And so president Obasanjo and his People’s Democratic Party, according to the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) won the presidential election of April 19 2003. Big Deal!
Yes it is a big deal for Nigeria, especially because the violence experienced during that election was not as huge as widely anticipated. Also because the country may be on the road to the first civilian to civilian transition. One cannot call it a change of government because Obasanjo will still be the occupant of Aso villa in Abuja when successfully sworn in come May.
There is something ominously disturbing about the re-election of President Obasanjo. It is almost perplexing to pin it down. I know it is not just the fact that Foreign Observers from the United States and European Union faulted some aspects of the elections. This is a contributing factor but I suspect it has more to do with the kind of dynamics that was at play before and during the elections.
Nigerians in some curious fashion were presented the option of the known and the unknown. This same dynamics is what perhaps prompted the cautious statements from the U.S. State department about the outcome of the April 19th presidential elections.
The dynamics that was at play and is still playing sounds something like: Obasanjo we know! He may have his faults. He may also be a former military man but he does not have an autocratic precedent. Plus, he will definitely not allow Islamic fundamentalists to take over Nigeria.
Were the elections rigged? I will say it was obviously compromised in some places. It was not only the foreign observers that saw the way ballots boxes were stuffed. Nigerian Observers including journalist also witnessed this. Similarly, the number of fake ballot papers that were printed by some people, including a yet to be arrested “unknown soldier” at a business center in Idimu, Lagos, left no one in doubt that the election was not going to be totally fair.
Should the entire elections be cancelled for this reason? Definitely not. Those calling for such cancellation are interested in chaos. So has Obasanjo won? According to INEC, Yes. Has Democracy won? Maybe not!
Now some people may say how can democracy be at a loss in the last Nigerian elections, which witnessed the largest number of registered political parties and presidential aspirants as well as a large turn out of voters? Well, it is because democracy is not only about numbers. Especially not about numbers that are still largely being disputed for emerging from where people did not vote.
It is a know fact that to have a sustainable democracy, a country requires credible elections and a legitimate government. Here then is the reason why there is not much excitement about the relatively peaceful elections of 19th April 2003. The irregularities noted by observers, both local and foreign have damaging potential to the credibility of another Obasanjo government in Nigeria if not resolved.
Personally I have nothing against obasanjo’s second term of office. I am, however, concerned about democracy in my country and the ingredients of it. Of a fact I know that democracy requires citizens who accept their responsibility and are able to make sound decisions about the public’s interest. It also requires healthy societies of citizens in communities and a legitimate institution that encourage healthy civil societies.
It is like walking on a slippery ground therefore to disregard the findings of the elections monitors. To be sure, if election figures emerged from areas where some people did not actually exercise their franchise, the certificate given by the Nigerian electoral commission is not worth it. Also, if some Nigerians were made to believe that actual voting does not really matter for as long as the “right” person who will not bring Sharia rule to Nigeria is elected, then it is simply sweeping our dirt under the carpet. The peace now may be the peace of a necropolis.
For those political bald heads that have often argued and will argue again that Nigerian politics is always about who can rig the election better to put a government in place, I wish to simply comment that Politics is not just about government. It is essentially about the ways people solve their common problems.
So Obasanjo has won! Can he also make democracy truly triumph? Will he allow for independent probe of the irregularities noted by opposition parties and observers? In spite of the relatively peaceful ambience during the elections, several Nigerians, both home and abroad are cynical and angry at a political system they say neither heed nor serve them.
Many Nigerians still see their fates being determined by three megaliths: the economic system, the political system and the military system. As the euphoria of the presidential elections wane, the reality of what constitute genuine democracy comes to fore. They are familiar issues: Devising strategies to resolve the problems of the educational system, getting the lecturers back to work now that there is no fear of a student protest to disrupt elections, Providing health care and jobs for Nigerians, tackling the sharing of revenue from Nigerian oil equitably to avoid recurrent violence in the Niger Delta region and facing the reality about Sharia law and ethnic identity in the country…
Yes, Obasanjo has won. I join others in congratulating the Nigerian president and all others, including Tokunbo Afikuyomi and Durosinmi Meseko. Now, it is time to devise and test strategies that will strengthen the role of citizens in governing themselves in line with genuine democracy.