By Mujahid Ameen Lilo
When in 2015, the then incumbent president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, called to congratulate his opponent ahead of the announcement of the election winner, it was hailed as a heroic act. The act further cemented the country’s democratic maturation and avoided the imminent disintegration of the country had the president not accepted defeat. Moreover, it ensured a stable and successful government transition in a country on the brink of war.
The former president of the Niger Republic got the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership because he respected term limits. Yet, nobody was found worthy of the award for eight years, which points to African leaders’ disgraceful culture of disregard for term limits and bastardising of democracy. What’s more annoying, though, is the culture of celebrating the few ones that respect the term limits.
When we understand that it’s the moral imperative of our leaders to bow to the people’s will, to respect the constitutional authority that put them there and dictate their term limits. Until then, we wouldn’t rush to make a big deal of it and lionise them, present them with awards, among other things. We tend to forget and forgive their misrule. The great disenchantment with the previous administration’s sadistic leadership style made Nigerians ready to go to any lengths to vote out that party. People were prepared for war if the election got twisted. So it’s the morally and politically correct thing to do, that is, handover. Most of these leaders leave behind enormous debts, worsening insecurity, cases of corruption and so on.
The recent coups in Guinea and Chad and the foiled one in Niger indicate the frightening facts that the West African countries are far from political stability. Military intervention hardly change matters. It shouldn’t be the response to a faulty democracy. The West African subregion should thoroughly shake itself off the yoke of any military powers. The democratisation of the whole subregion would go a long way in stabilising it. Not that democracy is perfect per se (what with her so-called upholders violating one of the fundamentals: periodic election), but that we can and should practice it most purely, quite distinct from the military system. There should be an atmosphere that’ll facilitate proper reforms of democracy. A stable system of government will guarantee peace and also bring about the desired developments.
It’s on this premise that I’d now address another factor that is damaging to our democracy, threatening what little peace and stability is left in the region: electoral processes. In my country Nigeria, once it’s time for elections, people who live away from their states of origin start rushing back to their hometowns because elections have been synonymous with violence leading to the death of many people. There should be peace for people to exercise their fundamental right of voting. Instead, thugs are paid to violate the process. Many people believe in the quote that ‘our votes do not count; otherwise, they wouldn’t let us vote’. However, that is not where the problem lies. I believe that we’re capable of holding free and fair elections as we’ve done in the past. We can cite many examples with Nigeria as a case study. The fourth republic election in Nigeria that put Chief Obasanjo into power was relatively free and fair. The two elections that put Buhari into power were also pretty free and fair. We cannot forget the annulled election of June 12, 1993.
I was born in the early 2000s. My generation is called the ‘golden generation’ because the Nigeria we’re born in is democratic, free from colonial and military powers. But my generation suffers from a collapsing education system (most have to attend private schools because the government ones are total craps), from frequent strikes in universities to insecurity devouring our lands like an inferno. This semester, I was looking forward to fieldwork we are supposed to go on in a literature course but have to resort to what our lecturer calls ‘mental research’ because nowhere is safe. This generation is so angry – a wave of anger manifested in the Endsars protests.
On days like this, independence day, I sit and reflect on the happenings in my nation while my fellow teenagers are out having fun, draping their bodies in the country’s colours and posting things like ‘happy independence’ on social media. Yet, the ghost of Achebe and Gimba surrounds me as I struggle to intellectualise my thoughts, building it on Achebe’s dictum (the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership) and the Gimba’s theory that differs from Achebe’s.
I am a lover of columns. As a child, I was very socially and culturally conscious, reading my dad’s dailies. On my shelf, I have a collection of columns: Gimba’s Why am I Doing This, Tundes’s Nigeria: A Thousand Cries, A Thousand Laughs, Nda Isiah’s Nigeria: Full Disclosure, and Victor’s Excuse Me. The writings there span Nigeria from Obasanjo’s first tenure to the eventful short tenure of Yar’adua and Goodluck’s tenure. Presently, I read Kakanda, Bulama and Abubakar, whose columns are about the present administration. All through, there is rage. There is a disappointment. These essays echo in my conscience, making it hard for me to celebrate not only Nigeria’s birthday but those supposed champions of democracy, that after much damage, step aside and respect term limits. Like Jonathan. Like Niger’s Muhammdou, winner of Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.
Mujahid Ameen Lilo is a winner of the Wole Soyinka Essay Competition and a student at the Department of English, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.