Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, an extraordinary philanthropist, business mogul, and politician lives in the minds of millions of people, even 20 years after his death on account of his very salient contributions to national development. Evidently, MKO Abiolas name will forever remain indelible in history as a benevolent and courageous personality who braved all odds to leave a mark on the sands of time. He is being honoured today post-humously with the highest honour in Nigeria The Grand Commander of the Federal Republic. Equally being remembered is Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi, a stormy petrel and nonconforming human rights activist, who was detained several times on account of his boldness and dissidence. Gani was always ready with his bags of medicinal drugs, awaiting law enforcement agents to come for him. Also being honoured is Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, who paired with MKO to emerge the acclaimed winner of the aborted June 12, 1993 presidential election.
Looking back, the lessons of the 1993 election are very obvious. They show very clearly that Nigerians could decide to vote for the best candidates, irrespective of religion, tribe, ethnicity, and other ills that have plagued and enveloped the political arena. The election of Abiola and Kingibe, practitioners of the same religion signify that to be able to build a polity of the dream envisaged, the nation must do away with factors like federal character, quota system, and zoning have continued to militate against the progress and prosperity of Nigeria. Indeed, the quality of participation and representation in government must not be lowered for competence and merit to suffer. Abiola had a wide acceptance all over the nation, defeating the issue of place of origin. Where people come from, religious inclinations, ethnicity, tribalism and narrow-mindedness must not be allowed pre-eminence over important considerations which should ideally throw up the best materials that must steer the ship of state constructively and admirably.
A clear allusion to this development was fiercely argued by the Sunday Sun tabloid of November 9, 2008. It posits that:
The quality of political participation and representation needs to be given a pride of place in our quest for a better and stable polity. One of the banes of our democracy is that people of questionable character, whose lack of integrity is made worse by little learning, have hijacked the political process. They have infiltrated and taken control of the political parties and therefore choose for the people those that should stand for elections. An enduring democratic culture is only achievable when we have a good dose of progressive minds in the system, which put the nation above self. Our aspiration in this regard will also come to fruition if we have models we can aspire to. We should, as a people, work towards institutionalizing the gospel that he has preached. Indeed, we need a political culture that will not be so deadly as to continue to discourage men and women of integrity and good learning from taking part in politics. This is because for as long as those who know stay out of the scene, for so long will the country to witness darkness and damnation.
Did the early nationalists envisage this problem? Have the political class also been able to trace this key problem with a view to straightening the crooked democratic path? The answer is simply yes. But our values, norms and preferences have seriously constituted formidable barriers to positive political development. The leadership question and such other issues like zoning of political offices, application of federal character in appointments and other areas of the country’s life have put solid question marks on the nation’s claim that it is a land where justice, fair play and equity are accorded due considerations. These issues have promoted deep rooted and congenital hatred among different groups while the secularity of the nation, as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal of Nigeria has at different periods of the nation’s history threatened the very fabric of its foundation and existence as a country.
From this point of view, there is a clear indication that Nigeria, and indeed, Africa must give a serious thought to the evolution of brilliant, committed and dedicated leaders with vision and mission, coupled with the ability to manage our different societies for the overall benefit of the entire citizenry. Events of the last three decades have indicated that there are critical and challenging tasks that the electorate must solve themselves by waking up from slumber to elect their preferences. One of the very salient features of Nigerias political arrangement in the past few years is the fact that we have been able to deepen our growing democracy. It is to be noted that Nigerians and institutions have always engaged in robust discussions and engagement with the media in a manner that is restricted only by law. This is a commendable development because democracy cannot thrive without free speech and free press. There is an enormous responsibility imposed on the media by Section 22 of the Constitution as amended which empowers it to hold the government accountable to the people. More importantly, the Freedom of Information Act has been passed to strengthen the media to perform its role as the watch-dog of the society. This is one of the measures that have further promoted the operation of the principle of the rule of law. The Legislature, which is the only institution through which the people participate in Government must practice its functions with increasing commitment to the good of all and place Nigeria first in performance of official business. For instance, our grund norm the Constitution was for the first time in Nigerias history in 2010 achieved a broad amendment of multiple sections of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic. The amendments addressed popular agitations and pressures from Nigerians for the reform of the electoral process. Other areas that will most probably be amended before too long include greater fiscal federalism, citizenship rights and land use reform as the Legislature is currently processing demands for a general review of the extant Constitution.
DEMOCRATIZATION OF ELECTIONS
Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations proclaims that Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country and Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country. It adds: The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; and this will, shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures. In many nations, however, the conduct of successive elections has provoked agitations for electoral reforms. Perhaps no issue has been touchier than that of the electoral process, which many participants have condemned on account of the allegations of brazen disregard for the basic rules and transparency. Accordingly, political transition programmes have been hotly contested in Africa as a result of disagreements over the handling of elections. The Nigerian Guardian newspaper’s editorial of June 12, 2014, contends that ”elections have been used in many African countries to disguise authoritarianism and camouflage impunity. Accordingly, Africa’s leaders must device the means of bringing some semblance of order to the rather chaotic system of implementation of public policies. A radically new approach is needed to weave political policies into a comprehensive and cohesive framework that would produce a brand continent that would be free from overdependence on the Western world.
From the above point of view, what appears to be the first important consideration is getting our priorities right and acting dispassionately in the overall interest of the masses. It would profit the polity if political and opinion leaders engage in robust debates that are issue-based, and also get involved in logical discussions and sensitization of the masses as a matter of duty. Let discourse and actions be provoked by national and public interests. It is important to speak, write, and react within the limits of decency. Don’t abuse or curse your opponents. If you truly desire improvements, join a group today and start canvassing for development and all those matters that could move the nation forward. Determine that your vote must count. Additionally, support the National Independent Electoral Commission and its counterparts at the States level to hold elections devoid of malpractices. You could influence people in your environment to think logically about these issues and events. Teach the educated and uneducated people about democratic conducts and their importance to development. Encourage them to spread the news that it is important to elect their preferences on conviction.
While congratulating those honoured for pressing for the actualization of the June 12 mandate, celebrations must go beyond mere rejoicing. It must be an occasion for both political leaders and followers to review our journey so far, with a view to charting a proper course for the future, as people bound by the same aspirations. We must act responsibly and move Nigeria into her place in destiny. Furthermore, Nigerians themselves must be prepared to show more interest in democracy to be able to turn the situation around. To change a poor demands dedication and commitment. Finally, those who lead must be prepared to be selfless and possess indomitable will, as Bola Borisade points out in his book NIGERIA: From Depression to Greatness that Molke, a General of distinction and their group, paid the price for Germany. He laid the foundation upon which Adolf Hitler later built upon. Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles de Gaulle and others paid the price for France. Elizabeth I, Oliver Cromwell and their group paid the same for England. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King and their group paid the price for the United States. Mandela and his group paid the price for the black in South Africa. The search for the magic wand for the development of Indonesia was led by General Suharto while Lee Kuan Yew lives till today in the minds of people as the modernizer of Singapore.
Who does this for Nigeria? We are blessed with the brains or human resources required to make Nigeria great. The material resources available too are enormous. It is well with my beloved country. I have no other nation other than our beautiful Nigeria that God will, in the not too far future, make a great country.