Lessons From Mali And Senegal —Peter Claver Oparah



Two significant events happened in Africa last week that should force Nigerians, both the government and the governed to do a health check on the democracy we have in place presently. The military coup in Mali and the defeat of incumbent President Abdulaye Wade in Senegal are two important events that bear direct relevance to the Nigerian situation. On the local scene, the PDP, the ruling party in Nigeria, had its national convention the same week. We shall re-visit this convention, vis-à-vis its nexus with the state and health of Nigerian democracy in the course of this report but our main concern remains the events in Mali and Senegal.

The military struck and seized power from civilians in Mali. A group of military men led by Ahmadou Sanogo struk and seized power from President Amadou Touare. Citing the menace of Tuareg armed gangs in the North of the country, the coupists blamed the ousted president for tolerating the gangsters who have visited bloodletting and mayhem especially in Northern Mali. In Senegal, the people defied 85 years old Wade’s amendment of the constitution to allow him more terms, to stand solidly against his continued stay in office after twelve years. The battle to unseat Wade had been acrimonious, bloody and fierce. In the first ballot, Wade scraped through a narrow lead over his main challenger and estranged Prime Minister, Macky Sall but fell short of the mandatory 50 per cent that would have given him victory at the first ballot. He therefore entered into a run off with his main challenger, who was buoyed by massive support by the people. Wade lost and quickly conceded victory in a rare show of sportsmanship, his deft effort to perpetrate himself in office notwithstanding.

Nigeria has condemned and applauded these momentous developments in Mali and Senegal. It condemned the coup plotters in Mali and commended the free democratic choice that prevailed in Senegal. For a serious country, it should not end there as both events should offer Nigeria a tremendous window of opportunity to do a thorough health check on the democracy we had been struggling with for the past thirteen years. What happened in the two African countries should have offered Nigeria the opportunity to do a thorough audit of the state of the nation and the democracy we have in place to know if the system can withstand the kind of event in Mali and if the system is capable of generating the kind of event witnessed in Senegal where an incumbent was defeated in a contest he supervised. We need to verify if democracy has worked to tame the wishes and desires of Nigerians for a just, fair and egalitarian state where no man is oppressed. We need to know if democracy, as we have it in Nigeria, rhymes with the universal concept of democracy. Is the present Nigerian democracy founded on free, fair and credible electoral process? Is it strengthened by a just and unbiased judiciary that watches over the interests of the masses? Is it guarded by a credible legislature that waits to arrest the excesses of the executive at any given time? Is Nigerian democracy rooted on accountability to the people; the ultimate sovereign in a democracy? Is the system founded on transparency, rule of law, checks and balances, which guarantee every member of the commonwealth equal access to available opportunities?

When we try to inquire further, we would ask the factors that inform, sustain and ensure the presence of the military in African politics. Has Nigeria, as a country, taken care of these factors as to be assured the military will never attempt another adventure in our body politic? Are the citizenry so satisfied with the output from our democracy in the last thirteen years as to form a mass movement against the military should they make another attempt to step in? We would find out whether all we have experienced in the last thirteen years are parts and parcel of democracy. We would try to match our experience against the universal concept of democracy, the practice and all to know if we are being well served by the present democracy and if these tally with the universal idea of democracy.

It is after we had done these audits that we would come to a better appreciation of what we really want as a nation. Do we want this form of democracy or we want something else? How do we come to realize what we want as a nation without inflicting much harm on the interests and wellbeing of the masses that remain the main concern of any system of government? How do we make a desirable omelette for our people while ensuring minimum damage to the egg? How can we achieve the democratic space of our dream that is in sync with the age old democratic concept? How do we ensure our democracy is strengthened and sustained through good governance?

The event in Mali remains an aberration as military coups are out of sync with desirable means of effecting changes in government but a democracy that operates outside the ground norms of democracy is as undesirable as military governments. But this is not enough to prevent such adventures or even prevent these adventurers from being welcomed by the people when they strike. The essence of doing a health check on Nigerian democracy is to ensure that it does not depart from the well-known canons of universal democracy for once democracy departs from these sacred ethos, it tantamounts to salt that has lost its flavour. The people of Senegal must be commended for their resilience and perseverance in the face of the resolve of Wade to hang on to power but then, Wade, despite his nauseous traits deserves praise for knowing when to abandon the affliction that has led astray many an African leader and pseudo democrats.

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The lesson Nigeria must not miss is that the leader and indeed, the entire concept of democracy exists for the people and once the people state their preferences, every other thing gives to let the people have their way. If the people and their interests are removed from democracy, it turns out worse than military rule. It is doubtful if Nigerian leaders will even have the courage to let the people have their way in a similar situation and that constitutes one of the greatest banes of democracy in Nigeria. When will Nigerian leaders allow the kind of free process that will see them losing elections they supervise when the people don’t want them? That is the biggest poser our democracy faces as we stutter through what has been dubbed a wobbly and dysfunctional democracy.

So, the events in Senegal should rather work to strengthen Nigerian democracy. It should re-orient the leaders on the need to make democracy, founded on the immutable canons of free choice, accountability, checks and balance, work for the Nigerian people. That remains the only way Nigeria could keep soldiers out of our politics and avoid the kind of situation in Mali. And this brings us to the convention of the PDP, which has in its moments of glee, seen itself as the only viable party in Nigeria. PDP has been ruling Nigeria and the majority of the states since 1999. It is to its shame that in this period, Nigeria has merely excelled in churning out awful and horrible tales of corruption, insecurity, political persecution, electoral roguery, impunity, infrastructural decay, increasing poverty in the midst of unflagging oil boom, etc.

Nowhere is PDP’s unravelling complete as in its predilection to hug electoral fraud as the basis of its existence and as the ruling party, they have negotiated Nigeria to a bend where it is sunk in the quagmire of electoral roguery. Thirteen years after a harrowing rule, PDP signifies the failure of Nigeria and its failure to meet even the least standard of free and fair electoral process signifies a readiness to ensure the country remains stranded in the pit of electoral infamy. Last week, it held its so-called national convention, which was merely the handpicking of the cronies of the president and their usual coronation through an elaborate and vain process of waste. That the PDP cannot conduct a credible election to pick its officers after thirteen years in power shows the dim and bleak electoral future Nigeria faces. It shows that the event in Senegal may not be possible in Nigeria in the foreseeable future. It sends a warning signal that the event in Mali may be possible in Nigeria if our so-called politicians continue to trample and make nonsense of the very first and most important canon of democracy which is the conduct of free and fair election where every contestant stands equal chances. It is a strong warning to Nigeria, especially those that flatter themselves as the personification of the present troubled democracy, have to take seriously or perish.


•Oparah wrote in from Lagos. E-mail: [email protected]

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