ColumnsNigeriaOpinionPoliticsThe 2023 Election and the Dissonance in Nigeria’s Democracy

“Nigerians must be guided by utmost diligence in electing their leaders on Saturday beyond the frenzy of “let’s teach him a lesson,” —Ebuka Onyekwelu

The first leg of the 2023 General Election has opened new dimension towards understanding specific challenges of Nigeria’s democracy that could impede the country’s progress. The fear really is if the people can, given our prevalent realities, always through popular will, elect the quality of candidates required to move the country forward. The hallmark of democracy, it should be observed, is using popular will of the greatest number to enthrone good leadership that will pursue the full weight of the people’s aspirations.

Essentially, the democratic system had envisioned that participants in a functional democracy not only ought to be well informed about what they want, but also, are to be abreast of other information relating to the credentials of thise seeking to be voted for so that their vote goes finally to the person most suitable to perform with exceptional quality. In this regard, the Nigerian voter is bombarded with a mirage of problems and challenges that makes it even more difficult to fully appreciate the sacredness of his duty to put himself and his community forward, through his deliberate electoral choices.

First of all, there is an uncanny  serious attention paid on presidency, and this takes predominance over discussions and eventual general election turnout. But if you have a good president and bad federal lawmakers, how far can the good president go? The other challenge is; because the Presidential Election  is held the same day as the National Assembly Election, there is usually a bandwagon effect. Given that many voters are not well informed and can barely afford a critical evaluation of candidates for Senate and House of Representatives, candidates of the party of a popular Presidential Candidate in an area, tends to profit from voters’ inability to assess candidates purely on the basis of their own capacity to do the job. As it is, every job has  a baseline demand on the applicant and an expectation from the employer. This ought to be the same with contestants and voters. Therefore, when a contestant fails to meet clear qualification for the huge and tasking job of being at the Senate or House of Representatives, a people who expect nothing but the best from their leaders will not look in the direction of such candidates. But the 2023 Presidential and National Assembly Election, has even more than ever brought this issue to fore as a major problematic of Nigeria’s democracy.

Case in point: given the popularity of the Labour Party’s Presidential Candidate, Peter Obi, in some areas and among certain demographics, some elected members of the National Assembly are not the best or most suitable for the job they have now been employed to do. For instance, in Enugu, the candidate of Labour Party for Enugu North and Enugu South Federal Constituency, Chimaobi Atu, is said to be a Vigilante member in his community and also a bus driver. The level of his formal education is unclear. But on 25th February, he was elected into Nigeria’s Green Chambers. Obviously, on his own, Chimaobi would not have even made it through a competitive primary election. But he has now been elected to go and speak for his federal constituency. Yet, democracy envisions the ability of the electorates to select the best persons available and give them the mandate to serve them.

It has also been reported that two more elected members of National Assembly are Okada riders, and again, their level of formal education is unclear. All benefitted from the popularity of the Labour Party’s Presidential Candidate in their various constituencies. This has absolutely nothing to do with their social status, but everything to do with their capacity to do the job. The implications can be far more reaching than many Nigerians would appear to understand at the moment. What is certain is that at this rate, democracy will likely fail to ensure progress, because, that end point has now been compromised or rather, sacrificed on the alter of politics or maybe, political correctness. This trend however heroic or even miraculous, is the exact reason Nigeria has struggled to fix its leadership for many years. The only difference is that the people themselves have now empowered another set of people without the requisite credentials to lead them. The end expectation ought to be clear based on the ancient wisdom that one can not give what he does not have, but to some, it is a pointer that Nigeria is a land of magical dreams, comparable to America. People seem to be happy that the old order has been replaced with a new order of basically the same problem of competence.

As the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly election comes up this coming Saturday, in places like Anambra, there is already an orchestrated dramatisation of voting pattern with absolutely no consideration for competence and quality. This is the present danger with Nigeria’s evolving conscious participants. It is not enough to replace a public officer, for the sake of having him or her replaced, so that the voter ‘sends a message.’ When you end up replacing an office holder with lesser quality, far less prepared and incompetent hand, the voter is sending a message that suggests that he or she deserves even worse. An employer can not sack an employee only to employ a lesser qualified individual just to show the former employee that he or she can be replaced.

The challenge again, is that Nigerians must be guided by utmost diligence in electing their leaders on Saturday beyond the frenzy of “let’s teach him a lesson.” The power to decide the direction the state and constituency will go, must be judiciously used by the people in their own best interests and not to further deepen the already escalating crisis of political leadership in Nigeria. Any elevation of incompetence is a disservice to the people and they must be guided by this reality in deciding who they vote for.

Ebuka Onyekwelu (Staff Writer)
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