By Lt Col Peter Egbe- Ulu (rtd)
The chairman of Nigeria's ruling party famously quipped that the party will be in power for the next 60 years. In other words, the party probably has a secret weapon that will ensure its political longevity in the absence of any viable democratic institutions such as a professional civil service, an independent judiciary, an integrated and inclusive economy, a proper constitution, a proactive, competent national legislature, an educated polity with a competitive manpower base, a dynamic, skilled workforce, a professional military establishment, an accountable and responsible political elite, in short strong, democratic institutions. While the polity exhibits all the signs of a sick or failed system, that urgently needs attention, a minister of a very troubled ministry found it a good time to throw an international birthday bash that cost in excess of N100 million. And the head of a major federal parastatal and prominent ruling party trustee found it expedient to use his time and other public resources to throw his own 70-something birthday bash. Office holders in the current dispensation are behaving like the proverbial ostrich that buries it head in the sand when confronted with danger or the house owner who prefers to chase rats while his abode is on fire. While the polity is experiencing unprecedented instability and needs the unmitigated attention of all well–meaning citizen, the ruling elite prefers to engage in distractions, diversions and perfunctory preoccupations. The flatulence emanating from political office holders in the current government betrays an elite eons away from the transcendental figures that the nation direly needs at this time.
Since inception in 2007, no one in government has deemed it fit to bring about the enactment of laws that will correct salient errors and pitfalls encountered in past elections, notably those of 2003 and 2007. That betrays a mindset of denial about the urgency and the enormity of the task that needs to be done before the next general elections. Such a mindset smacks of unbelievable naivety. Those in power today, quite pitifully, think that the power of incumbency which they currently enjoy can effectively override the dire need for constitutional and institutional reforms. Having apparently survived the last 10 years or so, largely under Chief Obasanjo's deviousness and inane chicaneries, which was unraveling even before he left office, the promoters of the status quo are persuaded that they can hold on to power for the next 60 years or more, never mind that all that they have so far achieved is to turn the country into a highly conflicted polity, rated as a world class pariah nation, in the same league as or worse than Myanmar and North Korea. Since 1999 there has been no constructive use of the power of incumbency. Rather it has been used in the breach of democratic norms, from dealing with corruption in high places, to the conduct of elections, to transparency issues. The ruling party has shown itself to be the largest spoils system in the world, not the largest party in Africa as is trumpeted in self promotion. This is confirmed by the mindless diversion of public funds during the Obasanjo administration, through fake, unexecuted or failed contracts, for which full payments were made. The fact that key players in that administration have been retained or are otherwise active in the present administration is enough proof that that culture continues.
The Anambra gubernatorial election, coming up, in February 2010, is another opportunity for the police to get its acts together, in preparation for the 'big do' in 2011. But the likelihood of any of that coming about in the light of the insidious, political roistering and lethal political gangsterism going on there in anticipation of the elections is remote. One would have thought that the task of policing elections is a simple one: prevent any breaches of the peace and promptly arrest and prosecute any law breakers; pretty much the same as routine police work. Such a job would not be difficult if those involved abstain from taking sides and getting involved in the politics of elections or otherwise allowing themselves to be suborned by politicians. Whether the police admits it or not, a major reason elections have always been indecent affairs in Nigeria is because the police have consistently failed to do their jobs professionally during elections by leaving politicians to their politics while the police concentrates on the business of policing. Nigerians are not differently constituted from people in other lands. If those minded to break the law know that they will surely be caught during elections and that the penalties will be high and exacting, Nigerians, including the general public and in particular politicians, will conform and behave themselves.
When General Obasanjo was running the government as a civilian president, Aso Rock led the way in suborning the police generally and in particular during elections, to ensure their partisanship in security operations. Such situations often gave police officers the ready–made excuse, often given rather gleefully, that they were 'obeying orders from above' whenever their behaviour was questioned. The situation underlines a salient but unfortunate fact that the leadership of the police and for that matter other federal institutions also, have not yet emancipated to the point where, like in better democracies, they can confidently stand up to any public officer no matter how highly placed, and refuse to compromise their institutions professionally, regardless of the magnitude of the pressure on them to do so. In other words Nigeria's public institutions, in particular the police are yet to attain the level of professionalism that will enable them to take independent action, based on what the constitution dictates. They have seemed to delight in doing whatever the person in power wants them to do, including carrying out instructions from reprobate political office holders. It is an instructive irony that General Obasanjo who did his best to undermine transparency and professionalism in public affairs as president is today the beneficiary of professionalism and transparency from the Spanish government: His son, Muyiwa, by his deceased wife, Stella, is reported to have been awarded some 120,000 euro or N24.7 million compensation for the wrongful death of his mother in the hands of a quack Spanish plastic surgeon. She had gone to the doctor to alter her looks, a frivolous endeavour, most probably at public expense. One hopes that the Obsanjos of this world, in particular Nigerian leaders, past, present and in the future, political and institutional, especially the incumbent Attorney General of the federation, would have learnt an important lesson from the Spanish system's handling of the case.
Since practically nothing has been done on the part of the federal government to prepare for the next elections, particularly in terms of forestalling the constitutional and legal inadequacies that bedeviled past elections, it has to be presumed that the ruling party intends to re-enact the 2003 and 2007style charade or something worse, in 2011.
Apparently the ruling elite have indicated, if their words and deeds are anything to go by, their pre-occupation with surviving in office beyond 2011. Their strategy for realising this objective is to create a situation, by omission or commission that will permit maximum rigging of the elections. In other words the 2011 elections will pose, one more time, a serious challenge to the national and international sense of decency. It will also be a security debacle. The Ekiti re-run elections has already given a foretaste of what is to be expected. That means once again that in 2011 Nigerians will be re-learning the lessons of having a rogue government running their affairs.
The word 'rogue' is not used lightly, nor is it intended as a hyperbole. Some people may find it a bit extreme but what do you call a government that has consistently evaded political responsibility right from inception and seems to have surrendered policy making for public interest to a small band of both faceless and overt insiders, who have held the government and the people hostage to their whims and caprices. Since 1999 there has been no improvement in political practice. The reason for this state of things is that those in authority do not want things to improve. They profit from the status quo. It is that simple. Obasanjo's style of governance made it possible for public officers, including governors, ministers, local government council chairmen, legislators, etc, to think nothing of raising personal militia to fight elections or to fight opposition. Under that government the country achieved unprecedented levels of lawlessness and insecurity. What has the nation gained from that culture? One is that the nation's legislative chambers are now occupied by political delinquents who lack the slightest ideas of their strategic responsibilities to the people they are supposed to represent. In functional democracies legislators make ground breaking laws for good governance but in Nigeria legislators break new ground only in appropriating more emoluments for themselves and in seeking to exclude themselves from the prosecutorial process that other citizens are required to comply with when accused of wrong doing. What a typical Nigerian senator considers ground breaking is to table a farcical bill to regulate how women may dress, taking the matter all the way to the United Nations in New York, to the eternal embarrassment of not only her 'distinguished' self but the nation also. A common refrain in official circles around the country is that there is a 'cordial relationship' between the executive and the legislature: code for the ineptitude of the latter in respect of its ability to perform its oversight functions and proactively pursue the interest of their constituencies. It is also a euphemism for a tacit agreement between the two arms to share the spoils of office to the exclusion of all other stake holders. Another name for a situation that is so often described as a 'cordial relationship' between the executive and legislature is a rubberstamp assembly. It is not a relationship based on mutual respect. It is one based on mutual vested interest, a conspiracy against the people in whose name the government exists.