#Nigeria: The Perils of Precedence

By Rafiq Raji 

nigerian soldier ballot box 1

I do not share the exaggerated anxiety palpable in most of the recent commentary about my country, Nigeria. Although there is good reason to be worried about the postponement of the 2015 elections by six weeks to March, one of those reasons should not be because we think the elections would not take place. The real worry should be the potential pitfalls the precedent sets. Many of my compatriots wonder if Prof. Attahiru Jega, the Chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is not about to suffer the same fate as the former Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, His Royal Highness, Alhaji Sanusi Lamido, now Emir of Kano. Remember, it first started as a rumour, followed by assurances that the functionary would serve his full term, and then out of the blue, he was suspended. The concern is that this may embolden a second act. The similarities are uncanny. Both organizations are “independent” and the leaders in question are both mavericks. Not that it should matter, but they are also both elite members of the northern intelligentsia and religious establishment.

However, we have to give our leaders the benefit of the doubt. They say Prof. Jega’s job is not at risk. We have to trust that this would be the case until it is proven otherwise. To help ensure our leaders keep their word, however, we have to do just a little bit more to encourage them. Nigerians and their well-wishers must raise their voices to ensure history does not repeat itself. It is not so much that one doesn’t trust our leaders to do the right thing as it is about the intoxicating effect of power. Leaders are human beings. In the absence of checks – in this case, the potential ire of the citizenry – he or she may succumb to the temptation of holding on to power. As a former president – who also almost fell for that temptation – recently alluded to this, it is even more concerning. Thus, it is important that the friends and citizens of Nigeria all keep up the pressure to guard our leaders’ humanity.

That said, the postponement of the elections provides an opportunity for a wider distribution of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). For this to be successful, there may need to be extra measures. The government should declare a one to two-day public holiday for collection of PVCs. The pros outweigh the cons. During weekdays, it is difficult for employed Nigerians to find the time to go collect their PVCs at local government offices, officials of which keep similar working hours (or less). And those who aim to collect theirs during the weekend (which is really all those who had to work during the week) are usually discouraged by the long queues. After spending on average 12 to 14 hours each weekday at work – 2 to 4 hours of which are in commute – it is unlikely they’d use their precious weekends to compound an already stressful week.

The other worrying precedent of the postponement is the potential emboldening of the military complex. Clearly, the elections cannot take place without the support of the military. In previous elections, however, it would have been unthinkable for the military to even hint at not being able to meet its constitutional responsibility. To have attributed a postponement of the elections to Boko Haram has clearly not been convincing. The Niger Delta insurgency didn’t mar previous elections. Thus, it is curious how this current one is thought to be any different. As the election postponement has provided the only test-run of the military’s influence since handing over power to civilians in 1999, we have to be extra vigilant. Needless to say, well-meaning and influential Nigerians have a responsibility to continue speaking up to ensure no one gets the wrong ideas.

Opinions expressed are mine and not that of any institution I may be affiliated with.

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