My intention in this piece is not to engage in an academic exercise about the relationship between governance and politics or to call out political scientists for a contest over conceptual clarifications. My aim is simply to interrogate three popular fallacies that are gaining currency since the ascendancy of President Buhari and then reflect on some contentious issues that have arisen by his style of governance.
The first fallacy is an assumption that there is a clear distinction between politics and governance. We often hear some commentators express concerns that the bitterness, offensive speeches and veiled threats that dogged the election campaigns have refused to abate. President Buhari was consequently advised to do ‘more governance and talk less about probes’.
The problem is that there is a very complex relationship between politics and governance. Without meaning to annoy political scientists I will regard politics as the factional scheming for state power, scarce socio-economic resources and privileges. For governance, I will regard it as the process of interaction and decision-making among state actors involved in a collective problem solving. However we look at it, measuring governance is an inherently political exercise. Governmental policy options are chosen and defended through politics. Seen in this way, we cannot really make a distinction between politics and governance.
What seems to have happened is that the absence of substantive policy decisions by the government, which should have formed the fulcrum of conversations and politicking between the PDP and the APC, means that the two parties have to find other arenas of contestations. The APC has to march forward to the past (excessive focus on Jonathan), while the PDP refuses to look to the past and riles against the president’s assumed selectivity in its anti-corruption war.
A second fallacy is an assumption that because elections are over the parties should go to sleep so that ordinary citizens will have peace of mind. Unfortunately, by definition, political parties are not just in the business of aggregating and articulating interest, they are even more in the business of winning over the electorate on its side for the next election. For the APC, its new-found role as the ruling party is a golden opportunity to build membership and mobilise the electorate behind it. One of the ways it can do this is to de-legitimise the PDP and make it unattractive for new members. The PDP on the other hand is expected to be eager to recover from its electoral loss, make the electorate have a ‘buyer’s remorse’ by painting the APC as incompetent, lacking in vision or driven by a hidden agenda. In other words, we simply have to get used to the fact that noise is the environment of democracy, which is why some call it ‘democrazy’.
Another common fallacy is the call for Buhari to jail the assumed looters of our common patrimony. Such calls often smack of nostalgia for the country’s authoritarian past. The truth is that in a democracy Buhari has no powers to jail anyone, even if the person is caught with his fingers in the cookie jar. That responsibility is the exclusive preserve of the judiciary in a democracy. This is why an accused person, even where there appears to be incontrovertible evidence against the person, is still regarded as innocent until a competent court of law pronounces him or her guilty. So those who are tabulating the list of people to be jailed by Buhari are appropriating to him powers he certainly does not have in a democracy.
The subtext from the above is that the war against corruption in a democracy, with its inherent division of power between the executive, legislative and judiciary, cannot be fought independent of the judiciary and the extant laws governing any crime for which anyone will be tried. This is what it means when some people caution that the current war against corruption must be fought using due process (meaning that you investigate and charge a suspect to court) and rule of law (meaning that only the courts have the competence to pronounce judgement on such suspects based on extant laws that govern the crimes for which the suspects were charged to court). While ‘name and shame’ plays a role in social control in most societies, it is never a substitute for the rule of law. Similarly, while media trial tends to be quite popular in countries where justice is seen as commoditized, the tendency for backlash from media trial is quite high. Again in a democracy, media trial – just like naming and shaming- can never be a substitute for the rule of law.
The above fallacies are the contexts within which I will like to reflect on some recent controversies in the country:
One is on whether Jonathan should be probed or not. I have in other writings expressed strong reservations about the word ‘probe’ which historically conjures vendetta. Because of this association, almost all those found guilty through probes in this country end up becoming heroes and heroines of their ethnic and regional groups who will inevitably buy into their persecution narrative. Those indicted by technical committees often find it more difficult to play such cards. This raises a legitimate question on why the government is bent on bandying the probe word even when the National Economic Council’s, (NEC’s), Ad-hoc Committee on the Management of Excess Crude Account Proceeds and Accruals into the Federation Account, headed by the governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, has indicated that it will hire two international forensic audit firms to audit revenues that accrued into the federation account and how they were spent under former president Goodluck Jonathan. Is the present administration’s bandying of the probe word against Jonathan’s tenure part of the politics between the APC and the PDP, in this case to de-legitimise the PDP while the latter in turn finds a way to make the present administration look mean and selective?
For the avoidance of doubt I am not against Buhari probing the Jonathan administration or any one at all. I am simply uncomfortable with the word ‘probe’ (and all it conjures in the country). I am also uncomfortable with limiting any investigation to one administration. But I do believe that anyone who has pilfered public resources should be made to pay for it, after the person’s guilt has been established by a court of law.
Two, a major concern about the politics of probing Jonathan or not has its implications for our evolving political culture. When Dr. Kayode Fayemi conceded defeat in a most gracious way in the last governorship election in Ekiti State, he got so much adulation across the country that many felt he lost the governorship and won the hearts of most Nigerians. When President Jonathan conceded defeat, not only did he save the country from what would have been an orgy of violence, some felt the adulation he got in return was enough compensation for the loss of power. Essentially, studies on the phenomenon of ‘sit-tightism’ by African leaders showed that one of the major reasons for this is the fear of victimisation. Just as in criticising Buhari, people should be sensitive to the office he holds, so we must know that the way we treat Jonathan will impact on the willingness of future election losers to concede. Making Jonathan pay for any crime he may have committed while in office is not incompatible with treating him and the office he held with respect. Unless election losers know they will be treated with respect, our elections will remain a do-or-die or anarchic affair.
We cannot be talking of building institutions when we deliberately decide not to support an evolving political culture that will attenuate the anarchic nature of our politics. It is worrying that in virtually every state of the federation, the new governors are also trying to make their predecessors look like common thieves, even those that are from the same party. This does not augur well for our democracy.
Three, another issue of controversy is the visit of the Abdulsalam Abubakar-led peace committee to President Buhari. The committee has apparently incurred the wrath of some Nigerians, especially social media activists who noted that they went to meet President Buhari to plead that Jonathan should not be probed, an allegation that the committee has denied. The recent controversy surrounding the committee is itself the story about the nature of our society. First, the committee became necessary because in a polarised society like ours, there is no personality or institution that has legitimacy across the fault lines.
The committee sought to overcome the problem by bringing a number of eminent personalities from across the fault lines, who, acting in concert, could at least have the ears and respect of most Nigerians, and by so doing be able to get the listening ears of both President Jonathan and candidate Buhari. There appears to be a consensus that the committee played very important roles during the presidential campaigns when tensions and fear were palpable in the land. Now the same committee has become an object of ridicule in some quarters. I believe this proves my hypothesis that in a fragile and polarised society like ours, solutions often become part of the problem, or to put it better, simply compound the problem.
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