22 March 2019

Nigeria: Militarised Elections, Worse Than Military Regime - Shonibare, Afenifere Chieftain

interview

Chief Supo Shonibare is a chieftain of the pan Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, a lawyer and an active member of the defunct National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, which challenged the military administration of the late General Sani Abacha. In this interview, Shonibare explains why politics should not be left in the hands of power brokers and money mongers who militarize the electoral process among others.

Says he: "There is need to build up strong institutions for them not to be under the caprices of those in temporary power. Military can only exercise reasonable use of firearms because it will be illegal to shoot at unarmed individuals. If a civilian leader engages the use of force to keep himself office, then that is detrimental to democracy."

IT is believed that the just concluded election was militarised. What is your view?

It unfortunate that the election was marred with allegation of falsification of result, not using card readers in some parts of the country, the militarisation of the whole process that appeared to be what we have not seen before. There were videos of military presence in most parts of the country.

What does this portend on our democracy?

Militarisation of our electoral process is worst than military regime because in military regime, it's dictatorship. You tend to believe that your vote would count until you get a shocker.

Before the elections, President Buhari directed security agents to deal ruthlessly with anyone caught snatching ballots boxes. What is the implication of this with regard to how the military conducted itself?

That statement should not have been made by the President because it is not the military that defends individuals, it's our law courts. Military forces can only exercise reasonable use of firearms because it will be illegal to shoot at unarmed individuals. I accept that snatching of ballots boxes must be condemned in its totalty but the President should have said same thing on the issue of falsification of results for people to negate what he think is evil. There should be the same punishment for both offence. Falsified result is even worse than ballots snatching as it can only be encouraged by institutional connivance. So institutional connivance is worse. There is need to build strong institutions for them not to be under the caprices of those in temporary power.

How do you juxtapose institutional connivance with what transpired during the elections?

Through the election petition, we can be able to address allegations. What can be more definite than the video clips we saw on credible Nigerian news media? We saw evidence of obvious malpractices and we saw faces of individuals. So, let's see what happens when these individuals were asked to explain those they connived with.

Some are of the view that with the military involvement in our electoral process, we are back to the military rule era. What is you view on this?

Like I said earlier, democracy thrives on the ability to conduct free, fair and credible elections. Once that process is truncated by using the military to scare people from participating and by simple falsification of result, with the connivance of other institutions of government that are meant to be umpires, then we don't have democracy. What we call that is dictatorship. Once we don't have a democratic culture whereby people choose those that will lead them, then what that is called is a form of autocracy, which is a use of force, and that is what sustains a military government. If a civilian leader engages the use of force to sustain himself, then that is detrimental to our democracy.

In your estimation, can what we practise in Nigeria be defined as democracy in its totality?

We are not there yet, as we are still in the process of fighting for our rights; we are still in the process of fighting for a democratic culture. So we are not yet there. It is only in a dictatorial regime that you ignore court orders.

How can we sanitise our electoral process in the light of the alleged militarisation of the 2019 elections?

More men and women of goodwill must come together to participate in the electoral process for us to correct the anomalies of what we presently have. But a lot of us only comment on social media. In doing that, we leave a vacuum in how were are being governed to power brokers and money mongers. If you leave a vacuum for those who have no vision to fill, that is what leads to economic and low structural deficits. That is the reason we find ourselves confused and in a state of anarchy. So more of our productive class, middle class, more intellectuals should get engaged in the process so that with a larger number of participants we can all build a society of our dream.

But some members of these elite groups have tagged our self-styled democratic process as dirty.

That is the problem, but they must be alert to the fact that if all society are to be left in the hands of dirty politicians, there won't be no tangible results. Look at Ghana, South Africa, Rwanda. Despite the ethnic issues they had in Rwanda, most countries do not have more stable politics like Rwanda. Most of our middle class should be able to form a medium that would determine the perspective of our political parties. This wasn't how Nigeria was immediately after independence.

Amid the foregoing, do you foresee a light at the end of the tunnel?

Nigeria is getting worse in terms of our ability to improve human capital. We are worse now than we were when we started as a nation. In terms of our institutions, during the 1950, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo believed it was an enlightened populace that could drive our economy and determine the future of our country. That was the main reason he invested 50 percent of the South-West budget on education. So, we have gone backward from the time of our independence to where we are now.

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