Touching Base With Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
By Toyin Falola
Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is a well-versed law professor, international relations activist, and commentator. It was delightful to have her join us, alongside Miriam Oke, Chido Onumah, and Jibrin Hussaini, at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, where we discussed Nigeria’s 2023 elections.
If anything, the primaries being organised in the nation’s two most influential parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress, are pointers to what should be expected of the 2023 Nigerian elections. As is customary, the primaries have been rife with electoral malpractices, vote-buying, and unscrupulous voting figures, and there is a shocking video posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmad, former Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, who lost his bid to secure the ticket of the APC to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives primaries in his home state of Kano. The video shows how supposed delegates are handed pre-ticked ballot boxes and are asked to put them in the ballot box without even batting an eyelid at the malpractice.
The ball is being set in motion. Atiku Abubakar is the People’s Democratic Party flag bearer for the presidential seat. The All Progressives Congress has recently screened its presidential hopefuls and will soon appoint its flagbearer. Peter Obi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the Labour Party and has since been elected as the party’s flagbearer for the presidential seat, is a seeming third wheel in the routine two-dominant-party multi-party system practised in the country. The stage is set. Or is it?
This piece is not much of a sequel to the one on Chido Onumah’s perspectives on the 2023 elections because Dr Akiyode-Afolabi had her unique views on the questions asked. Nonetheless, it will follow a similar pattern, where we will examine points touched on by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi during the interview.
Electoral Violence and Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
Sad as it may seem, electoral violence is an immemorial issue rocking the Nigerian state. Throughout all its republics, Nigeria has witnessed killings and maiming during election periods — whether at the polling booths on election day or among political rivals setting targets on each other’s backs. Nigeria’s electoral process is peculiar, involving the recruitment of violent electoral mercenaries, often branded as party thugs. These thugs sign off their loyalty to a political party and wreak havoc on the party’s behalf — from ballot snatching to intimidating voters to bow to their party’s will.
In the Nigerian political scene, these party thugs sit with political kings. They are deemed crucial to the electoral process and candidates’ success. The recruitment and payment of these party thugs consume huge financial resources. However, political leaders and public officeholders fail to consider the expected uselessness of the party thugs within the governance period of three to four years that separate pre-election and election years. Having tasted ill-gotten wealth that far surpasses what they could have earned honestly, and without any honest and paying job, these party thugs resort to all sorts of vice to pay their bills and keep themselves in shape. Thus, it is not uncommon to find that party thugs become robbers, kidnappers, bandits, and street-terrorising thugs who incessantly cut holes through the state’s peace, security, and quiet.
In most cases, we would rather relate the incessant kidnappings and unrest to unknown gunmen or herdsmen-bandits rather than the true perpetrators of the evil — anarchical party thugs with weapons they were equipped with during the election period. Thus, the rivalry for power and politicians’ insatiable desire for control, regardless of the extent they go to get it, could be strongly linked to the violent crises that have rocked the country for a while now.
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For Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, violent political mercenaries in Nigeria and the political aspirants and parties who are their enablers act out of an abundant enjoyment of sheer impunity — the knowledge that they can do and undo, wreak whatever havoc they want to, without bearing the consequences. Although several of the perpetrators of this electoral violence are known, nothing is done to bring them to justice, further reinforcing the need to carry out their vice during the next election. Over the years, electoral violence has become a norm in Nigeria, and nothing is being done to curb the menace, especially in punishing the perpetrators. Thus, the electorate have joined the camp of political aspirants and political thugs who see electoral violence as part of the electioneering process in Nigeria. For members of the electorate who have difficulty processing electoral violence as a part of the electioneering process, the option of apathy kicks to the surface — especially among women and the youth who earnestly believe politics in Nigeria is a dirty game, and electoral violence is inevitable. Thus, it is not surprising that Nigeria has had a low voter turnout over the years.
The case of electoral violence and the state’s reaction to it is like several other policies in Nigeria. While the Electoral Act was proactively drafted to cover electoral violence and how to punish offenders and culprits, there has not been any action to make that part of the Act functional. It is akin to the numerous nation-improving policies whose existence has never gone beyond the paper. If we were to dig to the roots of why the aspect of the Nigerian Electoral Act that punishes electoral violence has not been enforced, we would be quick to find out that the average Nigerian politician is either directly or indirectly complicit. Thus, those at the helm and those willing to take over from them are all involved, making them reluctant to enforce the punishment for electoral violence, that is, if they consider punishing the crime at all.
Nigeria’s Three-faced Need and the Importance of a Long-term Agenda
The need for a long-term agenda should not be misconstrued as supporting the cabalistic unending Northern presidency agenda or any other agenda that does not mean well for Nigeria as a nation. Rather, it represents Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s thoughts on what is truly needed to get Nigeria out of its current quagmire. The international relations activist considers the 2023 elections in Nigeria a big issue for the country, particularly because there are more people interested in the presidential position than we have had in quite a while. Nonetheless, most of these aspirants are people who have either held a political position or currently hold one. They are people we know so well. Given their deeds while in office, it will be difficult to convince any right-thinking Nigerian that there is hope for the country if any of the candidates being paraded were elected as president.
The double tragedy that is Buhari’s eight years in office has seen the country go from bad to worse. The country’s debts keep piling up, with no way of repaying them year after year. The people are impoverished, and the currency continually suffers a blow of worthlessness and devaluation, inflation, and the unemployment rate keeps rising. To make matters worse are the rife killings, banditry, and the near state of anarchy that the country has been thrown into. Has any of the numerous candidates aspiring for the presidential seat shown they are the visionary yet pragmatic leaders that can help Nigeria realise a remarkable positive change?
Careful consideration of the likeliest players at the 2023 polls, vis-à-vis the criterion above, would show that Nigeria is not prepared for an election. Dr Akiyode-Afolabi proposed a three-aspect strategy to help us discover a new Nigeria. These are aspects that cannot be fully realised within a four-year term. Thus, there is the need for Nigerian politicians, regardless of their differences—although there are no marked differences in Nigerian politics—to consider government as a continuum and treat it as such. This will help ensure that even if power falls to the opposition camp, the remarkable and change-focused plans that have been kicked into action by the previous government will continue to be nurtured by the new government. This is the only way we can fully realise the three-dimensional solution proposed by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi.
Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s first proposed dimension is the need for an empowered political class. The Nigerian political field is riddled with whimsical people who are of the anything-goes breed as long as they get elected to office. That is why serial defection is nothing to them, and they can shamelessly befriend a foe today and betray a friend tomorrow. They are overly selfish lot who constantly put personal needs and gains before national needs and expected gains. The Nigerian political class needs to be empowered enough to engage the electorate in an ideological and issue-based manner. A look at the pre-campaign clamouring in the camps of the presidential aspirants will show that they think so little of Nigerians that they believe not much is needed in the way of plans and strategies to convince the people. It is also why Nyensom Wike, who lost his party’s presidential ticket, deemed it fit to incessantly chant, “give me power… power!” To him, that was enough to get him the ticket to become Nigeria’s next president.
The coming months will show us lamentable political campaigns with no depth, so shallow that every reasonable Nigerian would be too ashamed to identify with a country where such gimmicks pass as enough campaign to convince the people to vote for someone. There is a need to empower citizens and help kick structures in place to organise Nigerians and help them truly understand what they want. Nigeria has so much suffered from poor governance that asking the average electorate what they expect from the aspirants — what they look forward to hearing that could convince them to vote for an aspirant — would most likely render them stammering.
In Nigeria, constitutional reformation is of great necessity. The Nigerian Constitution has outlived its essence. What use is a constitution if it does not amply meet the state’s needs nor adequately answer its citizens’ burning questions? The systems of the constitution no longer effectively serve us as a nation, which is why there have been agitations and clamouring for secession, restructuring, regionalisation, and central policing, among other issues raised. In the end, until Nigeria intentionally kicks these three dimensions into action, and until there are successive tenures that consider the government as a continuum and reach a knowing agreement to nurture and not impede the realisation of the three-dimensional issue, a new and positive Nigeria will be anything but reality.
- *** This is the third and final report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.
For the transcript, see:
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Toyin Falola Interviews Holds Conversation With Kunle Afolayan
Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
By Toyin Falola
In this last piece of the three-part series emanating from the Toyin Falola Interviews with Prince Yemisi Shyllon, we will examine salient issues brought forward during the conversation between Professor Dele Jegede and the guest. It is a befitting coincidence that the dissection of this section of the interview session will begin with a discussion point that is synonymous with what served as the concluding aspect of the second piece in the series. In the last piece, I outlined a reawakening action plan from the concept of art and society, which could readily revive Nigeria from the destructive slumber it is in. However, for such a plan to work, there is the need for collaboration between the people and the government; the role of the government in the effectuation of that plan is as pivotal as that of the citizens. Then, the puzzle that serves as the opening of Professor Jegede’s session: art and the government, specifically, the Nigerian government.
In Nigeria, culture, art, creative art, and tourism are subsumed under the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, headed at the moment by Alhaji Lai Mohammed. In 2019, marking four years after the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s president, Lai Mohammed revealed plans to, as he said, “transform Nigeria’s art, culture and tourism industry into Nigeria’s new oil within the next four years.” This year 2023 marks the last year for that plan, and suffice it to say 95% of the outlined projects have yet to be embarked upon or achieved — from the promised annual National Summit for Culture and Tourism to the Endowment Fund for the Arts, the promised National Tourism Day, Regional Summit on Culture and Tourism, among other lofty plans that the Minister made. It is no gainsaying that the Ministry’s focus in the past eight years of the Buhari administration has been largely one-sided — more on information than culture.
This is problematic for the Nigerian state, seeing as culture looms larger than information; it is supposed to shape how information is passed and received, and since there have been little to no attempts to solidify the existence of unified cultural values in the country, the resultant effect could be a misinterpretation of received information. Professor Jegede raised a thought-evoking point in his opening question: for the Nigerian government — through its Ministry of Information and Culture — art, culture, and tourism are nothing but optics; there is no real groundwork to revive, sustain, or promote these things. They are rather terminologies being deployed to show that the aspect of the ministry exists, words without corresponding substantial deeds.
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Without mincing words, Prince Shyllon tapped into the foundations of this worrying problem in Nigeria, that culture is largely considered a synonym for traditional religion, and religion is but one of the several aspects of culture. As said before, culture is an aggregation of all aspects of a people’s life — it is alive; it breathes, grows, evolves, and gets added to. For instance, systemic corruption has quickly found its way into Nigerian culture. Culture extends beyond religion; it is, therefore, a false approach for Nigerians to consider culture as the sole religion. This false equivalence causes a dissociating attitude among the people, many of whom are either Christians or Muslims who do not want to have any affiliations with the traditional religions due to their adopted faith. However, the claim that culture is the same thing as religion could not be further from the truth; and it only serves to hamper the growth, preservation, and promotion of cultures in Nigeria, as the peoples of varying ethnic groups are expected to fully embrace their cultures and cultural practices are not doing so. The average person in Lagos or Port Harcourt is far removed from the realities of cultural festivals in their regions.
This disassociation from a culture based on the false equivalence of culture to religion also makes many desist from actively recognizing and adopting cultural values that would have served as a portal to mitigating societal vices. The concepts of contentment, virtue, communalism, charity, goodness, and kindness, among others, are embedded in the cultural values of ethnic groups across the country — from the Yoruba to the Igbo to the Hausa to the Tiv. However, these values are being lost to the absence of cultural cohesion among the people, a calamity that can be directly linked to the intentional decision of the people to desist from cultural affiliations and participation.
This fundamental problem also affects the government’s approach to culture since the government is inherently made up of Nigerians, who most likely share the views and biases of the other Nigerians, largely considering art as religion. Furthermore, this problem extends its effects into how the people react to the government’s treatment of and lack of attention to the art and culture arm of the said ministry. If the people are not motivated enough to actively demand a revamp of the culture, art, and tourism industries and if there are no advocacies for this revamp, the government can as well turn a seemingly blind eye to the work that needs to be done.
In Nigeria, two elements of culture — art and music — have been part of the biggest image makers for the country in the international space, even amidst the name-spoiling effects of corruption, internet fraud, and illegal migration that have largely affected the country’s image negatively. Nigerian music — especially Afrobeat — has received widespread acclaim and recognition in the international space. Nigerian artists — literary, visual, creative, and performing — are also doing exploits in poetry, prose, and artwork, bringing fame and glory to the country. If properly invested into and if adequately leveraged, these forms of art in Nigeria can serve as an avenue to boost the country’s economy, international exposure and recognition, and also create a worldwide ecosystem that rewards the country for its culture and art.
It will take a reorientation of the Nigerian people on what culture is, its varying aspects, and the potential that cultural elements hold when properly leveraged for the country to arrive at a profitable system. It goes beyond merely representing a plan to make art the country’s new oil. That only echoes what Professor Jegede said about art and culture being nothing but a means of publicity and propaganda in the country. A reorientation like this is what the Yoruba Cultural Center in Dallas does, investing time, money, and resources into teaching several elements of the Yoruba culture to Yoruba people in the diaspora, many of whom would not have had any access to their cultural roots and identity without an institution like this.
There is a developing argument, though without data at the moment, that the average consistent attendee of the Yoruba Cultural Center in Dallas would, in the end, may have a deeper knowledge of Yoruba proverbs, maxims, art, dance, and festivals — in sum, culture — than an average Yoruba person living in Nigeria. As this new argument goes, the only advantage a Yoruba person living in Nigeria could have over the average person learning from the Center in Texas is the fluency of pronunciation and language use, which is largely due to the frequency of usage of the language in Nigeria, as compared to the United States — a Yoruba person in Nigeria would have more access to Yoruba people, which would aid communication and language fluency.
However, considering that there has been a serious deviation from cultural roots and an erosion of the younger generation’s knowledge of customs, proverbs, idioms and maxims, traditional dances and other core elements of the Yoruba culture, the average Nigerian Yoruba, it is now being feared, would not match up to the knowledge of the learner in the diaspora. This phenomenon is not exclusive to learners at the Yoruba Cultural Center in Dallas alone. Foreign learners of the language and culture of Yoruba at the University of Ibadan Yoruba Language Center will also best many indigenous Yoruba people in using idioms and knowledge of the culture.
This is because the indigenous people are largely deviating from learning about their culture and the deep levels of the language beyond the surface, everyday usage on the streets of Lagos or in palm-wine stalls in Ondo. Limiting a people’s culture to their religion and language is dangerous, yet this is one of Nigeria’s biggest problems. So much so that people believe they have enough knowledge of their culture when they can speak their ethnic group’s language. There is a need for an intervention from the government on this. However, the problem goes beyond the government and requires the people’s readiness. A case in point is a long-time government intervention for cultural integration — the National Youth Service Corps. Today, this scheme has been bastardized, and year in, year out, the country is witnessing a mass redeployment of corps members who are not willing to live among Nigerians of other cultures and ethnic groups for just a year. This speaks so much about how culture is viewed among Nigerians and some reasons why the country is where it currently is in terms of cohesion and national unity.
Cultural institutions in Nigeria serve the purpose of existence rather than having specific essence. This is further manifested in how these institutions are run. The administrators of the cultural institutions in the country do not see their role beyond their tasks; there is no underlying zeal for the promotion and propagation of culture and art. Therefore, they discharge their duties when needed but never go out of their way to attract people to their institutions. In this age of the internet frenzy and social media buzz, how many of our cultural institutions in Nigeria have an online footprint? How many of them are making efforts to reach young Nigerians? How many are pushing to stay visible and relevant?
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The task ahead for us Nigerians — the people and the government — is to see culture as an all-encompassing cloak on our existence and identity as a people and make efforts to save that cloak from tearing beyond repair. We will get closer to redeeming this country when we have given attention to saving and salvaging the Nigerian culture and bringing a unified Nigerian culture to the fore.
(This is the third and final part of the interview report with Prince Yemisi Shyllon conducted on January 15, 2023. For the transcripts, see:
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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