It was the President of Sierra Leone who said a few years ago that” if Nigeria sneezes, the rest of West Africa catches cold”. That statement only confirmed what has long been known that it is Nigeria that is keeping West Africa down. Any day Nigeria decides to rise, West Africa will automatically rise with it. Indeed it is Nigeria that is delaying the rise of Africa itself. South Africa, Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria determine the fate of Africa. South Africa is doing ok, Kenya is doing great, Egypt is flagging and Nigeria is gasping. While this may be disputed by some, everyone agrees that the fate of West Africa is in Nigeria’s hand- for good and for bad.
So during the 2015 elections an opposition party-an alliance between Tinubu’s ACN and Buhari’s CPC glued together by the new PDP swept the Nigerian elections to cruise to victory, beating an incumbent President and displacing a ruling party, it was clear that a revolution was on the offing. And then the unthinkable happened. The incumbent President- Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan conceded defeat without a whimper. He did not challenge the result in Court and actually persuaded his party not to either. There was then initiated the smoothest transition in Nigeria’s political history. Though some uncharitable Nigerians thought nothing spectacular about this phenomenal development, others more discerning knew that Nigeria had made enviable history and had set a precedent that was most likely to be repeated elsewhere in Africa. An entrenched African party, in power for 16 years,allowed an electoral system to work without interference in its favour and even when there was speculation that the electoral umpire was sympathetic to the opposition, the ruling party still accepted the result without any form of disputation and gave up power meekly.
Just as it is easy to copy bad behaviour, it also easy to emulate good Behaviour. When the Majors over threw the Nigerian Civilian government in January 1966, Ghana followed suit in February and subsequently the military took over power in several West African And other African Countries such as Liberia, Ivory Coast, Togo, the Gambia, Guinea, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Egypt and the Congo. Because Nigeria returned to democracy, many of these countries also returned to democracy, including following Nigeria’s example where former military rulers transmuted into Civilian rulers, and where Ruling parties perpetuate themselves in power. PDP once boasted it would rule for 60 years!
About two weeks ago, the World woke up to be greeted with the wonderful news that the opposition party has won the election in The Gambia. Mr Adama Barrow, a real estate baron had defeated General, Alhaji, Dr Yahya Jammeh. Jammeh the maverick military turned civilian has ruled Gambia for 22 years with strong hands and was gunning for the 5th term as President before Mr Barrow led the opposition to win the election. The greatest miracle was that the strongman of Gambia was quick in conceding defeat. A pity that he was subsequently afflicted with ‘buyers remorse’ which made him recant his earlier conceding of defeat. He now wants the election repeated. Though the margin of defeat which was originally 45.5% vs 36.7% later narrowed to 43.3% in favour of Barrow, it is evident that Jammeh’s defeat was decisive. It is my hope that with pressure from Global Political leaders, Nigeria inclusive Jammeh will back down or be persuaded to go to court rather than ask for outright cancellation of the election results.
Following in Tow with the emerging political evolution in West Africa, news came over the weekend that the veteran politician Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party( NPP) has defeated the incumbent President of Ghana- John Dramani Mahama and his National Democratic Congress(NDC) with a decent margin of 53.8% vs 44.4%, and also winning a majority of parliamentary seats. Traditionally, Ghana and Nigeria seem to have their fate tied. Nana Akufo- Addo is in his 70’s as Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari. Akufo-Addo became President at his 3rd consecutive attempt,whilst Buhari became President at his 4th consecutive attempt. In line with the example that Dr Goodluck Jonathan set, Dr John Mahama conceded defeat before the final results were announced by the electoral umpire. Just as Dr Jonathan succeeded Umaru Musa Yardua who died in office, so did Dr Mahama succeed Professor Evans Atta- Mills who also died in office. And Just as Jonathan failed to make what some called his ‘third term’ having stood for election either as Vice President or President for the third time, so has happened to Mahama . Some call it tying of fate between Nigeria and Ghana and some say we are Siamese twins.
What ever may be the case, it is exciting and shows a good level of political maturity that opposition parties can win elections in West African Countries. This will help to redeem the political image of Africans and will also dampen political desperation and delinquency. It is so nice to think that in Africa, we can remove a non- performing Party after four or eight years. This will help to put pressure on political leaders to do their best to retain the confidence of the electorate conscious of the fact that power now belongs to the citizens and no longer to the barrel of gun or to political god-fathers with their corrupt electoral umpires who write results that negate the wish of the People.
Now that Nigeria has shown a good example which is being emulated by Other countries especially the West African Countries, my prayer is that we do not regress. The stories we have read concerning what transpired in the recent State elections in Nigeria, where votes were being sold and bought in the open are not cheering. I believe that the Challenge the opposition parties which have won elections have is to ensure that they further improve and sanitize the electoral system so that the matter of spending billions of Naira in post-elections judicial contests with its corrupting tendencies will be eliminated. That is the way to strengthen this new evolution of Political plurality and maturity, ensuring the sanctity of citizen votes.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR , lives in Abuja.