Saturday, 5 July 2014

Why elections create tensions in Nigeria

                                         Election violence
Every election in Nigeria, from the chairmanship to the presidential election usually caused tensions across the land because leadership in this country is not about service to the people but avenue to amass illegal wealth. Therefore, aspirants and political parties do all manners of unthinkable things to win elections at all cost! Elections in Nigeria will hardly be devoid of tensions because of the unquantifiable benefits and other paraphernalia attached to elective offices. All these make the contestants to be desperate to win at all cost without adhering to the rule of the game. This is because winners of elections either through hook or crook become so powerful and weird enormous power as soon as they are sworn into offices.

The basic democratic ingredients which are transparency, fairness and freeness are lacking in Nigeria as elections are usually characterised by stuffing of ballot boxes, smuggling of ballot boxes, inflating of results etc. Thus, the 1964-65, 1979, 1983, 1993 and 2011 elections had negative effects on the nation. The 1964 elections held in December were inconclusive as the United Progressives Grand Alliance (UPGA) boycotted them but supplementary elections were held in March, 1965 in some areas in Eastern Region and Lagos. So, of the 15 million registered voters, only 4 million voted during the elections! In the defunct Western Region the NNDP won 88 seats out of 98 seats but Alhaji D.S. Adegbenro of the opposition UPGA proclaimed himself as the Premier of Western Region and appointed eight ministers. Subsequently, Chief S.L. Akintola was sworn in as the premier while Alhaji Adegbenro was arrested. There were violent demonstrations and chaos leading to the deaths of about 1000 people and the burning down of about 5000 houses in the infamous “operation wetee” a Yoruba parlance which means douse with petrol and set it ablaze!
The dispute that trailed the 1964-65 elections snowballed into the 1966 military putsch which sacked the government of the Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Balawa which also led to a three year civil war that came to an end in January 1970. The 1979 elections were not devoid of disputation and acrimony as regards the almighty mathematical riddle of 2/3 of 19 (states) in which the NPN formula of 12 2/3 was accepted and Ahlaji Shehu Shagari was declared winner. Again, the 1983 elections brought some shocks to the spines of most Nigerians especially in the old Ondo State where the defunct Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) attempted to falsify the results in favour of Chief Akin Omoboriowo, the candidate of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) as against Chief Adekunle Ajasin the preferred candidate of the Unity Party (UPN) that truly won the election. The 1993 presidential election which was won by Chief M.K.O. Abiola but was annulled by President Ibrahim Babaginda, threw the country into great confusion that almost led to the disintegration of the country. The 2011 general elections adjudged to be the freest and fairest ever in the country were also visited by violence in some parts of the north. The violence that followed those elections still persists till date.
But why do elections create tensions in Nigeria? The reasons are not far-fetched as leadership in Nigeria is not about service to the people but an avenue to amass illegal wealth at the detriment of the masses. Thus, politicians elected or appointed into various offices become wealthy overnight. Leaders in Nigeria also wield enormous powers. Therefore, at the local government, the chairman is the most powerful person. The chairman controls the wealth in the local government area. At the state level, the governor is the most influential personality as he demonstrates great powers. He does all the appointments. Additionally, the governor decides how to expend the wealth of the state and where projects should also be located.
At the federal level, the president is the most powerful person on planet earth as he wields immense powers even more than the president of America! He is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. He dictates the tune and chooses whoever should be who or what. He appoints whoever he wishes to appoint and does whatever he wishes without stiff oppositions from any quarters within his domain which is the whole country. Just as it is at both the local government and state levels so it is at the federal level as the president decides how the funds should be distributed. As the chairmen, governors and president have access to easy money so are their wives who were not elected but became first ladies with fat financial allocations.
Another reason why elections create tensions in Nigeria is because Nigerians are not united but divided along ethnic, religious and regional lines. The amalgamation of the colony of Lagos and the protectorate of Southern Nigeria in 1906, that of Northern and Southern protectorates to form Nigeria in 1914 by Lord Luggard were done by political fiat  without the consent of the various ethnic nationalities that constituted the protectorates! Therefore, there is no national interest or consciousness in which the citizens see themselves first as Nigerians; disregarding their tribes, religions and regions as obtained in America, Canada etc. This is why every tribe wants to produce the chairman, governor, president or occupy other strategic positions so as to have a voice on national issues. Thus, the chairman, governor and president at the three tiers of government are not regarded as the true leaders of the entire constituency they represent rather they are seen as the leaders of the tribes they belong! Presently, President Jonathan is regarded by Nigerians in some quarters as the president of the Ijaw nation rather than that of the whole country that is why in spite of his economic reforms and infrastructural development, there is violent opposition against him. It has always been so but it has become worst as Nigerians have also become more divided in recent times.
 Again, politics is very lucrative in Nigeria. The salaries and allowances of governors and the president are unquantifiable with security votes that run into billions of naira that are not accounted for. The governors and the president sure sit on top of gargantuan sums of money at all times. This is why they can afford fleet of private jets and exotic cars. In addition, the members of the National Assembly and those of the State Assemblies also receive mouth-watering salaries and allowances. Thus, with these jumbo salaries and allowances, politics has become so attractive in the country. In other climes where leadership is basically service to the people, political office holders who wish to make money, resign their elective or political offices to pursue private businesses in order to make money. But in Nigeria the reverse is the case because nobody resigns from elective or political offices because it is a money spinning venture. Politics is a big business and the only active business which every Nigerian wants to do and knows how to do best.
Thus, the bounties and paraphernalia office is the reason why politicians engage in all manner of unprincipled things to ensure they occupy elective positions by hook or crook! On Thursday July 21, 2010, African International Television relayed a story in which a US manufacturer of antiballistic, bullet-proof vehicles asked this question, “Are Nigerians preparing for general elections or, are they gearing up for war?” Then, the report revealed that Nigerian politicians imported about 30 of such cars on a daily basis at the cost of N60 million each. The Annual Commission Country Assessment (CCA) that year on the security of nations put Nigeria as the most unsecured nation in the world; that was when the activities of the Boko Haram Insurgents had not escalated. We all can imagine what the current rating will be!
But how can tensions be prevented from elections in Nigeria? First, politics must be made less attractive by reducing the salaries and allowances of political office holders; it must be service to the people. Second, lawmakers both at the State Assemblies and National Assembly should operate on part time basis as already adopted by the National Conference. Third, there should be total reorientation of the psyche of Nigerians in order to deemphasize tribe, religion and region to establish national interest and consciousness. Fourth, all official documents should no longer bear ethnicity, religion and state.
In the absence of the aforementioned, elections will continue to create tensions in the country since there is no national interest, consciousness and unity that will make the citizens regard themselves first as Nigerians before considering their tribes, religions and states. Again, since political offices offer mouth-watering salaries and allowances, aspirants and political parties engage in unconventional means to outdo one another in order to win elections. This is the reason why elections have become a do-or-die affair in Nigeria; it is not so in other countries where leadership is basically service to the people and not an avenue to amass illegal wealth!

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