By Ayodeji Jeremiah
In the aftermath of the Ekiti state governorship elections and the ouster of Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the jury has gone to town to determine why he lost and what exactly happened. Prior to the elections, polls had shown a close run but it was largely expected that the incumbent governor would win. When the results came out, which were largely determined to have been free and fair by most election observers, questions arose.
Ekiti state was a stronghold of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and it was a foregone conclusion that an incumbent such as Kayode Fayemi with his reforms and performance would be rewarded by the voters come Election Day. It was a big win for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the party that rules Nigeria at the federal level, which hitherto controlled none of Nigeria’s six south-western states and has been struggling with internal divisions; several PDP governors have defected to the opposition. By gaining a gubernatorial foothold in Ekiti the PDP’s chance of victory in next year’s presidential election looks brighter.
In the aftermath, several new terminologies have been invented to explain the win by Ayo Fayose, a former governor of the state who was once impeached following charges, albeit unproven, of embezzling public money. The Lagos state Governor, another reform minded governor, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola in an article on the elections called it “stomachstructure”; others have referred to it as “grassroots politics”. Another commentator called it “Danfo Driver politics” (with reference to the unruly behaviour of Lagos public bus drivers and their need for instant gratification). The Economist magazine of London called it “politics of the belly”.
The Economist of London in its editorial said, “In dismissing a forward-thinker, the voters sent out a loud message. After coming to power in 2010, Mr Fayemi laid new roads, improved the university system, presented a plan to get more young people into jobs, created a social-security scheme for the elderly, and cut corrupt wage payments to government workers. But such reforms upset people with a vested interest in the old political system. Indeed, the election was a clash between appeals to good governance on the one hand and the lure of old-school clientelism and populism on the other. Despite Ekiti having a relatively well-educated electorate, the old ways prevailed. This does not bode well for political reform across the country.”
The statement that Ekiti state having a well educated electorate was expected to have re-elected Dr. Fayemi has been re-echoed in several quarters. The Ekiti governorship poll results highlight public resistance to political reform. The people are clearly saying they prefer the old “egunje politics”, which keeps them comfortably on the state payroll and hands out cash in return for their votes. It highlights just how much enlightenment the electorate needs.
The results of the Ekiti polls also highlight the lack of a political culture and the need to build one. In his article in the Daily Independent of Nigeria, ‘Madness of politics: Is political culture possible in Nigeria?’, Dr. Chuks Osuji commented that “in all Western democracies, political culture has been developed, and this moves the wheel of democracy. However, when it comes to Africa, particularly in Nigeria, one of the problems today is lack of political culture. Many scholars opine that our own political culture must evolve after all the seeming trials and errors, wobbling and fumbling period of political experiments. Others disagree, saying that given the complexities of our heterogeneous population with different social outlooks, tribal diversities and sometimes numerous ethnic incompatibilities may make it difficult, if not impossible, for the emergence of a political culture in this country to which all and sundry could subscribe. The root of the disconnect in our political system is the type of constitution imposed on the country by the military. The constitutional provisions are seriously flawed in many respects; hence it has remained difficult even for the Parliament to do something positive and meaningful, because they are seeing everything from the perspectives of quantum of selfishness and myopic tendencies.” This has trickled down from the leadership to the followership and the electorate.
While Nigerians have always appreciated the importance of good governance, long years of military rule slowed development of democratic values and a culture of transparency and accountability in governance. Consequently, corruption pervaded all spheres of public and private life with serious implications for service delivery. Among those who track corruption, Nigeria is a poster child for the “resource curse.” According to the World Bank, some 80 percent of oil monies are accrued by 1 percent of the population. Under international and domestic pressure, the federal government has made efforts to combat corruption: In 2006, the federal government began publishing the monthly amounts it distributed to states and local government areas, and it has also established several anticorruption government agencies. But the ruling party conducts most of its anticorruption work behind closed doors. The most egregious graft happens at the state level. Governors “run their states like personal fiefs,” writes the Economist. These “big men” are not accountable to the general population because they receive most of their money from the central government, and when they run for office, they rely on “godfathers,” or ethnic and political elites who sponsor candidates with the understanding that they will reap the financial benefits once the candidate takes office. Pervasive corruption at every level of government has fostered similar sentiments in the populace. For the Nigerian people, “democracy has become a kind of blackmail. They will take anything they can get.”
Surveys conducted by IFES (International Foundation for Electoral System) reveals that a majority of Nigerians think it is wrong for an ordinary person to sell a vote in return for goods or money. However, more than a third of the sampled population thinks it is understandable to do so. Furthermore, “most think it is wrong for political parties to offer money to people in return for their vote, but a third think it is understandable for them to do so. A quarter of Nigerian adults admit someone tried to offer them a reward or gift to vote for certain candidates in the election.” Today in Nigeria, money politics, vote buying, godfatherism and “share the money” are regular household phrases and slogans portraying moral decadence of politicians. These usages adequately describe rent-seeking behaviour of politicians, political parties and voters.
In Nigeria, among political gladiators, spectators and bystanders, politics is an entrepreneurial venture from which one can become rich overnight. That is why people have not stopped registering political parties when few others are merging; people struggling to become governors no matter what happens; all manner of people gearing up for political activities in 2015 which they see as the best opportunity to liberate themselves from the seeming enclave of impoverishment, hardship as well as social and economic deprivation.
Adding to these is the absence of any ideological train of thought amongst the various political parties present in the polity. A look at the various parties shows an array of dysfunctional actors coming together and riding on public sentiments of disapproval of the current leadership. Cross carpeting (defection as it is called) from one party to the next is the order of the day all based on what each person can gain from the party.
A blogger Mark Amaza in his post, ‘We Are Not Ready For Intellectual Politics’ opined that political debates are virtually absent in our politics. “Our politicians and political parties prefer to, at worst, engage in banal, empty statements that either criticize each other without providing alternatives or in vituperation. At best, they make promises without providing an action plan for achieving the promises. Less than nine months to the general elections, I am yet to hear any person intending to unseat the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan offer his or her alternative ideas to solving our current issues, such as the insurgency waged by the Boko Haram terrorist sect, or how to create jobs for our millions of unemployed young people. It is the same thing at the state levels and for the legislative races. One would have expected that robust debates would be ongoing on these issues so that Nigerians can compare and contrast and choose to back the candidate they feel offers the ideas.”
Giving reasons as to why this is so, illiteracy and poverty top the list. 70% of Nigerians still live on less than $4 per day i.e. N650 on the average. Illiteracy rate still stands at a very high 30%. Of the literate 70%, more than half are educated only to primary and secondary school levels and only 51.1% of those eligible to vote can read and write. Intellectual debates and badly needed public sector reforms do not really count in winning votes. It does not really matter whether you propose the best ideas to solving problems because the impact of this factor in your winning elections is quite small. This will come especially as a rude shock to young Nigerians, particularly the ones that populate social networks such as Twitter and Facebook and analyze politicians and candidates based on their smarts – they are a very small percentage of the entire voting population. Outside of cities like Lagos, Port-Harcourt and Abuja, Nigeria is still a country largely driven by government jobs and civil service contracts. The economy of most states is influenced by the amount of money spent by the state government and most state governments are the largest employers of labour in their various states. Most governments therefore rather than take on the gargantuan task of putting money into much needed infrastructure development and civil service reforms (that will free up recurrent expenditure needed for capital expenditure) and transform the civil service bureaucracy needed to get things moving will rather stick with the status quo, which in the process enables them to pilfer as much as possible while portraying them as ‘givers’ and being ‘sensitive’. It was widely said that Dr. Fayemi (and his Lagos state counterpart Mr. Fashola who has transformed Lagos) are ‘intellectuals, selfish, elitists who don’t know how to spend money and speak too much English’. Spending money in this sense means distributing the so called largesse of the national cake and government funds into the hands of the average Nigerian through trickles of gifts and cash donations. After all, ‘it’s not their money; it’s our money’ so the sayings go.
Less than a month after the Ekiti state elections, the Edo state governor Adams Oshiomole (An ACN governor) recalled teachers who had been laid off for not having the necessary qualifications and who had been unable to pass the competency tests given them. We join the Punch editorial team in believing that this action was a direct response to the results of the polls in Ekiti. Unqualified teachers who have been told to take tests as part of Mr Fayemi’s education reforms probably voted against him. So did civil servants upset by his more meritocratic hiring practices. Such ‘educated’ teachers and civil servants therefore become very willing tools in the hands of so called populist politicians (who promise the status quo) in spreading such messages as in the above paragraph.
Olutosin Ogunmola in his treatise, ‘The Challenges Of Democracy In Nigeria’ notes that the failure of democracy and economic development in Africa is due in large part to the scramble for wealth by predator elites who have dominated politics since independence and see the state as a source of personal wealth accumulation. “We have continued to have a ruling class that is grossly disinclined to ideas and the life of serious reflection. Military intervention in governance has further added more woes to the plight of democratic governance in Nigeria. Not only did it adversely affect the legislative component of government, it also brought the people, the electorate, down to a revoltingly unacceptable level of acquiescence to the undemocratic actions of their rulers. That’s why even now, some of the electorates would carry placards and demonstrate in favour of rulers who, apparently, are doing nothing for their good. Also, the lack of sophistication and independence by the press is not helping matters. There can be no meaningful representation to elevate the fundamental principles of checks and balances when we have a passive civil society and a weak press. This democracy has no plan other than one to serve the interest of the select few who want to continue to have their way at the expense of the collective will and interest of the people; with so much power concentrated in the executive, there are no strong institutions to curtail excesses.”
In our May 2014 cover feature, we stated that developing the middle class and lifting those at the bottom of the economic pyramid into lower middle class remains one of the solutions to sustaining and building democratic ideals and structures. The middle class in most African countries do not have the means (including votes and clout) to empower progressive groups into governance; most economic policies continue to favour the establishment and foreign interests except radical changes occur. A report says a third of Africans are now middle class. Their interests coincide with the interests of the poor and should help to bring about change. Think about the middle classes who voted with the poor for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as president in Brazil, or the vibrant civil society of India that brings together the poor and middle-class activists (or possibly even the middle classes who are the protesters in the Middle East).
The Civil Society and Press in Nigeria clearly have their work cut out for them. While we wait and hope for the economic emancipation of the average Nigerian, enlightenment is also needed as to what constitutes good governance. The fight against corruption must be stepped up as Nigerians generally believe now that if our elected profiteers can gain away with anything, the only option is to try and take as much as they are being offered from them.
Our political system needs to be one of several coherent systems infused with a central value to it. This central value, i.e. shared orientations towards action, would define the type of role relationships, which can arise and allow the individual to develop stable expectations about the behaviour of others.