[OPINION] Impact of Nigeria’s complicated political system – Tonnie Iredia

[OPINION] Impact of Nigeria’s complicated political system – Tonnie Iredia

One major reason Nigeria has been unable to perfect her election processes despite the numerous elections conducted in the country since independence, is because the people have not been able to understand their supposed political system. Although independence was reportedly attained in 1960, colonialism has not really ended.

As a result, many of our politicians are anxious to win elections not in an independent country but in a special colony. Whereas Nigeria is said to be a democracy, traces of theocracy and monarchy in the system are manifestly discernable.

Indeed, both our leaders and we, the followers, are yet to put away, the military mentality introduced by our armed forces during their long and several interventions in the country’s governance. Accordingly, it is our complicated political system that can best account for our nation’s inability to grow and develop.

To start with, Nigeria claims to be a secular state whereas it is not. Although Section 10 of the nation’s Constitution clearly provides, that ‘the government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion’ many Nigerians are too determined to establish the superiority of whichever religion they belong to.

A cursory look at the pattern of campaigns for the next general elections holding from February 25, 2023 will easily show that religion will play a major role.  While many Muslims are unable to see what is wrong with a same-faith ticket in a multi-religious society because it favours them, many Christians are infuriated by the idea.

In a pure democracy which we are not, the capacity of candidates would matter most because the main objective of governance is national development which would greatly improve the living standards of the people. Nigerians are yet to appreciate that presidents and governors are not expected to sermonize.   

There are by far too many examples which suggest that Nigeria is still a British colony. Anyone who has watched our major television stations in the last few days would have seen the British High Commissioner holding meetings with leaders of some political parties to caution them on what Britain expects to see in the coming elections.

During any British election, can the Nigerian High Commissioner in the UK, on the basis of the principle of reciprocity act likewise? We also frequently hear foreign officials threatening visa denials etc. to those who breach election guidelines because they know Nigerian politicians cannot do without occasional foreign visits. Interestingly, the foreign missions that keep publicizing their readiness to penalize such election riggers are never able to similarly publicize those who are eventually penalized. 

Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari was constrained to repeat his consistent warnings to foreign missions in Nigeria to desist from interfering in the country’s politics. Buhari spoke while receiving Letters of Credence from Ambassadors from Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand and Ireland etc. 

Unfortunately, neither the British nor other foreigners are poised to note or appreciate President Buhari warnings.  In truth however, it is Nigerian politicians especially the opposition class that are more anxious to involve the foreign envoys in our elections because they are conscious of the inclination of the ruling party to use state instruments to rig elections hence appeals are constantly made by them to foreign bodies for intervention. When those in opposition become the ruling party they revive what they earlier fought against 

But apart from the fear of rigging, the average African has huge affection for the exogenous; anything external is preferred to its local counterpart which explains why no matter how well a Nigeria football team performs in a competition, the urge to hire a foreign coach never diminishes.

In politics, all our presidential candidates including those who will not engage in political debates at home for the purposes of throwing further light on their manifestos, are currently falling on each other to access the popular platform in London – Chatham house. The main goal is to use the platform to speak to people on their election plans, policies and strategies, yet those who are to vote for them are not only Nigerians but those registered and physically available in the country during the elections. 

Perhaps because the British retained their Monarchy in their own democracy, our old popular traditional Kingship system before colonialism has also been retained. The implementation of the same system has however left us with more problems.  The British monarch is not partisan but greatly respected and well cared for.

Unlike the King or Queen of England, our own traditional rulers are pure civil servants who can be deposed if not loyal or sycophantic to the ruling political leadership. During the last elections in Osun State, many of the Royal fathers in the state out of fear and or greed openly campaigned for the incumbent governor who ended up losing the election.

The new governor is therefore left to do whatever he likes to the Obas which may desecrate our cultural value of respect for royalty and the elderly.  Condescending correspondence between Kogi officials and the hitherto revered Ohinoyi of Ebiraland underscores Nigeria’s complicated political system.

At the same time, it is obvious that the ruling political class is more interested in being served like monarchs. All over the globe political leaders are fully accustomed to criticisms and quite often insults from the people who are in fact the sovereign in a democracy. The situation in Nigeria is exceedingly different.

As the Kogi case has shown, the language of reprimand on the traditional ruler is not just about insubordination, but also disrespect to a political leader. Nigerian law enforcement agencies are fully convinced that to criticize a political leader amounts to a criminal offence for which the accused is punished without trial.  A visit to states such as Ebonyi, Imo and Cross River expose apt examples of the trend of criminalizing political dissent.  No one is allowed to make negative comments that can embarrass ‘his excellency.’

The combined effect of all that has been said so far is that Nigeria is a pseudo-democracy. It is a country where what matters is the view of the so-called majority, the parallel requirement of the promotion of minority rights is absent. In addition, ours is a clime where different arms of government are more eager to perform the functions of other arms.

For example, the threat to issue warrant of arrest for whatever ‘wrong-doing’ is louder in the lawmaking arm of government – an arm that is as notorious as the executive arm for contempt of court. Two days ago, the Ondo State House of Assembly announced with fanfare, that despite a court order, its illegally expelled deputy speaker remains expelled.

The spokesperson of the Assembly, Olugbenga Omole said the judgment of the court was an interference in the affairs of the House without featuring the legality of the said internal matter. In which case, the legislature in Nigeria imagines that it can do whatever it likes about its purported internal affairs even where laws and rules are breached in the process.

Although the courts have consistently ruled that the legislature cannot deprive a constituency from being represented under the guise of suspending an alleged offending member, different Houses of Assembly have continued to cow their members who have opposing views on proposals by long suspensions from the House.

But more worrisome is the refusal of the legislature to obey court rulings which nullify the payment of severance packages to their outgoing members. In the last couple of days there have been disturbing reports that the National Assembly approved as much as N30.17 billion as package or gratuity to be paid to federal lawmakers after their four-year tenure in office!

Based on the reported poor finances of government, the payment of the huge package is not only annoying because the proposed recipients have only worked for a period of four years, it is irritating that they are essentially part time public officers. In any case, no other democratic country which believes in the rule of law would sustain, let alone increase any provision that the Judiciary has ousted. It can only happen in a country whose system of government is a caricature of those of some other countries combined 

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