DR ABUBAKAR ALKALI
To be totally honest, I was at Chatham house myself in February 2015 during the aggravated hype about Gen Muhammadu Buhari being the ‘saviour’ Nigeria needs to ‘right’ the ‘wrongs’ of the Jonathan administration. Now we all know better.
At the time of Gen Buhari’s appearance at Chatham house in 2015, it never occurred to me that there was anything out-of-place for a typical Nigerian politician nay Presidential candidate to seek global exposure through the Chatham house. To be honest, I actually had the feeling at the time that ‘nothing do’ Gen Buhari’s appearance at Chatham house and that it is just a one-off thing. However, events of today have proven otherwise. Nigerian politicians are trying to make Chatham house appearance a ritual at every election year. There is the need to ponder and stop the Chatham house rush before we get distracted and start thinking that Chatham house will solve all our election challenges.
As a matter of fact, Nigerian politicians are trying to establish a tradition of a mad rush to Chatham house every election year. Indeed, our politicians are trying to make it mandatory that a Presidential candidate in Nigeria must appear at Chatham house before he is recognised as a candidate in the election.
There is no problem with a politician seeking global recognition and relevance. There is however, a big problem when a politician places the need to convince the outside world over and above the need to convince Nigerians. Recall that all the Presidential candidates that rushed to Chatham house have not deemed it fit to make an appearance at the Nigerian institute of international affairs (NIIA) or the national democratic institute (NDI) or any local political institution in Nigeria for that matter to lay out their plans for Nigeria if elected into office. If you want to get the full detailed blueprint of the typical Nigerian Presidential candidate, don’t look out in Nigeria. Wait until the candidate appears in Chatham house London.
It is better for our Presidential candidates to look inwards rather than the other way round. Our politicians should make efforts to convince Nigerians in the villages and towns up and down the country instead of flying out to London at the beck and call of Chatham house. Remember, there is no ballot box in Chatham house. All ballot boxes for the 2023 elections are domiciled at the 176,974 polling units across the country. That’s where an appearance is required.
Our Presidential candidates are ever ready to go out-of-their-way to convince the outside world on their ambition. In fact, one of the Presidential candidates actually opted to stand throughout the one hour duration of his appearance at Chatham house just to convince Chatham house that he has enough energy and is fit to be President of Nigeria. This same candidate opted to sit down throughout the 45 minutes of his appearance at Berekete family TV show in Abuja. A tale of two appearances.
The question at the end of the day is: in the spirit of bilateral engagement, will the politicians during a general election in Britain come to Nigeria to convince anyone about their manifesto? If the answer is NO, then why should Nigerian politicians fall head-over-heels to go to Chatham house for an appearance? What do Nigerian politicians think they will essentially gain from Chatham house appearance in real terms? Are such appearances facilitated by the Neo-colonial mentality? These appearances are at best a distraction and should be downplayed. They give away our country as a people not ready to take their destiny in their own hands and not willing to apply home-grown solutions to their challenges as a democracy. The culture of dependence continues.
INEC AT CHATHAM HOUSE
The independent national electoral commission (INEC), the electoral umpire has joined the traffic at Chatham house built by Nigeria’s Presidential candidates.
Indeed, INEC has established a tradition of appearing at Chatham house to ‘convince the world’ that they are ready for the election. At the last Chatham house appearance by the INEC chairman last week, you could see the efforts nay desperation by the chairman to convince the world that the commission is ready for the election.
Recall that the INEC chairman has not deemed it fit to appear before the national democratic institute (NDI), the NIIA or such local institutions to convince Nigerians about the commission’s preparedness for the election.
The major concern though is that at the Chatham house appearance, you could hear the chairman reeling out confidential information to the outside world. Such confidential information should ordinarily have remained in-house and not for public consumption. If the INEC chairman was to present a paper on electoral reforms in Africa at Chatham house, that’s okay and would have been a different issue but to stand before the whole world and give line-by-line details in facts and figures of Nigeria’s electoral system leaves much to be desired. In fact, Britain doesn’t really need to ask us for our election secrets, we take it to their doorsteps willy-nilly through Chatham house. To be honest, I don’t think it is necessary.
Apart from Nigeria, I have not heard of any country in Africa or elsewhere that appears at Chatham house at every election year to release its election details and confidential information to the outside world.
Is Nigeria under any obligation to convince any country about its elections?
Will the British electoral umpire come to Nigeria to convince Nigerians on their preparedness for election? NO.
Do these countries invite election observers from Nigeria to monitor their elections? When will Nigeria learn to conduct its elections independently and without inviting foreign observers and attracting external interference?
Nigeria must reinvent itself. No western nation will come down to Nigeria and fix our electoral system for us. Only a home-grown solution can fix the myriad of challenges facing Nigeria including its electoral system. At 62, Nigeria should have attained proficiency in its electoral system. Indeed, our dear country should by now, been a beacon of hope and an example and case-study as a democracy to other African and developing countries but Alas, here we are today still describing our democracy as nascent or ‘growing’ or ‘yet-to-mature.
The earlier we understand that Nigeria’s challenges are local thus solutions must also be local, the better for our democracy, nationhood and sovereignty.