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In Nigeria Democracy Survives, But Not Because of Political Science

Yes indeed, the state of the Nigerian State is serious. The State is crumbling before our eyes and it is clear that a rescue mission is necessary. The community of political science has a duty at this time to work on a cure for the sickness of the State before we are all consumed by its breakdown, which Thomas Hobbes had assured us will make or life “nasty, brutish and short”. That rescue must take the form of a new approach based on good governance in which there is effective, transparent and accountable use of public resources to provide public goods for citizens.

In his closing remarks at this year’s annual Billy Dudley Lecture, the Chairman of the occasion, Professor Ibrahim Gambari summarised the mood in the discipline with the following words: “Yes we must celebrate the survival of democracy since 1999 but we must also know that it happened not because of the community of political scientists but in spite of it.” The Billy Dudley lecture, which took place last Thursday, is the flagship programme of the Nigerian Political Science Association. Dudley was the association’s founding president and the motive force behind the establishment of the professional group in 1973. Although Dudley died in 1980 as a vibrant 49 year-old academic leader of the discipline, he is remembered as one who has had a profound impact on political science. His classic work, Parties and Politics in Northern Nigeria remains one of the best studies ever carried out on democracy and political parties on the continent. As Professor Adele Jinadu once argued, he is important to our discipline because he pioneered the tradition of “speaking truth to power”. His inaugural lecture at the University of Ibadan on scepticism as a political virtue remains a standard handbook for all those who are keen to retain the science in the study of politics.

This year’s lecturer, Professor Sam Oyovbaire was my teacher in Ahmadu Bello University and it was a pleasure to see him still looking healthy and agile after nearly five decades in politics, both as a scholar and a practitioner. In his lecture, he recalled Dudley’s last seminar while visiting our department. Dudley had castigated the lack of sufficient knowledge of political scientists of their communities and called for proper grounding in social anthropology. To return to Gambari’s statement, the survival of democracy in Nigeria owes much more to the civil society, trade unions, the mass media and the rise of a consciousness of citizenship within ordinary Nigerians. Similarly, those who have subverted democracy and elections over the decades in Nigeria are not the technicians of political science but certain widely known individuals who have perfected the knowledge and social anthropology of rigging and perfected techniques of electoral fraud.

Although there were 680 petitions arising from the 2015 elections and the courts decreed 81 re-runs, the outcomes of the elections were significant enough for these to be considered the turning point in Nigeria’s long march towards democracy, to borrow the title of Ahmadu Kurfi’s latest book on elections.

The First and Second Republics foundered in the first elections organised by ruling parties determined to abuse their powers of incumbency to remain in power, whether or not voters gave them their mandates. That was the story of the 1964 and 1983 general elections. The levels of electoral fraud were so high that regime collapse became the inevitable outcome of rigging, or so many thought. The level of electoral fraud in 2003 was just as high as in 1964 and 1983, but at that time Nigerians had acquired the knowledge that military intervention was not the solution and persisted in seeking legal and democratic avenues to save democracy. It became clear to democratic forces that anti-democratic forces had acquired vast knowledge of the social anthropology of rigging with high capacity for stealing the people’s mandate. It was in that context that pro-democracy forces and organisations started acquiring the techniques of mandate protection to counter them, and the first operational theatre was the 2003 Lagos gubernatorial election, which the then ruling PDP government under General turned President Obasanjo was determined to confiscate. Thanks to the foresight of Bola Tinubu, the peoples mandate was protected. The other battles fought were in Kano and Bauchi States and by then the techniques had been studied and turned into manuals by the Centre for Democracy and Development. Muhammadu Buhari played a huge role in the process by persisting in his quest for the presidency and never giving up in spite of huge challenges at all levels starting from his own party the ANPP, the judiciary, security agencies and the Independent National Electoral Commission. His victory in 2015 was the result of a long struggle by pro-democracy Nigerians to reclaim the electoral terrain for citizens.

The 2015 elections were not excellent operations by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed as everyone knows, except maybe the judiciary, in many States, there were no elections at all and results were manufactured and subsequently ratified by INEC and later by the courts. What was important about 2015 was that there had been sufficient knowledge of and commitment to the employment of mandate protection techniques for the shift from mandate looters to mandate protectors to occur, leading to the emergence of the new Administration. Although there were 680 petitions arising from the 2015 elections and the courts decreed 81 re-runs, the outcomes of the elections were significant enough for these to be considered the turning point in Nigeria’s long march towards democracy, to borrow the title of Ahmadu Kurfi’s latest book on elections.

The recent revival of the Nigerian Political Science Association is a good omen, as it is happening at a time in which significant effort is required to rebuild the State that has been diminished by over six decades of mis-rule.

The recent revival of the Nigerian Political Science Association is a good omen, as it is happening at a time in which significant effort is required to rebuild the State that has been diminished by over six decades of mis-rule. There is glaring evidence that for a long time, Nigeria had not been governed and the traditional task of running the State had not been a priority concern for successive governing classes whose principal work had been engagement in mega looting. We know that Section 15(5) of our Constitution stipulates that: “the State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.” What does this mean in a context in which those who have been in control of state power had been the ones who used State power to organise corruption.

Yes indeed, the state of the Nigerian State is serious. The State is crumbling before our eyes and it is clear that a rescue mission is necessary. The community of political science has a duty at this time to work on a cure for the sickness of the State before we are all consumed by its breakdown, which Thomas Hobbes had assured us will make or life “nasty, brutish and short”. That rescue must take the form of a new approach based on good governance in which there is effective, transparent and accountable use of public resources to provide public goods for citizens. If those who exercise State power cannot use it to improve the lives and livelihoods of citizens, then they would have to be replaced. This has finally happened and the most corrupt regime in our history has been replaced by another one with commitment to fighting corruption, providing jobs and rebuilding the nation. This however is no easy time for any government and President Buhari and his team need all the help they can get to transform their promises to the Nigerian people into reality.


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Jibrin Ibrahim

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