Opinion | US election: Nigeria doesn’t like to learn good lessons ~ By Azuka Onwuka
If Nigeria were a country desirous of progress, there are some obvious lessons the 2020 presidential election of the United States of America would teach. However, most Nigerian government officials and their fanatical supporters (who usually do not wish Nigeria well) would always dismiss such with the lame excuse that Nigeria is “only” 60 years as an independent country compared to the US with over 200 years. But this has little or nothing to do with the age of a country. There are countries which are less than 30 years that have organised themselves well.
The most glaring lesson from the US election is the independence of the institutions – completely free from the control of the presidency. Public officials owe allegiance to the country and not to the personality occupying the office of “president”. Consequently, in an election conducted under the presidency of Mr Donald Trump, it sounded “strange” to hear Trump (and not the opposition) shouting about being rigged out, despite being called the most powerful man on earth. The so-called “power of incumbency”, which most Nigerians misinterpret to mean using state apparatus to one’s advantage, did not help Trump. He was as vulnerable to the dictates of the electorate as any other candidate.
The electoral officials in each state who supervised the conduct of the election were not answerable to him. The US police, army and intelligence agencies like the CIA, FBI, NSA, etc, did not make themselves available to be used to intimidate the opposition and ensure that the results were written in his favour. The media (like CNN, New York Times, etc, which did not dance to his tune) were not shut down or fined heavily like our own Nigerian Broadcasting Commission has been doing to radio and TV stations in Nigeria. The only thing Trump could do was call the media houses which did not agree with his unpresidential style “fake news media”. The most powerful person on earth was helpless as the media analysed his past and present comments and regularly accused him of “lies”.
When the results started coming in and showed that Mr Joe Biden was overtaking Trump in some battleground states like Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada, Trump’s supporters came out to intimidate those counting the results. Trump wanted the counting to stop but the court did not heed his wish. The army, the police and the CIA did not attempt to stop them those counting the votes. Even though Trump is the commander-in-chief of the most powerful army in the world, the Federal Aviation Administration did not wait for a directive from him before announcing that the airspace over Biden had been declared no-fly zone once it became clear that Biden was poised to become the next US president. Trump’s supporters protested without any violence. Even after Biden hit the 270 electoral-college vote mark and became the president-elect, Trump’s supporters did not start burning and destroying things in the USA. They did not start killing Biden’s supporters.
On January 20 when Trump is supposed to vacate office and hand over to Biden, the military, the police and the CIA will not take any instruction from Trump to stop Biden from being sworn in. On the contrary, if Trump’s belongings are still in the White House some hours before 12 noon of that day, the White House staff will pack them and take them out before 12 noon. And if he refuses to leave the White House, he will be arrested, taken out of the White House and even prosecuted for trying to subvert the Constitution.
In a nutshell, the President of the United States is not above the Constitution. His power does not lie in his person but in the power conferred on him by the Constitution. He is not the state. He is merely a citizen given the role to direct the affairs of the state for a limited period of time. He must carry out that role as directed by the Constitution.
Any country in which the president is above the Constitution is not a democracy. It is irresponsible for government officials and their fanatical supporters to regularly tell people that Nigeria has its own brand of democracy which does not need to be exactly like the US democracy. Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Each country can practise the presidential or parliamentary system of government or any other form of government, but the meaning of democracy remains constant. In a democracy, the president does not decide when to obey the law and when not to obey it. Therefore, even though Nigeria purports to practise democracy, Nigeria is not a democracy in the true definition of it.
One way to start the process of putting Nigeria on the path to democracy is to ensure that the process of election is 100-percent foolproof and tamper-proof. That a part-time politician like Trump could emerge from the business world in 2016 (without a political godfather) and with so much controversy around him, his wife and family and still win the party’s primaries and then win the presidential election is one clear evidence that the USA system is a democracy. In a democracy, power fully lies in the hands of the people. In 2008, a similar thing happened in the case of then Senator Barack Obama. By 2007 when he kicked off his presidential campaign, he had only been in the Senate for only two years. He had never held a chief executive post in his life either in the private or public world. He had no top-level political, managerial, or leadership experience that Americans could point at before trusting him to lead the most powerful country in the world. He was also not White and did not have a Western name like all his predecessors. The only thing he had was the power of oratory and his dream. Yet he beat more experienced politicians like Hillary Clinton (eight years then in the Senate), Joe Biden (36 years then in the Senate) and others to win the primaries, and then went ahead to beat an American war hero and Senator with 22 years at the Senate by 2008: Senator John McCain. Many people felt that it would not be possible for such a relatively unknown person like Obama to win the American presidency, yet he did. Similarly in 2016 many thought that it was virtually impossible for a Trump who was embroiled in a lot of controversies to win the presidency, yet he won. However, when Americans felt that they had had enough of, they voted him out last week, denying him the opportunity of a second term.
Nigeria has an electoral system that cannot produce democratic leaders. The electoral umpires at the federal levels are appointed by the president, while those at the state level are appointed by state governors. Such a system cannot produce transparent and independent elections, since those appointed cannot go against those who appointed them who are also candidates in the same election. The police, the army and the intelligence agencies (which are in charge of security during elections in Nigeria) owe allegiance to the President. The courts which adjudicate electoral disputes have been interfered with by the President who has suspended the Chief Justice of Nigeria and appointed his replacement and also sent security operatives at night to the residents of judges to intimidate and harass them.
The first step for Nigeria is to create a system whereby electoral officials are not appointed by the presidency or state governors and cannot be removed or disciplined by them. Their remuneration should also not be controlled by the presidency or state governors. They should not be answerable to the presidency or state governors. That is true independence.
However, the big picture should be to fully restructure Nigeria. It is something Nigeria cannot run away from. The more it is delayed, the more dangerous it becomes for Nigeria as an entity.
— Twitter @BrandAzuka