In October 1960 when the British relinquished power in Nigeria, they left governance to an elected Parliamentary Government much akin to their own system of democracy. Centuries earlier, precisely in 1776, USA had rejected this same system of governance because they did not have a King. Nigeria being a patchwork of many tribes had no constitutional monarchy so, with no central authority to pay allegiance to, a ceremonial presidency was created, with no specific powers in governance. For all practical purposes, the office had all the hallmarks of a reward to one of the agitators for an independent Nigeria. For effective administration, the Country by 1963 was divided into 4 regions each headed by a Premier voted into power as a member of the winning political party in that region.
The parliamentarians were elected members of various political parties within Nigeria, while the Council of Chief members were drawn from the crop of royal fathers or their representatives in every region of the country. The Prime Minister was the Leader of the party with the highest votes and most members in the Legislature. Members of the executive arm of the Government were drawn from the Legislature. It therefore follows that the quality of the Executive Branch largely depended on the quality of the Legislature.
With the failure of the First Republicin 1966, and the production of a new constitution in 1978, a Presidential System of Government mainly in the form of the USA’s model of democracy was introduced.By this time, the erstwhile four regions had beenfurther reduced into many states and local government council areas. Today, after many iterations of the constitution, we now have the 1999 Constitution, 36 states plus one Federal Capital Territory, and 774 Local Government Areas.
Structurally, the political landscape looks like this.We have the local government councilors headed by a Chairman; the States Houses of Assembly with a Speaker, and then the State Governors at the top. At the federal level we havea bicameral Legislaturecalled the National Assembly, NASSmade up of the House of Representatives with a Speaker at the head,and the Senate, with a Senate President presiding. The Senate has 109 members while the House of Representative has 360 members. The Executive Branch is headed bythe President and Commander-In-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, simply called the President. Finally, athirdbranch of the governance structure is the Federal Judiciary.Except for the Senate Chamber, this 3-tier structure of governance is repeated in the states with the latter having local government councils.
Presently, these three branches of Government, the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary form the bedrock of our democratic way of life. The Executive is responsible for steering the ship of state with respect to the socio-economic well-being of the people, their security, education, and health as well as the maintenance of the territorial integrity of our nation. The Legislature is tasked with making laws to improve governance at all levels as well as holding the executive branch to account. The Judiciary has the responsibility of ensuring equity and the rule of law in all dealings within Nigeria and among all people that reside in Nigeria.
The questions must be asked: Who are the electorates? And who are those that administer the elections? These questions are hugely important in the administration of the affairs of this nation if we must live within the promise of a better life under self-rule. There must be good, worthwhile reasons why we chose to end colonialism. The constitution has defined the electorates as all citizens of this country who are 18years and above. Since those who are below 18 have not yet attained voting age, their choices are deemed to have been made by their parents and guardians. In my books therefore, the adult electorates have double burdens.
The electorates must educate themselves on their needs and ways to articulate these. They must also educate themselves about those who seek political office. Since the office holders will be their representatives, they must see them as servants of the people, not masters as it used to be in the colonial days. Political officials of all shades are there to serve the electorates, not the other way.
On the other hand, our colleagues in INEC, who are tasked to administer the electoral processeshave the responsibility of producing credible voters register and guaranteeing free and fair elections, the nexus to ensuring the integrity of our electoral processes. If they become partisan by commission of, or enabling fraudulent acts by others that would consequently influence the results, they become complicit in defrauding the nation.
In the same vein, our colleagues who seek elected offices have a huge responsibility in translating into actionable realities the dreams of the electorates as well as theirs. If they become elected under false pretenses or fraudulent acts, they would be unable to perform as expected. When they fail inevitably, they should be willing to humbly submit to the consequences of failure. Perpetuating themselves in office through bribery and brigandage,when they lack the ability to lead,is destructive. Everyone and the country suffer, just as we now do.
The only avenue the electorates have to remove non-performing elected officials or extend the tenure of those who have performed well is by fresh elections at the appointed times.It is quite clear then that voting people in or out of office depends very much on the integrity of our electoral processes.Nigerians are not at all happy with the country’s electoral processes and practices.Remarkably, we have come a long way from the days of manual registration and head counts. But so also has the world. It is possible to buy a lot of technologies these days especially election technologies and so, we do not have to reinvent the wheel all the time. Given the availability of the right resources, there is no reason why Nigerians will find it difficult to get registered. But being registered is one thing, receiving one’s voter’s card has become a nightmare.I am sure INEC is aware that mailing of the PVCs by post is out of the question. It is therefore pertinent that they have a clear and concise way of informing individuals on when and where to collect their cards. Also, the collation processes should be structured in sequence for ease of PVC location. Simply making blanket public announcements to collect from centres where all cards are dumped in one or more cartons irrespective of time of registration does not cut it at all.
Strictly speaking our democracy is a nascent one. Our nation comparatively could be said to be young too. But at 63years Nigeria has gone through a lifetime. Most nations have performed wonders within such periods. Millions of Nigerians reside outside Nigeria, contributing positively to the development of their host nations. Almost 69.99% of those outside are economic migrants whose exodus came to a head in 1984 to the recent. The rest are educational and medical tourists. Most of these migrants would gladly return if Nigeria was on the path to true development. A good majority of these Nigerians have good skills that Nigeria can benefit from. And because they are still Nigerians, their opinion on governance at home matters.
Unfortunately,there are no provisions that allow Nigerians in the diaspora to participate in elections in their country. This, in the 21st Century is disenfranchisement. It is an unnecessary loss all around.If these Nigerians can participate in our democracy, they can help create conditions that we all dream of to allow all to participate in nation building where tongues and tribes truly do not matter. For the future, the Government should enact legislation that will let INEC ensure that all Nigerians, wherever they reside,can vote.
Elections afford us the opportunities to question our political leaders, hold them to account and vote out those who have not performed. We cannot continue to reward mediocrity through flawed electoral processes. Every President has a responsibility to produce a credible election.
In a democracy, the third branch in the governance structure is the Judiciary. This body has the over-arching responsibility of ensuring the rule of law through correct and equitable interpretation of the laws of the land irrespective of personalities,and in a non-partisan fashion.The Judiciary is usually aided by law enforcement bodies such as the Police and the agencies that have been set up to probe unlawful acts in the polity and national economy. These law enforcement bodies are under the control of the executive branch of whichever government is in power. The Executive branch cannot use these law enforcement bodies as tools to persecute political opponents or other citizens in a witch hunt. In other words, the Executive must always guarantee the integrity of the rule of law through equal justice for all and the preservation of the independence of the Judiciary. To do otherwise breeds anarchy.
A fourth branch in the governance structure of any government in a democracy is the Press, fondly known in Nigeria as The Fourth Estate. The Press, in all its forms, is crucial and important for the survival of democracy. The Press is the organ that informs the citizens of the actions, agendas, programs, intentions, successes and failures of the government, the health of the economy, thesocial fabric of the nation, and the well-being of the people.For the Press to execute these functions, they must undertake to be responsible watchdogs. It is therefore imperative that they have this role inscribed in our Constitution.In this way we can ensure both their security, fairness, independence, and commitment to the truth in a non-partisan bubble.
The establishment of a credible democracy where the rule of law is supreme is a function of the level of patriotism in the political class, mainly the Legislature and the Executive. In a country the size of Nigeria, the electorate must not sit idly while these two bodies run riot with our lives. Everyone has equal stake in our democracy. Citizens are encouraged to form non-governmental organizations that help to track the actions of those that we employed to direct the affairs of the nation. But the successes of these NGOs depend largely on the presence of a just and equitable Judiciary and a Free Press. It is therefore unsurprising that a corrupt political class will stifle the lives out of these two watchdogs that can put their excesses in check by corrupting them as well. Such is our experience to date.
Once again, the country is poised for another of its quadrennial general elections this month. In this election, the survival of the Nigerian Nation is on the ballot. Fellow citizens, please make no mistakesover this.In this election politicians and all who love Nigeria owe it as a prime duty to properly educate the electorates. The politicians together with INEC, should stop defrauding Nigerians. The Electorates must stop accepting bags of rice that do not last four years in exchange for their votes, their voices, and their future. INEC this time must outperform itself; preside over free and fair election at any cost. And to those who will be elected to offices, you must govern responsibly. Nigerians are watching and patience is running very thin.
Writing for Atlanta Georgia, Mr. Onuorah Aligbe writing for Dr. Newton Jibunoh.