Packaged as the Memorandum of Understanding, (MoU) which it got the presidential candidates of all the political parties to sign last week, the National Peace Committee, (NPC) has formally made rigging a taboo in the coming elections in Nigeria. In other words, the ‘Rigging Taboo’ has emerged as norm against violence in electoral politics in Nigeria. That is, the Nigerian society has rejected the culture of that violence. The question is whether it will have the same effect as the ‘Nuclear Taboo’ has had in international politics where it refers to the claim that the normative disapproval against the use of nuclear weapons explains why the weapons have not been used again since 1945. That is, it is the sense of horror against its use rather than fear that the other guy has a capacity to strike back and cause unacceptable damage that has restrained all from even trying to use it again since then.
Contemplating whether the ‘Rigging Taboo’ will stop rigging in 2019 becomes important in the week that Governor Nyesom Wike of Nigeria’s Rivers State raised the stakes by saying that President Buhari’s refusal to sign the Electoral Bill into law is a rigging strategy that puts Nigeria’s existence after 2019 in question. Governor Wike’s alarm is that “We don’t know if there will be Nigeria after the 2019 General elections”, a reaction to the president declining to sign the Electoral Act, a development which has elicited diverse reactions from different quarters within the country. While some would say that Governor Wike went too far, others would argue that his message rather than the messenger ought to be the more important. In any case, the election is being situated differently. While some are referring to a Buhari soul of personality as well as a Buhari theory of rigging, others are talking about an Atiku Abubakar who is so established in the game of politics that he cannot be rigged out easily, even by an incumbent. There are still more frightening scenarios being peddled, depending on each speaker’s level of politically literacy, with the most educated being most illiterate most of the times.
Of these, the Buhari theory of rigging might be the most interesting. It is not that the president ever formally propounded any such theory. Rather, it is a re-interpretation of his January 1984 argument as military Head of State that rigging is what all political parties did in the 1983 elections and that the only difference was their capacity for that. Each, according to him, rigged relative to its capacity to do so. Applied to the current configuration, it means the APC will rig most, relative to its capacity as the party in power. The question then would be whether it necessarily follows.
Some people such as Gov. Wike would say yes, that being the trigger for his alarm bell. Others might think otherwise by saying, for instance, that incumbency has been demystified in Africa as a factor. Too many sitting presidents have been defeated in elections across Africa that it is no longer news. The lesson is that, in this game, it is not incumbency that matters most but the power resources a candidate controls. Control of the election management body, security apparatuses such as the police and the likes could be less strategic. Narratives, for instance, could be deadlier. It will be difficult to calculate the damage that the statement of the president’s wife on the seizure of power by a cabal of two, Chief Obasanjo’s and that of the Northern Elders Forum, (NEF) must have wrecked on the president’s Second term bid. In fact, it would not be sociologically silly to think that, at the current rate, the president is already running the risk of being narrated out of power, especially as the trend of being dumped by one group or the other increases as the campaign heats up. He could become an image wreck by election time.
In 1983, there was no National Peace Committee hooked on a norm constructivist politics in Nigeria. Beyond that, there were not as many normative actors as were present at the MoU ceremony last Tuesday. Of particular note were General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s war time leader and the European Union, the global signifier of the theory and practice of normative power.
Most observers would, therefore, find it interesting that the week the governor raised his poser was also the week there was good progress in trying to produce peace in the country in 2019. It is such combination that will produce something more qualitative in 2019 than the static worldview of political realists, meaning that Nigeria will remain. Critics would, however, ask: remain as what? As the all-round lager it currently is?
The Economist of London, for instance, thinks so. In its 2019 scenario edition, it doubts that Nigeria would accomplish any leap in the year ahead, meaning that, in a different sense, Governor Wike did not speak out of point. The Economist is an ideologically partisan medium but it is informed. Its pessimism about Nigeria in 2019 must, therefore, be understood as a warning that, with presidential candidates providing answers to question they are too scared to pose, Nigerians may still not go to sleep even if they hold a violence-free election in 2019. The Nigerian society is in a crisis. But the politicians revel in making promises without ever raising the question of the nature of this crisis. How can anyone hope to solve a problem without first defining the problem?