Stanley Ibe lists five values that need to become entrenched in Nigeria’s democratic system.
On March 28, Nigerians proved bookmakers wrong. They voted with minimal disruption and violence. The electoral umpire declared leading opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari winner of the elections and incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan conceded. However, the 2015 Presidential Election was not about any of the individuals or institution –although they played important roles – it was about the resilience of Nigerians. They braved the odds – weather, potential violence, delays and allegations of electoral fraud – to prove that it is possible for Nigeria to transition peacefully from one civilian administration to another.
As laudable as this achievement is, I must hasten to add that there are more obstacles to overcome in our quest to entrench ethos and values in the democratic system. The first value that we need to take to heart is subordination of personal ambition to the overriding public interest. It is interesting that the outgoing President conceded thereby averting potential violence. There are several theories about why he did but that should not detain us here. What is important is that we are at the point where more losers are calling their opponents and conceding. Elections are akin to competitions. There must be winners and losers. Every engagement with the process ought to be underpinned by this idea. Yes, political offices are pretty lucrative here – and there is a lot that the incoming government can do about right-sizing remuneration for political office holders – however, that does not fundamentally change the nature of elections.
The next value would be loyalty. In the context of elections, loyalty to sponsoring political parties and the country is critical to strengthening our democracy. Clearly, the political parties can do more in terms of organizing, negotiating and agreeing specific ideologies as well as eliciting buy-in from their members and the general public. However, political actors cannot afford to change their minds as often as the weather changes. The idea that people can move across parties as much as they like – without any consequence – is dangerous for our fledgling democracy and we need to address that. The outgoing “ruling” party should learn a lesson or two from the incoming “governing” party by encouraging its members to stay together and keep a keen eye on the incoming government at all levels.
This takes me to the third value Nigerians need to embrace – vigilance. Benjamin Franklin once famously stated: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” That is as true when Franklin uttered it as it is today. Nigerians cannot afford to abandon the state to its leaders – outgoing or incoming. Every citizen and friend of Nigeria has a duty to be active and inquisitive. Leaders must be continuously aware that they are being watched and their activities scrutinized critically. There is no better way to remind them that change is constant and their employers – the people – reserve the right to keep or kick them out.
President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari has provided a template to hold his government to account, namely his campaign promises. It is not time to be carried away by the euphoria of his electoral victory, which brings me to my fourth value: citizens must begin the engagement immediately. Buhari and his team should be required to report to and be consistently evaluated on the strength of their campaign promises. Politicians can no longer assume that they can create expectations during campaigns and then move on after elections without consequences. They must be made to meet those expectations or explain why they cannot. This is what makes democracy different from other forms of government.
Nigerians deservedly expect change to happen quickly but a huge dose of patience is the fifth value. Patience is better managed if anchored on forthrightness. The extent to which the incoming government can elicit the patience and understanding of citizens will be directly proportional to the extent to which it can earn their trust. The majority of Nigerians who voted to make “change” happen and some who preferred the status quo will be looking out for quick wins. The incoming government must take steady even if slow steps to satisfy these expectations.
And talking about expectations, the incoming government promised to tackle corruption and insurgency amongst other things, which brings me to my last value, tokenism will not help. Government must take decisive steps to address these difficult challenges. It is gratifying that Buhari is already indicating that he will declare his assets and get his cabinet to do the same. That is a great proposal to begin addressing public sector corruption but he needs to go beyond the force of personal example. The laws ought to make declaration of assets, particularly of public officers, a matter of public interest. These asset declarations – before and after office – should be available to the public and open to scrutiny. The relevant institutions of state should be empowered to investigate, prosecute and appropriately punish individuals who abuse their offices for whatever reasons. Akin to this is a point I made above about making public offices places of service rather than theatres of personal gratification.
As a Nigerian, I look forward to a more exciting future. All Nigerians alike look to their leaders at different levels to help make that transition possible. Our leaders will earn the trust and confidence of the people if they take the difficult but necessary steps required to get us on the path to that desired future
This was first published on Compare Afrique.
Stanley Ibe is a lawyer, researcher and development worker from Nigeria. He has led or participated in rule of law projects across Africa. In 2014, he was one of 26 fellows admitted to the Draper Hills Summer Fellows Programme at the Centre for Democracy, Development and Rule of Law of Stanford University, USA. In the same year, he served on a continental team of advocates that successfully campaigned for the adoption by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights of “Guidelines on Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody and Pretrial Detention”.
The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and in no way reflect those of the Africa at LSE blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.