George Weah and the real lessons from Liberia. Truth be told, when elections are neither free, fair nor credible, conceding defeat becomes an endorsement of the flawed process rather than a noble act. Anyone who concedes defeat in such circumstance becomes an accomplice of the fraud that has ensured Nigeria plumbs the depths of electoral ignominy over the years. That was not what George Weah did last Friday. In conceding defeat, he simply acknowledged the outcome of a legitimate, free, fair, transparent and credible electoral process.
Some Nigerians have been at their duplicitous best since last week following President George Weah’s concession of defeat in Liberia’s presidential election.
President Bola Tinubu rushed out a statement on Saturday commending the Liberian leader for his sterling example, undiluted patriotism, and statesmanship.
“He has defied the stereotype that peaceful transitions of power are untenable in West Africa. He has demonstrated that the outcome of elections in the sub-region need not become the propellant of violence and unrest and that the will of the people must always be respected,” Tinubu said.
To be sure, congratulations are in order and no amount of eulogistic effusions can be said to be overboard.
What, however, is surprising is the fact that the irony of Weah’s exemplary democratic conduct vis-à-vis what obtains in Nigeria, seems to be completely lost on Tinubu. Hearing Nigeria’s president aver that “the will of the people must always be respected” sounds surreal.
Soon after, the Lamidi Apapa-led faction of the Labour Party said Liberian politicians have proven that election is neither a do-or-die affair nor a war that must be won at all cost, and urged Nigeria’s opposition leaders to emulate them.
But Apapa and his ilk are being smart by half. Their dishonesty is at the root of the credibility crisis bedeviling Nigeria’s democracy because without credible elections, democracy is tainted, a recipe for agitations and crisis.
But as long as Tinubu’s Machiavellian-inspired the end justifies the means philosophy of “Political power is not going to be served in a restaurant. They don’t serve it a la carte. At all cost, fight for it, grab it and run with it,” underpins Nigeria’s democracy, any expectation that those holding the wrong end of the election stick will concede is misplaced.
For the avoidance of doubt, what happened in Liberia bears restating.
On Friday, November 17, President Weah conceded defeat to opposition leader, Ambassador Joseph Boakai, after a very tight race. Boakai, 78, a former vice president who lost to Weah in the 2017 election, led with 50.9 per cent of the vote over Weah’s 49.1 per cent, with nearly all the votes counted.
“A few moments ago, I spoke with president-elect Joseph Boakai to congratulate him on his victory,” Weah said on national radio. “I urge you to follow my example and accept the results of the elections,” he urged Liberians.
After the results were tallied on Monday and Boakai won 51 per cent of the votes, Weah, again, addressed the nation: “The results announced tonight, though not final, indicate that Ambassador Joseph N. Boakai is in a lead that we cannot surpass. Therefore, a few minutes ago, I spoke with President-elect Joseph N. Boakai to congratulate him on his victory. Tonight, as we acknowledge the results, let us also recognize that the true winners of these elections are the people of Liberia.”
What happened needs to be properly contextualised in order to put a lie to the hypocrisy of Nigeria’s duplicitous political elite and ensure that shady characters like Lamidi Apapa do not skew the narrative in furtherance of their ulterior motives.
President Weah, first elected in 2018, was seeking reelection but a first tenure tainted by corruption scandals and allegations of mismanagement put paid to that. He emerged neck-and-neck with Boakai in the first round of voting in October but fell short of the 50 per cent needed to secure outright victory, leading to the November run-off, which he lost.
In Nigeria, winning the first round by whatever margin would have been the end of the game. To the average Nigerian politician in his position, a run-off would have been unthinkable. That is not how to be an astute politician, the Nigerian way where the very fact of incumbency guarantees a second term willy-nilly.
As president, Weah holds all the aces – control of all the instruments of state coercion, the National Elections Commission (NEC) and the resources to buy loyalty. Having lost the presidency to former President Johnson-Sirleaf in 2005, lost as a vice-presidential nominee in 2011, and serving as a senator prior to his election in 2017, Weah already had considerable political clout that enabled him defeat Boakai, vice president since January 2006, Charles Brumskine, leader of the Liberty Party and former President Pro Temp of the Senate, Alexander Cummings, former executive vice president and chief administrative officer of Coca-Cola, Prince Yormie Johnson, former rebel leader and Joseph Mills Jones, leader of the Movement for Economic Empowerment and former Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia.
In the run-off election on December 26, 2017, Weah emerged victorious with 62 per cent, beating Boakai in all but one of the 15 Liberian counties. It was real shellacking.
But six years thence, many Liberians buoyed by a wave of hope to vote for Weah in 2017, grew disillusioned with the lack of progress as poverty, unemployment, food insecurity and poor electricity supply persisted.
And that is the beauty of democracy. It does not guarantee that the best will win elections or that whoever wins elections will ensure good governance. The people may well make mistake in their choice as we did in 2015 electing General Muhammadu Buhari president. But democracy gives the people the inalienable right to decide who governs them, which is exactly what American statesman, author and philosopher, Thomas Jefferson, meant when he wrote that: “The government you elect is the government you deserve.” And even when the people make mistakes in their choice, democracy affords them the opportunity to make amends by withdrawing their mandate in subsequent elections, which is exactly what Liberians have done.
Democracy thrives when leaders respect the will of the people as President Weah has just done. Though he ran neck and neck with Boakai with about 20,000 votes separating them, Weah obeyed the constitution that says you must win over 50 per cent of the vote to be declared winner. In 2017, he crossed that threshold. In 2023, he fell short.
But Weah has every reason to be proud even in defeat. He won over 49 per cent of the ballot. His party, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), retained the most seats in the House of Representatives, with 25 seats, and gained four seats, whereas Boakai’s Unity Party (UP) lost nine to return eleven representatives. Similarly, of the 15 seats up in the Senate, CDC gained three to win six, while UP lost 3 seats and only won one.
But the real lesson that Liberia is teaching Nigeria, the so-called giant of Africa, is that in a democracy, performance is the grease that lubricates the wheel of mandate renewal.
That is why those who claim that Nigerians voted for the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2023 elections are insulting the people’s intelligence. The only way the APC would have won the election is if Nigerians are morons. They are not. The APC-led government in eight years ran Nigeria aground so much so that rewarding such colossal failure with a renewed mandate is a lie from the pit of hell.
The beauty of Liberia’s democratic renaissance which Weah has championed by his altruism is that now Boakai knows that if he does not deliver, he may well kiss goodbye to the presidential palace in 2030.
In his acceptance speech on Monday, he said: “My foremost priority and top-most national agenda remain the pursuit of national prosperity for our people.”
He promised that his government will “assert, boldly and unapologetically, an ambitious program of recovery … a path towards economic growth and development, robust training and decent jobs for our youths, and social protection for our elderly and disabled citizens.” Liberians have taken note.
Those urging the opposition in Nigeria to learn from Liberians are lying to themselves knowing full well that widespread perception of election rigging makes such concession untenable.
The Supreme Court does not confer legitimacy. The will of the people expressed through the ballot does. When elections are marred by irregularities, manipulation, and blatant rigging as it happened on February 25 and March 18, no level of judicial sophistry can whitewash the fact.
Truth be told, when elections are neither free, fair nor credible, conceding defeat becomes an endorsement of the flawed process rather than a noble act. Anyone who concedes defeat in such circumstance becomes an accomplice of the fraud that has ensured Nigeria plumbs the depths of electoral ignominy over the years. That was not what George Weah did last Friday. In conceding defeat, he simply acknowledged the outcome of a legitimate, free, fair, transparent and credible electoral process.