Government Of National Unity Is Govt Of Weaknesses
Government Of National Unity Is Govt Of Weaknesses

By Tunji Ajibade

The presidential election has been held and a winner has emerged. But, like it was done before the election, controversy is pursued by some who call for what they refer to as ‘Government of National Unity.’ I submit here that from experience and from its very nature when constituted, the Government of National Unity is a weak hybrid. This nation does not need it at this time because it is fraught with dangers for people and polity. I don’t think what was so-called ever helped this nation in the past and it cannot now.

There are several angles from which one can discuss what stacks up against the proposed hybrid, but I focus on democracy and the centrality of elections to it. Democracy and the attendant election provide a decisive mandate that the Government of National Unity or any such concoction, particularly the Nigerian brand, cannot. Now, as I like to assert, what I bring into journalism is my academic background in political science. I always emphasise this because I read sentiments in our public space that anyone who understands the basics of governance such as political science imparts, won’t express. Some sentiments are a contradiction, so fundamentally flawed that they can even constitute threats to the existence of the nation. Implementing them can render useless some of the provisions already made in our constitution for the governance process.

If anyone therefore combines an understanding of the basics with a dispassionate analysis of issues, it’s not sentiment they’ll come out with. Rather, it’s verifiable bases for doing a thing as well as their relative benefits for people and polity. It’s what I shall proceed to do here. I believe one foremost question we should consider in the call for Government of National Unity is: Where did the previous Government of National Unity or anything similar lead this nation? My answer to the question is that it didn’t lead anywhere that pointed to progress. It had always been a merry-go-round, going nowhere. Whoever has an idea of where this nation should be that it is not would get the point I am making. Meanwhile, there had been various forms of such government and they happened both under military rule and civilian rule. One led by Chief Earnest Shonekan in 1993 was tagged Interim Government. Under military rule, having what was regarded as a government of national unity always informed the selection of officials in cabinets led by soldiers.

We witnessed this all the way from the first military coup in 1966 till 1998– handpicked Nigerians in cabinets led by a soldier who shot his way to power. What did Nigeria gain from the set up? One measurement is by looking at where nations that started from the same spot with Nigeria in 1960 are at the moment, and where Nigeria is. For me, one reason for meaningful direction and progress for the nation on the relevant indices was lack of responsibility and accountability on the part of the leadership. Who questions leaders they don’t elect; who questions members of ‘Government of National Unity’ that they don’t give a mandate to rule? Who are such leaders responsible and accountable to? On the other hand, democracy is conducive for accountability in a way military rule is not.

This brings me to the usefulness of democracy and election. Election is one process by which civilian leaders are chosen by the people. This means politicians present themselves to the electorate, stating what they plan to do, and how they will do it. In the event, the electorates identify contestants whose personality and manifesto aggregate their yearnings and vote for such. This is the basis of the power any democratically elected government exercises. The elected politician has a mandate to go in there and implement the very promises they made to the electorates. The legitimacy inherent in this is such that a politician has the freedom to select the kind of people who can help implement his promises.

This power so given to a politician is sacrosanct. It needs not be whittled down for any reason, not even for what some called the Government of National Unity, if he doesn’t wish it. Why? He is in office because he has more votes than other contestants, meaning he has the backing of many citizens to do what he has promised to do. His power extends to other decisions he needs to take in the polity. If he takes the right decisions he may even succeed in winning those who didn’t vote for him to his side, thus uniting all. The foregoing is so core to the practice of democratic governance that not being elected into office can constitute a drawback for any politician. It can be a reason some may believe he doesn’t have the mandate to take certain decisions. But if he’s elected, such an argument cannot be made.

One example of this is the situation the current UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, faces. At every juncture in his decision making, the opposition party criticizes him based on this clear weakness. They argue that a particular decision is so fundamental and far reaching that, because Sunak didn’t arrive office by winning in a general election, he has no mandate to take it. They further argue that the PM should leave the decision for the next elected government to take. It’s a criticism the man in Number 10, Downing Street, has found difficult to wave aside, and I think it inhibits him regarding some of the policies he would have liked to implement. The reason is that he is using another man’s mandate, not the one he got directly from the people. The reality cannot be overlooked that whatever he does has not been mandated by the electorate through the electoral process.

Compared to Sunak, a past UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, received such a large vote in the last election that it was possible for him to do almost all that he wanted. Parliamentarians would back him in almost any decision because it was largely based on his personality and promises they were elected in their constituencies. For instance, on the Brexit agreement with the EU over which his predecessor, Theresa May, didn’t get the support of MPs, Johnson easily got support and the nation was able to move on from that particular crisis. That is the power of mandate given in an election. It confers such legitimacy that the man in office can utilise it to make a lot happen in the nation. He can move his nation forward in a way a weak government cannot.

In Nigeria, I don’t see the usefulness of what is tagged ‘Government of National Unity’ after an election is held and the people have spoken. With the brand of ‘Government of National Unity’ that we always form in Nigeria, little can be gained apart from the fact that it characteristically provides cabinet positions and other jobs for all manner of strange bedfellows. One effect of pulling together strange bedfellows who don’t believe in the same ideas and manifestos is that so much bickering will be going on such that nothing tangible will be achieved for the people. Those who hold office benefit, filing their pockets, but not the people. In the event, unity that ‘Government of National Unity’ is meant to ensure is not achieved. Instead, these strange bedfellows who achieve nothing further alienate the people, causing greater disaffection for the politician who actually received the mandate.

I think the president-elect would do well to stand on his mandate and select the best hands who can help him implement his promises to the electorate. If he does implement well, impacting the lives of Nigerians, he will garner more support for himself across the nation. This is better and even surer than any ceremonial gathering together of strange bedfellows to form Government of National Unity, people whose dedication and loyalty he cannot vouch for; people who may just be instruments that guarantee lack of performance. The president-elect has a mandate. He should utilise it to the best of his ability for all people across the nation. It’s the same objective of unity he would have achieved if he does.

In this article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *