By Chiedu Uche Okoye
Nigeria, as a country, has not got it right, politically. And that is the chief reason our country is still trapped in the morass of economic and technological backwardness. Is there not a nexus between the quality of political leadership obtainable in a country and that country’s level of national development? The stark and indisputable fact is this: only competent, visionary, and patriotic political leaders can drive the developmental initiatives in their respective countries and steer their countries to greatness.
So, since we became a sovereign nation-state, and till now, our country has not realized her potential. Why is Nigeria still an underdeveloped country? The reason is not far-fetched. Nigeria’s parlous economic condition as well as her technological backwardness is traceable to the prevalence and existence of bad political leadership in the country. Our political will and choices have always been subverted by kingmakers.
Consequently, since the inception of the Fourth Republic, legislative, governorship, and presidential election results have always been challenged in courts. Even before then, in the Second Republic, the declaration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari as the winner of the 1979 presidential election was contested in court. So, it is evident to us that election rigging has become part of our democratic culture.
Our egregious variant or genre of democratic culture, which has arisen from our societal culture of corruption, is the reason Nigerian politicians commit monumental election frauds without experiencing the prick of conscience. In today’s Nigeria, people’s perpetrations of corrupt deeds have become part of our moral fabric.
Here, good is perceived as bad; and bad as good owing to the erosion of family values among the people(s) of Nigeria. The positive morality-code, which used to guide our people, has been upturned. As a result, now, a great majority of Nigerians have acquiesced in the Machiavellian principle, which states that the end justifies the means.
Not unexpectedly, no system of doing things is working perfectly and efficiently in Nigeria, now. Our systems of doing things have been corrupted and compromised. And the electoral system, which is peopled and run by Nigerians, is no exception. Have we forgotten that almost every Nigerian is buyable? The saying that every person has a price is made true in Nigeria.
So, the imperative of reawakening the dead restrictive mechanisms of millions of Nigerians cannot be overemphasized. Nigerians are in urgent need of moral rearmament and regeneration, which can enable them to resist the allurement of material inducement while performing official duties. For example, a morally upright electoral officer, who is incorruptible, is a force for the strengthening of our democracy.
Likewise, our political leaders’ adherence to the principle of separation of powers will form a bulwark against the collapse of our democracy. The three arms of government, namely the executive, the judiciary, and the legislature ought to act independently of one another. And each should act as a check on the excesses of the others. The checks and balances inherent in the presidential system of government guard against the emergence of civilian dictators in many countries that practise the presidential system of government as we do in Nigeria.
Again, an independent judiciary is critical to the survival of our country’s democracy. To guarantee its independence, the employment of judges, the remuneration of judges, and the punishment of judges should be performed by a body other than the executive arm of government. When the independence of the judiciary is guaranteed and maintained, judges and justices will not kowtow to the dictates of the president and state governors in Nigeria. Neither will they try to ingratiate themselves with our political leaders for pecuniary benefits and other considerations.
So, in today’s Nigeria, against the background of our electoral processes that are manipulated and compromised by unscrupulous politicians, the need for an impartial, independent, and incorruptible judiciary cannot be disputed. Are the election tribunal bodies and the courts not saddled with the tasks of determining the authentic winners of elections in Nigeria? The answer to this question is an emphatic yes. Based on this, it can be seen that a truly independent, incorruptible, and impartial judiciary is needed to safeguard our democracy and prevent it from imminent collapse.
However, sadly, our judicial system is riddled with corruption. For example, favourable judgements can be bought in Nigerian courts by politicians. A former governor of one of the south-south states, who was set free by a court in Nigeria, was found guilty of corrupt enrichment in Britain. Consequently, he was jailed there. Here, the corrupt natures of our judges, forum shopping, and the use of technicalities rather than determining cases based on the quality and merit of the submissions by litigants and defendants have rubbished and emasculated our judiciary. So, the judiciary is no longer the bastion of justice and fairness. A corrupt and inept judicial system militates against the growth of our democracy.
Again, another factor that hinders the growth of our democracy is swearing in a governor-elect or president-elect while a suit challenging his electoral victory is pending in court.
When sworn in as the president of the country, he can use the enormous political powers placed at his disposal to thwart the course and cause of justice and swing victory in his favour.
Therefore, I suggest that our constitution should be tinkered so that it would be unlawful and unconstitutional to swear in a governor-elect or president-elect whose electoral victory is being challenged in the court or at the election tribunal. The law should explicitly state that the swearing in of the president and governors should be done after the courts have disposed of the suits challenging their electoral victories.
In conclusion, these steps should be taken to strengthen our democracy and prevent it from collapsing: effecting moral regeneration among us, making the judiciary truly independent, and tinkering our constitution so that the swearing in of governors and the president should be done after the courts have given the final judgements on the suits challenging their victories.
• Okoye, a poet, writes from Uruowulu-Obosi,