"Have you ever seen a candidate talk to a rich person on television?" -Art Buchwald.
THE way our President, Governors of the PDP, major opposition parties, eminent, perennial actors and fixers in the political system are running around in pursuit of 2015, you would think our democratic process is all about elections.
And you will be right. Since 1999, elections have defined the character of our democracy, and every election since then had merely reinforced the centrality of elections in our political system. From now until 2015, all attention will be focused and devoted to elections.
The real point of elections, which is to put people in charge of governance that should make real difference in lives of voters and citizens for the entire period between elections will be lost. Attention will be diverted from performance of elected officials. Huge public resources will be plundered in pursuit of elective offices. Costly deals and gambles will be made.
Worse of all, the electoral process itself will come under heavy pressure in a manner guaranteed to compromise it. The period intended for governance between elections will merely serve the next elections, not the people.
Elections are vital to the growth and development of any democratic process, but they are only one among many elements that help that development. To use a rather imperfect analogy, to equate elections with the democratic process is like equating the entire essence of being a woman with giving birth.
There is a lot more to being a woman than producing children, although this is a most critical function and the foundation of the growth of mankind and civilisation. The woman needs to be healthy, willing and able to deliver children, and, ideally, the children should be healthy.
She has to nurse them through many delicate stages in childhood, and be part of their adult lives until death. But a woman is also a daughter, sibling, relation, wife, colleague and many other things.
Democracy grows with elections which are generally free and fair. But rigged elections and stolen mandates harm the democratic process, and if the electoral process cannot successively deliver better quality of elections, voters and citizens are alienated from it. They begin to look for options, or at best become indifferent to the fortunes of the democratic process.
Democracy becomes hostage to a clique, a cult of the powerful and the rich who know how to tweak the system. All policies, programmes and activities of this cult are centred around retaining and expanding power, which they do through subversion of the electoral process.
In the end, democracy comes to mean nothing to the vast majority of the people, and leaders who corner power and the resources of the public live increasingly further and further away from citizens.
It is not just the security of the Nigerian state that is crumbling bit by bit. Its democratic process never had a chance to grow, and is now showing all the signs of a fatal atrophy.
From 1999 to 2007, our democracy was distinguished by the struggle to build power around a leader, not around institutions of the state that should improve economic welfare of citizens, fight corruption and institutionalise credible elections. Thereafter, the cult of the leader grew.
The concerns are about clans or powerful leaders handpicking successors, and ensuring that the electoral process endorses them. Leaders who came to power as a result of a clan's efforts now create their own clans to survive. Survival means successfully dismantling the clan that engineered your acquisition of power and building your own, very often on the skeletons of former fixers and godfathers.
Then you take firm control of the electoral process to ensure that election results are returned in your favour, or in favour of those best guaranteed to give you political cover for massive violations while in office.
The nation now bleeds and goes up in flames when insurgents and security forces clash, or when communities tired of state inaction and indifference over grievances, and take up arms against each other.
It bleeds when large numbers of criminals take over villages and kill and maim because the state's capacity to protect citizens is exhausted. The nation bleeds from massive audacious scams that appear to draw inspiration from the spectacular failure of the regulatory mechanisms of the state to limit or arrest them. Poverty compounded by a damaging perception that relief for it will come from nowhere pushes millions of particularly young people to desperation, crimes and drugs.
Yet, Nigeria's leaders today fight over the 2015 elections. The President is locked in a deadly battle over 2015 with governors, that special breed which has built massive powers with public funds. The governors are fighting for second terms, or cover after second terms or protection against prosecution or humiliation after 2015, or for the position of the President itself in 2015.
The President is fighting to whittle their powers to decide whether his fight for another ticket in 2015 costs him a lot more than it should, or it can be achieved by striking deals which will be paid for by compromising the integrity of the electoral process and critical institutions of the state even further.
The opposition is working to merge, principally to replace the PDP as the dominant party. It will be desperately hoping that the electoral process will not be subverted, so that in the event that Nigerians prefer the APC to PDP, the results will say so.
Little is being said about the survival of the merger after 2015, its chances of surviving turbulence from marriages of convenience forced upon it by the PDP, or how the PDP will behave in the event that it loses power. Or, which is equally likely, if the opposition does not unseat the PDP in 2015.
2015 elections hurting the nation
The attention on the 2015 elections is hurting the nation very badly. A President whose record is not exactly a great source of pride will now abandon matters of state for the engaging venture of seeking for re-election. PDP Governors will wield their awesome powers once again, against the President, within their party, during congresses and conventions, and all of this will be done with public resources they all claim are inadequate to promote real development. Non-PDP governors will also dig deep into public resources to fund the merger activities and the merged party, and will justify this in the name of improving democracy. Politicians will mobilise now, miles from the starting point, and will splash massive resources in pursuit of personal ambitions. Tensions will rise around faith and region, and will feed an already dangerously-exposed political system.
Our democratic system has been reduced to elections by our politicians, who have equated their election fortunes with the nation's fortunes. The electoral process which will shoulder all this weight still needs much improvement between now and 2015. No one appears interested in this for now. The danger here is akin to a woman who is pregnant with very high expectations riding on it, but no one remembers to feed her, or look after her health or the pregnancy.