Home Opinion Their show in Senegal, our shame in Nigeria

Their show in Senegal, our shame in Nigeria

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There are lessons of life on a march-past when participants make reverse in what is popularly termed ‘about-turn’. At that point, those previously in front, take the rear position, while the ones hitherto at the back, take the lead. In real life, it can be an irony of sort.

That was precisely what played out in Dakar, capital of Senegal on Tuesday, 2nd April at the inauguration of 44-year-old Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a left-wing pan-Africanist, as the country’s president. The success of the Senegalese poll resulting to the inauguration, made mockery of the travesty that passed for presidential election in Nigeria on 25th February 2023.

Faye’s peaceful inauguration opened a new chapter in Senegal’s history. Faye is the youngest president to be elected in Senegal since its political independence from France in 1960.

His swearing-in which was attended by many African presidents and beyond, marks a fresh beginning in the search for enduring democratic order in the country.

Faye was elected in a contest that took place on 24th 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, forcing the government to settle for the 24th March date.

Faye was among political detainees freed from prison 10 days before the poll. He scored 54 per cent of votes in the election that was adjudged free and fair, beating former governing party’s candidate, Amadou Ba, who conceded defeat.

Similar feat took place in Liberia on October 10, 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 14th 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, who was contesting his fifth election. Ruto won without the support of the then President, Uhuru Kenyatta, who backed Odinga.

At the inauguration of the three presidents – Ruto, Boakai and Faye, Nigeria was represented. In Dakar, President Bola Tinubu was present. He even shared photo opportunities with Faye. But the pictures indicated obvious mismatch. Effortless smiles by Faye, pointed to a leader who rode to office on poplar mandate. Tinubu struggled with his smiles – a clear manifestation of procured mandate. In diplomacy and international relations, such postures speak a lot.

In the management and outcome of elections in Kenya, Liberia and Senegal, Nigeria lost its leadership role in West Africa and the continent. Those occasions represent our ugly moments of about-turn in the march for democracy and good governance. We are currently at the rear position.

In Kenya, Liberia and Senegal, the guardrails of democracy were alive and at work. The principles of checks and balances among the three arms of the government – the executive, legislature and judiciary were respected. The executive arm did not ride roughshod on others. Even when it attempted to be nasty, the judiciary rose up to its responsibilities and called it to order.

That was the central theme in the 2018 publication on comparative politics by Harvard University political scientists, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, titled; How Democracies Die. The book advocates mutual tolerance and respect for the political legitimacy of the opposition, including accepting the results of a free and fair election where the opposition wins. The authors also stress the importance of respecting the opinions of those of different orientations.

Nigerans were denied such opportunity in the presidential elections in 2023. They had thought that democracy was about to take firm roots in the country in the exercise. That hope of a new order was what informed the enthusiasm of the masses, especially the youths in participating in the polls.

When also the departing President Muhammadu Buhari pledged bequeathing a legacy of credible elections to the country, the people took him by his words. In tow, the national chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu, assured that his agency had put in place measures that would guard against rigging and vote manipulation.

But when it mattered most, neither Buhari, nor Yakubu, was there for the people. It turned out that they merely sold a dummy to the nation. INEC simply worked from the answer to deliver Tinubu. The judiciary further compounded issues with its controversial judgements on critical matters.

The Supreme Court’s judgement validating the election of Tinubu, against weighty allegations of rigging, certificate forgery, identity theft and inconsistencies on personal data, is one outing that will continue to haunt Nigeria’s democracy and its image in the years ahead.

But for sheer absence of shame which seems to have become a major attribute of an average Nigerian politician, Tinubu had no reason being in Senegal for Faye’s inauguration. His presence at the ceremony, was a misnomer, akin to putting nothing on something. It marked the lowest Nigeria could descend in choosing shame in place of pride.

Going forward, Nigeria should understudy Liberia and Senegal in conduct of transparent elections. Faye’s election, in particular, is an indication of paradigm shift in contemporary politics in his country and Africa. By the successful conduct of the poll, Senegal has shown the way for change in the continent. There are other lessons to learn from the exercise. The election was devoid of rancour, hence Faye, coming from the opposition, could win.

We laud the Senegalese electorate for their principled stance on the election, especially against the backdrop of allegations of the erstwhile Sall administration trying to play games with the poll. Notwithstanding, the administration deserves to be commended for the tolerance it exhibited in allowing the results of the poll to count and even calling to congratulate Faye.

Nigerian leaders and the electorate have a lot to copy from Senegal on tolerance, free and fair polls. INEC must be truly independent in conducting elections. As a first step in attaining that goal, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and his team must go. They have shown to be partisan and clearly dented by the outcome of the 2023 polls. INEC under Yakubu, has lost the integrity to supervise future elections in the country and no longer enjoys the trust of Nigerians.

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