Between Saturday, February 25, 2023 when the presidential and national assembly elections were held in Nigeria and today, the mass media have been replete with calls for the next president to compose a government of national unity (GNU). The argument is that such a strategy could calm frayed nerves and create some measure of unity between winners and losers of elections.
However, an overview of elections in Nigeria does not reveal the commitment of our politicians to national unity. What history seems to attribute to them is the propensity to always get into one office or the other only to perpetrate their hobby of primitive appropriation and accumulation of public funds. In which case, the call for unity government which is usually instigated by the political class is essentially to keep on course opportunities for their personal gains.
For example, in 2003, when General Muhammadu Buhari the then presidential candidate of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party ANPP was at the middle of an election petition to claim his mandate, officials of his party were scrambling to share the few positions allocated to their party in the government of national unity instituted by the victorious PDP. The greedy officials neither put their presidential candidate into confidence nor did they follow the guidelines of the party for aligning with another party. The decision to be part of the so-called unity government was made by the party officials whose basic motivation was the material benefit they looked forward to from the arrangement. In 2007, many of those who accused President Olusegun Obasanjo of a third term ambition were leading politicians from outside the PDP who had hoped that the third term government would be that of national unity that would include them. In 2011, opposition parties didn’t show much interest in Goodluck Jonathan’s proposed unity government but ample background work was done concerning the idea.
One of the pillars of democracy is majority rule. Consequently, good democrats have no business in a government formed by a political party to which they do not belong. Except a political system provides for proportional representation in which seats in the legislature are awarded to political parties in proportion to their strength in an election, government of national unity is unnecessary. It is only in Nigeria where politicians seek to function as permanent state actors that those who lost elections always agitate for a government of national unity. After 24 years of continuous democratic rule, it is time for Nigerian politicians to grow up and allow the majority party to form a government which should be placed on its toes by a viable opposition. Otherwise, we shall continue to have a pseudo-democracy in which everyone bows to a ruling party so as to be appointed into some government position. It is for the same reason that the 9th national assembly under the guise of collaborative federalism functioned all through from the pocket of the executive.
Luckily for our commercial politicians, the so-called victorious parties are always favourably disposed to the institution of a government of national unity because the acclaimed winners feel the way out is to placate owners of stolen mandate. Indeed, in many constituencies in the past, votes were swapped to make losers become winners while in some other locations, election results were simply procured for polling booths where voting did not happen. Following the failure to put a halt to election rigging, it will certainly be difficult to stop the agitation for government of national unity. It is true that smooth talkers who can fluently defend our bogus elections abound in the nation but such partisan orators often look at election rigging from a narrow perspective. Those who give pass marks to INEC and the election process often focus on the pictorial display of election materials arriving in different states in the country; orderly queuing and ballot casting in voting centres and the beautifully adorned conference centre where results are cosmetically finalized.
If the truth must be told, Nigerian elections have not been good. Our people should not allow themselves to be misled by the diplomatically coated reports of international election monitors and observers. What should always be noted is the unending caution which the same observers always put in an idiom that”the devil of Nigeria’s elections is in the details.” What this idiom means is that Nigerian elections look simple on the surface but the details are usually convoluted and problematic. Our elections are likely to remain knotty if we continue to overlook the fraudulent details of the collation of results that are hurriedly declared with fanfare. Of course if the right process is followed, we could easily move one step away from incessant and selfish calls for government of national unity after every election. Such a trend would ensure good elections which are more likely to produce visionary leaders that would initiate and implement good public policies capable of improving the living standards of the people
The point that is being made is that what can best unite a given society is good governance and not the struggle for power by politicians. This presupposes that those declared winners of elections must be prepared to bring on board only persons who can add value to governance. Whereas a new president is free to appoint some of his supporters into his government, such appointees must first and foremost be visibly capable of doing the job. Critical offices ought not to be used just for rewarding party supporters. A new president or governor must remember that many people who voted for them are not necessarily members of their party. In other words, being a member of the victorious party should essentially serve as an added advantage for appointing people. Governance is a tough task that requires the best hands, otherwise success may be hard to achieve.
In the case of heterogeneous societies such as Nigeria, the old order of emphasis on state of origin should change to a clear understanding of the expedience of good management of diverse cultures. One reason Nigeria wins more awards in sports than governance is because only the very best find their way into our sports teams while everyone no matter their visible deficiencies get into our governance teams. Today, Nigeria does not have a state which lacks strong hands, why not bring into government the best hands of every state as a double advantage that reduces the cry of marginalization and enhances the quality performance of officials? Nothing else can engender unity more than such an inclusive approach to governance which was in the first instance the framework which the federal principle in our constitution was designed to achieve.
Nigeria had in the 1970s worked assiduously towards national unity by formulating strategic policies such as the National Youth Service Corps programme. Until quite recently, the NYSC served as tool for national unity and integration. But like many Nigerian policies, most of the lofty ideas of its founders have been greatly diluted. The federal character principle on its part has been politicised and poorly managed. In fact, the commission which was set up to ensure the smooth implementation of the principle by other societal institutions has itself been found wanting in upholding the same principle. This is where elected leaders should pay greater attention to because what the nation desires is unity among its disparate groups and not the class unity which the politicians harp upon.
In summary, Nigeria is in dire of needof national development which can only be attained through the instrumentality of visionary leaders that are freely elected by voters. For this to happen, ruling parties must stop appointing partisan officials into INEC that is supposed to be an impartial umpire. The electoral process must be credible and not the charade we watched on national television during yesterday’s governorship and houses of assembly elections in well-known volatile are as like Lagos. Painfully, the credibility of our security agencies who had earlier read riot acts while claiming to be battle ready to stop all disruptions was rubbished.If this culture of electoral malpractices continues, government of national unity as a damage control strategy cannot help Nigeria to grow.