Grimot Nane Zine

When Proper Democratic Process Fails Us: The Saraki Crisis

The “Saraki crisis” is making Nigerians and some foreign spectators of the three arms of government to rethink their understanding of the design and processes of democracy in the real-world, particularly the legislature. Surely, democracy is not a dirty word in Nigeria… yet.

It is quite insufficient to define and suppose that democracy is “government of the people, for people, by the people”. Polycracy i.e. ‘government by multiple groups, peoples and interests’ is more like the real-world experience of “democracy”. When such groups, peoples and interests that are active players in government are ‘encompassing’ (mostly committed to the public good) democracy is fair and reasonably inclusive but when they are distributive (mostly committed to the narrow self-interests) democracy is unfair and fraught with numerous asymmetries – “na who hand strong naim dey chop“. What do we have in Nigeria?

Senator Bukola Saraki, Senate President and a keen gubernatocrat, won a vote of confidence in the Senate. 87 out 109 (80%) votes in the house were cast in favour of Saraki. That is democratic process in action but democratic does is not synonymous with good, honest, moral or conscientious. Democratically elected senators on behalf of constituents voted in favour of Saraki by a big majority. By simplified logic 80% of Nigerians have said YES in a vote of confidence in Saraki to continue as Senate president. The Nigerian voter has a hand in the Senate vote.

However, the charges against Saraki that necessitated vote are about his record of corruption and constitutional violations. Could any individual be faulted for saying 80% of Nigerians support a Senate president who is up to his neck in allegations and evidence of corruption? In public lectures and papers I have stated that if there was a proper referendum in Nigeria on whether to ‘stop’ or ‘keep’ corruption, those who vote to ‘keep’ will carry the day due to short-term cultural and economic reasons. Such an example is just for emphasis and I am not naïve enough to equate the speculations about an unlikely referendum with a concrete vote outcome in the Senate for corruption.

The Saraki crisis and the confidence vote should be a lesson for Nigerians especially voters. When elected officials act or vote, they are doing so on behalf of the votes they got from their constituents. If the voting public vote scoundrels into office they will get misgovernance while if they vote the conscientious into office they will get good governance. A vote of confidence for a scoundrel is misgovernance and not good governance, and it is traceable to the [unwitting] voting public. Voters should be much wiser in their voting choices; once you cast your vote it is out of your hands for four years to be used at the “discretion” of the elected official.

It would not surprise anyone that many of those Senators who voted for Saraki would be resoundingly rejected at the polls for doing so if ‘free and fair’ elections happened within a fortnight. If this is true then it means that the senators did not speak for the constituents or Nigeria but for their narrow distributive interests i.e. their pockets and careers. Wahala! This is one of the differences between an encompassing and distributive democracy. So much bribery, log-rolling, deals / silences secured will definitely have gone into producing the outcome of the vote.

The vote of confidence has created bonanza times for “prayer warriors” in Nigeria. The at least 1500 prayers warriors Saraki recruited and paid to pray for him to stay in office will be congratulating themselves on their successful pleas to God. If there was a successful ‘no confidence vote’, the same prayer warriors will be giving Saraki excuses on behalf of God himself. But it is not over yet. The prosecutions that will try Saraki are coming. More work for the prayer warriors to come and maybe more money.

The great misfortune of the Senate vote of confidence is for the expectant popular anti-corruption initiative among Nigerians. Are these the kind of legislators the kind of men and women that will support any crusade or jihad against corruption? In fact, the Saraki crisis has emerged as the first true litmus test of the confidence people have in President Buhari’s good intentions for Nigeria. Opportunity cost: if confidence in Saraki survives confidence in Buhari will not and vice versa; kian’ smoke your cigar and have it. Maybe Nigeria should be getting ready for the return of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or next new political party that emerges with election-winning capabilities.

How far and well the current anti-corruption initiative Nigerian voters vote for will go in the near future is surely anyone’s guess. The incidences of false starts and inaction are mounting though.

We wait.

Grimot Nane

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