Senegal as a Lesson for Nigeria in 2015

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By RAHEEM OLUWAFUNMIYI

When the likes of Professor Hugh Redwald Trevor- Roper and many of his fellow Western academic adherents argued in the 40s that Africa was a dark continent with barbaric peoples, little did they know they where painting a grim picture of a black race in the African continent who had learnt nothing from their past, yet continue to make mistakes that has left its people backward and stagnant since independence.

Even as the assertion made by Roper and his ilk sounded myopic, parochial and what historians would term ‘mono-causal’ at the time, it is evident today that the African continent remains dark, what with the myriads of problems she faces on a daily basis from Somalia with piracy, pariah and drought eating deep; Egypt with a revolution and military going askew; Nigeria with Boko Haram, insecurity and badluck engulfing everywhere; Equatorial Guinea enjoying nothing but incessant coups and counter coups; Niger with drought, hunger and famine at its greatest height and recently to Mali, with a senseless coup that continues to marvel the international community.

The events in these countries leave a sore taste in the mouths of many because it seems hope is lost even where one exist. However, it is the belief of many that the curse that had bedevilled the African continent for decades would soon abate, as a glimmer of hope and example lies in few nations like Ghana, Namibia, Tunisia, South-Africa and Senegal who have shown maturity, continuity and efficiency in the way democracy is practiced. Many ofcourse would be surprised that this writer included Senegal as one of those countries with a glimmer of hope for democracy. The reason is not far-fetched if recent events there is anything to go by.

Just some few days ago, the re-run election held in the Senegal, according to local newspaper reports had the opposition candidate, Macky Sall securing 67 per cent of votes as against the incumbent, President Abdoulaye Wade’s 33 per cent, ending Mr Wade’s 12 year rule of the West African country. Not many would have given Mr Sall a chance simply because of the evil of ‘sit-tightism’ which had become a norm in many African countries, but the Senegalese people showed that the strength of their vote was efficacious and a powerful tool against manipulation and failed promises.

Mr Wade, having ruled for two terms of twelve years went all out, against common sense and principle of statemanship to effect a change in the constitituion, allowing him to run for a third term in office. This was where Mr Wade’s troubles began. Many Senegalese opposed his action and violence erupted in the once peaceful country. Mr Wade on the other hand had called the violence before the election ‘just a breeze from the sea’ but what he called a ‘breeze’ swept him out of office surprisingly.

Critics had argued that Mr Wade was planning a ‘presidential dynasty’ with his son even as unemployment and poverty reigned supreme in the country. However, Mr Wade’s trouble was heightened when a loose band of politicians, civil society groups, activists and artists formed the M23 movement which altered Mr Wade’s personal and selfish interest in the constitution ammendment. As if that was not enough, popular musician, Youssour N’dour who was banned from contesting the election had supported Mr Sall in the run-off alongside all twelve opposition candidates in a coalition they named Benno Bokk Yakaar. At the end, the unity, one voice and voting maturity of the Senegalese prevailed as Mr Wade had called Mr Sall, congratulating him on his victory.

There are a hundred and one lessons which could be learned from the Senegal election, most especially in Nigeria and many parts of Africa where electoral practices are yet to be deepened and democratic maturity still
a far cry. It is a well established fact that if Mr Wade where to be a Nigerian president who had lost to the opposition, all hell would have been loose. It would have been a war not even the Americans would have the temerity to bring to an end.

Mr Wade’s action is ironical as he would have left office as a stateman rather than going as far as trying to effect a change in the constitution, which would have given him a third term in office if he had won. Rather than allowing violence to erupt in the first place and thereafter, showing maturity after all had been lost, Mr Wade would have allowed democracy take its course and place his name on the sands of time.

Mr Wade’s action is commendable though, else Senegal would have gone the way of Ivory Coast where Laurent Gbagbo became obsessed with power even when the pendulum had swung on the other side. As Senegal transits into yet another democratic dispensation, this writer hopes Mr Sall will transform the country and initiate a process where everyone gets what is his due. Senegalese would be quite impatient to feel the change and Mr Sall must do all in his capacity to get change started.

Having said this, it is imperative for all stakeholders in the Nigeria project, most especially as it has to do with the electoral process to put in place a mechanism where successful elections elsewhere are monitored and transplanted into the system so that the mistakes and complains that had bedevilled our electoral process for more than four decades would be a thing of the past. A situation whereby court cases are initiated simply because something went wrong or right with an election does not augur well for our nascent democracy, most especially when our judiciary had decided to take sides between incumbent political saboteurs and opposition subverts.

Because we do not learn from history, we must ensure that as we approach 2015, nothing should drown us in condemnation. The issue of zoning is still very much alive within the ruling party even though pretenders in the PDP denied it months back. Ethnic superiority and born to rule syndrome still permeates the socio-political strata and must be shot in the leg before we have ourselves to blame. As we approach 2015, the hundreds of opposition parties, either dead or alive to their ‘opposition responsibilities’ must muster the strength, like was done in Senegal, to fight their cause in ensuring that their candidate emerge winner, for not many Nigerians are happy with the PDP led government that had ruled for about 13 years with nothing but badluck and stagnation to show for it. The vast majority of people too must as a matter of patriotism push aside their sentiments, bias, ego, religious and ethnic affiliations and ensure their vote counts and participate in a healthy electoral process.

We must not allow the Nigerian project to fail as evidence of it continues to trail our everyday existence. We must get it right and if we do not want to edge closer to pariah status, everybody must put hands together, most especially policy makers in Abuja to prove ‘doomsday’ sayers wrong. Nigeria must never fail and its continued corporate existence begins with you and I.

 RAHEEM OLUWAFUNMINIYI is a social commentator and political analyst who resides in Ibadan. He could be reached via creativitysells@gmail.com

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