Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Nigeria - After the Elections

Elizabeth Ohene

Now that the elections are finally over, and it is a cruel person who says Nigerians are volatile people - and a country that asks its citizens to vote for five consecutive Saturdays is asking a lot - it is time to think of what the country can expect in the next four years.

The elections have turned out to have such an energy-sapping exercise and relieved to have emerged in one piece (somewhat) that the real business of governing would be pushed aside.

President Shehu Shagari in winning the endorsement of his people for another and final term of office has a unique opportunity to leave a mark on the history of the world.

During the first term, the novelty of constitutional rule after 13 years of military rule meant that everybody was more preoccupied with the modalities of setting up the institutions of government.

It is very easy for nations who have. had the same form of government for centuries to lose sight of the fact that even the correct form of address of the President is likely to take an entire day of the legislative assembly, thus many Nigerians were ready to accept the groping around atmosphere that characterised the first Shagari years.

As soon as everybody got used to the sound of some people being called Senators, and the public was aware that anybody can go to a Senate committee hearing to listen to Ministers and their civil servants trying to justify government expenditure, it was time to start thinking of elections.

A politician with an eye on an election tends to either ignore the right thing because they invariably are not vote getters or do the wrong things altogether because that is where the votes are.

A four year term also means that you have hardly had time to pay your political debts to those who supported and helped put you in power nor felt strong enough to assert your independence from them when you have to start needing their services again. Now President Shagari will have no excuses if he does not start to give the strong leadership that Nigeria so urgently needs.

There can now be no question of feeling his way and after four years, the people have also had an opportunity to see the workings of the institutions that support constitutional government.

Even though the intent of the limitations to a two-year term is primarily to prevent the emergence of the "President-for life" syndrome which seems to afflict all African leaders once safely elected, it should also be used as aş advantage to govern without any fear of treading on political corns.

There will be no need for President Shagari to be hesitant in taking decisions, he is not looking forward to another term, he should seize the opportunity to leave his mark on Nigeria.

The scandals and rumours of scandals must end, Shagari owes it to Nigeria indeed, the whole of Africa to demonstrate to the world that constitutional rule need not mean corruption.

The excuse that African soldiers traditionally give for throwing elected governments out of power is that they are corrupt and inefficient and even though the soldiers themselves regularly turn out to be as corrupt and chaotic as the civilians they have overthrown, the fact that the corruption does exist when the guns are first taken usually means that the promises made by the soldiers sound like music to the ears of the tired and oppressed peoples.

It will be better for President Shagari to earn the antagonism of a few powerful NPN overlords and lay the foundations for a truly democratic society than to let Nigeria float along in the name of party unity.

Part of the unease during the first term was the speculation by Nigerians and foreigners alike that it might prove impossible to organise and hold elections under civilian rule without the country tearing itself apart irretrievably, the elections have now been held Nigeria has survived more than less and inspite of parts of the country having indeed been burnt down, the point has been made that it is possible for elections to be held and the people pass their judgement on their rulers without armageddon ensuing.

The allegations of irregularities must, indeed, dismay all those who wish Nigeria well, not simply because they show the weakness of constitutional rule but mostly because it means that none of the parties had enough confidence in itself nor in its supporters to have approached the elections without resorting to rigging.

The point has been made by those who know that the rigging of elections is not an exclusively Nigerian phenomenon. There have been many cases of people who passed on ages ago appearing on the voters' register in the matter of Parliaments and the good people of Chicago in the United States of America would be the first to say that for decades, the size of the winning majority has had nothing to do with how many of them turn up on voting day, least of all, on how they voted.

What is more, all the parties seem to be agreed that even if there hadn't been any rigging, Shagari and the NPN would have won the elections all the same.

The lesson therefore seems to be that the political parties should face the challenge and set to work from now on the business of educating the electorate on what elections mean and they would have to drive the point home to that it is the one undisputed power of the citizen to pass judgement on his rulers without fear.

The big worry that is agitating the minds of all Nigerians and friends of Nigeria now is the size of the Shagari and NPN victory. It is not a real likelihood that with this size of landslide victory, Shagari and the NPN now have it in their power to override all the fine points of the constitution which had been deliberately inserted to prevent the "absolute power syndrome?"

The NPN surely has not been happy with the situation whereby in four years they have been able to pass only 31 Acts through the Legislative Assembly, now that they have the necessary numbers and do not need the members of the other parties to pass laws, will they still pay any attention to the sensibilities of the people who disagree with them.

Is it not likely that the "Winner takes all" mentality will predominate and the NPN will bulldoze their way through on all matters?

Is the temptation not very great that the Constitution: will even be amended to remove the "checks and balances" that have proved so irksome to the radicals among the NPN? What is there to stop them amending the Constitution to enable President Shagari stand for another term or even to be proclaimed a President-for-life, seeing that the NPN now know that they have got in Shagari, the surest vote winner in Nigeria?

It is well known that there are among the top hierarchy of the NPN, people who have no patience for the niceties and fine points of a constitutional democracy and who believe that staying in power is more important than obeying the rules of the game..

This is why President Shagari faces a greater challenge than usually confronts. a leader who has won the endorsement of his people for another term.

Undoubtedly he is being told by many people today that he is the best thing that ever happened to Nigeria; the NPN will even try to convince him that he owes it to them and to Nigeria to make it possible for him to stand another term. They know that they need him to ease the path of future NPN victory.

It would be to his eternal credit if President Shagari should withstand all such pressures and keep faith with the people.

He has been good for Nigeria, his quiet and low key approach to events in the face of the noisy and overbearing manner of his people has been a constant source of reassurance to those who deal with Nigeria, his personal probity and integrity make many people feel that the corruption and conspicuous consumption are aberrations and not the normal.

But President Shagari should never forget that he is only human and Nigeria is big enough to come up with ten more Shagaris if he should be unavailable. More important, he should always remember that his own probity and incorruptibility don't count for much if he presides over a regime that has a reputation for corruption.

He needs to prove to the world, if he is to have a respectable place in the history of the world, if he is to live up to the claim of his people as the leaders of Africa, that an African country can handle power and give it up simply because the law says so and not when he is forced to give it up by rebellious soldiers or old age and ill health.

The big worry that is agitating the minds of all Nigerians and friends of Nigeria now is the size of Shagari and NPN victory. Is it not a real likelihood that with this size of landslide victory, Shagari and the NPN now have it in their power to override all the fine points of the constitution.....?
The responsibility, of course, does not lie on President Shagari and his NPN alone, the opposition parties have an even greater responsibility. More often than not, opposition and minority parties in African countries have conducted themselves in such an objectionable and obstructionist postures which make it impossible to govern or develop at the rate that is needed.

Invariably it is the opposition parties that go and seek support from the Armed Forces in the misguided opinion that any means is justifiable in removing their opponents from power.

The success of constitutional rule in Nigeria does not depend on Shagari and the NPN alone, it is more important for Africa to prove that it can behave with dignity and responsibly in defeat than it is to prove that it can handle power.

It is, after all, more difficult to conduct oneself properly in defeat and in minority than it is when in power and in the majority.

There cannot be good government unless there is vigorous opposition and old timers Azikiwe and Awolowo know that much better than anybody else in Nigeria.

The election irregularities should be contested in the courts by all means, some members of the NPP, UPN, PRP, GNPP and NAP should disagree with everything the NPN suggests, it is good for the political health of the country, for as long as everybody remembers that the elections are now over and the nation is now faced with the little business of governing the country.

talking drums 1983-09-12 page 14 nigeria after the elections talking drums 1983-09-12 page 15 nigeria elections talking drums 1983-09-12 page 16 nigeria election

president shehu shagari of Nigeria talking drums october 1983

— Shehu Shagari a second and final term

talking drums 1983-09-12 Inaugural edition Nigeria elections and confessions - Ghana Executions and Confessions - Chad neglected desert war