Nigeria At 60: Of Government Impunity and Need To Review Our Electoral Process, By Olabisi Deji-Folutile

As Nigeria marks its 60th anniversary, I just can’t help but ponder on the inherent complexities and contradictions in its system. Some things appear so contradictory in this country that oftentimes, one is forced to wonder until the person probably becomes “a wonder.” Now, let me start with this example. How do you explain a situation where government officials mount roadblocks on terribly bad roads that are sure to reduce the value of any motor vehicle, no matter its state of fitness, and ask you to present your own vehicle’s certificate of roadworthiness?

The other time, Vehicle Inspection Officers stopped me along the old Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, which by the way, has become the shame of a nation, going by its level of decay, asking for my vehicle’s certificate of roadworthiness. Here was I thinking of how much it would cost me to repair my car for plying on a bad road that should supposedly be maintained by government and the same government officials were asking me to show them the certificate that my car was road-worthy. Suffice to say that I had my roadworthiness certificate. But, I don’t really know who should be punished between a government that can’t maintain its roads and a vehicle owner that does not have a certificate of roadworthiness. I mean, what right does a government that can’t fix its roads have to demand of someone a vehicle’s roadworthiness certificate? Shouldn’t government fix the roads and make them worthy for vehicle owners before enforcing a law on certificates of roadworthiness. Anyway, till now, I am still wondering why I should be the one paying government every year for using my worthy car to ply its unworthy roads.

Away from the personal experience, the last few weeks have been tough for private school owners in the country, as government reopened schools after nearly six months of shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In its bid to ensure that schools are safe for students, government officials visited schools to assess their levels of preparedness for resumption, especially as it related to abiding with the COVID-19 protocols. On the surface, it would appear the government was doing the right thing. However, when you see a government that expects the highest level of compliance from private operators providing the barest minimum in its own schools, you ask yourself the essence of government. Are we saying that governance only confers on government the power of impunity and rascality, the kind my mum of blessed memory would describe as an attitude of “I can do what I like because nobody can arrest me.” Shouldn’t government be showing the citizenry exemplary leadership? Why should a government, in the name of maintaining quality assurance, ask private schools to abide by all kinds of rules when they are not ready to do the same thing in their own schools?

There is a trending report on the social media of how officials of the Quality Assurance Department of a state ministry of education allegedly triggered the death of a school proprietor through their unnecessary highhandedness and exploitative tendencies. The proprietor, apparently suffering from high blood pressure, slumped and died, as different sets of officials of the state grilled him to no end over nothing. Imagine, this man survived all the uncertainties associated with COVID-19, probably got half of his school’s population back, and still died in the hands of state officials.

When you have a government that does what it likes, it will embolden others in the society to act without caution. And that is exactly what happened at Afe Babalola University, a private university in Ado-Ekiti, which is charging accommodation fee for students schooling online. It is bad enough that some Nigerian private universities refused to refund the accommodation fee that students paid before lectures were moved online, but to ask students to pay for accommodation when the university explicitly stated that the semester would hold online, is nothing but daylight robbery. In decent societies, universities refund unused accommodation fees. A parent of a student at the University at Buffalo, a public university in New York, told me his child got a $2,000 refund with a long letter displaying empathy from the university authorities. I must note that some universities in Nigeria also made some refunds. I am aware that Caleb and Ajayi Crowther University did and they also made this public. If any other university did, they probably didn’t make it public, and I know that personal enquiries on the issue were parried by many of them.

Of course, if we consider the electoral process that ushers these people to power, it’s obvious the system allows for a lot of compromise that reduces the influence that the electorate should have under normal democratic settings. Elections are supposed to be avenues whereby citizens participate in the selection of their leaders. Ideally, electoral procedures should give the government a sense of legitimacy. But in Nigeria, more often than not, elections are merely selections. Unfortunately, the process through which our leaders emerge has a lot to do with what we get from them. Countries that have credible electoral processes are likely to be better governed because their leaders owe their legitimacy to the people. That is not to say that these leaders get it right all the time, but at least they strive to be in their citizens’ good books, knowing that they will always need them.

I believe the manipulation of Nigeria’s electoral process is at the root of many of its problems. And the way out is for the entire electoral process to be transparent. If a politician knows that he doesn’t need the people to win in an election, why would he/she be bothered about pleasing people who have no electoral value? This is the dilemma we all have to deal with as Nigeria celebrates its 60 years independence. It is high time we improved on our electoral process so that we can get better people-centred governance. Why are we reluctant at embracing technology wholly in our electoral process? This will only enhance transparency and reduce cases of manipulation. Agreed, we have accepted the use of card readers, but we need to go beyond this. The use of incident forms during elections is still an avenue for manipulation. We need to review our laws to ensure that full biometrics is used for accreditation and that election results are electronically transmitted in the same way the current proposed bill on electoral law expects accreditation data to be transmitted. This amendment will curtail incidences of the rigging of election results. Experience in this country has shown that the rigging of election results takes place between the period of announcing the results at the polling unit and the point of announcing the results at the collation centres.

Until our leaders are convinced that they truly need us to be in power, they are not likely to be committed to serving us. That is why we must all push for the kind of electoral reforms that will serve our interests as Nigerian citizens. Maybe then, we can be talking of having a responsible government, a great country and a well-deserved celebration. Until then, our leaders will continue to hold us to ransom.

About the Author: Olabisi Deji-Folutile is the editor-in-chief, franktalknow.com and member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email bisideji@yahoo.co.uk

Source: Premium Times

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