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Democracy Now: Laboratories, Incubators and Nurseries of Democracy—the Party Primaries Rolling Off

---Cutting-Edge Analytics—
By: Franklin Otorofani
 Published January 15th, 2011

Any elective office seeker, who has successfully gone through the crucible of party primaries to fly his party flag deserves to have a shot at the desired office, all things being equal. And I don’t care who. I don’t want to know the color of his skin or the tribal marks on his face or the ethnic language he speaks or the name he bears. I am simply not interested in such primordial considerations because they are not important to anyone except the career politician. And that’s why I am zoning’s greatest enemy. But you know what I care about? Give me integrity, statesmanship, intelligence, nationalism, patriotism, honor, competence, learning, and selfless service.  And you’ve got yourself a lifetime friend in me.----Franklin Otorofani

Africa must therefore re-examine the substance and style of her democracies to avoid running into troubled waters the second time around.  Wholesale adoption of foreign systems without indigenous intellectual or philosophical inputs stands the risks of systemic rejections. That’s what is happening right now and that’s what happened before such that even the little progress made so far in a handful of countries is entirely reversible. We watched with unbelievable certitude with an acute sense of helplessness the crude annulment of the freest and fairest elections ever conducted on the face of Africa on June the 12th 1993, in Nigeria only to be followed by disastrous elections thereafter with all the democratic gains totally wiped out. And that was possible because democracy has only adventitious roots in Africa. It is time to give it some tap roots to stand in the hostile African soil. Therefore, the idea should and must be: Adopt but Adapt (AbA), because it is not about re-inventing the wheel but about making the wheel running smoothly.--- Franklin Otorofani

Democracy at Crossroads in Africa

Emerging from its own Dark Age of military coups and jackboot dictatorships that seemed to have terminally arrested her democratic growth after gaining independence from colonial Europe, Africa south of the Sahara has once again been caught in the throes of democratic transitions. I say “south of the Sahara” because the Muammar Qadaffis and Hosni Mubaraks of North Africa have seemingly declared democracy persona non grata in that part of Africa, leaving Africa south of the Sahara to assume the role of incubators of democracy on the continent. And so the forgotten continent is presently engulfed in spasmodic and episodic waves of democratic transitions that appear to have, however, unwittingly introduced another layer of political instability into the continent. Whether the transitions are happening in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Niger, Liberia, Serra-Leone, Benin, Zimbawe, Angola, Botswana, Chad or elsewhere in between, the birth pangs of democracy are writ large everywhere on the continent manifesting themselves in violent protests, killings, maiming, internal displacements, burning and looting and, in general, the cruel inauguration of a regime of endless crisis once again on a continent in dire need of peace and development in order to catch up with her peers or at the very least maintain a respectable distance from them.

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Heavens know Africa needs democracy real bad in order to help bring the benefits of economic developments to her suffering masses. But it’s looking very much like the continent is gradually sliding back to its inglorious past with what is currently happening in Ivory Coast, not to talk of Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan. Yet it should be recalled that Africa had gone through this rough path before and wound up in the dead end of military dictatorships that unleashed a reign of terror on the continent for decades on end. Some cynics might conclude that it has always been like this with no respite at any time and they would probably be right on the money. However, we must not forget nor minimize the fact that Africa has moved away from military dictatorships to embrace democracy even though her crisis level has hardly abated. I hate to think that the African soil much like that in the Middle-East is proving itself inhospitable to democracy. Like biological species, it is acting like it has received a foreign implant, which it is rejecting and therefore requires some heavy doses of medication to perhaps neutralize its hyperactive immune system. But such medication may or not work or may wind up paralyzing the patient at the end of the day. However, the fruits of democracy are so self-evident; from Malaysia to South Korea, India to Indonesia, Taiwan to Singapore; and from Poland to tiny Namibia, that it should compel African leaders and the intelligentsia to continue to work harder at it until the resistance is finally overcome. To take one example: India is only 13 years older than Nigeria having gained her independence from the same Britain in 1947, but it is light years ahead of Nigeria today. And that is because it has never tasted military dictatorship and has consistently remained a democratic nation all along even though it suffered a break up with Pakistan going its way and also has Kashmir troubles to deal with. Yet it has remained true to democracy and the results are there for all to see.  

One of the ways that could prove useful and effective in overcoming this apparent resistance to western-style democracy is to, as much as possible seek out ways and means of indigenizing democracy to suit the African environment. It makes little practical sense to implant European-style democracy on African soil, warts and all, without regards to pre-existing native conditions. If Christianity and Islam could be indigenized, there is no reason why democracy can’t. This is not to suggest even remotely that rigging and other forms of malpractices should be overlooked or condoned. It is not to suggest either, that power brokers and patriarchs should be allowed to hijack democracy and impose their candidates on their people. Rather, it is to suggest the merging, incorporation, and/or accommodation of traditional political institutions with the dictates of democracy. It is to suggest the elimination of the winner-takes-all paradigm from democracy which is at the roots of the debacle. It is to suggest the weeding out completely the influences of corrupt judicial officers from manipulating election results after the facts as happened recently both in Nigeria and Ivory Coast. It is to suggest the elimination of second term tenure-ships altogether and in their place the institution of just one term of between 5-6 years for both governorship and presidential offices. It is to suggest the staggering of elections at least 1-2 years apart to enable electoral agencies ample time to prepare and deliver without spreading themselves thin and thus unable to effectively deliver on their mandates. And furthermore, it is to suggest the elimination of the notion of “opposition” altogether from the body politic. If I might ask: Opposition against what or against whom? Who are they opposing, anyway? The people who voted the government in power in their millions or the government itself that was voted into power in a landslide? Is it opposition on the basis of ideological or mere personality differences? Or, is it as we have seen in Africa on the basis of geographical or ethnic differences? What is the real difference between the opposition and the ruling parties in all the democratic states? What, for instance, is the material and substantive difference between the Democrats and Republicans in the United States or between the Conservative and Labor Parties in Britain? Is it on ideology? What ideology? Is it on variants of capitalism and free market or about communism, socialism, capitalism and free market? 

We’ve been bombarded with sermons on tax cuts by the Republicans so much so that President Obama had to give in to their demands for retaining the Bush tax cuts that would have expired about the end of last year with Obama describing tax cuts as the “core”, as it were, the soul of the Republican Party that the party was not prepared to compromise on in the deal struck at the White House. Is that the ideological differences with the Democrats?  Is tax cutting now categorized as an ideology? Or is it about “family values”, spats or about “public assistance” to the needy, deregulation or about fiscal responsibility to curb the burgeoning US budget deficits? Is that the big deal why the roofs must be brought down on all of us? Is that what we you now call ideology? Paying down the debts and reducing deficits? Please give me a break! Give me a break!! It’s not adding up at all. But wait a minute: The last time I checked the Republicans who controlled both houses of Congress and the White House under President GW Bush gleefully ballooned the US budget deficits to over a trillion dollars before the Democrats took over and would have continued running up the deficits if they were still in power today with their fraudulent war in Iraq. Yet they’re the ones talking about “change” to reduce budget deficits. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see much of a difference in their ideologies except in rhetoric and grandstanding. Both the so-called left and the so-called right are on the same page ideologically. The rhetoric is superficial embellishments with little or no substance to it because the hood does not make the monk. The same is true in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and elsewhere. They’re different sides of the same coin pretending to be something else in order to acquire power.

Let’s face it: How is Abubakar Atiku in the PDP different from the Abubakar Atiku in the AC? Or, put in reverse order, how is the Abubakar Atiku in the AC different from the Abubakar Atiku now in the PDP? It is certain that had Atiku remained in the AC, he would have undoubtedly become the indisputable and de-facto leader of the opposition in Nigeria. And maybe he should with the benefit of hindsight. At the end of the OBJ administration nobody commanded as much popularity as Atiku in the political circles as the leader of AC. AC was AC because of Atiku and by now Atiku would have become such a political colossus to be feared by the PDP with the entire opposition lined up behind him rather than the beggarly prodigal son he has become in the party. Yet he is the same Atiku who was in the PDP and now back in the PDP. What has changed? Nothing! Is he different? No, he’s not. Have his ideological beliefs or his personality changed? No, it has not. For all I know AC only changed its name to ACN with its ideology and membership intact except of course for Atiku who bolted back to PDP. So if nothing has changed ideologically both at personal and party levels, what then is the difference between his former party and the PDP? The answer is: No difference. And in the unlikely event that he is to become president today through the PDP, the same opposition which he headed will be first to call him names and attack his government like one headed by Satan himself. Here is another one: Tom Ikimi, the Abacha man and former Minister of External Affairs who went abroad at the Commonwealth Summit in Auckland, Australia lauding the hanging and mutilation of the body of the environmental rights activist, Ken Saro Wiwa by his boss, was the one who presided over the PDP primaries in 2003 and declared OBJ as the winner and PDP candidate for the presidential elections of that year. But you know something: this same Ikimi is now a chieftain of the opposition who is viciously attacking the PDP as the Devil’s own party, all because he was forced out of the party. PDP was a party led by the Devil? Maybe it was I don’t know because I don’t belong there. Ikimi should know better. But would he agree he was serving under the Devil while he was in the PDP? He probably would tell you PDP was a party of angels during his time until it was taken over by Satan—the Satan being the very man he installed who had been there with him all along as president and leader of his party. When he fell out of favor with him the man became Satan. When he was in his good books the man was the best thing to have happen to Nigeria at whose feet he worshiped. And, at least good enough to have been installed president of Nigeria by Chief Tom Ikimi himself via the PDP primaries! Again a certain Dr. Chris Ngige former Governor of Anamabra State of the “Okija Shrine” fame, no doubt a popular administrator, who had been judicially certified as having rigged himself to power in his state under his former party PDP was forced to quit the party for the opposition party AC. And today we are receiving lectures from the same man and his new party about electoral integrity and “change”. By simply flipping parties he has become the Messiah.  

That is what opposition means. It’s what it has always meant from time immemorial. And that is one of the weaknesses and perhaps paradoxically strengths too, of democracy. It means overheating the polity unnecessarily, deliberately distorting facts and manufacturing realities just to make the other guy look terribly and awfully bad. How that benefits society as a whole I don’t know. Constructive engagement (apology to Ronald Reagan’s estate) is a different kettle of fish altogether. Maybe someone has the answers I don’t have and I’ll be happy to learn. Opposition means distortion of realities and it’s not worth our national time. It is a destructive luxury Africa cannot afford because she is too politically fragile and uncertain. Even well established democracies like the US are being threatened with instability by the viral load of the opposition epidemic. People were openly arming themselves and literarily raiding gun shops during the last midterm elections in the US to guard against any eventuality all because of the uncertainties spawned by Tea Party opposition rhetoric. You would think Armageddon was not too far away and would make landfall in the US like a hurricane 50 times the size and ferocity of Katrina. When we get right down to it, we will find that there is opposition only in form and style not in substance. And all politicians are essentially alike in their ways. There is nothing or little the Democrats have done that the Republicans haven’t done and vice versa. The same is equally true of the Conservative and the Labor Parties. The so-called opposition should be part and parcel of the government. The idea of opposition is antithetical to political stability. It is currently renting the American society apart with some openly calling for the assassination of the US president. Incendiary rhetoric from the opposition have been blamed in this week’s (last Saturday) mass killings in Tuscon, Arizona, that claimed the lives of six including a judge and put a congresswoman on an ICU having received gunshot in her head.

"I think the tone of rhetoric that's occurred in this country over the past couple of years affects troubled personalities," Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County, was reported to have said. And given the heated rhetoric from the Republican Tea Party opposition, who would disagree with him but Sara Palin, who thinks railing unguardedly against President Obama will hand her the US presidency on the cheap?  And don’t you think similar rhetoric oozing out of the camp of the opposition within the PDP itself is any less combustible and therefore dangerous to the polity. Psychos are roaming everywhere not just in the United States and could pull the trigger just as well like the loner mass murderer, Jared Lee Loughner. Or, what do we call those who are chopping off people’s heads and limbs in Jos and Bauchi? Even so, with all its destabilizing effects, opposition serves one useful purpose: the human natural craving for change even if it is only of personalities without substance and having the same ideological learning. And merely flipping parties would appear to serve that particular purpose quite remarkably. It is absolutely clear that change is a constant in nature and people simply do not want to see the same set of faces all the time they turn on their television sets or flip the pages of newspapers, except of course, if they are their political idols or celebrities of sorts; more so when such individuals have been or perceived to have been denying them the basic social services to which they’re ordinarily entitled as citizens. The utility of opposition therefore lies essentially in satisfying this basic human craving. That is not to say there are no changes that bring qualitative differences in the lives of the people. To be candid certain changes are quite impactful and revolutionary and they leave positive lasting effects in the polity as have occurred throughout human history and there is no reason why such should be discouraged from taking place. If anything such should and must be encouraged.

However, the power of opposition must be harnessed positively not negatively for destabilization plots or other destructive purposes for the benefits of the people not individuals masquerading as Messiahs. And the people themselves must be able to distinguish the wheat from the chaffs through intensive political education of the masses to understand the rudiments of politics and democracy because the people are the ultimate judges and many atrocities could be committed in their names behind them. Change must come not through the barrels of the gun or through unnecessary bloodletting but through democratic processes as happened, for instance, in Germany and also in Ukraine, I might add. Herr Adolf Hitler tried to bring changes through some other means in Germany but failed until he did it successfully through the democratic process. Yes, even Hitler subjected himself to democracy and got to power to carry out his evil agenda through democracy. The Germans put him in power via their ballots in a free and fair election! Anyone who wants to bring changes is free to do so but there are lines politicians must not cross whether in government or in opposition. Such an individual must subject himself thoroughly and completely to the democratic process and obey the rules of the game because no athlete is allowed into the field of play and remain on the field if he or she would not subject him or herself to the rules of the game. However popular, charismatic or powerful a candidate may be, on no account should he be allowed to operate above the laws of the land. And if it is not condoned in sports there is absolutely no reasons why it should in democracy, which is even more important than ordinary sports for pleasure. What that means in effect is that politicians and candidates have no rights to self-help in any circumstances whatsoever.  No individual has the right to self-help in a civilized society unless we want to go back to the jungles. Calls for “violent change” as we are hearing from some disgruntled elements are seditious and treasonable and therefore cannot be condoned under whatever guises or pretexts. Candidates who are dissatisfied with elections results at any stage of the democratic process may protest alright but they have no right whatsoever to self help by calling out and instigating people to violent protests, maiming, killing, burning and looting, but subject themselves to the existing adjudicatory processes in the land. We must therefore commend the opposition in Nigeria which has done just that and they have not been altogether disappointed even though many of us had issues with certain judicial pronouncements that seemed to deliberately reward the opposition in specific instances. It would appear then that the masses in Nigeria, not the politicians who are still instigating violence, are gradually coming of age by ignoring incitements to violence, post elections. The war has shifted from the streets to the courtrooms and that’s an encouraging development, even though her elections are still acutely problematic and massively manipulated by politicians and other actors on the field which has remained her Achilles Heel to date.   

Africa must therefore re-examine the substance and style of her democracies to avoid running into troubled waters the second time around. Wholesale adoption of foreign systems without indigenous intellectual or philosophical inputs stands the risks of systemic rejections. That’s what is happening right now and that’s what happened before such that even the little progress made so far in a handful of countries is entirely reversible. We watched with unbelievable certitude with an acute sense of helplessness the crude annulment of the freest and fairest elections ever conducted on the face of Africa in Nigeria on June the 12th 1993, only to be followed by disastrous elections thereafter with all the democratic gains totally wiped out. And that was possible because democracy has only adventitious roots in Africa. It is time to give it some tap roots to stand in the hostile African soil. Therefore, the idea should and must be: Adopt but Adapt (AbA), because it is not about re-inventing the wheel but about making the wheel running smoothly. This is the second wave of democratic transitions hitting the continent in less than a century. The first was post colonial. And it was occasioned by the wave of independence from colonial overlords to local overlords. It crashed with the first generation of African leaders. A continent that was first introduced to democracy in the late 50s with Kwame Krummah of the former Gold Coast, now Ghana, admirably leading the charge for independence together with the first set of post independence Pan African statesmen like Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Tafawa Balewa and  Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, Leopold Senghor of Senegal, Houphuet Boigny of Ivory Coast, Ahmadu Ahidjo of Cameroon, William Tolbert of Liberia, Dauda Jawara of Zambia, Milton Obote of Uganda, Siad Barre of Somalia, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, and a host of other first generation leaders, soon turned their respective countries into fiefdoms. In their unquenchable desires to remain in power in perpetuity, they turned democracy on its head by refusing to quit when the ovation was loudest. Each and every one of those leaders became “the state” itself and in many instances even larger than the state itself in their respective domains. One of them, Jean Bedel Bokassa of Equitorial Guinea declared himself an Emperor without an empire. In all these countries and many others, only one party was allowed to exist as one-party rule was imposed, headed by these leaders in perpetuity and, in the event of death to be succeeded by their sons or in absence thereof, by their hand-picked successors. No disrespect intended because I was myself an ardent fan of the late sage when he was alive and I still respect him posthumously for his uncommon visionary leadership qualities. But it is fair to say that those of them who never had the opportunity of operating at the center as Heads of State or government such as, for example, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello in Nigeria, who nevertheless were heads of regional governments that were bigger than several African countries in their own rights were invested with larger-than-life images and acquired godly attributes of omnipotence and omniscience in their respective domains; routinely demanding and receiving absolute and unalloyed loyalties from their political subordinates and constituents alike. For as long as they lived, so long they remained Numero Uno in their domains so much so that their words were law, and their breathes were the breathes of life for their captive political subjects. They became constants like the Northern Star in whose place no other was allowed to take.

I guess one could argue and with some justifications too that they deserved the adulation and reverence showered on them by their peoples. In truth these political titans put their lives on the line to bring us independence and needed to reap the fruits of their labors. But so was Mandela of South Africa who had suffered the most and who quit the stage when the ovation was loudest and promptly handed over to his deputy who fought Apartheid side by side with him and did not seek to remain the Alpha and Omega in South Africa. Mandela did just one term and called it quits. Perhaps he had learnt his lessons from the others who refused to go and lost their names in the end. The issue here is more than the accomplishments of an individual. It is about the collective. No individual can be so good in any society as to deny others the chance for them to blossom and showcase their talents and geniuses politically and otherwise or the chance to succeed the front runners or mentors, if you like, in their chosen fields. And no individual star can be so bright as to seek to deem the light from other stars in his firmament. All stars should and must be allowed to shine and bring forth their illuminating power. And that’s what the Olympics, World Cup and other major global sports tournaments are meant to achieve for the enrichment of the human experience. And that’s what is indicated also in anti-trust laws in all jurisdictions that seek to prevent monopolies. It shouldn’t be any less in politics. While he was undoubtedly a peerless administrator and sound economic manager with outstanding accomplishments to his eternal credit just like Nkrumah of Ghana his ideological soul-mate, Awolowo brooked no challenge to his authority in the Western Region of Nigeria and that was carried far into the Second Republic in the eighties with his Unity Party of Nigeria which he headed, that ruled from Lagos to Bendel States in the South—the so-called LOOBO states of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Bendel and Ondo. And the attempt by Chief Akintola to break Awolowo’s stranglehold on the region resulted in what could be described as a civil war that dovetailed into the Nigerian Civil War. But the chief was not alone. That was the prevailing attitude back then and some might say even today and he had company in the North and East. Nobody dared to challenge “Zik of Africa”, as he was fondly called and Ahmadu Bello, respectively in the Eastern and Northern regions.  In fairness to their Nigerian counterparts mentioned above they did not enjoy the fruits of their labors as much as their peers in Ghana, Tanzania, Benin Republic, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Zamabia, Somalia, Uganda, and many others who were life presidents for decades. The founding fathers of Nigeria only ruled for just about half a decade at the very most post independence. Even so their political attitudes to succession didn’t differ much from their sit tight peers in other parts of Africa. We must not forget that these were the founding fathers of Nigeria and they produced political graduates of their respective schools that are now in charge of affairs in the country. The Adama Ciromas and the Abubakar Atikus in the North, the Bisi Akandes and Bola Tinubus of the West as well as the Okwesilieze Nwodos and Alex Ekwemes of the East; and the Otobos and Clarks of the South are their graduates who are following on their footsteps.

The common thread that tied these first generation leaders was sitting tight and refusing to groom younger generation of leaders to take over from them when the ovation was loudest. They regarded their thrones as their own political inheritance from the colonial masters who had ruled their peoples unchallenged and who were themselves not elected but appointed by monarchs in their home countries and therefore not subject to democratic strictures themselves. In other words, these leaders took over from undemocratic colonial administrations imposed on them through force of arms that had unleashed nothing but tyranny on their peoples and brooked no challenges to their authority. Although these leaders had railed endlessly against tyrannical colonial rule during their anti-colonial struggles with all the vehemence they could muster, tyranny was the environment in which they were groomed to take over political powers and they imbibed the ways of tyranny and authoritarianism from the departing colonial overlords while colonial rule lasted. And as leaders, they were no longer victims but now in the position of dispensers of tyranny like their former colonial tormentors into whose shoes they had gingerly and proudly stepped as liberators of their enslaved peoples. And what is more, they knew no real democracy throughout their political struggles but a caricature of democracy imposed on them by colonial overlords not practiced by the colonial administrations themselves to set the right examples of political and democratic conduct for their native successors.

Were colonial administrations democratic in forms and contents complete with all the rituals of party primaries, electioneering campaigns, elections, declaration of results, graceful acceptance of defeats by the losers and congratulations of the winners in all its civility, succeeding African leaders would have had no difficulties imbibing those democratic virtues and passed same to their successors. And Africa would have been in a much better shape today. But they had none of that. Those who superintended over elections in the colonial era were themselves autocrats not democrats with license to banish, incarcerate, kill and maim all those who challenged their colonial authority. How in the world were autocrats supposed to produce democrats? That would be tantamount to wolves giving birth to lambs! Such things don’t happen in nature and it’s no surprise therefore that the departing colonial wolves gave birth to their kinds in obedience to nature. As the legal maxim puts, “Nemo dat quo non habet”, meaning, you cannot give what you don’t have. You can only give what you have. At the time of the Berlin Conference of 1845 when Africa was carved into colonial territories and shared amongst European powers, the entire Europe was under brutal and dictatorial monarchical rule and knew no democracy at all and so was the rest of the world. How then was it supposed to give what it didn’t have? How are their colonial administrators supposed to be different from their European kings who sent them to subjugate and govern conquered peoples? And how then are the first generation of African leaders supposed to be any different from their colonial predecessors who treated them like rags in terms of political tolerance and accommodation of the opposition? How are they supposed to give democracy a free reign under their rule when doing so would amount to possible or even certain loss of political power to the opposition which they viewed as the enemy much like they themselves were viewed by colonial lords? That would have sounded to their ears like political suicide and Africans are not particularly imbued with suicidal instincts.

Therefore, much as we are naturally inclined to criticizing them for their sit tight attitudes and despotism and rightly so too, it is hard to imagine how first generation African leaders could have behaved differently from what they exhibited in power. While making no excuses for dictatorships, whether colonial or indigenous, we must understand and place it in historical context. Loathsome as it is, it was nonetheless the governing paradigm of that era especially in colonial territories throughout the world not just Africa. In this regard, it is worthy of note that what was happening in Africa at the time with regard to colonialism and its succeeding civilian and military dictatorships was equally happening in other parts of the world notably in Asia and Latin America, including the Caribbean and parts of the Middle East; in Indonesia, The Philippines, Chile, Venezuela, Malaysia, Singapore, Cuba, Korea, Pakistan, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and many others. This political virus was indicated wherever colonialism was the order of the day throughout the world and, therefore, by no means an African political disease even though it appears to have become incurable in Africa when other continents have put it behind them. It was a political pandemic that engulfed more than three quarters of the world. In fact, regionally, only Europe which happened to be the colonial power then was spared. If we were to put ourselves in the shoes of political forebears few, if any, would have behaved differently as we have seen even in the attitudes of present generation of leaders.

Dictatorship was embedded in colonialism and it was simply passed on to successive leaders everywhere in the world not just Africa that had the misfortune of colonial rule. And there you had the early foundations of oppressive, dictatorial regimes in Africa and other parts of the world in post colonial era till this day. The all pervasive atmosphere of political intolerance that ruled post colonial Africa is therefore directly traceable to the systemic conditioning African leaders and Africans themselves were exposed to for more than a century. Succeeding African leaders simply stepped into the shoes of their former colonial masters and did exactly as their masters had done as dictators over their peoples. That was the only lesson they learned—authoritarianism and complete subjugation of their own peoples with unchallenged authority with the aid of security apparatuses they inherited from their colonial masters which were used for similar purposes to subdue their peoples. It didn’t matter to them that they had themselves railed against these same inherited security forces as agents of oppressions and repression in their own anti-colonial struggles only a few years back. All of that experience meant nothing to them because they were no longer victims but beneficiaries of power. They were now masters and therefore not subject to democratic strictures. As such, democracy was forbidden from coming between them and their thrones and would be allowed to exist only in form not in substance just to fulfill all righteousness. And that was in tandem with pre-colonial indigenous political systems of kingships that had no place for opposition as amply espoused in the doctrine of “The King does no wrong” which animated British monarchical and therefore its colonial rule. This doctrine, it must be noted, had universal application not just in Britain and it is totally at odds with the doctrine of the rule of law, which democracy fosters. And so like their kings before them who were overthrown by advancing colonialists their thrones were their thrones until death did them part. Therefore, the very idea of some impudent political opponents challenging them in a political contest was somewhat of an insult if not outright treasonable felony. In fact, some of them had suffered terrible times in the hands of colonial administrators in their anti-colonial struggles for daring to challenge colonial rule. Many suffered imprisonment for raising their voices against colonial rule. If the price for challenging their predecessors was imprisonment, why should anyone challenging them get anything less? In Nigeria, Chief Awolowo’s attempt to challenge Abukabar Tafawa Balewa to rule Nigeria landed him in jail with a charge of treasonable felony prompted clamped on him together with the late Chief Anthony Enahoro who was extradited from the UK to face trial with Awo. But they were lucky to be alive because the leadership in Nigeria was more benign than elsewhere on the continent. Similar contrived charges were clamped on political opponents in other African countries with some even disappearing altogether from the face of the earth in mysterious circumstances in countries like Niger, Ivory Coast and Uganda and, of course, Gold Coast, the grand daddy of them all. 

The Militaries

It can be seen from the above that political intolerance of the opposition that so acutely manifested itself in African democracy to this day is a colonial bequest to post colonial African leaders. However, decreeing real democracy out of their domains was of course an open invitation for their respective militaries to overthrow their governments and put an end to their dictatorships for, only the military had the wherewithal to remove them. And here again, Ghana led the way. Yet even the military that came as the people’s saviors soon caught the bug of sitting tight. The very military that condemned those leaders for the sit tight syndrome became permanent dictators with any and all challenges to their authorities carrying death penalties with public execution at the market squares to serve as deterrent to others in the rank and file who might be nursing leadership ambition. If civilian dictators could be openly challenged by their opponents even with high risks, such luxuries could not be contemplated under the military. And just in case someone was getting overtly or covertly over-ambitious beyond allowable limits they let it be known that they had no intentions of quitting the stage and handing over to anybody even in their own military constituencies. And that’s why Nigeria’s military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon let it out during one of his trips to Britain that he would be too old by the time he would leave office indicating that he was not in a hurry to quit after putting nine years in office prompting Gen. Murtala Muhammed to move against him. And you wonder if these were not the same generals who said they had come to right wrongs and leave the stage for democracy to thrive. Of course sitting tight would only invite more coups and counter coups no matter the risks of death by execution involved. After all soldiers had signed up to die if need be and dying in the process of fighting for power could be well worth the risks because the pay offs were out of this world in Africa—they become the state itself just like their civilian predecessors, if not worse, with their guns stuck in their holsters like armed bandits on the prowl terrorizing their peoples like never before. And so like Latin America and Asia, Africa had bounteous harvests of unending coups and counter-coups in three long decades with thousands of public executions to show for it. These marauders in Khaki uniforms paid to defend their countries were spilling African bloods like deranged butchers in abattoirs. In Ghana, Jerry Rawlings line up former heads of states and other generals like condemned armed robbers tied to the stakes and pumped hot leads into their bodies until they dropped dead. And in Nigeria, Gowon, Obasanjo and IBB in particular executed scores of alleged coup plotters including the poet soldier, Gen. Mamman Vatsa. I have deliberately left out Buhari and Abacha because their power takeovers were rather smooth and did not involve unnecessary bloodletting like the others although Buhari’s sack of a democratically elected government rather than a military junta without any plans whatsoever to restore democratic rule stood him out as probably the worst enemy of democracy amongst them, a prize he shares with Gowon. Even as she lacked requisite manpower to develop her resources, Africa was bent on liquidating her best brains as represented by the brutal elimination of the likes of Patrice Lumumba, Mamman Vatsa, MKO Abiola and Ken Saro Wiwa, just to name but a few.

Thus by sheer irony of history African militaries which had no hands whatsoever in the titanic anti-colonial struggles and were in fact used by colonial administrations to undermine the struggles, became the chief beneficiaries of the independence struggles, sidelining, exiling and even murdering those who brought independence to their respective nations. And while it lasted, issues of socio-economic and political development took the back seats, effectively broadsided by survivalist politics of self perpetuation and destruction of opposition elements by all means necessary. State resources that ought to be used for the development of the states were deployed for all manners of self-perpetuation projects and schemes and for the silencing and/or total liquidation of the opposition.

Turning Point

Thus it could be seen from the brief historical sketch above that both civilian and military leaders conspired to drive democracy from Africa. While the civilians were operating under the shadows of democracy without its substance, the military kicked both its shadows and substance out of the continent permanently, well until the last decade.  And as long as the cold war between the Communist East and the Capitalist West continued, so long was despotism and anti-democratic civilians and military despots reigned unchecked in the African and other continents overwhelmed with an avalanche of dictatorships. These two major ideological blocs did all they could to protect these evil regimes whether they be military or civilian as long as they remained Soviet and US satellite states doing the bidding of Washington and Moscow as the case may be. And both Washington and Moscow couldn’t care less about the egregious abuse of human rights going on in their satellite states. The attitudes of the leaders of these two main ideological blocs was “See no evil, hear no evil” in relation to the excesses of the military and civilian despots roaming wild on the African, Asian and Latin America. As far as Washington was concerned only the USSR was evil and for Moscow only the US was evil. No other evil existed on the face of the planet besides their adversary and they fought to undo each other using their satellite states as proxies. Eventually the West won the cold war with the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1900s helped in no small measure by President Michail Gobachev’s doctrines of Perestroika and Glasnost. In that sense, therefore, the “Cold War” between the East and the West helped, not necessarily to encourage, but to prolong an already existing climate of political intolerance and anti-democratic forces in the continent the consequences of which are still reverberating in parts of Africa till this day. The end of the cold war therefore signaled the end of those safe havens for dictatorships not just in Africa but throughout the world greatly, accelerated by the collapse of the former Soviet Union, which was the greatest patron of one party rule in post colonial Africa and later military dictatorships.

This is not to exonerate or minimize the role of the United States and other Western powers in protecting dictatorial regimes that were on their side of the ideological war but to indicate that the former Soviet Union was averse to democracy and the biggest merchant of communist dictatorship and therefore its accompanying one-party rule in parts of the world was the ideological model for African and other tyrants in parts of the world. Its collapse therefore signaled freedom and liberation for those nations under its yoke, including East Germany, Poland, a large portion of countries formerly part of the USSR itself, namely, Luthiania, Latvia, Ukraine, Georgia and other former Soviet states. While not singling out the Soviet Union we must not lose sight of the fact that the US and Western powers were fighting for democracy not one party dictatorships as practiced by Communist Soviet and China and it should rightly be credited for the second round of democratization in Africa and other parts of the world. And this is in tandem with its anti colonial policies that helped secure independence for African nations at the beginning. It should be recalled in this regard that US anti-colonial policies were pivotal in the anti-colonial struggles and most of Pan African activists like Krummah and Zik including even Dubois from the Caribbean schooled in the US and got radicalized in the US. The fall of the Soviet Union enabled the US to once again lead the democratization project around the world and Africa caught the bug the second time around.  And here we are with the wind of democracy sweeping across the continent, with the US providing the head wind as it were to propel her to the Promised Land. Which is only natural because the United States too suffered colonial rule in the hands of English Kings and was therefore naturally disposed to helping colonized territories regain self rule more so after the 2ND WW where armies from colonized territories fought bravely with the armies of the Allied Powers. 

But let’s be clear about this: The United States and the West are investing in African democracy projects for one and only one reason: To prevent Africa from falling into the hands of Communism now led by China the Soviet Union having collapsed and Russia having moved to embrace democracy. China will be the next big shoe to fall. Already it has embraced market economy that is, capitalism on the economic front while retaining communism on the political front. However, it is obvious that such hybrid system cannot endure forever. Many of its territories like Hong Kong and Taiwan are already democratic and China is adjusting to the realities on the ground in her own backyards. The gradual opening up of the Chinese society and economy will inevitably lead to democracy however long it takes. China of today is no longer China of Chairman Mao Zedong. It’s a fast modernizing China that’s fast opening up to the world. Unlike the former Soviet Union that abruptly threw away the baby with the bath water, China appears to have wisely adopted a gradual approach, not the shock treatment administered by the Soviets under Presidents Gorbachev and Yeltsin. It was a mismanaged transition that the Chinese have learnt to avoid.    

It therefore behooves Nigeria as the largest democracy on the African and the PDP as the largest political party on the African continent to show the light and point the way for other less endowed nations to follow. Smaller African nations like Angola and Botswana and even Ghana may get it right democratically but it will at best only have marginal effects on other African nations for the simple reason that they are themselves not particularly influential nations to begin with. Therefore no one looks up to them for leadership on the continent or elsewhere. Nigeria as the universally acknowledged African leader is the one that can make things happen on the continent and African countries expect her to provide the required democratic leadership and make things happen.

The Primaries

It is in the light of the above therefore that the nation should regard the ongoing PDP primaries nationally as a most welcome development, one that is bound not only to deepen but to broaden the culture of internal democracy.  Why internal democracy? It’s because it puts political power squarely in the hands of the people themselves rather than in the hands of political contractors and power merchants. And if you’re familiar with the classic definition of democracy by the US President Abraham Abe Lincoln as the “government of the people, by the people, for the people”, you’ll understand what I’m driving at here. Power belongs to the people. Yes the ordinary market men and women, artisans, laborers, taxi drivers, bricklayers, teachers, fishermen, farmers, messengers, civil servants, students, ex cetera. They are the true owners of democracy and power resides in their patched hands to be dispensed to whoever catches their fancy and withdrawn from whoever runs foul of their mandate through recalls and vote-outs. However, for them to live up to their role in our democracy they need to be formally empowered right at the grassroots not just to vote at elections when candidates have already been imposed by power brokers but to determine who becomes candidate in the first place. Yes, the people get to decide who becomes candidate for an election and who become the next councilor, house member, governor, and then president of the nation.

This is why primaries are the starting blocks of the democratic enterprise without which elections are nothing but elite impositions. Primaries are also important because they force political office seekers to deal directly with the people, not power brokers, sometimes on one-on-one basis and provide the first opportunity for the people to properly assess the individuals concerned at close range before the elections proper. And that is why any party that has put its political aspirants through primaries is doing democracy a great service by empowering its members at the grassroots to determine who flies the party flag at the elections proper because the members are part of the electorate, in fact one of the most active segments of the electorate, if not the most active segment. And we must in this regard also commend the National Assembly for outlawing so-called “Consensus Candidate” syndrome from the polity in the Electoral Act, which INEC appears to be ready to enforce as the primaries roll out as it should because primaries are the nurseries, laboratories and incubators of democracy all rolled into one, just as parliaments are the workshops and factories of democracies all over the world.       

Prior to the advent of the PDP on Nigeria’s political scene, political parties never cared for party primaries both in the First and Second Republics. They held “conventions” alright but no primaries. They all trooped to their conventions in their outsized, flowing babaringa outfits mouthing democratic platitudes and sugary rhetoric only to come out with so-called “consensus candidates” at national, state and local levels without challenge. The practice continued with the PDP at the 1999 party convention ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo was merely adopted as its consensus candidate. It wasn’t until OBJ’s second term that presidential primaries were instituted and conducted under the full glare of television camera lenses. Late President Musa Yar’Adua’s emergence followed the same pattern of presidential primaries. It is therefore correct to say OBJ introduced party primaries in the PDP and by necessary implication to the nation although other parties have not seen it fit to follow suit. Now, it has become the tradition and here we are again with the nation literarily hooked on to the ongoing PDP primaries at all levels. Are they perfect? No. Do they need to be perfect before we acknowledge their importance and contribution to our democratic experience? No. Are there rooms for improvement in the PDP party primaries? Absolutely!

And so also for the general elections proper because both are interrelated and interconnected as the success of PDP and other primaries is a harbinger of the success of the general elections. One thing is certain and this observation may not sit well with the opposition: As the PDP, the ruling party, perfects its acts internally so will the nation reap the benefits of electoral integrity because like it or not, it is the PDP controlled government that is conducting the next general elections and as goes the PDP so goes the nation. Admirably, and following the PDP example, which it would be hard pressed to admit, ACN is similarly set to conduct its own primaries. Which is remarkable and worth noting because the last time it held its convention under its former AC name, it merely adopted former Vice President Abubakar Atiku as its presidential candidate as indeed was the ANPP for Muhammadu Buhari. This time around the ACN has bailed out of the “Consensus Bandwagon” to institute internal democracy, or so I would like to believe. The question is will the ANPP and the other parties follow suit to further embed the culture of democracy in the nation or it will go the way of Buhari’s CPC which has rushed to adopt Buhari as its consensus candidate for the presidential election. That is the problem with “husband and wife” parties. They don’t even pretend to be democratic. Their candidates are a given and they have no apologies for that. This is pathetic, to say the least and should be condemned by all true democrats.

Buhari as chairman of CPC’s BoT proceeded to hold a convention that adopted Buhari as the party’s consensus candidate for the presidential election. In other words, Buhari presided over Buhari’s adoption as CPC’s presidential candidate. This is beyond incredible. What a sick joke! Is this how Buhari is going to bring “real democracy” to Nigeria? But that is in character though. Remember how Buhari, who had just joined the NPP (now ANPP) then in 2003 went to the party’s convention in Owerri, Imo state, I believe, and muscled his way through to displace late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo and one Chief Harry Akande who were there before him as presidential aspirants, if my memory serves me well, to emerge as the party’s consensus candidate? It reminds one of how OBJ emerged from prison to displace Dr. Alex Ekueme and others from the PDP in 1999. Party favorites may be party favorite yet primaries should and must be allowed to determine who flies the flag. And by the way, Harry Akande is back on the presidential train under the same ANPP since Buhari is out of the way. Talk about reclaiming his party from the stranger power usurper! Remember how both Okadigbo and Akande protested to no avail the imposition of Gen. Buhari, a total new comer, on the party? That could partially explain why the party was quick to abandon him after his defeat in the hands of OBJ and went into a working arrangement with OBJ. The same people that forced him on the party wasted no time abandoning him to his fate. They did the same thing to him after his defeat in the hands of then candidate Musa Yar’Adua and even proceeded to withdraw their petition against Yar’Adua’s victory to rub it in.  

A presidential candidate who went through the mill of party primaries and had interacted at close range with the rank and file members of his party is one who is already baked in the party and in the oven of the party itself and therefore not likely to suffer such fate in the hands of its own party members. Rather than avail himself of his party’s primaries, Buhari has, for the third time, muscled his way through as sole administrator of his party. That is not the kind of democracy Nigerians are hungry for. It is democracy Buhari style! Being a founder of the CPC is no license to dispense with democratic processes and procedures even if at the end of the day, he would still be the party’s candidate. I know some Buhari supporter out there will jump out to defend him that he conducted primaries too for the CPC. Oh yes, he conducted “primaries” for himself and by himself! I get it. Due process matters in a democracy in order to lay down enduring precedent to guide future generations. He could not preside over primaries in which he was candidate himself because he would be a judge in his own cause and that’s not allowed in any civilized organization. If we are building democracy in Africa its foundations must be properly and solidly laid to withstand even the strongest political storms in Africa much like how automobiles are built to withstand Nigerian roads equipped with strong Suspensions and Shock Absorbers. Presently Buhari is not being helpful in that critical department of instituting internal democracy in his CPC and may very well be running foul of the Electoral Act in the manner of his emergence as presidential candidate of his party. Having gone through two presidential elections and about to go for the third time, Buhari has undoubtedly gone through democracy.  What is in doubt, however, is whether he has allowed democracy to go through him as well. The man who is threatening violent change could not conduct credible primaries at least one member of his party is in court to contest the outcomes of the party’s convention. The man seems to be making a statement that he has no time for democratic niceties and processes forgetting or rather oblivious of the fact that democracy is more about processes and procedures than substance. It is true leopards never change their dark spots. No doubt this is a throwback to the First and Second Republics where presidential candidates of the AG, UPN, NCNC, GNPP, NPP, PRP, and what have you were known even before these parties were formally registered.

The ACN should endeavor to chart a different course and distance itself from the shenanigans and democratic pretentions of the CPC with which it is currently contemplating a political union of sorts. It has been unremitting in its attacks on the PDP and Nigerians are keenly watching its every move to see how it stacks up against the PDP not only in the area of governance but also in internal democracy. Yes, internal democracy! Is the ACN ready for that? That is the litmus test. It is not enough to criticize. It is now time to walk the talk. Having seemingly upended the ANPP as the leading opposition party in the nation, which is by no means a small achievement the party owes a duty to itself and to its teeming supporters and the nation to demonstrate its bona-fides in the department of internal democracy because it cannot give to Nigerians what it does not have. Either through outright acquisitions, coalitions and mergers, the ACN is well positioned at this moment in time to provide an effective alternative to the PDP at the center by broadening its national outlook. What it is lacking at the moment is credible presidential candidates to fly its flag but it is not too late. And with respect to its primaries it should demonstrate beyond doubts that what PDP can do it can do better. And given its relatively small size it is easier to manage its primaries than the humungous PDP juggernaut. Will its primaries be perfect? No. Will losers not resort to blackmail, threats and protests? You bet they will. Already one of its chieftains and founders in Edo state has quit the party in protest citing “lack of internal democracy” which is quite ironical and unfortunate for the ACN, not that I expected it to be free of such accusations. ACN has no democratic pedigree to begin with, right from its days as the AD, UPN, AC and now ACN. It will be difficult for the party to suddenly become “internal democracy” converts overnight. Yet that it must become with the present democratic realities on the ground. Anything short of that will sound the death knell for the party much like the ANPP. Political evolution takes time. If the ACN can overcome itself by holding credible primaries it will not only have complemented the efforts of the PDP in institutionalizing the culture of party primaries, it will become the de facto alternative to the PDP not necessarily in this election cycle as the party is already late in the game, but in future election cycles. Establishing itself as the de facto alternative to the PDP means that it stands a good chance of gobbling up many of the smaller parties that are looking for a bigger home to have political relevance. They would much prefer to be smaller fishes in a big pond than remain big fishes in small ponds. Such party acquisitions or mergers could give the ACN the national outlook that it so much lacks at the moment and remove its current image of a regional secret cult from it.

If that happens, the nation could wind up with two major political parties between which political power could alternate as is the case in much of the West without decreeing two-party into existence as was the former NRC and SDP under IBB’s failed transition. Two-party structure that evolved naturally could make for greater political stability and save the nation from the scourge of one-party rule. Therefore, in the ongoing continental quest for the incubation of democracy in Africa with Nigeria as its arrowhead it is incumbent on the ACN to quickly transform itself as the umbrella of the opposition in Nigeria, ready and prepared to take over the reins of power from the ruling party. To get there, however, the party requires total overhaul and makeover to become as broad based as the PDP, if you like. Until that happens, the PDP will continue to lead the charge in the democracy project even with all its imperfections. It has the men, the means and the materials to unleash the power of democracy, not just in Nigeria but throughout Africa. Why, because one out of every four Africans is a Nigerian! Just think about the enormous influence Nigerian democracy would bring to bear on Africa as a whole. The West knows that and that’s why it’s keen on investing in Nigerian democracy, because with real democracy comes political stability, peace and uninterrupted development.

With 12 years of un-interrupted run on democracy under her belt which is a feat in Nigeria and with government to government transition jinx already broken with the OBJ to Yar’Adua transition, Nigeria’s democracy is fully on course and what remains is its gradual perfection through the electoral process of which primaries are a major and critical component. No one should try to turn back the hand of the clock. Democracy has come to stay for good. It’s a shame that members of the National Assembly were angling for automatic tickets. Such selfish attempts should be roundly resisted. Primaries are dry runs of the elections proper and the perfection of the electoral process begins with the primaries. That’s why they have been made mandatory in the Electoral Act and that’s why INEC is bent on enforcing them. No party should treat primaries as a “family matter” and it is not a PDP affair either; it is a national affair that should be wholly embraced by the other parties. I’m, therefore, beseeching the opposition parties to step up to the plate and play their part in this political renaissance going on in the continent by wholeheartedly embracing democracy in all its ways and in all its strictures, including of course, internal democracy and processes because at the end of the day democracy is not just about elections but about its culture, processes and procedures and attitudes.

Are they ready to roll? The primaries will answer that question in a matter of days.  And that question had better be answered in the affirmative. That’s right. The primaries! That’s where the rubber meets the road. They had better start rolling now or they will be rolled over by the juggernaut.   

Any elective office seeker, who has successfully gone through the crucible of party primaries to fly his party flag deserves to have a shot at the desired office, all things being equal. And I don’t care who. I don’t want to know the color of his skin or the tribal marks on his face or the ethnic language he speaks or the name he bears. I am simply not interested in such primordial considerations because they are not important to anyone except the career politician. And that’s why I am zoning’s greatest enemy. But you know what I care about? Give me integrity, statesmanship, intelligence, nationalism, patriotism, honor, competence, learning, and selfless service. And you’ve got yourself a lifetime friend in me. And I want to know the individual emerged through a democratic process. In other words,

The Primaries… Let them Roll—Roll them off the Mills of Democracy!    

From the stable of “--Cutting-Edge Analytics—Where News Meets the Intellect—“


Franklin Otorofani is an Attorney and Public Affairs Analyst 


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