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Issues that matter in Tinubu’s Democracy Day speech

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There is still a long way to go before beating the chests that the course has been steadied. And Tinubu knows it, despite the claims in his Democracy Day speech.

The attempts by President Bola Tinubu to whitewash Nigeria’s democracy in his address on Wednesday, 12 June 2024, were vigorous and obvious. It was such that an outsider could fall for the belief that democracy, which Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States of America, defined as the government of the people, by the people, for the people, has taken strong roots in Nigeria.

Tinubu made many claims that he knew, were off the mark. One of such was: “That we have established a tradition of holding transparent, open, and fair elections gives credence to our democratic bearing”. And then, the mother of it all; “We have steadied the course”.

The President did not get it. The nearest to such exaggeration is the preamble to the 1999 Constitution which claims that, “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria….Do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following Constitution:”. The assertion is bogus. Nigerians were not consulted in making the constitution. It was an arrangement by individuals assembled by the military.

Yes, what was celebrated on Wednesday, was the nation’s 25 years of uninterrupted democratic or better, civilian governance. But to lay any claims to transparency in our election or smooth transition, is out of it. The election that ushered in Tinubu is a far cry from what 12 June represents to Nigerians.

On 12 June 1993, Nigerians put aside the divisive factors of religion and ethnicity to vote for late newspaper publisher, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, as their president. The election was transparent.

Though annulled by the dark forces in the military under the then administration of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, the contest remains the freest in the country. Tinubu’s emergence did not come close to that exercise by whatever stretch of imagination. It was, indeed, a direct opposite.

His election was a product of electoral heist orchestrated by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), headed by Professor Mahmood Yakubu. Though the Supreme Court endorsed the election, Nigerians knew that the result as declared by INEC, was a farce. Even Tinubu knows that he is sitting on a dented mandate.

The 25th anniversary of the return to civil rule, should therefore have provided opportunity for atonement by the President. Tinubu should have toed the path of his predecessor, Umaru Yar’Adua, who had the grace to admit that the election that brought him to power in 2007, was flawed. Doing so, would have eased the pains inflicted on Nigerians by INEC considerably and made him a hero.

The next step should have been to set a template for transparent contests in the future. But by insisting that his election was free and fair in the face of clear evidences of manipulations and compromise by the supervising authorities, the president does not do the country any good.

Such cocky stance rather amounts to encouraging future contestants to snatch victory from the polls, no matter whatever it may entail. That puts a lie to the assertion that we have steadied the course.

In fact, there is a lot to worry about. The 25 February 2023 presidential election and subsequent March 18 governorship polls, made mockery of Nigeria’s democracy. Both contests, especially the presidential poll, exemplified the odious principle that might is right. Unfortunately, the judiciary which many had looked up to right the situation, did not help matters. Rather than being an unbiased umpire, it stepped into the ring, in some cases, making awards and pronouncements that were not asked for by litigants. There has therefore been the fear of that poor outing haunting the nation’s electoral democracy in the years to come. The fear is genuine.

Going forward, there is the need to make some hard decisions for the sake of the country. Some reforms in the electoral system are inevitable. INEC as presently constituted, does not offer hopes for any transparent election in the country. There is need for a clean break from 2023. Professor Yakubu and his team should go for INEC to be fully free. They may have offered their best but their best was not good enough for the country. Any day Yakubu and his team remain on the saddle in the electoral process is a minus to the development of democracy in the country.

For Nigeria to steady the course in its democracy, the elections must be free and fair; the people’s choice must prevail. There are instances to draw from in recent developments in South Africa, Senegal, Liberia and Kenya. General elections were held in South Africa on 29 May 2024 to elect a new National Assembly as well as the provincial legislature in each of the nine provinces. The poll was the 7th general election held under the conditions of universal adult suffrage since the end of the apartheid era in the country 1994.

Outcome of the poll showed that support for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) significantly declined. Though the ANC, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa remained the largest party, it lost the parliamentary majority that it has held since 1994.

The centrist Democratic Alliance remained in second place with a slight increase. uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), a left-wing populist party founded six months prior to the election and led by former President Jacob Zuma, came in third place. Of note in the election, is that neither the ANC nor Ramaphosa manipulated the election, at least to the knowledge of all.

Back here in the sub-region, on Tuesday, 2 April, 44-year-old Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a left-wing pan-Africanist, was inaugurated as the president of Senegal. Tinubu attended the ceremony.  Faye was elected in a contest that took place on 24 March 2024. He was among the 20 candidates that stood for the poll. The elections were originally scheduled for 25 February but were postponed indefinitely by the immediate past President, Macky Sall.

Sall wanted to play pranks with the polls. But the Senegalese Constitutional Council overturned the postponement and ordered elections to proceed. Faye scored 54 per cent of votes in the election, beating former governing party’s candidate, Amadou Ba, who conceded defeat.

Similar feat took place in Liberia on 10 October 2023, when the then President George Weah, sought election for a second term. No candidate won a majority in the first round, with Weah narrowly placing first over opposition leader, Joseph Boakai. In a runoff held on 14 November 2023, Boakai defeated Weah by just over one percentage point. Weah conceded the election peacefully.

Earlier in August 2022, erstwhile Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto was elected President, with 50.49 per cent of the votes, narrowly beating veteran opposition leader and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Ruto won without the support of the then President, Uhuru Kenyatta.

In none of these countries did the government or ruling party tamper with the electoral processes. The votes were allowed to count. Those countries can claim to have steadied the course of democracy in their territories. Nigeria has not.

Even then, election is just an aspect of democracy. There are other benefits in that form of government. Democracy is about good life and welfare of the people. It is about the rule of law and the people being free of any encumbrances to their rights. These include the right to life, possession of property in any part of the country without molestation, freedom of association and the right to hold and express opinions within the confines of the law. Nigerians are yet to enjoy some of these rights in this administration. Under Tinubu, the cost of living is beyond the reach of the citizens, unemployment is scary, insecurity is debilitating, inflation is all-time high and prices of basic food items, simply outrageous. Nigerians cannot even see morsels to pick from the bins. It is that bad!

There have been 45 attacks on the media since President Bola Tinubu took office last May. About 62 per cent of these attacks were by state security, according to a release by Media Rights Agenda, a Nigerian press defence organisation.

There is therefore, still a long way to go before beating the chests that the course has been steadied. And Tinubu knows it, despite the claims in his Democracy Day address.

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