March 22, 2019
Commentary Politico

OPINION: Defacto forces in Nigeria’s polls

Amidst intrigues and high-wired politics of 2019, there is need to assess the défacto force that may be determinant as to the winner in the next month presidential elections.

Many may question why we are raising question of defacto forces. The response may be that the political space has clearly marked it out that winning election in Africa is now beyond the elementary question of vote casted and counted.

The totality of the political environment now dictates who wins. Most of the time, those considerations appear to be extra-electoral in the primary sense of the term.

These uncomfortable realities were demonstrated in Cameroon, Chad and Niger republics where electoral capacity is now beyond mass followers or funding.

The question is now increasingly that of what the electoral infrastructures are and who control those structures. Dejure as to within the law and defacto as to what is obtainable on ground are two yardsticks to apply in analyzing forthcoming polls in Nigeria.

American government recently affirmed, “Given the vital role elections play in this country, it is clear that certain systems and assets of election infrastructure meet the definition of critical infrastructure, in fact and in law.

The US government statement noted further that “By “election infrastructure,” we mean storage facilities, polling places, and centralized vote tabulations locations used to support the election process, and information and communications technology to include voter registration databases, voting machines, and other systems to manage the election process and report and display results on behalf of state and local governments.

In Africa and Nigeria in particular, election infrastructures goes beyond those itemized within the settled democratic societies. Though quite unconventional, such electoral assets now include the national security architecture, the national civil governmental machinery, the entire financial system of the federation and the enforcement/regulatory structures at the federal level.

Hence, whoever controls the federal machine possesses intimidating political force that can even override the electoral institution.

This was the reason why incumbent governments across Africa wins easily except in cases where the subsisting leader chooses to quit the office, as was the case in the 2015 presidential poll.

The differentiation between the state and the occupant of state offices is at best deeply blurred in Africa. In many instances, the occupant of the high office is mainly regarded as the state himself.

Executive officials consequently instantly think loyalty is to the office holder and not the constitution. Similarly, national security is considered critically as the whim and caprices of the office holder.

The implication is that an office holder seeking election has beyond the people and ballot as his staying power. The entire electoral asset is under his purview by virtue of unsolicited but structurally compelled loyalty to him by directors of critical electoral assets.
Nigerian Election.

With the preceding thoughts, readers can see clearly how the February presidential election may play out. The application of state might in electoral contest has been the norm since the nation return to democratic rule in 1999.

An analyst asserted sometimes ago that the only free and fair election in Nigeria was the 1999 polls. Subsequent elections he said were manipulated by the state to favour the then ruling party.

Now the equation has changed. The ruling party then is now the opposition party pushing to unseat the then opposition party.

Interestingly, there were hawks on both sides. The hard-core advocates of deployment of state power and advantages dominate both parties.

Even when the incumbent president assures of free and fair poll, hawks around him warned against being rigged out by the opposition.

The reasoning is that state advantage and its electoral effect are not new to the nation’s political setting. Taken advantage of such is considered as perfectly political.

This bitter reality is what electoral watchers are discountenancing. Next month is thus a power contest that may witness active state involvement especially as there is no difference between the state and the incumbent office holder.

To return to the defacto forces, it is pertinent to assert that in the forthcoming election, the defacto forces may be more important than the dejure forces. Bad for democracy; yet, it is a moving train that can hardly be stopped.

Itemising those forces raises interesting picture of a complicated Nigerian electoral field. Out of the six geo-political zones, four are considered areas of influence of the ruling party.

Of the six zones, two carry the highest voters’ registration figures. In the last one month, the opposition safe area of South and South East has come under attacks and poaching from the ruling party.

In the core North, the emerging non-violent electoral militia of the ruling party is discernible from the federal capital of Abuja. Across northern streets, campaigning against the incumbent carries special personal risk.

The security apparatus has not hid its preferences; the regulatory structures are clearly determined to support what they see as the state that is the incumbent. A new indoctrination of sustaining nation’s cleansing agenda has gone unchallenged by the opposition party.

The opposition has also done little to even capitalize on the dejure forces to take leading position. Alternative agenda has been lackluster in advocacy. The opposition-leading candidate has failed to rebrand and clean up his profiling as a bad choice.

With a couple of campaign goofs, the opposition faces internal disloyalty and sabotage even as the opposition has failed to presents a robust campaign to justify dumping the incumbent for the challengers.

A trending thinking is that the worst of the incumbent is better than the best of the challenger.

Going by realities on the political space, the controller of the electoral asset cannot possibly lose this election.

The totality of the factors hinted at in this piece point to the return of the incumbent by February. That may raise a lot of dust. That may shocked many.

However, to those who understand, in Africa election is not won just by dejure forces alone; de facto forces are taken determining lead.

Is democracy not under threat? That question truly worries all democrats. The African political environment however raises question as to how best to apply democratic practices.

At a time the West is propping up strongmen leaders across Africa, the subdued singsong is that national development supersedes any democratic considerations.

Pursuing development while breaching democratic norms, is gradually becoming an acceptable norm across Africa. Yet, this is unacceptable to many democracy-loving Africans.

Nigeria is at a crossroads. However, the nation is always at a cross roads when power transition election is to be held. Strangely, she survives most life-trashing period from 1966 to 1995 to the Yar’Adua debacle.

The current strain is however too harsh and deep. What will happen in February is a stake for conjectures.

We foresee three likely outcomes. First, Nigeria may likely witness continuity due to the strength and capacity of defacto forces and the powerlessness of the challenger.

Two, the challenger may pull a fast one and defeat the incumbent. Three, the Congo scenario may play out where the incumbent facing defeat opted for a third party candidate to emerge a president. In that case, Olawepo’s Peoples Trust is been mentioned.

Whatever happens, the field is too unpredictable. Nevertheless, one thing is sure; defeating the defacto forces may change the political dynamic of the nation forever.

Kyari, a public affairs analyst sent this piece from Abuja

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