Electoral fraud: Of meaning and consequence
By Pat Utomi
That the general elections of April 14 and 21 in Nigeria were much disputed by candidates and widely discredited by local and international observers, is not news anymore. Protests by Lawyers, Labour, several other elements of civil society in Nigeria and Nigerians living abroad, suggests a crisis of legitimacy would plague those who may go through inaugural ceremonies on May 29, heightening anxiety about Nigeria's troubled development experience.
Would a legitimacy crisis be the worst possible outcome of attempt at elections which saw widespread disenfranchisement of Nigerians, scores of human lives lost as anger trailed the outcome of voting, and global tarnishing of a challenged brand in the heart of Africa? Some very perceptive Nigeria watchers see more unsettling consequences for culture from a trend towards impunity in the brazen disregard of the popular will by electoral commissions. One exasperated observer announced to a friend on return to London that Nigeria was a lost cause. As culture is so critical for human progress the poisoning of values by conduct of public officials which ridicule due process, the rule of law and basic decency, it should not take Jared Diamond or a soothsayer to suggest that collapse could be staring such a society in the face.
Typical response for a world anxious to see no evil and hear no evil as long as crude oil flows are not significantly disrupted, is to spray perfume over the mess, and carry on business as usual. This time around that practice will not do because impunity has led Nigeria down the path where the options have narrowed to between anarchy and revolution. The challenge for civil society, the Nigerian Diaspora and the country's politicians is to ensure that the revolution is essentially non-violent, sweeps away the cabal that has ensured that 71% of Nigerians live below the poverty line, health care so poorly delivered that Nigeria is ranked the worst case in Africa in the fight to check TB and life expectancy has fallen to mid 40s, while income disparities have fallen into the league of the 20 worst cases in the world. The Gini index, the measure of income distribution between the top and bottom seem to get worse everyday when they are narrowing in developing countries that have created jobs. All these have made the revenge of the poor the most potent factor of the Nigerian condition. Should any of this matter to the world?
Preventing Nigeria from travelling down the road to Somalia or Sierra Leone should be of concern because of the possible cost of anarchy in Nigeria for regional stability, the Gulf of Guinea's increasing strategic place in global energy security, and the opportunity cost of Nigeria not being in a position to play its traditional peace keeping role in Africa and elsewhere. Then there is human solidarity as the wellbeing of more than 140 million people is threatened and the immigration challenges it poses as the middle class and educated scramble to head to foreign lands as is presently the case.
It will be wrong, as Nigerians often expect, that the task of saving Nigeria can be domiciled with some messiah or taken up by foreign powers, yet those foreign powers will do wrong not to acknowledge the desperate need for a change in the way things are done in Nigeria and perhaps provide support for such change effort by simply not pretending that all is okay. It is because they took that approach in 1999 that the abuse which left President Jimmy Carter, dumbfounded, became the travesty of 2003, and the international humiliation of 2007. Surely 2011 may leave no country if constitutional reforms and major culture change is not undertaken.
We must, in Nigeria, do some soul searching and ask how we got here and where we go from here. How did we go from Premiers like Sir Ahmadu Bello and Michael Okpara, who epitomed selfless service to the Governors of the last eight years most of who should be in jail, or from humble honest national leaders like Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa whose times brought relative progress to Megalomaniacal incumbents who have taken the country back many years and left it a farewell gift of global shame, yet pontificate on everything and pass judgement on everyone. How indeed did we go from a time, when as Alhaji Maitama Sule so frequently reminds us, Balewa made him, as a young Minister, respectfully prostrate to greet legendary opposition leader Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in Parliament, to these time when we send out young assistants as attack dogs pouring insults on their Father's mates in superior positions of authority. Lee Iaccocca's new book has a title that poses the question we must all be asking in Nigeria, where have the leaders gone. It is all about the collapse of culture. Culture matters and no society can sustain human progress if it has the crisis of values Nigeria is mired in. How else can you explain the resources that flowed into then economy from 1999 to date yet the human condition is much worse this day.
Years ago I learnt that the litmus test of all action is how you can explain it to your six year old. If you cannot you should lose sleep on the matter. But we see paraded in positions of authority people whose consciences long died. How then, as John Paul II of blessed memory did on Iraq do you leave such people to the judgement of their consciences, the Judgement of history, and ultimately, the judgement of God. We must trust the judgement of God but we must act first as men by coming out of our comfort zones to work together for the building of a new Nigeria. It will have to involve developing leaders and shaping culture for progress. It should be clear now that what we need are national builders not political dealmakers. Our children, at the least, deserve that sacrifice and forward looking orientation.
Professor Utomi, ADC Presidential Candidate in 2007 is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership