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Opinions of Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Columnist: The Nation

Will democracy ever work for Nigeria?

The fact that there is hardly any regime or government in the world today that does not seek to be seen or described as being democratic makes the 1863 Abraham Lincoln’s axiomatic definition of democracy sounds confusing.

For instance, Lincoln’s description of democracy as ‘government of the people’ is clearly understood, the purpose of all governments is to exercise political control over the people; but the phrase ‘by the people’ and ‘for the people’ may be misleading.

There has been no state either in ancient or modern times, where all adults have taken part directly in the government. Not even during the golden age of Greece, where democracy originated from could everybody take part in government. This is because citizenship was limited to a certain section of the population. But that the selected or elected few rules with the consent of the majority justifies this assertion.

The expression ‘government for the people’ means that the selected and elected representatives are expected to govern in the interest of the people.

However, there is no government which does not claim to do this. Nevertheless, history has shown many examples of government which claimed to be concerned with the well-being of the people and yet acted either selfishly or in the interest of only a section of the people. Since 1999 when democracy returned to the country after several years of military experience, no government from Obasanjo to Buhari has demonstrated otherwise. Whereas, a government cannot be perceived as being democratic until it has resolved to pursue the interest of the general public.

Democracy is not exclusively a western property, neither is it a magic wand for the attainment of development. In fact, there exists this notion, especially in the literature, that wherever and whenever there is a democracy, there is the development and vice-versa. But is democracy a pre-condition for development?

If the world, as polarised into the developed and the underdeveloped, is to be examined, one may be forced to align with the school of thought that posits that development should be a pre-condition for democracy. Africa for instance, where democracy preceded development, it has been pretty difficult to attain development even decades after the continent’s democratization. Whereas, the western world where relative development preceded democracy, the pace of development is undoubtedly unprecedented.

October 1 marked the 60th anniversary of Nigeria’s political independence. For many, particularly members of the current ruling oligarchy and their satraps strewn across the country, it was an occasion to celebrate, and a cause for a national thanksgiving. For many others, it was nothing but a celebration of corruption, poverty, battered economy, porous security and above all, ignorance.

As aptly noted by Nzogola Ntalaja, a Professor of African Studies at the University of Northern Carolina, “Democracy is meaningless without economic and social rights. It means nothing to people who cannot eat properly, have a roof over their heads, find a job and send their children to school and have access to a minimum of decent healthcare. These are the social gains of the post-independence period that external policies like structural adjustment are destroying in Africa today”.

In this connection, Tatalo Alamu opined that the last 21 years “…in Nigeria stand as an eloquent testimony to the impossibility of establishing democracy with practising non-democrats. Nigeria’s dominant political culture is so short through with authoritarian and anti-democratic streak that genuine democracy appears to be equivalent to whistling in the dark. Nigeria is a streak in the groove of an aberrant neo-military state with the veneer of civil rule masking all the totems of dictatorship”.

Sustaining democracy or a successful democratic transition requires that democratic regimes be capable of fulfilling people’s expectations. Failure to do so can derail the transition and bring about a serious questioning of the necessity of political change. The omens for true democracy in Nigeria are indeed quite dire. As democratic nourishment and natural habitat have been in short supplies. Nothing seems to be working in Nigeria and people have started clamouring for a change. Yet, this state of affairs cannot continue for long without collapsing under the sheer weight of its own contradictions.

The last 21 years in Nigeria have produced the paradoxical roll of rulers who cannot rule, administrators who cannot administer, managers who cannot manage and leaders who cannot lead. For 21 years, they wound-down the mirror of progress and ended up undoing the doings of the past and send out their hired Harvard trained ‘experts’ to reel out economic rhetoric to the unsuspecting followers, who nod just in time to the beats of their music of confusion.

Over the years, it has always been a blame-game "I’m clearing the mess of the past” but would end up creating new messy-monsters. For 21 years, our village heads harvest the planted tubers of yams, sell them at cheap prices to the neighbouring villages and buy them back at higher prices in packaged pounded yam or porridge in the absence of a mortar. That is the situation of oil and the dysfunctional refineries. They refuse to fix the refineries so that they can continue to siphon the unavailable fund in the name of subsidy. The present government on different occasions has lied to have removed the monstrous subsidy; only to come back again to tell Nigerians they want to remove what they claimed had been removed before.

Wastages continue in every sector of the economy in spite of the avoidable economic recession the country just entered into; for the second time in five years. The cost of governance in the country has over the years been so exceedingly high that the executive and the legislature have continuously engaged in a game of buck-passing as Nigeria’s economy groans.

We export students and import certificates that fail to solve our locally made challenges. Our education curriculum is not emanating from our values, culture and tradition; thereby producing graduates who don’t even understand our environment.

The 6-3-3-4 or 9-3-4 education policy has become so un-implementable that a student leaving JS-3 or SS3 has nothing to offer the society that produced him. He finishes NCE yet he cannot teach, he finishes HND yet he cannot produce simple copper wire or at least a pencil, he finishes university but unemployable. What a paradoxical scenario!

Our electoral system is deliberately weakened and rendered ineffective to allow manipulations that consistently produce mediocre and the highest votes’ bidders. Power was in the hand of the public, no light; a government privatized the sector and another government maintains it, yet no light.

Hence, Nigeria becomes the dumping ground for power generating sets as citizens resulted to generating electricity in the face government’s ineptitude just as same citizens generate water via digging of boreholes and the government is unperturbed and insensitive to the danger the proliferation of boreholes portends for the society. Insecurity everywhere as we kill ourselves to the admiration of the bourgeoisie in power, a return to the state of nature where the only rule was survival of the fittest?

The Nigerian president is the most powerful across the world—he does not only unilaterally form his cabinet, he determines who the principal officers of the National Assembly (a separate arm of government) are, all security chiefs are at his mercy and the electoral officer of the nation does his biddings. He appoints and pays the salaries of judges and determines who does and who does not win court cases. He clamps down the Fourth Estate of the realm at will and determines news to be carried and the ones that mustn’t be touched. Oh! What power!

State governors take undisclosed security votes monthly without any clear-cut role in the state and national security apparatus. The police and other paramilitary agencies are highly centralized and answerable only to the almighty president. Yet, section 176 (2) of the 1999 constitution as amended referred to the state governors as chief security officers of their states. This has remained a mere appellation in the face of the reality of governors’ haplessness when confronted by security challenges in their states.

If democracy would ever work in this part of the world, both parties—the leaders and the led will have to be ready to follow the principles of the system of government that has remained alien to us even after 31 years of intermittent and 21 years of uninterrupted practice. Everyone shifts goalpost at will and as convenient.

However, leadership seems to be the clog in the wheel of progress in Nigeria. It shows the wrong way the led plies. Whereas it is not blindness but refusal to see that ails our civilization. Apology to Jose Saramago.

Ishowo is a public affairs analyst based in Ilorin, Kwara State.

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