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Opinions of Sunday, 14 November 2021

Columnist: Wale Oloko

Metaphors of democracy, the fourth Republic and poverty

File photo to illustrate the story File photo to illustrate the story

On November 2, 2021, a friend who is an intelligence veteran and an erudite scholar and I exchanged a series of messages on the need for the participation of the well-informed in the political process in whatever form deemed necessary for the realisation of the Nigeria of our dreams, so long as it is legal and legitimate. The participation can be in the form of protest, demonstration, expression of opinion, involvement in a group activity, membership of a political party, enlightenment of the populace on the policies and programmes of the government both at the state and national level and so on. The genesis of the exchanges is the interesting quote, “Two people can damage a society: the one who knows and doesn’t talk and the one who doesn’t know that talks.”

In most societies, the voices of those that know or are well informed are rarely heard and even where they are loud enough, nothing comes out of it. Oftentimes, these individuals include radicals and a few progressives, who more often than not call for innovative change in governance as they see it. The situation now facing us as a country calls for such people. Those that know must come out, state the facts and enlighten the populace on why the country cannot afford to continue in the present direction. This is against the backdrop of the fact that the countdown to the present regime has begun in earnest and very little can be done realistically to change the trajectory of the policies and programmes of the government and the outcome that would enhance the quality of life of the generations to come.

Nigeria of 2027 or 2031 is not likely going to be different from that of today in terms of the wellbeing of the people, it could be worse. The environment is just not conducive to the realisation of the society of our dreams. Any 60 years old Nigerian who thinks that there will be an uninterrupted power supply in his lifetime is daydreaming. Even if the present administration is able to kick start the construction of the Mambilla hydropower project tomorrow, it is not going to come on stream in the next five years, so how are we going to get the quantum leap in power generation to ensure uninterrupted power supply? Any 60 years old Nigerian that thinks there would be an end to medical tourism or there would be affordable world-class hospitals and universities for his grandchildren in his lifetime is living on another planet. In a recent study, only one Nigerian university is among the world’s 500 while only three are in the world’s best 1,000. How about youth unemployment? Will it go down to five per cent in the next 10 years? This is wishful thinking. And the list of the impossible goes on and on.

However, the good news is that it is possible to achieve all these things under a government not encumbered by the distractions of the requirements of a western-style democracy. Moreover, history is in support of this hypothesis, especially in a developing country like ours. I have checked, but I haven’t seen any democratic country since the end of the second world war that has moved from the third world to the first while practising our kind of democracy, except India. This exception is unique in all circumstances, due to the quality of leadership and the uninterrupted reign of the Indian National Congress beginning from the independence period. Mention it, China, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brazil, Vietnam, The Philippines, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, all these countries have one form of guided democracy or dictatorship in the march towards economic development. Indeed, some economists attribute China’s soaring economic success to lack of democratic participation, which allows for faster decision making.

Besides, in most of these countries, the leadership selection process is at a premium. This is in view of the realisation that a deficiency in the quality of political leadership will spell doom for a country, especially in a competitive global environment. While there have been flashes of excellence in a few areas, the rest is more ruin than hope. There are some people in leadership positions in the country today that in a competitive environment, will not aspire or be given the opportunity to be legislators in a local council, and yet they are governors. It is evident what to expect from such states. Twenty years from now, such states will still continue to rely on Abuja for sustenance and achieve nothing if no action is taken now. In fact, it will retrogress.

But how did we get to this stage that almost everyone is dissatisfied with the current state of affairs? The reasons are many but the one that is germane to this discussion is the wholesale adoption of western-style democracy by the departing military dictatorship. It is pertinent to note that there is nothing strange about what our politicians are doing that is different from what is happening in other climes. The difference is that those advanced democracies do not provide their politicians with feeding bottles and milk at the expense of the citizens.

The bottom line is that you cannot wish for Dubai and think like a villager. The country cannot continue to allocate funds for unviable and unsustainable constituency projects for the next 20 years and beyond and hope to build the infrastructure that will take Nigeria to the next level. The country cannot witness rapid economic development where each senator is earning N212 million yearly, including constituency allowance. It is not going to happen. That is the painful aspect of the regime of the President, Major General Muhamadu Buhari (retd.). He would have been Nigeria’s Lee Kuan Yew, General Park Chung-hee and Mahathir Mohamad but, unfortunately, we seem to have lost the opportunity due to the demands and distractions of western-style democracy and as the saying goes, once an opportunity is lost, it cannot be regained.

It is important to say that Nigeria is at the crossroads and the type of government the country needs now and in the foreseeable future is not the western-style of democracy. In simple language, more than anything else, there is the need for a guided democracy or a benevolent dictatorship. Nigeria’s democracy is just evolving and must be guided. There must be qualifications for such participation. Not every Nigerian above 18 years of age must have direct participation. It is on record that citizenship was not automatic in some of the developed democracies in the past. Ability to vote was equally qualified. There were conditions to be met including an acceptable level of education, payment of taxes and ownership of property. At a point in history, women were not allowed to vote in some countries. The question that naturally comes to mind is that how do we have this large number of voters yet not enough taxpayers? If the requirements to contest an election include the proof of payment of tax and minimum educational qualification, voting should also be so qualified. That way, we would have an informed electorate and contributory stakeholders.

The idea of the right of all to vote is not ideal for a developing society. Some economists have criticised the efficiency of democracy, citing the premise of the irrational voter, or a voter who makes decisions without all of the facts or the necessary information needed to make informed choices and decisions. The great Socrates himself believed that democracy without educated masses would only lead to populism being the only criterion to become an elected leader and not competence, a situation he said could ultimately lead to the demise of the republic. Socrates was of the opinion that the right to vote must be given to people who can make informed choices on the basis of education.

It is a sham to say that a president or a governor has one vote and his driver too has one vote. There are people in both rural and urban areas whose votes can be “purchased” for a piece of cloth or a bag of rice. Fraudulent elections are not foreign to the land. Do we now sit back and allow the leadership that will emerge from such a contest to determine the direction of the country? No. The bottom line is that this 4th Republic has not met the expectations of the populace and the coming elections of 2023 will not change the course of events in the country, so long as indiscipline, impunity and disregard for law and order reign supreme. Per capita income has reduced, life expectancy has declined and insecurity has worsened. The first remedy is to jettison our current democratic practice, which has become a burden on the populace. There is also the urgent need to tackle and improve upon the quality of leadership and followership through a set of rigorous standards, including the level of education.

No one person or administration since 1999 can be accused of being responsible for where we are today. We are all guilty one way or the other and therefore must be willing to give up part of our freedom for the next ten (10) years to ensure that the youths of today have the future they deserve, otherwise, we all perish. If that means abolishing the parliament, or abridging the participation of the general populace in the setting up of a government, so be it. The defenders of the present democracy are the enemies of Nigeria and they must be seen in that light. If nothing drastic is done now, Nigeria will be left behind and those who are alive by 2031 will still be complaining of infrastructural deficit and the myriad of problems that we are presently battling with, unless a miracle happens.