Campaign Suppression, Electoral Paranoia and the Poetics of Elections in Nigeria After June 12, 1993.

Author:Osiebe, Garhe


Across the world, the literature on electoral studies is vast and varied. Academic interest in elections, electoral campaigns, electoral strategies via a myriad of media, and indeed in electoral audiences (electorates) is thick and rampant. This interest, by the way, is rarely subject to geographical locations nor is it a respecter of the economic fortunes of nations. Throughout the first world all the way across the global south, academe has ensured a non-discriminatory affinity for the study of the engine of democracy--elections. Therefore, this paper has elected to take a somewhat nuanced approach in its contribution to the already dense body of knowledge in election studies. Rather than merely make a contribution, the paper sets out to reposition the modes of comprehension for democracy as practised today in Nigeria specifically. It will do so by taking a historical and literary gaze as an entry point towards a sustained theory on the location of Nigeria's democracy.

In an analysis of Nigeria's Fourth Republic elections, Omotola [2010] points to the weak institutionalization of the primary agencies of electoral administration in Nigeria, namely the political party system and the electoral commission whose nomenclature purports its independence but is merely an organ of the state. This paper conceives of the weak institutionalization identified by Omotola as the result of the road not taken, no thanks to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and the eventual demise of the declared winner, MKO Abiola in state prison. Nwosu [2017] offers the perspective of the electoral commission's chairman during the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Whereas many a critic is bound to find Nwosu's book irritable, it is striking that the author christens the book thus: 'Laying the Foundation for Nigeria's Democracy: My Account of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election and its Annulment'. It is against this nomenclatural backdrop rather than necessarily aspects of the book's contents that this paper adopts the June 12, 1993 presidential election as the foundational forebear of Nigeria's present-day democracy. The stillborn election has since produced its offspring through the Fourth Republic and has accordingly been conceptualized as a parent. It is an engagement with this literary conceptualization that forms the core of the paper.

Research on elections and electoral cultures appears to be proliferating precisely because of the 'self-renewing' nature of democracy as the world has come to know it. Electoral cycles ensure that depending on a nation's constitution, fresh elections are conducted after the duration of an existing tenure has lapsed. As such, most democratically governed nations of the world return to the polls at an average of every four or five years. This, to my mind, is the most cogent explanation for the very fertile literature that exists in the study of elections across the world. As with the global literature on election studies, there is a rich body of work on elections in Nigeria--particularly on the elections of the Fourth Republic. Mahmud [1993] provides a wailer's account of the coup d'etat by General Sani Abacha which effectively killed off the Third Republic as initially conceived. Nwokedi [1994] offers an explanation of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election drawing from the military-civilian transition experience in Latin America and making projections of the Nigerian military government's concerns with self-preservation. Ian Campbell's [1994] charter is cut from the same cloth and isn't far off Nwokedi's in his submission that "the only free elections [in Nigeria before 1993] were those organized by the British in 1959, on the eve of independence, and by the military in 1979 before their temporary withdrawal" [Campbell, 1994: 179]. Both Nwokedi [1994] and Campbell [1994] were produced and circulated in the space of one year after the annulment, suggesting that neither engaged in the necessary sobriety/rigour for cutting-edge and long-lasting research. It is this un-aristocratic disposition to scholarship which is a bane to election studies generally, owing to the frequency of election cycles that the present paper eschews in its well thought out selection. Such was the preponderance of these impromptu research publications that the only difference between the preceding duo and Lewis [1994] is the gloomy and doomsday forecast of the latter. Even bleaker was Rotimi and Ihonvbere [1994] wherein the authors declare a remilitarisation in Nigeria, and bleaker still was Suberu [1994] whose headline read "democratic recession in Nigeria"!

Perhaps a less anxious and more thought out publication on the subject emerged some three years later in the form of a volume edited by Diamond et al [1997]. Further studies since emerged [e.g., Lewis, 1999; Ihonvbere, 1999] following the transition program and eventual elections of 1999 which ushered in the Fourth Republic.

Nigeria's experience of the transition to democracy has received more attention than that of any other country in the continent [Shettima, 1995: 61] The extract highlights an obvious fact as deducible from the foregoing abridged review of existing literature on elections in Nigeria before the Fourth Republic. The Fourth Republic did not stall the trend of electoral research in Nigeria; instead, the proliferation grew with a broader range of electoral interrogation by academe [e.g. Oshodi, 2005 engaged with the role of foreign observers in Nigeria's elections; the duo of Agbaje and Adejumobi, 2006 is engaged with the actuality of vote counts at elections; Suberu, 2007 concerned also with Nigeria's muddled elections; Oboh, 2016 is preoccupied with prescribing how the media could enhance electoral conduct; whilst Osiebe, 2017 focused on the popular culture dynamic at elections and the electorates' reception of these]. Others have been preoccupied with specific elections since 1999 and/or with commentary on the sustained legacy of the military's many failings through Nigeria's post-independence years [e.g., Dare, 2001; Olaniyan, 2006; Basedau et al, 2007; Rawlence and Albin-Lackey, 2007; Adesokan, 2009; Omodia, 2009; Abati, 2010; Akhaine, 2011; Egya, 2012; etc.]. Whereas most of these studies on elections in Nigeria have been worthwhile, each contributing something unique to the corpus of electoral literature in Nigeria, there is a sense in which the frequency of elections makes the electoral scholar come across as mere chronicler. To quote the Nigerian Nobel Laureate, "When the writer in his own society can no longer function as conscience, he must recognize that his choice lies between denying himself totally or withdrawing to the position of chronicler and postmortem surgeon" [Soyinka, 1967: 20]. There is recognition of the critical component in much of the studies on elections through Nigeria's postcolonial history. As such, invoking Soyinka's aforementioned submission is not intended to label. To the contrary, it is intended to guide this intervention, indeed, to bolster the paper's charter to interrogate Nigerian elections through the work of one of the country's finest poets.

Electoral Paranoia and Campaigns' Suppression in Nigeria

Electoral paranoia constitutes a bane in Nigeria. Whereas it is evident throughout the electorate, it is perhaps most visible through art works which tend to grow political as elections draw nigh. In order to properly situate and illustrate this, an example of the manifestation of electoral paranoia in Nigeria is drawn from an episode that starred two politicians, a musician (posthumously) and the media. The legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti did make his mark on Nigeria's political and electoral culture. In 'Army Arrangement' [1982], Fela sang:

... Election story nko? [How about the story of the election?] Obasanjo plan am very well [General Obasanjo planned it very well] Him take old politicians, wey rule Nigeria before [He took old politicians who ruled Nigeria before] The same old politicians, wey spoil Nigeria before [The same old politicians that spoilt Nigeria] Obasanjo kari all of dem [General Obasanjo hoisted all of them] Na all of dem dey there nowi [All of them are in charge now] (ii) In order to contextualize Fela's electoral diatribe satisfactorily, a brief account of Nigeria's political history would suffice: Gaining her independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria only became a Republic in 1963. By 1966, the First Republic...

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