Automatic Tickets: Nigeria's brand of democracy?

 By Victor E. Dike

Doubts and political clouds have continued to swirl around Nigeria's democracy-experiment. Ahead of the 2011 general elections, the senators in the undemocratic PDP recently demanded, through David Mark, automatic tickets from the party leadership to enable them run for re-election. The logic behind the weird politics was to ensure continuity and stability in the National Assembly. Also, the first-term PDP governors had earlier demanded automatic tickets to ensure security in their states.

In analyzing the issues in discourse three questions are pertinent: How can a party ensure stability and build a solid foundation for democracy through undemocratic means? Is this Nigeria's brand of democracy? Is it surprising that the senators/governors that rigged themselves into office (and failed to perform their duties) are now afraid to run for re-election in their constituencies?  Perhaps this is not surprising!

Reform and restructuring of Nigeria's sociopolitical and economic realm has been a topic of discussion for sometime now, yet, politics in the society still deviates significantly from the norm. For instance, during the Obasanjo administration PDP Governors, including those being probed for corrupt practices and Obasanjo, were given automatic tickets to leadership. Party-sponsored State Commissioners, Advisers, Ministers, Special Assistants, and the members of Congress, including their gardeners, wives and concubines, were delegated to vote for them at the party's bogus primaries. There were cases of voting by proxy, de-listing of authentic delegates, abuse of party regulations and outright rigging, rampant decamping and political assassination and many other anomalies that threatened the integrity of the system.

Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, whose administration is becoming gravely unpopular, appears to be bearing the political burden of the past. Governance is still reduced to power and corrupt money because the absurdities of the previous years, including oath-taking for allegiance or loyalty, still litter the political landscape. In societies where integrity matters, political parties avoid bad candidates and policies like a plague. But this is unthinkable in Nigeria where those who have committed varied atrocities are still relevant in politics. If the federal government takes its reforms and anti-corruption crusade seriously, it should discard the dishonest, do-or-die and undemocratic politics of the Obasanjo era.

The people should not allow the uninspiring, corrupt, unproductive and incompetent political contractors from getting back to power through the back door. If the society continues to have the politicians to manage the affairs of the nation, the nation will continue to get the same bad result. They have used their powers and leadership positions to enrich themselves, leaving ineffective the institutions and infrastructure that are the catalysts of economic growth development and massive poverty and untold misery in the land.

Despite their poor performance the Federal Government and Governors' are bombarding the public with impressive figures of their achievements that contradict reality on the ground. The National Assembly is an institution that does not care about the dismal state of the nation's roads, the economy, the hospitals and education. This is not to mention the ailing power sector and refineries, and the taps that are running dry. This group of politicians has only cared about the health of their bank accounts and working too hard in vain to make the reality disappear. According to the Daily Trust of July 8, 2009, Nigeria is ‘losing over $200 million' yearly on foreign medical treatment because the people (including the so-called political leaders) lack confidence in the nation's health system.

The politicians have turned Nigeria into a place where politicians kill, steal and turn the constitution upside down to acquire power and remain in power. The people are feeling the pinch of their insensitivity. The president who has been manipulating the public with bogus visions and agenda would not expect his followers to perform any better. A river cannot, as we all know, rise above its source. One funny aspect of this type of politics is that the senators clamoring for automatic tickets do not work with the wisdom of history and are devoid of ideas to tackle the myriad problems facing the nation. And they do not seem to realize that government and political leaders ‘derive their powers from the consent of the governed.' The people should resist any kind of imposition of candidates during the 2011 elections. Automatic ticket to leadership is a recipe for chaos, which would stunt the growth of democracy.

Lack of party and individual ideology (or the absence of issue-driven campaigns) is the main cause of the weird scheming going on in Nigerian politics. The politicians like democracy but abhor competitive elections; thus, they lack what it takes to build a democratic society. Those who profit from the political patronage of the administration are willing to support its policies even it means dumping the people into a hot frying pan. For years this group has been dragging their heels on reviewing the constitution, with protracted delay and obstruction in fashioning and implementing policies. No society has a chance of developing without creating and implementing sustainable growth and development strategies. Our world is what we make it; the leaders should talk less and make things happen.

Voting shows the Will of the people and confers legitimacy and credibility on political leaders. It is a way to hold the politicians accountable for their actions. As Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) noted when signing the U.S. Voting Rights Bill on August 6, 1965, "The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison man because they are different from other men." The politicians have fooled Nigeria for too long. But every problem has its lifespan. This time around their re-election will be based on their performance, and not how much money they donate to their party or the number of political opponents assassinate.

For stability and continuity in the system, we must change how we do business. This writer would like to recommend staggered elections in 2011 to ensure that members of the National Assembly are not due for election the same year. With that there will always be a pool of experienced Senators and House of Assembly members around to guide and train the newly elected members. However, election disputes should be settled before the newly elected members are allowed to assume office. There should also be equality in law and practice; those whose elections were nullified for electoral fraud should not be allowed to re-contest that particular election; they should also be barred from holding public office in future.

In addition, the Congress should regulate the influence of money in politics by controlling the amount individuals and corporations give to political parties. One way to restore confidence in Nigeria's electoral system and democracy is to really overhaul the INEC and remove the current chairman and commissioners who are impediments to free and fair elections. However, the terminal solution for the rampant decamping in Nigerian politics would be that any politician who decamped to another party after winning an election should forfeit his or her seat and face a re-run election.

Giving political thugs free tickets to leadership is a wrong way to ensure stability and security. The society should develop a sociopolitical condition compatible with democratic principles. The so-called senators asking for automatic tickets are not interested in true democracy. To consolidate democracy Nigeria needs committed and dedicated leader. However, any person who cannot play the game of politics by the rule and give democracy a chance to flourish should quit –"In The Name of God, Amen."

Victor E. Dike is the author of Nigeria: Leadership without a Moral Purpose: A Critical Analysis of Nigerian Politics and Administration (with emphasis on the Obasanjo administration, 2003-2007), BookSurge Publishing (forthcoming) 2009; and Issues in Contemporary Nigerian Politics and Administration: A Critical Assessment, 1999-2007 (forthcoming).