Almost everything you might expect from a presidential election in any Third World country were on full display in the days preceding Tuesday, November 3. Intimidation and thuggery on the streets of major cities occurred when supporters of the two candidates clashed. Threats of violence were made by militia groups should the result not conform to their expectations. Fears that the country could descend into chaos after the polls were demonstrated by businesses boarding up windows.
Even ‘stomach infrastructure’ was on offer for prospective voters in some places. And concession in the event of a defeat was not an option for the incumbent president. In the end, the presidential election in the United States of America could not produce a clear winner by election night. Contention is now focused on legitimate mail-in-ballots in ‘battleground states’ that may tip the balance when all the votes are tallied.
Unsurprisingly, President Donald Trump, who had pledged not to play games with the process, has already declared himself winner and is alleging attempts to rig the polls. “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the polls are closed,” the president tweeted on Tuesday night. Jen O’Malley Dillion, the campaign manager of former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic party challenger, responded.
“The counting will not stop. It will continue until every duly cast vote is counted. Because that is what our laws – the laws that protect every Americans’ constitutional right to vote – require,” O’Malley Dillon said in a statement that described Trump’s comments as “a naked effort to take away the democratic rights of American citizens.”
I arrived Boston, United States last Thursday and am currently in Washington DC where there is so much uncertainty about who the next president will be. I have witnessed the past five American presidential elections and given how momentous this particular one promised to be, I was determined not to miss the drama. It has certainly lived up to its billing.
Biden and the mainstream media had made the election a referendum not only on Trump’s stewardship but particularly on his mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic which the president wished would just go away. But the Republican candidate and his supporters pushed back with the narrative that the contest was between ‘Mask and Jobs’. They want the economy reopened by discounting COVID-19 and its protocols, including lockdowns and wearing masks, as opposed to the campaign of the Democratic Party on the need to contain the pandemic that has claimed the lives of no fewer than 233,000 Americans.
If there is any lesson America has taught the world over the years, it is that democracy can only grow if people begin to understand that for every election, there must be a winner as well as a loser. And that such contests are a process rather than an event. This appears lost in the acrimony of the current election in which the only outcome that can guarantee peace is for the incumbent to win. Although the odds appear against him, President Trump may still win this close contest but by demanding that the process be jettisoned midstream and resorting to self-help, he has done much damage to the American brand across the world. Democracy is about casting ballots and making the votes count.
As at the time of going to press this morning (Nigerian time), Biden was leading in four critical ‘swing states’ that could hand him the much-needed 270 electoral college seats and the presidency: Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and Nevada. Georgia and Pennsylvania were also still in play. If the former vice president (who has already received the most popular votes in any presidential election in history) eventually wins, the electoral college margin could be so narrow that it may take weeks of litigation before Americans know for certain who their next president is. President Trump admitted on Tuesday night at his campaign headquarters, “Winning is easy. Losing is never easy. Not for me, it’s not.”
I am well aware that Trump has a large following in Nigeria. It is easy to understand in a society where politics and religion blend so perfectly. Which then explains trending videos of processions in aid of Trump on the streets of a country he considers no better than a ‘shithole’. He even shared one of such videos on his Tweeter page, expressing gratitude to the Nigerians parading the streets, waving his picture and the US flag.
But the real issue is that we also have many people with the mindset and bigotry of Trump in our country. Those who are adept at manipulating differences. Those who fuel fear rather than hope. Those who demonise other people with whom they disagree. And those who have no qualms verbalizing anger, hate and resentment to advance their own careers while dividing people along dangerous fault-lines. Those are not attributes that align with faith regardless of whatever one may consider the licentiousness of the political party Trump contends against.
It is interesting that people who went to bed on Tuesday thinking that President Trump had won woke up yesterday to realise that the entire equation had changed as early votes were being counted in critical states. There may still be no official decision on who the next president is in the days ahead. But most Americans have faith in the capacity of their institutions to deal with the electoral fiasco. If President Trump eventually loses, I don’t see how he can play Laurent Gbagbo by remaining in the White House beyond his tenure. Ultimately, the rule of law will prevail.
That precisely is the lesson that should not be ignored, regardless of how tempting it may be to mock America for their current political crisis.
Why Police Must Reform
After his degree in Accounting and Finance at Buckingham and a year studying Arabic in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Aminu was back to Nigeria for his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) primary assignment. He had the option to proceed for his Masters and professional qualifications immediately or start work in a corporate environment. His father was therefore surprised when Aminu expressed interest in joining the police. The father, by the way, was then on the throne as the 14th emir of Kano. When Muhammadu Sanusi II sought to know why his son would choose police of all the options available to him, the young man explained his mission to make a difference in a much-maligned institution that is critical to the enforcement of law and order in Nigeria. “Besides, I also remember that my grandfather was a Native Authority police officer before he became a parliamentarian and then ambassador and later, Emir?” Aminu said, in obvious reference to the late 13th Emir, Ado Bayero (father of his mother).
That softened Sanusi who responded with a joke: “Then maybe it’s in the blood”. And with that, Aminu proceeded to Police College in Jos where he graduated as an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP). He is currently at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the police in Panti, Yaba, Lagos. But given the experience of the past four weeks, Aminu has been reflecting on the career choice he made and asking himself serious questions. He is not alone.
I am on the Board of the Kashim Ibrahim Fellowship (KIF), an in-residence one-year programme. Chaired by Mr Dele Olojede, it is an initiative of Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State. In 2018 when we selected the first cohorts of 16 fellows from a list of 31 accomplished young men and women, the guy who came tops happened to be a serving policeman! Then 29, ASP Eyinnaya Chukwueke obtained a Bachelor in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Law, York, United Kingdom and LLM in International Law from the University of Law, London Moorgate. He also attended the Nigerian Law School after which he was called to bar. As Eyinnaya stated in his application form, he joined the police because of his ‘interest in crime and future of criminal justice system in Nigeria.’ He is still a policeman.
I have cited the foregoing examples to debunk the erroneous impression about the police in Nigeria being peddled by some people just because of the notoriety of a few bad eggs. Just last week, Chief Superintendent Catherine Ugorji serving with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), was selected by the UN as one of two runners-up for the Woman Police Officer of the Year 2020 award. She is a personnel of the Nigeria Police Force.
I know many brilliant young men and women in the police who went in with the same mentality to effect change from within whose morale has been dampened by events of the past four weeks. While the police leadership may have mismanaged the handling of the EndSARS protests, we must feel sad about the brutalities visited on some of their personnel by hoodlums who took advantage of peaceful protests to unleash mayhem.
I am an ardent supporter of Amnesty International and the works it does in Nigeria. But there is a line in the statement released last week by the police that I find very instructive. Wondering why Amnesty International report on refused to acknowledge the police personnel killed in the violence that followed the EndSARS protests, DCP Frank Mba stated: “One wonders if in the estimation of Amnesty International, police officers are not also human beings equally entitled to the protection of their fundamental rights to life and dignity of human person.”
In the course of the looting by hoodlums that followed the EndSARS protests, a story surfaced on WhatsApp of Rabiu Garba, said to be the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) at Onitsha, Anambra State. According to the report, when the rampaging youths came to burn his Police Division, the DPO “walked out to meet the mob with the courage of a man who had nothing to fear. They recognized him and the angry chants were silenced! Most of the youths could vouch for him as a professional cop and a role model for many young men in the community. They even granted him audience to address and counsel them before the mob dispersed. It had nothing to do with his tribe. It had nothing to do with his religion. He was just a model cop.”
I have always stated that the majority of our police personnel are good professionals whose image are being smeared by a few bad eggs. Many of them are also victims of the Nigerian malaise. But for the police to regain public trust, there is need for a fundamental reform. On 14th December 2017, following a social media campaign against SARS, I wrote what has turned out to be prophetic: “While police brutality is a universal phenomenon, the authorities in Nigeria should be careful in the manner they handle the protest against SARS so that the people are not pushed to carry the campaign beyond Twitter posts to a street war.”
We must learn from the ugly experience by ensuring such never happens again. And the only way to do that is to reform the police.
• You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com
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