By Adagbo ONOJA
The February 25th, 2023 presidential election in Nigeria might have come and gone at the level of voting and announcement of the outcome but not at the level of the autopsy. Today, it underwent another such autopsy at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) at a Special Postmortem attended by leading intellectuals, researchers, diplomats and sundry members of the intelligentsia from around the world. Although the voice level for Prof Adele Jinadu, one of the two lead speakers was problematic throughout in addition to Intervention having to leave the proceeding for a lecture at 2.00pm, it was obvious the organisers got what it set out to achieve with the postmortem.
What the NIIA set out to achieve was, in the words of Prof Eghosa Osaghae, NIIA’s DG, to hear from an outsider and an outsider on the election. Prof Adele Jinadu was defined as the outsider, a professor of political theory, specifically on Fanon but who in life has become one of the experts in election management in Africa. Apart from deep involvement in experimenting with innovations in election management in Nigeria, he has also been a resource person on the theme in no less than six other African countries. He is defined as an outsider to the extent that he is not a politician. There is a sense in which Prof Jinadu signifies the paradox called Nigeria: it is prepared for greatness in every respect but it is still far from being great. Fanon is the sixth name on the list of the agenda setting voices on the epistemic dimension of resistance to unequal global power relations, the others being the late Edward Said; Chinua Achebe (because he wrote that Western psychology habour desire of setting “Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest”, That has become a founding statement in post and Decolonial theory, a raging epistemi fire); Ngugi because he is emerging after all as the founder of Decoloniality; Anibal Quijano and Walter Mignolo, the two most significant authorities on decolonial theory. To have an academic tooled in his argument is an investment. But the Nigerian State doesn’t function in terms of consciousness of who is where. Rather, it works on the basis of friends or enemy which is perhaps not surprising, given the many years of military rule. When Jinadu began his presentation, he did with a comment on Fanon, much of it lost to this ear. We cannot blame the technology. The best time Jinadu would have had availed Nigerians with a domesticated engagement with Fanon was his recent birthday. The planners of the birthday, like NIIA, chose electoral democracy as the issue to talk about at the birthday obviously on the belief that a watershed election was ahead. Now, the election has come and gone with more quarrels than before it.
Prince Adewale Adebayo, the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was Osaghae’s insider because as a politician, he is deep inside. But how Adebowale was chosen was a slightly different story. Osahae found Adebowale using the language of a typical political scientist and concluded that a lawyer and a presidential contender who was deploying game theory in a conversation must have something interesting to say at a postmortem of the election.
The NIIA session was not planned to be about who won or lost the election or even about the merit or demerits of the legal tussles but about what Osaghae calls “a purely reflective exercise in the best tradition of a think tank”.
Prof Jinadu’s leading poser at the NIIA postmortem is that the political economy context of election management in Nigeria makes actual conduct of election a near impossible task. He framed it more elegantly but it is doubtful if he would contest this framing either. The key assumption of this argument is that it is important to talk about what happened, what happened on election day, why this did not happen and why that happened and so on but even more important to know why what happened did happen. And we cannot know why certain things keep being the defining features of elections in Nigeria without locating such features in the very character and role of the Nigerian State itself, the essence of political power as far as politicians see it, the management of power with particular reference to the issue of Nigeria’s unique underdevelopment and the weaponisation of the fault lines, particularly ethnicity.
For him, therefore, the contextual embeddedness or the situation in which INEC is located is that there are too many risk factors which reproduce the operational breaches that people are angry about. How would such breaches not be when there are logistics nightmare that forces the election management body to renegotiate terms with sundry actors the night before or on the morning of an election, failure which such ‘contractors’ – boat owners, cyclists, transport owners, petrol dealers, etc. The point is that the contextual embeddedness rewards impunity. The system has criminalized politics, he added.
His insights into INEC’s investments and innovations towards credible elections as well as INEC’s conduct of the 2023 elections suggests comprehensive efforts, particularly in respect of strengthening institutional capacity to deliver, technologically shielding the voting process against manipulation and financial re-arrangements to support all these. His scoring of INEC based on his involvement in some post-election analysis showed good scores for the election management body, especially on arrival of INEC officials with voting materials and the performance across the board by the parties. He mentioned the APC, the LP and the PDP but apart from the figure 87 against the LP, I didn’t hear that of the rest and the significance of the figures.
Jinadu’s last sub-theme was matters arising which must be his own notion of a postmortem. Here, he says what is happening or what Nigerians are witnessing is the breakdown of elite consensus at this election on the one hand and the effort at re-constituting the consensus on the other hand. This could equally replace the political economy of electoral democracy argument singled out earlier as Jinadu’s core argument. For it is the breakdown of the consensus that explains why the competing interpretations of the outcome of the election have taken ethnicist and demagogic approaches, sometimes without a care for anything else, including the voting data. His second point on this sub-theme is that Nigerians have not invested enough in democracy. He contrasts the culture of gated estates and houses across Nigeria to what he considers to be the inadequate self-help policing of elections. If Nigerians want democratic elections, they must also resort to the same self-help arrangements that secure their houses against criminals. Otherwise, political criminality in politics will always predominate. He was done and Prince Adewale took over.
He came without any papers because if he did to a session where an intellectual giant was speaking, he would have to be writing a lot. So, he came to say what he could see, not to contest space with a Jinadu. He basically went on to operationalise his game theory of the 2023 elections. His central argument is that the election involved strategic interactions among many layers of players, each of whom is doing a different thing. There are the politicians, the media, the election management body, the police and so on.
Second, he mentions how autopsies come differently. There is the legal autopsy which is the one that is underway in the courts. There is the patho-clinical autopsy which is the type NIIA was conducting, involving trying to find out what killed the father in 1954, left some relations unhappy in 1979 and has unsettled everything in 2023. The third in his classification is the type academics do which is to collect all manner of data and write a best seller. This kind of autopsy is not informed by any interest in the particular election. The last is what he terms virtual autopsy, the type that is taking place on social media platforms, much of it without any details about the dead – his age, what could have led to the death and so on. It was a knock – out for social media politicians.
He began in apparent response to a point Prof Jinadu must have made about foreign influences, especially foreign money coming in to influence the direction of the money. The prince did not disagree but said that when he as a contestant campaigned against it, he was said to be doing so because he was not that rich and, therefore, being jealous. But his clincher is the fact that INEC also collected foreign money. That, in his opinion, is more dangerous, including the fact that INEC even went as far as Chatham House.
Also taking off from another of Jinadu’s point, he accepts the prevalence of unique underdevelopment, with particular reference to poverty, again, this is what he said he made the core of his campaign but only to be “handsomely rewarded”. Handsomely rewarded is his metaphor for being rejected. His thesis is that poverty is a problem but also an opportunity to win. That was a sniper shot at his politician colleagues.
He made a point about INEC suffering from externalities which didn’t come clear. I think he was saying something like INEC over promising in giving 100 % guarantee but only to deliver 10% and would like it to learn not to over promise.
A political party, he says, is not necessarily interested in free and fair election but in winning. He says this is what he has come out with from his own participation in party strategy sessions. So, a party stressing ethical issues in an election is like a coach overstressing the ethics of toing the ethical Riot Act of the referee. The coach will be fired.
He then came to the party/government in power as a conceptual rational player in the game of elections. Any such government has numerous tricks available to it to undo an election even before the D-Day. And then the media which is another rational actor in the game but which is primarily in business to balance its budget and is, inherently, constrained.
The player the audience appeared most interested in his analogy is the politician. There are people who have thought about the problems of the society, are worried about the problems and who went to contest but could not get in. he contrasts such people with those who are actually terrible but whose terrible-ness makes them fascinating to the forces that be and who calls them to come and be governor or whatever because “we need a terrible person”. On this, he was hundred per cent in agreement with Prof Jinadu who had said earlier on that the system rewards impunity. There is yet another layer in his typology of the Nigerian politician which is the one prompted into action by the reality of terrible guys becoming governors. Something like, if those guys could be governors, why can I not?
The last is the people of Nigeria whose existential crisis compels them to accept the bribe that can bring food to the table that day rather than insist on voting for someone with capacity to remove the income constraint by ending hunger, unemployment and so on.
For him, Nigeria is confronted with answering the existential question. There are those concerned with getting Nigeria out of its ‘Third World’ country status. There are also those concerned with generational change even though without answering the question of change to what and then there are those opposed to any change at all and who are well located in the system or are its top managers. He agrees with Prof Jinadu that the elite consensus has broken down and the different components have gone their different ways.
He spoke about an on-going meeting between the President-elect, Asiwaju Tinubu’s team and the World Bank in Washington about which Nigerians are not aware. The meeting, he said is working on a grant of $800m in lieu of removal of fuel subsidy but without any guarantee on investment. And yet, the unemployment figure in Nigeria now at 41% is higher than what it was during the First and Second World Wars as well as during the Nigerian Civil War. so, he concludes that there is a difference between election management, politics and actual governance.
It is certain that Prof Jinadu must have elaborated on certain aspects of his initial presentation as well as Prince Adewale and many other faces at the postmortem. What they said or implied would now rest in speculation as Intervention had to leave at this point.
This report will keep being updated