Which way Nigeria?

By Edo Ukpong (From The Nigerian Guardian, June 4 2006)

(I have posted this article from the Guardian because it supports one of my main argument. The last election is not about Yar’Adua being a good man or not. It is about telling those who are thoughtless that there was actually no election in Nigeria in 2007).

‘He that will make his liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.’—–Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine was a radical intellectual writer mainly on ethics and politics. Although English by birth he emigrated to what is now the United States of America and his writings helped inspire the American Revolution.’ He is the author of the phrase ‘These are the times that try men’s souls’. “Common Sense” is the title of his most popular writing. Nothing best describes the way he simplifies complex societal issues like that title. That kind of simplicity is what we need to understand what is happening to this country.

It has happened before, it may happen again. Yet again as a nation we find ourselves in a dilemma, like others, of our collective creation. We have just witnessed a process of national degradation and gang rape wrongly termed ‘elections’. The process of choosing a person for a position by voting is termed an ‘election’. The process inflicted on us this past April is known as spoliation – conferring or obtaining power by conquest. Not new, not even strange. So why am I flogging a dead horse? The problem is that the horse is not dead. I have a problem with the school of thought that advocates ‘moving forward’. By this they mean that we should forget or perhaps forgive what has happened, not ‘rock the boat’ and hope for the best from the beneficiaries of the spoliation. So much has been spent, how can that all go down the drain? So who is the saint that will now conduct a new election? Will the Police Force change or are we going to import electoral officers? Will it not result in tenure elongation for Obasanjo? Good questions or are they really?

Let us look at it this way, the simple way, if you are driving from Lagos to Uyo and the car engine starts making a strange noise at Sagamu, do you make a U Turn to Lagos to get the car checked out before continuing the journey or do you keep going hoping that the car will hold out? There are those for sure who will plead the blood of Jesus over the car and keep going, if they get there it is God’s will, if they don’t it is God’s will, of course everything is God’s will. Will it not also be God’s will if you stop or drive back to Lagos to repair the car and proceeded on the journey when the car was good and ready? Nothing is perfect but which option gives you the best opportunity to reach your destination at all or with the least damage? Where I stand will be made obvious.

Our country is not a car, it is far more important than that, but democracy is a journey. Our country’s ‘democratic journey’ is experiencing ‘technical problems’ and we are at crossroads what to do. Never mind those who are carrying on as if all is well, faced with the faulty car scenario this group would have carried on merrily in the foolish belief that the problem ‘will correct itself’.

Rather unfortunately, we are missing the point by personalizing this matter. Getting our country on the right track is not about Obasanjo, Atiku, Buhari, YarAdua or Tom Ikimi for that matter. It is about us. About our Country and our future. Perchance those people drop dead, will the country drop dead? No chance, perhaps we will be better off, but God forbid! They will not die; I cover them with…….I am convinced that had Obasanjo and Atiku remained partners in crime, the same spoliation would have handed Atiku the Presidency and he would have urged those crying foul to ‘move on’ and that his ‘victory’ is ‘an act of God’.

Why should I care if Maurice Iwu is Atiku’s running mate in 2011, loses the ‘election’ and cries fouulll! As General Gowon famously quoted Shakespeare when he was overthrown ‘the world is a stage and all men and women are actors and actresses…’what we need to do is set out the script, by building structures, not give the actors and actresses a free hand. With structures we will achieve consistency, with consistency we will build standards, with standards we will make progress. We cannot expect human beings to be fair, selfless and generally do what is right voluntarily, it will not happen, that is why they are human. Human Beings need to be constrained to do what is agreed by society to be right.

The way to establish the constraints is to set standards. These standards which come in the form of laws, traditions and customs are necessary to make societies function as such. Standards are a prerequisite for the creation of an orderly society. An orderly society is a must for harmonious co-existence, which in turn is necessary for a society to develop. We must be constrained to adhere to these standards otherwise we will slide into anarchy or lawlessness.

This is what Thomas Paine must have had in mind when he wrote ‘the domestic tranquility of a nation, depends greatly on the chastity of what might properly be called ‘national manners’ Our collective problem is that we focus on individuals rather than standards. That is why people are ignorantly making the point that YarAdua is a man of integrity, so what? Our Constitution does not provide that if a man has integrity he should be President. It says that an election should be held for the post and the winner based on the given criteria, should assume office as President. By all reasonable accounts what transpired in April does not equate to an election as envisaged by our Constitution or even as defined in any Dictionary. It cannot be said to be an election when the person or organization responsible for counting the votes already knows what outcome is fathomable to the usurpers to whom he is answerable. So it is not about YarAdua, it is about adhering to the Constitution by which we have agreed to structure the administration of our society..

Many people take the view, that elections and all these talk of standards are an esoteric luxury. Their view is that so long as there is peace and those in authority govern well, there is no big deal about the process that brought them in. They posit that Yar’Adua is not like…….that he is genuinely honest and God-fearing (they hear) that he will do well bla bla bla .They are wrong because they are answering questions that are not being asked. To put it simply and in a nutshell, societies function on the basis that decisions affecting the society should be decided based on the wishes of the majority. It is impracticable for a vote to be taken every time something is to be done. So society is organized on the basis that it will choose those who will act on its behalf and do its will. The Constitution is there as the ‘script’ which all of us must follow for orderly co-existence. Anything outside the script is invitation to anarchy.

The disappointing aspect of it all is that it becomes obvious that this country is not taken seriously by many of us. In a recruitment exercise for a Chief Executive, most company directors or entrepreneurs would cancel the process if it was discovered that those in charge corrupted the process. They will not ‘accept’ it, in spite of how much was spent or the time or the sheer inconvenience of repeating the exercise. Their rationale would be that’ management makes the company’, so a process has been worked out to get the right calibre. To compromise the process would therefore be tantamount to compromising the well-being of the company. Simple logic, but why it should apply to a mere Company or Business but not apply to our country creates the impression that we don’t take this Country seriously.

The only way to prevent the institutionalisation of grabbing power by spoliation is to ensure that nobody benefits from it. If we reject it now and insist on it being done acceptably (not perfectly) the pull to try it next time will be less because there will be no gain. That is why no criminal justice system in the world will allow a thief to keep his loot, no matter the gravity of any other punishment. As a country, we have collectively decided that democracy is the form of government that will best keep us together in peace and prosperity. There can be no democracy without elections. No price should be too high to pay to hold elections in order to have democracy. Those shouting about the cost should rather worry about the cost of not having democracy. Perhaps a peep into Zimbabwe will be a good guide.

Section 14(1) of our Constitution states ‘The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.” Section 14(2) (a): “It is hereby, accordingly, declared that- sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority;…”

Given the above, who are we to advocate the acceptance of a situation clearly at variance with the Constitution. The orderly functioning of our society is based on a mix, the ingredients of which are provided by the Constitution, elections constitute a key ingredient without which power will not be derived from the agreed source- the people. What to do? Maybe it is time for a Peoples Sovereign Conference. Power belongs to the People as affirmed in the Constitution, so anything they decide is Constitutional. Better to stop and get the car fixed now, not wait till we get to Agbor, if we get there – then it will cost more, we would have wasted more time, it would be more complicated and it will still be an ‘Act of God’

Ukpong, a legal practitioner, lives in Lagos

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