The greatest mistake we will make, however, is to let Acting President Jonathan think that he alone can set the agenda for the new political order. Apart from the fact that the satanic forces that rail against him will not let him do anything progressive, we are mindful of the fact the status quo is the culmination of the efforts of gallant Nigerians in the last three months.
Agenda for Presiden Goodluck Jonathan by Chido Onumah
It’s been three months since President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua unceremoniously abandoned his duty post, throwing Nigeria into one of the worst political logjams since independence. It seems, going by the elevation of Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to the position of Acting President, that the current impasse is gradually coming to a resolution. But again, knowing the topsy-turvy nature of politics in Nigeria, the end may not be so near after all. Three months ago, nobody, not even the country’s best political scientists could have predicted the current situation. It is the nature of power and politics. But “the country must move forward”, to borrow the jaded and cynical expression of our ruling elite; and the man who would be president, if he has the cojones, can hasten the resolution of the current crisis.
The greatest mistake we will make, however, is to let Acting President Jonathan think that he alone can set the agenda for the new political order. Apart from the fact that the satanic forces that rail against him will not let him do anything progressive, we are mindful of the fact the status quo is the culmination of the efforts of gallant Nigerians in the last three months. Mr. Acting-President has said amongst other things that he will tackle the electricity problem. I say good luck to him. Why does the Acting President think he can fix, in a little over a year, what his godfather, Olusegun Obasanjo, could not fix in eight years and what his principal, Umaru Yar’Adua, has bungled in two and half years.
The power situation has gone from bad to worse in the last three weeks. Conspiracy theorists blame the enemies of the acting president who are bent on bringing him down by making you look like a wimp. And with temperature at an all time high, the searing heat can only inflame the anger of Nigerians whose patience (not Goodluck’s) has run out on the electricity issue.
But Nigerians are a forgiving people, and believe me, they can afford to endure another year of never expecting power always. But what Nigerians can’t endure is another fraudulent election! One of the greatest challenges of the Nigerian nation — the product of lack of credible elections — is the absence of a culture of responsibility. So we have “elected” officials who feel no obligation to the electorate; we have government functionaries who feel no sense of duty or responsibility to the governed; and of course, we have a leadership that is completely detached from the citizenry.
We need credible elections next year to bring about a new way of doing things in Nigeria; of ensuring that when people fail to perform their duties or undermine the laws of the land, they can be voted out of office or removed easily without the conspiracy that has trailed the Yar’Adua situation. And the process of securing credible elections must start immediately. Considering the complexities of the Nigerian nation, one year is not long enough to put in place a model electoral structure, but it is enough time to try and build a workable structure – an Independent National Electoral Commission that is really committed to democracy in the broadest sense of the word.
Past elections, and certainly the recent election in Anambra State, are pointers to why we can hardly depend on Maurice Iwu’s INEC. In the case of Anambra, perhaps the most popular candidate won the election. But it is an indictment of INEC and a threat to democracy that only one-third of registered voters voted in the election. Should we blame INEC? Certainly! We are saddled with an INEC that feels no obligation to inform and educate the electorate. The impression one gets is that INEC, working as the handmaiden of the ruling class, is afraid of an informed and educated citizenry, essential requirement for democratic engagement.
A few days ago, a friend who wanted to get information about registering political parties in Nigeria, invited me to accompany him to INEC’s headquarters in Abuja. That experience for me was one of most tortuous encounters with officialdom in Nigeria. We naively assumed that since the information was not available on INEC’s website, we could just stroll in and out of INEC’s office with a leaflet or brochure containing the information we needed. We were wrong. After moving from one office to another, we met the officer who was supposed to give us the information we were looking for, only to be told we had to write an application to the chairman of INEC.
My friend and I couldn’t understand why we had to write an application to the chairman of INEC to get information about registering political parties and we made our dismay clear to the lady in charge. We told her we were not there to register a political party, but just wanted to find out what it took to get a political party registered. She insisted that it was the procedure for us to write to the chairman.
When it became clear that she was not going to budge, we begged her to give us a summary of INEC’s requirements. After much hesitation, and sounding like she was doing us a great favour, she obliged us, whispering as if she was divulging State secret. My friend and I thanked her and wondered how many people would have been frustrated by this process. I have recounted this experience just to show that there is more to participatory democracy than just elections. The process that leads to elections must be open and accessible.
This is the task before the acting president. If we can’t choose our leaders, there is no way we can fix electricity. I am not saying our national woes will be over once we entrench democracy; but it is a necessary first step in the new Nigeria of our dream.
Onumah is coordinator of Makeyourvotescount.org