Democracy, the Nigerian way…

IT is needless to define democracy as government of the people, by the people and for the people. I really don’t doubt that, but what I doubt is if we all are on the same page as regards the people in question. It is clear that we have missed it somewhere along the line in Nigeria. Campaign no longer serves it definition; it has become a way to warm the hearts of citizens toward candidates and votes no longer counts. In the 2007 general elections, Katsina State was a battleground. Human Rights watch observed violence and intimidation in Gombe and Katsina states in an electoral process that denied large numbers of voters the opportunity to cast their votes. Where voting did occur, it was marred by the late opening of polls, a severe shortage of ballot papers, the widespread intimidation of voters, the seizure of ballot boxes by gangs of thugs, vote buying and other irregularities.

Katsina was a key electoral battleground because it is the home state of both the PDP candidate and current state governor Umaru Yar’adua and his most prominent challenger, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. In many communities in the state, Human Rights Watch observed that polling stations never opened. However, these same areas later announced overwhelming victories for the PDP. In Dutsi municipality, Human Rights Watch saw crowds of would-be voters waiting for polling materials that were never delivered. The ranking INEC official in Dutsi told Human Rights Watch that voting had finished just two hours after the opening of polls due to “the massive enthusiasm of the voters.”

The April 2011 general election was reported in the international media as having run smoothly with relatively little violence or voter fraud in contrast to previous elections, in particular the widely disputed 2007 election. Corinne Dufka, Senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch said “The April elections were heralded as among the fairest in Nigeria’s history, but they also were among the bloodiest,” .  The election sparked riot in Northern Nigeria. The Guardian also noted that irregularities, such as underage voting and snatching of ballot boxes were reported. Buhari claimed that his supporters in the South were not allowed to vote. Buhari had refused to condemn possible violent reaction to the election result, which has been interpreted as an invitation to his supporters to riot. The presidential election divided the country along ethnic and religious lines. As election results trickled in on April 17, and it became clear that Buhari had lost, his supporters took to the streets of northern towns and cities to protest what they alleged to be the rigging of the results.

The protesters started burning tires, and the protests soon turned into riots. The rioting quickly degenerated into sectarian and ethnic bloodletting across the northern states. Muslim rioters targeted and killed Christians and members of ethnic groups from southern Nigeria, who were perceived to have supported the ruling party, burning their churches, shops, and homes. The rioters also attacked police stations and ruling party and electoral commission offices. In predominately Christian communities in Kaduna State, mobs of Christians retaliated by killing Muslims and burning their mosques and properties.

According to the Christian Association of Nigeria, the umbrella organisation representing the majority of Christian churches in Nigeria, at least 170 Christians were killed in the post-election riots, hundreds more were injured, and thousands displaced. The organization also reported that more than 350 churches were burned or destroyed by the Muslim rioters across 10 northern states. Ironically, the 2015 general election brought General Muhammadu Buhari into the league of civilian presidency. The March 28 presidential election was quite successful, albeit there were hitches in some polling units across the country due to late the arrival of electoral materials and the ineffectiveness of the Smart Card Readers. Former military ruler, General Muhammudu Buhari (retd) emerged as winner of the presidential election. The election was the fourth time running that Buhari had contested as a presidential aspirant.

Going back in history, the 1999 elections, which brought retired general, Olusegun Obasanjo, to power, were blighted by such widespread fraud that observers from the Carter Center concluded that “it is not possible for us to make an accurate judgment about the outcome of the presidential election.” Also, following from the premises that late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, once said in an interview that Obasanjo chose Jonathan to be Yar’Adua’s deputy in the 2007 election because he, Obasanjo, wanted to stop his former deputy, Atiku Abubakar, from running for president

According to Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch in 2007, instead of guaranteeing citizens’ basic right to vote freely, the Nigerian government and electoral officials actively colluded in the fraud and violence that marred the presidential polls in some areas and in other areas, officials closed their eyes to human rights abuses committed by supporters of the ruling party and others and in the light of the above, who then are the people in Nigerian democracy?

  • Lawal is an alumnus of the University of Benin