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After Mau Mau, Kenya’s December polls second lesson for Africa

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AFRICA INSIGHT: After Mau Mau, Kenya’s December polls second lesson for Africa


Publication Date: 3/7/2008

Since the 1950s when the vast shadow of Mau Mau fighters urged Africa to engage in a mass revolt as a way of winning back dignity for the black man, the fright that Kenya’s general elections in 2007 gave Nigeria may turn out to be her second major service to Pan-Africanism. And the first in the 21st Century, writes OKELLO OCULI, NATION writer, Nigeria

A growing phobia about elections is sweeping across Nigeria. 

Former Nigerian army ruler and opposition politician Muhammadu Buhari (centre) enters the court of Appeals in Abuja. Photo/ REUTERS

Television pictures and graphic radio reports of burning and looting of property across Kenya, have combined with local experiences of election-related violence across Nigeria during the 2007 national elections and current primaries of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party to cast grave doubts about the wisdom of conducting elections.

Most Kenyans are unaware of the depth of the combination of shock, shame, disappointment and even despair, that swept across Nigeria as reports flowed in about the violence that followed their country’s December 27, 2007 elections.

For a people who have been collectively questioning what they see as a dismal performance by their political, economic and religious leaders since their independence in 1960, Nigerians had seen Kenya as a rare gem in Africa where things seemed to work. They were right.

Sudan, Kenya’s neighbour to the north, has a grim record of turning bloodletting into a religious obligation. Somalia to the east disintegrated with rebels overthrowing Siad Barre who died in Lagos as an exile. Eastern neighbour Uganda suffered under failed leadership combined with tribalised barbarism under Idi Amin. A vicious civil war would follow before Yoweri Museveni restored order.

And, genocidal waves in Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo brought more despair to several generations of Nigerians.

In Nigeria’s immediate neighbourhood, the ebb and flow of economic and civil war-generated refugees within and across borders from Ghana, Niger, Chad, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast shut sunlight out of the affairs of black Africa.

A stubborn sense of optimism (for which a BBC survey found Nigerians to be leading optimists in the world) made the West African nation cling to Kenya’s status as a success story in an under-performing continent. I have heard Nigerian passengers single out the special attention they receive from stewards and ground staff of Kenya Airways despite occasional, brutal lambastes when flights run late.

The airline’s boast of being the “Pride of Africa” is taken in with an unspoken satisfaction in a world where Western media take great delight in criticising everything African.

However, some Nigerian visitors to Kenya fly out deeply irritated by what they see as Kenya’s undue deference to Euro-Asian citizens and the expatriates who work for the numerous international organisations based in the country. 

To the Nigerians, the situation is made more poignant by the glaring contrasts they see between the lives of the expats and the multitudes of unemployed Kenyans. But, that things seemed to work in Kenya despite Moi-era bursts of ethnic violence and a failed coup in 1982 kept Kenya’s flag flying high in hearts and minds across West Africa.

The shock that came with Kenya’s post-election violence also borrowed fuel from the dismay and depth of anger that had torn through Nigeria when the country woke up to an April 2007 election that had been rigged with a unique form of sadism. 

A deepening sense of impoverishment during the Olusegun Obasanjo regime (1999-2007) had, as the saying goes, “cooked people” in readiness for the whirlwinds of rejection by voters that would toss all those associated with his power into a dustbin. However, Prof Maurice Iwu, the head of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission INEC), the ignored electoral crimes. These included: the rampant use of guns to snatch away ballot boxes, frighten away voters from polling booths or to kill opponents. There was also the withholding of electoral material so that polling stations would open as late as 6pm (instead of the stipulated 8am); taking ballot boxes to party offices and thumb-printing ballot papers. 

Furious voters in Enugu, the capital of Enugu State and who had waited in vain to vote, burnt the offices of the election agency. 

In the Nasarawa State, next to Nigeria’s federal capital, Abuja, officials of the opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) were alleged to have created alternative polling booths to which they allowed only voters from the Egom ethnic group in which the party had overwhelming support. 

In Bauchi and Lagos States, civil society organisations have reported that winning was determined by how much money a candidate for governorship could pay election officials or thugs to intimidate election officials to return figures in his favour. 

In the face of such alchemy of electoral sins, INEC announced losers as winners and vice versa. In Enugu and Rivers states the boss of INEC announced winners from Abuja while voting was reported to be still in progress.

The other irregularities that rendered the Nigerian election aftermath a messy affair are emerging from the election tribunals that have annulled many spurious victories.

In Adamawa State, for example, a governorship candidate of the Action Congress Party had his name removed from the ballot paper on the morning of the election. That brazenness may have been influenced by  the patronage of the winner Governor Murtala Nyako. Critics accuse Mr Nyako, who was recently removed from office, of rushing into office and putting 6,000 personal aides on official payroll in the name of reducing unemployment. 

In Kano State, critics allege that the governor employs an official whose duty is to ferret out information about deaths in the State so that the governor can win public support by sending condolences and attending burials. 

A former governor of Taraba State, now  on bail from prison, for corruption was alleged to have paid his most furious guard dog a monthly salary equivalent to that of a senior civil servant while some other governors have sought to win popular support by buying air tickets for over 1,000 pilgrims to travel to Mecca.

Critics contrast these trappings of power won through rigged elections with the condition of roads and other indicators of corruption. 

In Yobe State, a major road carries potholes that turn a 45-minute drive into a six-hour ordeal. In Gombe State, aides to the governor ride four-wheel drive Hummer jeeps that cost about $60,000 (Sh4.2 million) each. In the same state, a national television news report showed thousands of school children attending lessons while sitting either on  mud floors or under trees.

The anti-corruption agency that former president Olusegun Obasanjo let loose on graft kings has unearthed a deeper rot than was expected regarding the levels of public funds misappropriated by politicians who knew that they would never win in free and fair elections.

Now that the mothers and fathers of children schooling under trees as Hummers zoom by knew that the continued stay in power by the thieves meant more suffering; and that the corrupt were determined to hold on to power, violence was the only graceful road to political salvation.

And so it came to pass that the April local government elections and the on-going primaries for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, are bathed in blood and clothed in arson.

An election phobia sweeps across Nigeria, all roads to power being lined with machetes. In panic, the ruling party has turned inwards to search for traditional democracy. By this is meant that process by which communities consult openly and frankly among themselves before settling for a mutually agreed-on candidate.

In Communist China this approach was called “talking bitterness” as it involved an unflattering evaluation of the candidates.

Television pictures are showing football stadia packed with PDP delegates “choosing consensus candidates”. All the same, there are grave fears of possibilities of future election violence as police virtually failed to intercept the huge numbers of guns flowing into Nigeria to arm private armies by candidates. Consequently, it is still a mystery that no loser of the April 2007 elections used guns to reject the results. This  stroke of luck notwithstanding, Kenya’s experience has apparently taught Nigeria’s politicians not to wait for the virus to hit them.

But there is also another story to tell. Since election tribunals started delivering their verdicts, up to seven state governors have been tossed out. 

In Benue State alone, two senators have lost their seats. The fate of the third, David Mark, (who is also the President of the Senate) hangs in the balance. 

The failure of the petition against President Umaru Yar’Adua’s victory was blamed on the failure by the lawyers for Gen Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, his challengers, to prove, beyond reasonable doubt that their clients had suffered fatally from noted evidence of election malpractice. 

To many Nigerians, Yar’Adua’s victory sits like a gold coin on a mass of steaming cow dung. 

Yar’Adua has popularised himself since coming to power by implementing court decisions  against  his government. His ruling party is, however, acutely aware of its severe deficit of legitimacy and its indebtedness to the courts.

The intensity of public revulsion to the impunity with which elections were rigged may have brought Nigeria on the brink of mass uprising. The reaction of Nigeria’s political engineers to this brinkmanship also put them on the political pill called consensus as a way of preserving the nation.

In short, since the 1950s, when the vast historical shadow of Kenya’s Mau Mau fighters urged Africa to a mass revolt as a way of winning back dignity for the black man, the fright that Kenya’s general elections in 2007 gave Nigeria may turn out to be the East African nation’s second major service to Pan-Africanism. And its first in the 21st Century.


Africa Insight is an initiative of the Nation Media Group’s Africa Media Network Project

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About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.

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