By Adagbo Onoja
If we follow those who say that intellectuals sing our world into existence because value free science is nonsensical, then the bloom of ideas at Nigeria’s The Electoral Institute provides a very interesting site for looking at the future of election management in Nigeria. The platforms are different but they constitute one site of organicist ideas critical of the culture of orthodoxy if not rule of the thumb and unproductive protocols. In all, the significance lies in not only a Nigerian institution being so functional but also doing so strictly on merit, be it in framing the problem in a way that brings all angles to it into focus or in the quality of resource persons engaged and the degree to which the discussions are interrogative. In this sense, The Electoral Institute – the research arm of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) mirrors the mother institution as one such national institution in Nigeria to have insulated itself from the Nigerian factor, whatever it is, to produce electoral outcome from Africa that is the subject of global attention.
Professor Attahiru Jega, its immediate past chairperson, has barely missed the Chatham House Prize for 2016. If he had won the prize, it would have been Chatham House’s commentary on the conduct of the 2015 General Elections in Nigeria. As a leading player in the management of meaning, such a commentary from Chatham House would not have been just on Jega’s leadership capability and potentials but also a discursive but acceptable testament on Nigeria rising eventually to take its empty seat in the comity of nations. Jega obviously lost that prize because even as the most successful application of technology to election management anywhere in Africa, it could never weigh the same for the voters at Chatham House from where they stood when matched with Iran’s nuclear capability.
Be that as may, there is a sense in which the current intellectual fury at TEI brings two wonderful transitions to the fore. One is the transition of the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU) that fought the last set of military leaders from combatants to more measured and successful managers of state processes. Attahiru Jega was the president of the ASUU at the height of that contestation between academics and the state in Nigeria. The second is the wonderful transition of Professor Abubakar Momoh, the Director-General of The Electoral Institute, (TEI) from ‘the scholar as a guerrilla’ to a systematic organiser of other scholars on an issue of national importance such as the research edifice for the election management body in Nigeria. Nigeria has probably not heard the last from ASUU.
Three of the most recent of such activities are the subject of this two part report. And even then, the attention would be on only two of them because the October 5th, 2016 Public Lecture on “The Media and Electoral Reportage in Nigeria: An Assessment of Professional and Ethical Issues” delivered by Professor Adigun Agbaje has been well reported by this newspaper, (www.intervention.ng). It is just as well to mention the symbolism of the resource person as it relates to the crisis of merit in Nigeria today. That is the fact that Professor Agbaje got a First Class in Political Science at the University of Ibadan at a time when such a class of degree from any Nigerian university meant the same thing in any other university anywhere else in the world. That was also not the time of the semester system in Nigerian universities. So, there is something iconic in these matters about that resource person, partly for the reasons mentioned above and partly because the multiple contestations that define the social sciences and humanities complex is such that talking about a First Class is almost out of it. It is not clear how First Class is so common in Nigeria today even when the overarching atmosphere is more hopeless than the Agbaje years. That is by the way. The two sessions under attention here are the Policy Dialogue on “Violence in Elections: Causes, Agents and Mitigation Strategies” on which Professor Okey Ibeanu led the discussion on October 18th and the Roundtable on “Smart Card Readers: Issues, Challenges and Consolidation” which Engineer Nuru Yakubu, Tunji Adesina and Professor OBC Nwolise, (another Ibadan professor) led.
Professor Ibeanu who was part of the intellectual squad assembled by Jega in running INEC came to the topic from the leading contention that violence in elections in Nigeria cannot be understood outside the class logic of the petty bourgeoisie. This is the same thing as the meaningless concept of political class in popular usage in Nigeria or politicians, both in khaki and in agbada. In obvious reference to the Marxian characterisation of the petty-bourgeoisie as composed of on the one hand and on the other, meaning a class lacking a centre of gravity, Ibeanu isolates this class in terms of a specificity: where the petty bourgeoisie is no longer simply an auxiliary class that manages the class projects of the bourgeoisie but a politically pertinent class even as it is still not that developed as a national dominant class in a (peripheral) capitalist situation. The petty-bourgeoisie is thus not the same as the middle class as understood in the Western world today, particularly in the United States. Sandwiched between the working class downstairs and the bourgeoisie proper, with equal chance of falling into the working class status or graduating into the bourgeoisie proper, the petty-bourgeoisie occupies a dangerous location in the class structure as to be collectively inclined to:
1. State-centrism: The petty bourgeoisie is a state-oriented class and it is oriented to strong states. Given that it is an unproductive class, at best petty commodity producers but mainly salaried workers on the margins of capitalism, this class supports state redistribution of income, which puts its members at an advantage over the working people.
2. Bonapartism: This derives from its state-centric character. A Bonapartist-technocratic state guarantees a relative autonomy of state institutions from the bourgeoisie, enabling the state-based petty bourgeoisie to pursue its interests.
3. Orientation to the status quo: While they dread proletarianization, members of this class at the same time have a morbid fear for a revolutionary transformation of society. Therefore, they prefer the status quo in which the state dispenses patronages.
4. Aspiration to bourgeois status: The petty bourgeoisie has a strong tendency to use state resources to build an economic base, mainly transforming into a comprador bourgeoisie (contractors, service providers, import-export traders, foreign exchange dealers, etc.).
5. Petty bourgeois individualism: excessive pursuit of narrow (individual, sectional) interests.
6. Politically instability: In terms of political action (praxis), the petty bourgeoisie is a “swing class”. It swings easily between the bourgeoisie and the working people. Of particular note in this regard is the intellectual petty bourgeois, which is permanently divided between intellectuals of the bourgeoisie or intellectuals of the working people.
His conclusion is that these characteristics are amply reflected in the Nigerian state the way the petty bourgeoisie inherited them from colonialism at independence and has carefully (re)constructed since then. And they explain or have translated into rising physical and social insecurity in Nigeria in their factional in-fighting to control the state and use the state for private interests. Elections is one of the sites where factional in-fighting plays out most, meaning that anyone who wants to have a holistic grip of “high-level insecurity” that attend elections in Nigeria must first seek to understand the political psychology of this class, be it the 2015 election in Rivers State, the 2011 post election violence, 1983 electoral violence in Ondo State or ‘Wetie’ in Western Nigeria in the First Republic. Or why election in Nigeria is akin to war generally.
For instance, the 2011 elections, in his own words, “required the assemblage of close to a million poll workers, party workers, security personnel and election observers. Those elections also entailed the acquisition of over 120,000 ballot boxes, printing of about 400 million ballot papers and managing a voter’s roll of over 73 million entries. The one million plus election personnel used for the 2015 general elections is well over half of the collective strength of the entire armed forces of Africa countries”.
Ibeanu did not dismiss alternative or contending explanations of election violence in Nigeria or Africa. He took note of such explanatory models as remote and immediate causes thesis but which he charged with the rarity of ‘remote’ and ‘immediate’ causes occurring together in the same combination again in future. The implication is that this model has no science in it as far as providing a generalisable explanation. Second is the worsening economic condition thesis that connects electoral violence to availability of a pool of young people vulnerable to enticement into violent activities by politicians. Third is explaining electoral violence in terms of teething problem in the evolution of democracy such as weak institutions, not minding the circuitousness involved: elections are violent because democracy is weak and democracy is weak because elections are violent”. So, which explains which?
He takes exception to the institutionalist take on explaining electoral violence because the problem does not reside in weak rules or lack of strong institutions but in respect for the rules which are there on paper but which the class logic of the key players constrains them from obeying. In other words, disobeying the rules or not playing by institutional demands is
intrinsic to the very class character of the petty bourgeoisie as a rising and an opportunistic class. That is opportunism inherent in their location in the property relationship, not as a psychological variable. And this explains the electoral crisis of security which itself generates three defining characteristics of security in Nigeria today. Ibeanu names these as manipulation of security, communalization of security and the privatization of security.
But he insists on a distinction between election-generated violence and election-aggravated violence, pointing out the essence of that distinction in its implications for finding solutions. While election-generated violence are direct products of contestations about actors, procedures and outcomes of elections, they lack any other nexus beyond these. Further down, he demarcates election-generated violence into structural electoral violence such as direct physical violence targeted at election officials, opponents or the ordinary citizen as a direct result of contestations around the actions of people, procedures or outcomes of elections. Objective electoral violence, on the other hand, could occur throughout the electoral cycle, to quote him.
From this key framework, he generates a list of agents of election violence which could be individuals, groups or institutions, political parties, thugs, security officials, officials of election management bodies, the judiciary, candidates and party officials. Direct violence is generally associated with partisan agents like political parties, candidates and party thugs while structural electoral violence is mostly associated with those from whom neutrality is expected, such as officials of election management bodies, security agencies and the judiciary. The media and public intellectuals devote very little space to structural electoral violence and its agents.
Ibeanu identifies three key approaches to mitigation of election violence. One is the management of specific cases such as the 2011 post election violence. The problem he identifies here is the non-implementation of White Papers in Nigeria. His second approach is the mitigation strategies developed by the election management bodies. He lists three of such in the case of INEC in 2011 – 2015: Planning and Implementation; Knowledge and Training and Monitoring and Reporting. An interesting dimension in Monitoring and Reporting role is the developments in social media vis-à-vis the citizens’ awareness and consciousness upon which it rests. Ibeanu reveals how the study that assessed INEC’s civil and voter education in 2014 showed several gaps.
Neither Professor Ikelegbe from the Department of Political Science at the University of Benin nor Irene Pogoson, his counterpart from the University of Ibadan differed fundamentally from Ibeanu’s argument even as they did not proclaim class analysis in that frontal sense. Ikelegbe’s presentation which packed lots of empirical details, began by connecting ‘contested and conflict ridden elections and disputed electoral processes’ to the delegitimation of the governments that results. He took note of institutionalist, social inequality, structuralist, cleavage thesis, neo-patrimonialism and grievance – opportunism explanatory models in explaining election violence, noting how each perspective tears at the issue.
But his comprehensive list of the players in electoral violence interestingly started with the political elite or class comprising active politicians “who fit into the gladiatorial participatory group”. Others on his list included political parties, state actors, Patrons, Political Machines and Violence, Popular classes -youth, Primordial Actors-communal, ethnic, regional leaders and groups, Armed Bands, Cult Groups and Criminal Elements. The interesting point in the list is the way it was linked with his agreement with the late Claude Ake on how politics had become a competition “without rules, restraint and impartial references, and yet so intense, acrimonious, rapacious, violent, volatile, anarchic, unstable and warlike”. And how divided, fragmented, fractious and incoherent the political class had become, only united in the capture of state power! This, he linked to a class predisposition to the politicization of identities, repression and violence in the absence of lack in ideology and legitimacy. Professor Ikelegbe could only explain this in terms of the centrality of political power in Nigeria, constituting “the best business in town and the quickest means of accumulating wealth”, thereby agreeing with Ibeanu’s class analysis about a “self seeking, anti-democratic, parochial and parasitic class”.
His mitigation menu privileged, among others, reduction of the attractiveness of public office; re-orientation of public office holding towards public and community service; institutionalising processes that prevent the privatization of state resources, particularly public funds; inculcation of democratic values and tenets among political actors as was done by the CDS and currently the NIPSS/UNDP Democratic Governance for Development Programme; provision of stronger systems of deterrence against electoral offences and violent politics, particularly the manipulation of the youth for violent engagements; more effective security; intelligence, monitoring, early warning, prevention and containment of violent manifestations of electoral conflicts and a judicial intervention system that hear and dispose of electoral disputes within short tenures such that wrong persons do not occupy public office while actual winners wait endlessly.
Without professing a neo-Marxist framework as Ibeanu, Dr. Irene Pogoson nevertheless shares a fairly similar broad understanding of election violence which links the viciousness of the contest for political power through the democratic process in the enormous reward for electoral victory through primitive accumulation. She arrived at virtually the same conclusion to the effect that the captured state is a fundamental explanation for election related violence.
She specifies the crisis in the state’s loss of any moderating influence in the contest which, coupled with the erosion of the ethical foundation for political contests has, in her view, rendered Nigerian politics uniquely Hobbesian. But she traces the predisposition of the political class to sectional politics and the predatory process to control of state resources and for which the acquisition of political power is then so primary. She differs from Ibeanu though in her emphasis on prebendalism in the explanation of this class preference.
Unique to Pogoson’s paper is the considerable attention she gave to the gender dimension of election violence. In other words, she does not accept a grand sense of election violence which does not specify how differently it affects women. The leading claim here is that “of all of the barriers, gender-specific election violence is perhaps the most insidious, affecting and compounding other obstacles”. Not only is Violence Against Women in Elections, (VAWE) pervasive, the clarion call is also that it must be “understood, identified, tracked and responded to at all levels of society”. A tough one in a society in which nothing much has been done on election violence itself!
While generally noting what she calls the galaxy of ways by which Nigeria could curb electoral violence and strengthen democratic governance, Dr Pogoson, however, finds the fine of 1million Naira and 3 years imprisonment as provided by the electoral law to be a good but an inadequate start, arguing that it does not capture the extent of the damage already done by violence on Nigeria elections. Her most favoured mitigation strategy is political education on the ground that all others rest on its effectiveness.
General discussion touched on the applicability or otherwise of class analysis to the African/Nigerian situation; the question of the status of Goodluck Jonathan’s phone call, conceding defeat and congratulating General Buhari. Was it a game changer or was Jonathan himself constrained? The role of the courts in election violence, with particular reference to the recent Supreme Court judgment to the effect that the NPN governor of Niger State in the Second Republic wasn’t the winner of the election, nearly three decades after the man had exercised the power of that office and left? What was the logic of that judgment? How viable is the first-past-the-post system now. Citing what Kofi Annan said in Kenya in 2007 to the effect that first-past-the-post is no longer appropriate, the question was raised as to whether it is not time to look at other options such as Proportional Representation. How might Nigeria change the political psychology of the petty bourgeoisie, particularly their utter lack of nationalism was raised? Similarly, the question of changing the character of the state as the primary issue in mitigation was posed. And discussants asked why we still observe so much insecurity even with thousands of policemen deployed. Does Nigeria do security vetting? The questioner was sure that “if you go back to the schools we attended, there are many people today who ought never to be seen anywhere near power”. But who are the ‘we’ when we talk of election violence in Nigeria? Someone was sure that unless we began to crack the ‘we’ and breakdown walls, the answers would elude us. Attention was, however, drawn to the power of exemplary leadership as well as to the imperative for INEC to start blowing its trumpet.