by 1999 worsened the countryfs economic problems aggravating the challenges of mass poverty and gross social inequality. This in turn deepened ethno-regional, communal and sectarian fault lines that severely endangered political stability and national cohesion. Given this situation, it was all too easy for aggrieved groups to seize the opportunity of the relative liberalization of the political space in 1999 to vent their pent up frustrations in ways that would have made democratic governance or even civilized co-existence unsustainable.
Despite the severe systemic stress experienced by the polity as a result of repeated cycles of ethnic, communal, religious and political violence in different parts of the country since 1999, our democratic experiment has survived and there is hope of a brighter democratic future for Nigeria. Most objective observers agree that the 2011 elections substantially reflected the will of the Nigerian people. The international community whose disavowal of the 2003 and 2007 elections reinforced the disenchantment of the Nigerian people with the jaundiced polls has sanctioned this yearfs election as reasonably meeting global standards of free, fair and credible elections. This is a significant stamp of legitimacy in a globalized world where it is increasingly difficult for nations to be Islands of exception to acceptable standards of behaviour.
Of course, the elections were characterized by several imperfections and there are a number of cases that are sufficiently strong to succeed before the various Election Petition Tribunals. But on the whole, they were appreciable improvements on previous elections. The compilation of a credible electoral register and the more transparent and competent management of the voting and collation processes were critical to the success of the polls. These in turn were functions of the enhanced integrity of the electoral commission. Equally significant was the courage of the judiciary in upturning the perverse outcome of the 2007 polls in several states and outrightly restoring the stolen mandate of the people in a number of cases.
This had the effect of de-motivating a lot of desparate politicians who would have sought to rig with impunity. The strong possibility that such jaundiced electoral verdicts would not pass the rigorous scrutiny of the courts was a strong disincentive to rigging in the last elections. All the same there were still cases of alleged mass thumb printing of ballot papers, multiple voting and under aged voting at some polling centres manned by unscrupulous electoral and security agents.
It is certainly not yet Uhuru as regards the conduct of free and fair elections in Nigeria. We cannot afford to rest on our oars and complacently assume that we have attained the desired standard. There is still considerable room for improvement both in terms of the accuracy and reliability of the voters register as well as the efficiency and transparency of the voting and collation processes.
It is also obvious that the pace of institutional reforms to ensure credible elections has not been matched by a corresponding transformation of the attitudinal orientation of political actors. All too many parties and candidates would not hesitate to pervert the electoral process and manipulate the outcome if given the opportunity. Members of the political class have still to internalize the critical value that he who cannot gracefully accept loss in a free and fair election does not deserve to savour the joy of victory at the polls.
While Professor Attahiru Jega must be encouraged and supported to continue the internal re-organization and re-invention of INEC to consolidate its new image and systematically enhance its integrity and capacity as a professional electoral umpire, we must also stregthen the electoral sector reforms to build on the achievements of the 2011 elections. For instance, it is unsafe and unsustainable to rely on the sincerity and good intentions of an incumbent President to choose a person of integrity as INEC Chairman. A President may emerge in future who will abuse such powers and foist on INEC a character that will do his bidding, compromise the integrity of the commission and erode previous electoral gains.
There is, therefore, no alternative to implementing the recommendation of the Justice Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reforms panel that the President cede the power to recommend the Chairman of INEC to the National Judicial Commission (NJC). Again, it is imperative that an Electoral Offences Tribunal be set up to try and punish those who violate the electoral law as a deterrent to such behaviour.
Furthermore, we must take another look at the present order of elections which is arbitrary and completely at odds with the federal structure we purport to operate. In a federal system like ours, the logical order of elections should be from the bottom up ? State Governor/House of Assembly; National Assembly; Presidency ? and not the other way round. We must avoid the impression that the order of elections has been fixed to favour vested partisan interests.
Without a transparent and credible electoral process, democracy cannot serve as a vehicle for promoting development and the reason for this is obvious. If the votes of the electorate do not count and governments can stay in power irrespective of their performance, then there will be no incentive for elected public officers to deliver on their mandate.
Afterall, they will reason, the opinion of the voter does not count. When the voter is truly King as should be the case in a genuine democracy, then a government that fails to meet his/her expectation can be voted out of power and a new government elected to prove its mettle. In such a competitive democracy, parties and governments are sensitive to public opinion and strive to fulfill their part of the social contract in order to remain in power. It is through such a dialectical process that development is achieved through the interplay of democratic forces.
The sad truth is that democracy has not delivered the dividends of development to the Nigerian people over the last 12 years. But for a few oases of on-going transformation, Nigeria remains a vast wasteland of mass poverty characterized by a pauperized citizenry, dilapidated infrastructure, comatose health and education sectors, inadequate power supply, de-industrialization, youth unemployment and chronic insecurity among several other national challenges. One reason this situation has persisted since 1999 is that elections for the most part have not counted during the period.
We have thus had the ironical situation whereby as the economy, society and polity deteriorated and living conditions worsened abysmally since 1999, the party in control at the centre won elections by increasingly wider margins and magnitudes in 2003 and 2007. It is only natural that if a party believes that it is being rewarded by the electorate for impoverishing them, it will not be motivated to do anything positive about their condition.
But then, we know that Nigerians did not vote to reward those who had deepened their poverty in 2003 and 2007. The outcome of those elections were largely a function of the “do or die” politics characteristic of those times.
But then, the 2011 polls clearly mark a paradigm shift both in the conduct of elections and the attitude of the electorate in Nigeria. The Nigerian electorate is awake and alert and the political terrain can never be the same again. In these elections, the voter has demonstrated his power and will certainly never ever again cede the precious power of his vote to election riggers. Parties and candidates can only take the voters for granted to their own peril in future elections.
It is for this reason that I am optimistic that decisively addressing the other fundamental obstacle to rapid national development is only a question of time. I refer to the national question or the challenge of true federalism. The 1999 constitution, which provides the legal frame work for this political dispensation, is a mirror image of the 1979 constitution and is thus an essentially unitary document adorned in federal garb. We have refused to make the fundamental changes since 1999 necessary to transform this overcentralized polity into a true federation in any meaningful sense. But can we continue to do the same thing and expect a different outcome? That is the definition of insanity. The unitary path we have stuck to since 1999 has led us as a country further down the slippery slope of poverty and underdevelopment.
A necessary imperative for the transition to a genuine federation in Nigeria is a careful revision of the items on the Exclusive Legislative List in Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the 1999 constitution. This is with a view to substantially scaling down the powers and responsibilities exclusive to the Federal Government and devolving more of those functions to the states.
It stands to reason that many of those responsibilities, which impinge directly on the welfare of the people, can be more efficiently and effectively carried out by the states where the people actually live.
To saddle a distant Federal Government with such responsibilities only compounds the problems of bureaucratization, the attendant corruption and wastages associated with inefficient service delivery. At best, the Federal Government should have responsibility to set minimum national regulatory guidelines and standards for diverse sectors including education, health, industry, environment, agriculture, transportation etc while the actual formulation and implementation of specific policies within the states should devolve on the state authorities within their respective defined jurisdictions.
The logical concomitant of such far reaching devolution of powers and responsibilities through an extensive revision of the Exclusive Legislative list that does not compromise the sovereign power of the Federal Government is a drastic review of the current Revenue Allocation Formula to make more resources available to the states to meet their responsibilities to the people.
Since it is the states that impact directly on the well-being of the people resident within their jurisdictions, it follows that significantly enhancing the revenue available to the states will improve delivery of democracy dividends to the people and enhance popular confidence in democracy. The state governors are certainly right in insisting that the current revenue allocation formula, which gives the Federal Government 52.68% of national revenues with the states and local governments allocated 26.72% and 20.60%, respectively is out of tune with contemporary realities and should be urgently overhauled.
This is not necessarily only in order to enable the states implement the new minimum wage bill but to also accelerate the general socio-economic and infrastructural transformation of the country including our capacity to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Enhanced funding for the states, for instance, will mean that the Federal Government can shed the burden of maintaining federal roads within each state while assuming responsibility for inter-state highways. In the same vein, the responsibility for road, water and rail transportation within the states can devolve on the state governments. This will enable the Federal Government focus with greater impact on inter-state transportation.
A movement in the direction of true federalism will also imply that we systematically jettison the notion that centrally collected oil revenues will always be available to be shared among the federal and state governments. Rather, we must evolve a competitive federalism that encourages each state to develop its own internal resource base while retaining a substantial percentage of revenues derived from its resources and paying appropriate taxes to the Federal Government. The implication of this, of course, is that each state must live substantially within the limits of its resources rather than the current centrally enforced welfare standards funded substantially from oil receipts. This will not preclude development grants by the Federal Government to help meet the challenges and develop the capacity of less endowed states.
Other sectors that will benefit immensely from decentralization include power and security. Necessary constitutional amendments should be effected to expand the scope for the states to generate; transmit and distribute electricity outside the national grid. This will increase the capacity of states to complement the on-going efforts of the Federal Government through small and medium scale off-grid power plants. In the same vein, the current unitary security arrangement is clearly inadequate to cope with the security challenges of a complex, federal society like Nigeria.
It is certanily time to come to terms with the imperative of constitutionally allowing states willing to do so to establish their own police outfits to enforce state legislation within their jurisdiction and enhance security across the country. This will obviously be without prejudice to the sovereign authority of the Federal Government, which resides in its undisputed exclusive control over the Armed Forces that is the supreme coercive instrument of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The reign of the rule of law that protects the ordinary citizen from abuse of federal police powers will also deter or punish such abuse of police powers by states.
In the aftermath of the just concluded general elections, Nigerians are looking forward to a new momentum in governance that will add value to their lives by promoting national prosperity, security and stability. The challenges ahead are monumental. We must be audaciously creative in our thinking and courageous in our actions. It cannot be business as usual. If we do not summon the will to do that which must be done in the collective interest of the Nigerian people, the voters will wait patiently to give their verdict and exercise their power in the next electoral season. The time to act is now.
*Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State, is a national leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (A.C.N.)