Pretenders to the crown of Pontifex

The recently-concluded general elections in Nigeria have again exposed the tender underbelly of several of our nationalinstitutions. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), for instance, established for the fair, free and credible conduct of polls into the offices of the President and Vice President, the Governor and Deputy Governor of a State, and to the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and House of Assembly of each State of the Federation has unarguably performed its commission poorly or without gravitas. Its specific charge to organise, undertake and supervise the aforesaid elections has largely been conducted in breach of the law, of other guidelines and of best practices. The Commission has, by its lack-lustre performance of its roles, exposed its ill-preparedness and default.

Its a posteriori or unsystematic policy positions expressed in quixotic official pronouncements give the impression of a fanciful re-run of the popular school boy gimmick of working to a prescient answer. Also tragic are reports involving ancillary executive services. The police, the Department of State Security, FSARS and even the army of rendering themselves as ready or willing tools for blurring the distinction between orderliness and chaos; between official responsibility for peace and order on the one hand and a conflictive penchant for dis-order, confusion and mayhem ordinarily associated with political thugs, “area boys”, agbero and other official miscreants many of who illegitimately bear arms.

The awkward or un-graceful conduct of a national election which results are massively contested or disputed has added credibility to the sentiment of a feared partiality of a supposed independentarbiter. Declared winners have themselves not found joy or ecstasy fearing a possible backlash to their giddy success. Losers are taking their grief and grievances to a broadening sympathetic or appreciative audience, including the politically suave international community. The absence of exemplary reputation regarding the conduct of many of our politicians may induce the world community to beginto view, in a new perspective, the issues raised by our inexplicably slow understanding or the lack thereof concerning the virtuesof fair play or of arbiter neutrality.

The election results generally have been a damn absurdity given our general knowledge regarding biases, inclinations, provenance, an underlying poor performance by the incumbent administration, a consequent popular determination to shake off its yoke, and reasoned scientific projections. Not only do those dis-satisfied with the announced results deem them an adornment or embroidery of a rehearsed malevolent script, they consider them to be wholly out of keeping with an abiding concern for peace, security and the right of conscience.

Tension had continued to rise before and during the two weeks between the commencement of the elections and the controversial declaration of results. A general absence of a revolutionary heritage upon which the people may leverage has been the bane of our search for solution and has been played uponby successive administrations.There is, in Nigeria, a situation of “who will bell the cat?” -a situation compounded by searing ethnic divisions, strident sectarian or religious diversity, inexplicable economic privation, etc. The people’s ire though aroused much of the time has never found a broad–based rallying point for venting it. Private views are dismissive and mirror the instinctive distrust by the people of official processes.

They are in direct oppositional conflict with the tendency to want to accept official position as being in the national or public interest. Challenges to entrenched practices of governmental authorities often lead to spasmodic violent struggle within the polity. State power is deployed each time to quell disturbances and to put off or postpone the people’s agitation or destiny to some other time even as no fundamental solution is explored or searchedfor in the interim. Reforms are often opposed by those who benefit by the existing order and so the status quo is maintained at great social and economic costs.

Elsewhere, worldwide historical events have been catalysed by individuals. There is however a woeful dearth of such catalytic personages in Nigeria. Election imbroglio in the country from season to season is one such riddle which may not be explained or resolved without reference to particular moral qualities of individuals in power or authority. These times call for the emergence of men of steely honour, stern courage and undoubted integrity. When in the 11th century the church was faced with a challenge to its continuance, it combined the titanic and unyielding will of Gregory VII as pope with the general political weakness throughout Europe to succeed. Even as the Nigerian people do not possess military forces of their own, they can easily play off the self-defeating rivalries of the ruling elite.

The resolution of the Nigerian question is highly important or is, in fact, a pre-requisite for subsequent development in several respects. In the first place it will allow the Nigerian state to evolve into a modern bureaucratic and law-governed entity. The second important consequence will be the clear separation of the domains or powers of the central government and those of the state and local authorities. Thesereforms will reduce the authority of political rulers through a compromised carving out of a clearly–defined executive and legislative powers template over which each tier of government is to exercise un-questioned control. This division of labour will establish the basis for true or proper development of the Nigerian state. Thirdly, the resolution of the Nigerian question will conduce to a salutary development of both law and the rule of law. Genuineefforts to evolve a systematic body of laws will legitimate the state even as the creation of a separate well-institutionalised domain of authority will make the system to gain unhindered traction, almost on auto drive.

The election results have produced persons who may be likened to certain bleary characters in history who attempted to occupy the seat of the pope. The Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV had grown dis-satisfied with his position as a mere emperor. He wanted to combine his secular role with sacerdotal duties. Pope Gregory had opposed his authority to appoint the pope. Henry, in retaliation, deposed Gregory.He appointed Clement III, an antipope, to the Apostolic See. Clement was succeeded by a number of dowdy imperial candidates as antipopes. These candidates were glibly referred to as pretenders to the crown of pontifexeven as the controversy over the rightful powers of the emperor visa visthe pope’s was finally settled in 1122 on the strength of an agreement in which the emperor largely gave up the right of investiture (or the right to appoint the pope) while the church recognised the emperor’s authority in a number of temporal matters.

A large swathe of the persons elected in the just-concluded fractious elections are mere pretenders to the crown of pontifex – or, more appropriately, pretenders to the exercise of the sovereign weal of the people of Nigeria even as their positionsor offices do not derive from the expressed will of the people.
•Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja


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