When the Yoruba want to justify intervention in a hopeless case, they invoke the anecdote of the madman in possession of his mother’s corpse. Their argument is if, for the sake of protection of the sanctity of order of things, we allow a madman to take custody of his mother’s corpse, in the moment of his maddening chasm, the madman could mistake the remains for a venison and roast his mother as suya. This Yoruba anecdote is euphemism for the theory of paternalism which George Orwell, in his 1984 novel espoused through the Big Brother who watches over everybody. It is also justification for intervention in extreme circumstance of threat to the collective good.
Coincidentally, this year 2020 marks the centenary of elections in Nigeria. The first election in the country was conducted on March 29, 1920 into local councils. This came after the introduction of elective democracy into the country in May, 1919 which resulted in the Township Ordinance that gave right to vote for three members of the Lagos Town Council. Since then, it has been same tale of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Like a natural mystic, in the words of immortal Bob Marley, electoral malpractices, violence and rigging have become the wind that blows in the Nigerian electoral air. “If you listen carefully, you will hear,” Marley the Prophet had sermonised. As I write this, Edo State has concluded its own grisly circus of the Nigerian natural mystic. Unlike the sermon of the great reggae music star Prophet, the Edo electoral mystic is not the first trumpet and it will certainly not be the last. Confirming the words of Marley’s prophecies, from the beginning to the end of that Edo election, many people suffered and many died. Many were maimed and several lost their deposits. Many more still will never recover from the wounds they sustained from this orgy that Nigeria calls electoral politics. As regards elections in Nigeria, the Prophet said: “many more will have to suffer; many more will have to die;” however, “Don’t ask me why,” he pleaded.
But, must elections be miniature artillery warfare where armaments are deployed, blood spilled and eternal pains inflicted on the populace? “No one tries to find the answers to all the questions they (we) ask,” said the Prophet. To his submission that, for electoral violence in Nigeria, things are not the way they used to be, with due respect, the Prophet lied! In Nigeria, electoral violence is as old as electoral politics. Since 1999 when Nigeria began her untruncated democratic journey in an electoral history, however, this electoral malaise has taken a supersonic dimension. Dirty rigging chemistry, stuffing of ballots, inducement, violence and a recent stratagem of deploying hunger as tool for inducement of voters, ingeniously patented in Ondo State and nicknamed di’bo ko se’be! (cast your vote and stuff your soup pot!) are the order of the day.
There is no doubting the fact that the twin of rigging and electoral violence is the albatross of genuine democracy in Nigeria. In the just concluded Edo State elections, 30,000 policemen were said to have been drafted to quell violence, in a Nigeria where its Southern Kaduna loses lives almost every week and sparse security is in place. Not only does violence weaken voter confidence in the electoral process, it frightens voters from the polling booths. This in turn leads to apathy, aloofness and unrepresentative figures that do not mirror the wishes of the people. In the 2019 elections, according to a report from SBM Intelligence, over 620 people were killed in electoral violence which erupted in several spots in the country.
In the midst of this cycle of violence, malpractices and outright theft of people’s will by Nigerian politicians, there is still no meaningful way through which Nigeria can get out of the murky waters of bad leadership, other than electoral politics. When we complain of the misrule of Muhammadu Buhari and his array of lieutenants in the states and the 774 local governments, the only time-tested, sure way of replacing them with leaders we desire is through the ballot box. We however enter into a cul-de-sac if that same ballot box is this unrepresentative, tainted with the blood of fellow Nigerians and is despised home and abroad as a trough of ignominy.
Thus, ostensibly bothered by this slide into anarchy, the United States of America, during the week, placed travel restrictions on some unnamed Nigerian politicians from Bayelsa and Kogi states perceived as architects of the unrepresentative-ness of Nigeria’s ballot boxes, who according to it, undermine “democratic process or organise election-related violence,” this action provoked hues and cries from their ranks. This latest move by the US government follows in tow a decision made by it in January, 2019 denying visas to individuals who participated in electoral violence. Same 2019, the US placed restrictions on individuals it identified as purveyors of the Nigerian cankerworm of corruption and electoral violence in the general elections that held in February – March of that year.
According to Morgan Ortagus, US State Department spokeswoman, the US government “condemn the acts of violence, intimidation, or corruption that harmed Nigerians and undermined the democratic process” and could not but slam the visa restrictions on “individuals (who) have so far operated with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and have undermined democratic principles.” Ortagus further said that the US government was poised to help Nigeria “end corruption and strengthen democracy, accountability, and respect for human rights.”
The above, however, disgusted the Federal Government and some neocolonial activists who canvass sovereignty of nationhood. To them, this is an example of America’s overbearing attitude on Nigerian democracy and unbridled paternalism. In a statement issued by Ferdinand Nwonye, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, government regarded it as disrespectful to the Nigeria’s sovereignty.
Enters Yahaya Bello, governor of Kogi State. Bello it was, whose off-season election in November, 2019 has become an empirical example of the malady of Nigerian electoral politics. Last week, specifically on September 17, 2020, he wrote a letter of protest to the American Ambassador to Nigeria, published in some Nigerian newspapers, complaining that, by the visa ban, America has exhibited unnecessary paternalism in Nigeria’s internal affairs. Bello’s impudence in the said letter was writ large. He began by sermonising on how the Nigerian Supreme Court’s “well reasoned” pronouncements gave him victory over the four petitions brought before it. By that very fact, said a governor notorious for his brawns rather than governmental brain, any charge of electoral malpractices against him by America or any other entity, cannot hold.
Hear him: “we do register the (sic) strongest protest possible as a state to (sic) the collateral and unwarranted interference in our political and social processes which it represents.” First, did any of those petitions dismissed at the Supreme Court, level allegations of vote-buying, unbridled violence as reason why the Kogi election should be nullified? Isn’t it common allegation that the judiciary is in amorous dalliance with politicians of Bello’s hue? So why was he mouthing the Supreme Court judgment as his alibi of electoral righteousness, as if God had just pronounced him winner of that ostensibly massively rigged election?
In the off-season election in Kogi State under reference, on November 18, under the tip of the nose of Bello, the Supreme Court-pronounced electoral saint of Kogi State, Salomeh Abuh, Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Woman Leader, who hailed from Aji-Obala, Ofu Local Government Area of the state, was burnt alive at Ochadamu. Several other people lost their lives for Bello to be made to chest the tape in a brawn-supreme election that saw sophisticated guns, machete and other violent weapons on parade. There were also allegations that some Bello hirelings tear-gassed opposition party members via helicopters in their strongholds to prevent them from going out to vote. The election was so violent that the Oyo State governor, Seyi Makinde, was allegedly smoked out of Kogi by these dare-devil Bello thugs. As if to add salt upon injury, a viral video of some Kogi young ladies aligned to Bello’s APC legitimising the ta-ta-ta-ta sound of a rifle as weapon of election surfaced, as testimonial of the Kogi sabre-rattling election. So Bello thought Big Brother was having a nap while he rained those volleys of impunities?
Nigerian elections are fiery specters because the actors see political offices as merchandise. In the recently concluded election in Edo, the parties were agitated and fought with their lives because the stakes were too high. Ego, untrammeled cash and vanities were at stake. You can imagine Bola Ahmed Tinubu throwing whatever was left of his political capital to the winds to address some ubiquitous persons via the social media and making very illogical claims that he himself was not totally removed from. If Osagie Eze-Iyamu loses, Tinubu and his hireling, Adams Oshiomhole and so many other captives, would kiss their ego canvass. If Godwin Obaseki loses, he probably would go to jail. Thus, the fight to win was fought with blood, with stolen money and unimagined brawns. To stop this fiery circus, the stake has to be highly defrosted of its huge ice.
The Nigerian politician is the proverbial mad man left in possession of his mother’s corpse. He has loaned his sense of righteousness, justice and knowledge of what is right to unseen and unknown demons. America and the West, havens where our politicians funnel stolen funds and where they run to, to enjoy those loots, are the Orwellian Big Brother who must wield the big cudgel to whip for the sanity of the collective. The visa ban may also be the proverbial Caesar’s ghost which has appeared to their Brutus. Theatergoers during Shakespeare’s time and readers of Shakespeare’s classics know that, at the appearance of the ghost, bellowing, “thou shalt see me at Philippi,” it foreshadows the fact that Brutus was doomed to die for his ignoble role in assassinating Caesar. In the same vein, perhaps if Nigerian politicians’ camp-beds are lit underneath with a gas-lamp by the appearance of this ghost that has come to judgment, their senses may well come back to normalcy. Or, it may just dawn on them that the party of electoral gangsterism is over. In any case, isn’t it America’s prerogative to determine who it offers its visa? Yahaya Bello, Buhari and their choristers are indeed palace jesters!
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