Bishop Kukah: Democracy, political parties, electoral integrity and good governance
Draft text of a lecture delivered in a symposium at the unveiling of the new look Tribune, on January 29, 2019, at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Lagos, towards the 70th anniversary of the newspaper.
Bishop Matthew Hassan KUKAH
“Today, Democracy around the world faces its biggest crisis in decades, its foundations undermined by invective from on high and toxins from below, by new technologies that power ancient impulses, by a poisonous cocktail of strongmen and weakening institutions. From Russia to Riyadh to Silicon Valley, manipulation and abuse of trust is the common thread in so many of this year’s major headlines, an insidious and growing threat to freedom…” Edward Feslsenthal, Editor in Chief of Time Magazine.
Your letter of invitation invited me to speak at a symposium with the theme of Good Governance and Party Politics in Nigeria. However, down the line, you asked me to speak on Electoral Integrity, Legitimacy of Democratic Institutions and Good Governance. When I sought clarification from Mr. Edward Dickson, the Managing Editor, he suggested that I was free to reframe the issues. However, I notice that the advertisement that has gone out already has a title and therefore I will do all I can to stay within the boundaries of the expectations and aspire to see if I can at least meet the thematic assumptions of the organizers and the audience.
In a way, it is difficult to know what new angles one can bring to a discussion on Party Politics, Good Governance, Democracy, and Legitimacy, all of which are themes and subjects on their own. However, on further reflection, and given the nature of the celebrations, I have had to slightly move away from the theme and introduce the theme of Media. I have done this for reasons that are part of my liberty as a speaker and most importantly, reasons that I believe you yourself will find somehow convincing.
First, I believe there is no betterplace or time to highlight the spectacular, monumental and historical vision of the man that established the Tribune Newspapers some 70 years ago, namely, the legendary Chief Obafemi Awolowo of blessed memory, than here and now. Taken together with a farsighted programme of Education, his establishment of the first television station in Africa, the vision of the President we did not have can only whet our appetite about what might have been.
It is my firm belief that no aspirant to the office of President, then as now, has in any way shown the level of mental toughness, intellectual depth and prowess, discipline, hard work, vision, originality of thought and philosophy, foresight and even spiritual preparedness of the late Chief Awolowo. In my humble opinion, the levels and depths of his preparedness for leadership representa combination of the visions of both Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.
With hindsight, it is clear that hadheand his vision not fallen prey to the pernicious internal and external conspiracies of both the colonial and local elites, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that our story today would have been completely different.The miracles of the Singapores, the South Koreas or the Dubais of today would have trailed behind Nigeria’s achievement. Our combination of raw energy, mental toughness, population, nerve and verve would have placed our country, and indeed our continent, on one of the highest pedestals of national greatness.
Now that we are travelling on the other road taken, seventy years later, we are still stymied in the miasma of pain, self-deprecation and torture, national stagnation, decay and near anarchy. There cannot be a better wayto pay tribute to this vision of Chief Awolowo than to attempt to acknowledge today the great contribution of the Media.Here, longevity of the Tribune is a metaphor for imagining what might have been had the founder been given a chance to manage the commonwealth.
Perhaps no other institution has paid the supreme price in our struggle for independence from both the external colonialists and their more aggressive and voracious local counterparts, whether in uniform or agbada, than the Media. Today is therefore an opportunity to salute the Media, past and present, an institution without which the sun of our dreams would have set a long, long time ago; an institution without which our citizens who have died in the struggle would have been without names. Without the Media, what we call Democracy would have only remained for us in Nigeria and Africa, a dance in a dark forest of death.
Everywhere we turn today, the Media is under one form of assault or the other. Assault on the Media, the vanguard of free speech, is often the tell-tale sign of an impending rise of tyranny. Very often, when the word tyranny is mentioned, we tend to think of Hitler and Nazism, Pol Pot in Cambodia, apartheidin South Africa, or the excesses of the Stalinist period of Soviet history and so on. What is most important is not only the explosion of full scale massacres, tortures, detentions and inferno. What is important is for the society to learn now to detect the early warning signs of the evils of totalitarianism which often start in subtle forms.
This Keynote Address will do three things: First, it will briefly look at the state of our nationto see whether we meet the minimum tenets of Democracy. I will do this by making reference to the international tools for measuring Democratic institutions and what constitutes good governance. Secondly, I will ask why Democracy has not been able to take a strong footing in Africa. Thirdly, I will briefly look at the issues of Electoral integrity and the way forward.
1. Democracy: The State we are in
If our Democracy were a clock and we are asked, what time is it, it would be hard to say with any precision or confidence what time of day we are in. For some, it is a dawn, for others, around midday and there are those for whom it is almost sunset. The so called‘dark continent’ into which western colonialism waded with its light and ‘civilizing mission’, was left in a state of hope but also in a dilemma. There was hope for the development of new nations, but adilemma of lack of capacity and discipline, and a poor understanding of the systems and institutions upon which Democracy thrives.
In fairness, the colonial state laid a solid foundation for the take-off of the modern state in Africa, at least by way of a sound educational system, bureaucracy, and basic infrastructure such as highways, railways, sewage and drainages, urban and regional planning and so on. Right across the continent of Africa, it was barely ten years after independence when the despoliation started. The colonial state had exploited regionalism, ethnicity, and religious identity among others. Nowhere was this more pronounced than in our dear country, Nigeria, where this drama still plays out till date.
The details of the manipulations of religion and region in northern Nigeria are the subject for another day, but their background is well laid out in my old book, Religion, Politics and Power in Northern Nigeria. However, the British themselves sensed that the unresolved issues of the Minorities impaired their dreams of a modern Nigeria. In response to this restiveness across the country, they decided to set up the Minorities Commission ahead of Independence. Sadly, in the end, the British lacked the courage to follow through with the findings of that Commission. Rather, they simply made pacts with the ethnic hegemons of the Hausa-Fulani, the Igbos and the Yorubas, and they left the Minorities at their mercy. The result is the persistent ferment that has come to define the so-called national question, especially with regards to the fate of the Minority ethnic groups. Whether we look at Maitatsine, Boko Haram or the so-called Fulani herdsmen violence, the seeds lie buried in the constructed identities of pre-independent Nigeria especially in regards to the legacies of Islam and the rest of this country.
Mr. Dele Ogun, a British based lawyer and scholar has written an exceptionally well researched book titled, A Fatherless People: The Secret Story of How the Nigerians Missed the Road to the Promised Land. Using British colonial records, Mr. Ogun details the surreptitious steps and manipulations that finally set the southern elite, Igbos and Yorubas, against one another, a fact that has only escalated as the years have rolled on, keeping national cohesion in abeyance. Either way, the foundation was laid for the crisis that would destroy the Democratic institutions that the British themselves brought forth.
The political scene would be consumed by the politics of ethnicity and religion, forcing the young well-trained idealists of yesterday into the blind alleys of regionalism. Then, darkness set in as the men on horseback, the military, ambushed Democracy. By the time they left, they had savaged the institutions of state, destroyed and weakened the notion of the rule of law and replaced it with the capricious rule of men. The country would lie like a wounded elephant, a victim of a million stabs. The nation would writhe in pain, suffering the consequences of arrested development.
The collapse of the Berlin wall in 1989raised so much hope of the return of the third wave of Democracy around the world. Africa was not left out of the euphoria of what political scientists described as the dawn of the second liberation of Africa. Sadly, after almost twenty years, the goal posts of hope for prosperity and development have continued to shift. The continent has continued to show clear signs of weariness marked by stagnation and decay. Our people now saunter to the cliffs of despair. The military engaged in Democratic pretensions, mangling and decapitating Democratic institutions and making them in their image. They haunted the civilians out of the political space and co-opted a few of those that Francis Fukuyama would refer to as, men without chests,as collaborators. In doing this, they dug the grave for Democracy over a thirty-year period because neither they nor their collaborators seemed committed to anything other than feeding their gargantuan greed.
To inspire a new generation of leadership for Africa and to encourage Africa to ride on the crest of Democracy as a means of delivering on the goals of goods and services to its people, a Sudanese billionaire businessman, Mr. Mo Ibrahim set up the eponymous annual Prize for Leadership in 2007. According to the Mo Foundation, the Prize celebrates excellence in leadership. The vision of the Prize is to:
- recognize and celebrate African leaders who have developed their countries, lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity
- highlight exceptional role models for the continent
- ensure that Africa continues to benefit from the experience and expertise of exceptional leaders when they leave national office, by enabling them to continue in other public roles on the continent
The huge prize money of five million dollars was meant to cushion our leaders from the temptations to hold on to power or loot their national treasuries at all cost. Eleven years later, six leaders have won the Prize: Joachim Chisano (Mozambique, 2007), Festus Mogae (Malawi, 2008), PedroPires (Cape Verde, 2011), Hifikepunye Pohamba (Namibia, 2014), Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia 2017). Although he left power in 1999, to infuse greater legitimacy to the Prize, Mandela was awarded the Prize after President Chisano in 2007.
The deteriorating state of affairs suggests clearly that Democracy has not delivered to a majority of our people and that corruption remains the cancer that has stymied the continent’s growth. Despite Mr. Ibrahim’s most encouraging gestures, the Prize continues to elude our leaders especially those in the northern parts of the continent. The frustrations with Democracy in Africa persist, with our people remaining resilient but the leaders ill prepared to serve their people.
Nowhere are these frustrations more manifest than in Nigeria. A simple example is the climate of trepidation, anxiety and fear that has gripped the nation as the elections draw near. The monologue that characterizes elections has turned the campaigns into a source of mere entertainment. The Presidential Candidates crisscross the country with their huge army of supporters hurriedly assembled and shoved from one stadium or open square to the other, adorned in polychromatic attires, promising electricity while they campaign in darkness, promising roads while they fly in the air to their campaigns, promising water while they ferry bottles of water across the country.
The gathering of leaders and their supporters pirouette, twizzle, gyrate, twirl and whirl on the stages to a contrived gathering of cajoled and bribed supporters for two or three hours and the theatre moves to the next capital. After five or so weeks, Election Day will comeand citizens have to go out to vote. Like synchronized swimmers, we shall, I hope, perfunctorily perform our duties and after that, we shall await the announcement of the final results. I say I hope, because no matter how unconvinced we may be, if we wish for democracy to become real, we as citizens must fulfil our rightful dutyanddo our part for change to come.
We can see that as usual, very little has been learnt. Amidst growing concerns, Presidential candidates, drawn from the 91 Political Parties, met in Abuja and signed a Peace Accord put together by the Abdulsalam-led National Peace Committee (NPC) on December 12th 2018. All Parties committed themselves to ensuring decent campaigns, free from calumny, provocation and hate speech. Now, everything has come to a head with the suspension of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, CJN, Mr. Walter Onnoghen, by President Buhari. Despite all these struggles for power, Nigerians fearthat very little will be done to change their fortunes.
Now we are stuck and wondering what the options are. So far, we have, as usual rushed into our trenches and all we are doing is digging deeper. What is the option and what are the ways out? We are all expressing our views, but in the end, it is what the distinguished Jurists in the Supreme Court decide that is important. For example, where do they stand and what is their response to the fate of their Chief? In the end, where they stand is far more important than what we all think. The key word here is solidarity and it depends on which side of the fence the stand in solidarity with.
For the President, no one is infallible and what we have now is not a case of whether Chief Justice Onnoghen is innocent or guilty. The critical word is, process, right or wrong. It is not too late to retrace the steps and take the path of honour no matter where and how it all ends. This justice has to be seen to have been done. This is where backroom diplomacy comes in. It all does not have to be either or. There is a middle way, and the President has to find it. The whole of Nigeria is his constituency, not the APC or his powers as President. His duty is to keep the country steady and on the right path. It is still daylight and we can find the black goat before the sun finally sets.
None of the world’s Governance ranking and weighting Agencies has given Nigeria any hopeful and positive rankings despite all our claims of integrity and the fight against corruption. The World Bank, Mo Ibrahim, UNDP, Transparency International, have all returned negative reviews of our situation. These Agencies measure and weight countries based on a matrix which they have designed covering such areas of human life as:Safety, Rule of Law, Transparency, Personal Safety, National Security, Participation, Human Rights, Welfare, Education, Health etc. These measurements try to weigh how much progress a country is making in delivering essential services to its people (Good Governance Indices).
For us in Nigeria, none of this is necessarily an accurate measurement of how this or any government has performed. We will be asking too much if we do not appreciate the huge number of malignant years that the locusts have been at work in consuming and destroying the crops of our commonwealth. But let us turn briefly to one of the Reports, nearer home, the Ghana based, Afrobarometer Report for 2018 on Nigeria.
In the Report, Afrobarometershowed that in Nigeria, very little of anything has changed in the area of corruption. The anti-corruption anthems have been loud, but the realities have shown the gradual spread of this cancer to all segments of national life. For example, the Nigerian Police is generally perceived as the most corrupt institution by 65%of the population. Next is the National Assembly(60%), Local Government Councils(55%), Government Officials(54%), State Assembly(54%), State Governors(53%), Judges((51%), President and his officials(43%), Traditional Rulers(54%), Religious Leaders(36%). Clearly, corruption is so pervasive that it has permeated every stratum of society.
The same Report stated that 65% of Nigerians said they had to pay a bribe to receive assistance from the Police, 44% said they have had to pay the bribe to avoid problems with the Police, while 38% had to pay to receive an official government document. To access water and sanitation, the percentage of those who have to pay a bribe is 34% while 20% said they had to pay to receive medical services.
The political, bureaucratic and business elite pose the greatest threat as its approach to and conduct of official business and governance is often designed to undermine the capacity of the bureaucracy to delivery on services to its people. For example, 80% of the elites admitted to paying bribes to avoid proper registration of land and also to avoid court cases, 77% admitted paying a bribe to avoid payment of taxes.
In the 80s, frustration with military rule saw the exodus of African scholars who migrated in search of greener pastures. Many of these Nigerians have been very successful. Since the return to Democracy, the federal government recognized the significance of this huge capital and then set up a Diaspora Office at home to find ways of harnessing the expertise of these citizens. We were getting very confident when more frustration set in again, forcing thousands of our youth, largely less skilled, to cross the desert and the Mediterranean sea to the Arab world and Europe. Sadly, their age brackets made up of largely able bodied and restless Youth suggests that we are losing the seeds of our future in this current wave.
2. Why has Democracy not been able to deliver in Africa?
Many arguments have been advanced as to the feasibility of Democracy in Africa. The operators, unable, or unwilling, to manage the tools of navigation have often said we are not ripe for Democracy. Others have argued that even from the point of view of tradition and vocabulary, the African soil cannot sustain the growth of the seeds of Democracy. The leaders excuse their failures by saying among other things: We are communitarian, while Democracy privileges the individual, so it cannot work among us. Our communitarian spirit in Africa sees opposition as treachery. Democracy is too expensive and we do not have the resources to manage its costs. Principles like equality, rule of law, due process,are all strange to Africa because we are traditionalists with cultural norms that privilege age and status differentials. Again, our cultures allow for ambiguities and grey areas in life.
What we Africans,however, seem to forget is that everyone was like this and perhaps even worse off. What we call Democracy today is a tradeoff and is the result ofyears of wars, negotiation, debates, arguments and so on. Democracy is the result of these reflections and it is still a work in progress and will be so because there are no finishing posts for the Democratic quest. Democracy is merely the creation, facilitation, of an environment for the free expression of the limitless human spirit, for respect and human dignity. This is why, Churchill’s time-tested truism remains relevant, namely, that Democracy is the worst form of governmentexcept for all others.
The world has experimented with so many options of government.We have hadTotalitarian or Autocratic regimes. We have had Oligarchy, Aristocracy, Plutocracy orTheocracy. In all of these, the individual and the society had no say in how and who became ruler. Depending on the system, the basis for ruling over peoplewas wealth, status or invoking God. The world fought two wars to end slavery and make men and women free to choose who and how they would be governed. Today, in Nigeria, the autocratic background of our military history and their invasion of our political space, accounts for the retardation of the democratic ethos in our society. So, what is the way forward?
3. Between Electoral Integrity, Parties and Good Governance
To conclude, what can one say about the state of our Democratic Institutions, our Political Parties, and our Electoral Processes? All these notions are closely knit together and one cannot stand without the other. For example, Political Parties are platforms by which politicians canvass for votes and sell their ideologies to the people. However, how do we assess our Political Parties today?
We all know that what we call Parties in Nigeria today cannot meet the standards of real Parties elsewhere. Every Presidential election sees Parties change their name or candidates change their platform. Take the two Presidential candidates of the PDP and the APC for example. Close your eyes and see how many Parties they have campaigned under: PDP, ANPP, CPC, ACN, APC and now PDP. Military rule made things even worse. Imagine if a Hotel, a Television Station, a Newspaper or a Church changed their name every so often. What would you make of it?
What makes Democracy beautiful is that Parties can be platforms for managing diversity. Ideally a Party should serve as a platform for men and women of diverse ethnicities, faiths and backgrounds to come together and pursue a common set of goals. The inherent competitive nature of Democracy should ideally provide platforms for encouraging losers to work harder and return to compete another. The weak foundation of politics in Africa leaves us too vulnerable with winners often endangering the future of the process.
Often, these weak foundations cannot carry the egos and megalomaniac tendencies of those who wish to use power to enrich themselves and their friends or offer opportunities for a narrow group. This creates tensions, makes politics chaotic and our people impatient. When power sharing is so skewed, favoritism divides the parties and the people, and development becomes impossible. Petty nationalisms emerge and centrifugal forces take centre stage. As we can see in our situation today, alienation now breeds frustration and nihilism. This kind of politics does not unite people. It leaves no room for freedom or development.
There is a lot of ambiguity around the concept of Electoral integrity. We have tended to see integrity as piety and yet, although piety is necessary, it is not a sufficient condition for guaranteeing good politics. A pious person could be an intolerant, quarrelsome and narrow-minded person, one who probably only uses his or her own standards of morality as a measurefor others. This kind of person may not possess the key tenets of a Democrat, namely, one who manages differences, negotiates, listens, is patient, hears other views, is tolerant and accommodating of difference, and believes in consensus building.
Different vocations demand different skills. I am not sure anyone can recall how many times Nelson Mandela was seen in a Church. Piety is a great gift but it should not be equated with holiness or wholesomeness. For our politics, we require men and women who may not be outwardly pious, but can fix our roads, give us electricity, put food on our table, ensure that our children and all of us are safe, healthy and educated. There is no need to teach us how to say grace when there is no food on the table.
Flowing directly from this is the question of what constitutes electoral integrity. Where does the integrity of an electoral process lie? Is it with the Chairman of INEC and his fellow workers and the voters? What if you have a good INEC Chairman and a few other bad apples lying somewhere under the tables in INEC? What if the INEC Chairman and his staff are all clean but some of the Security Agencies are not clean? In other words, Electoral integrity is almost impossible to measure because it is contingent on a range of actors and factors that are well beyond the control of one person, individual, or institution. We must therefore see Electoral integrity as the comfort zone where all actors can tolerate the outcome of the process. In other words, strong and more reliable institutions especially the Judiciary will also have to attain a minimum threshold of credibility for these processes to command respect.
However, if an electoral process passes the integrity test, does it translate into good governance? This question is difficult to answer because history teaches us a slightly different lesson. The elections that brought Hitler to power were, by the standards of the day, free and fair. Yet what did they leave behind as a legacy? Paul Kagame has continued to conduct elections and won handsomely despite problems of the integrity of the process; however, it would seem that both within and outside Rwanda, many people have more or less come to live with the fact that he has delivered on good governance. In other words, does the end justify the means?
Finally, if it is any consolation, we are not alone. Many have argued that indeed, Democracy is in retreat and under serious threat. The Time Editor’s words quoted at the beginning of this paper affirm these fears. Look at what Brexit has thrown up in the United Kingdom and what Trumpism has thrown up in the United States of America. It seems that for many, neither Brexit nor Trumpism reflects the voice of the majority. But this is where we are today. The beauty of these ugly developments is that the resilience of the system will win the day.
In its end of year edition, the Economist of London described what Britain has in the name of a Constitution as:a ramshackle which allows plenty of scope for shenanigans, it is a mish mash of laws and conventions, customs and courtesies. It is a state of mind, the good chap theory of government.
The Bagehot Column in the same edition of the paper concluded that:the Elite has failed. The British system is full of maladies and is governed by a self-involved clique that rewards group membership above competence and self-confidence above expertise. It operates a system called Chumocracy. Britain’s leadership crisis is rooted in the evolution of the old establishment into new political class…the new political class has preserved many of the failures of the old establishment. It is introverted and self-rewarding…Meritocracy morphs into crony capitalism.
In the end, Democracy dies when people hand over their fate to politicians. This is dangerous because politics is the only game for which you require no qualification or prior training, experience or exposure to participate in. With the billionaires and the private sector in our midst, the intellectuals, the scientists, the retired and serving Generals, the Bishops and all caliber of people we have, surely, it will be a mortal sin to entrust our hope to our politicians and simply stand by and watch as our lives and future are threatened. We will be most guilty of negligence.
Hitler, a half educated and failed artist, stole the trust of the German people, exploited their frustration, invented enemies and left behindthe most demonic and murderous epoch in German history. Standing for elections is a public request to be trusted by people. When you win elections, you carry a moral burden. Yes, very often, as in real life, the other side of the fence becomes different when you actually get there. It is suicidal for a people to leave their hopes in the hands of individual politicians on grounds of their moral claims and promises.
These demagogues often hide their real ambitions under a veneer of populism, they whip supporters into frenzy, making different promises to different constituencies and speaking from both ends of their mouths. Thus, they will promise their kin, their tribesmen and women, co-religionists, regionalists, one thing and the rest of the country another thing. They will ride on a contrived narrative of popular fanatical nationalism or ideology and present themselves as heroes, liberators and messiahs. This is when prophecy becomes urgent. This is where the honest voice has to stand up and say No. This is when No to tyranny becomes Yes to freedom.
Often, we all often feel insignificant as individuals. We wonder, can I make a difference?History says, yes, we can make a difference. We have had heroes and heroines who have made a difference. Gandhi. Martin Luther King. John Kennedy. Mother Theresa. Nelson Mandela. Steve Biko. Edward Snowden. Julian Assange. Malala. Leah Sharibu. Rosa Parks.Jim Acosta. De Klerk. Gorbachev. John Paul II. Mother Theresa. Colin Kapperhich. Bouzouzi.
Protest is honourable. We must embrace the culture of Protest. In the Year 2011, TIME Magazine made the Protester Man of the Year! So, creeping totalitarianism and tyranny, whether seen as assault on individual liberties, muzzling of the media or attack on the Opposition, must be resisted. The face of tyranny is often couched in innocence. There have been attacks on the Media and disobedience of the Courts as we can see in the cases of Sambo Dasuki or El Zakzaky whose detentions several Courts have declared illegal. The Government has continued to act in disobedience. Now, they have broken into and desecrated the Supreme Court to install their own Chief Justice. Who will be next? That is the central question we must face before darkness envelopes us. The Rev. Martin Luther King said that a man cannot climb your back unless you bend it.
So, as the elections approach, do yourself one favour. You have listened to all the promises that have been made, the ones kept, hurriedly or strategically. Do not get carried away. On Election Day, before heading for the polls, take a look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself: Am I looking better than I was last year? Do I look healthier? Do I feel more secure? What do I want for my family? Which candidate or Party offers the best opportunity for me to improve my conditions and become a better person, a better and proud citizen? These are the questions. Listen then to Prophet Isaiah who said: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls (Jer. 6:16)