Would democracy ever work in Nigeria? By Abdullateef Ishowo

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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 certain section of the population.But that the selected or elected few rule 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 attainment of development. In fact, there exists this notion, especially in the literature, that wherever and whenever there is democracy, there is 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 posited 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.

How come then the story of the Asian tigers seems to be a clear departure from the most popular school of thought? In the Asia world, such as China, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan, where democracy preceded their development have grown into industrialized and prosperous nations that it may take Nigeria decades to match up with them. The most interesting part of it is that some of these countries were at par with Nigeria few decades back, but today, they’ve shot into global prominence with their creativity and survivalist zeal.

Again, how do we explain the developmental strides of the Iraq under Sadam Usain and Libya under Moman Ghadafi before they were truncated by the almighty US and introduced a system that is yet to synchronize with their milieu to them? Why the imposition? Just how do we explain Africa’s pre-colonial periods where there were certain elements of democracy in their monarchical systems that showed potentials for gradual development? The truth is that, democracy is a universal form of government but rather than being imposed, it should have been imbibed by the countries where they’re new.
Thursday 1st October 2020 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 national thanks giving. For many others, it was nothing but celebration of corruption, poverty, battered economy, porous security and above all, ignorance.

Even though the political independence is celebrative from the view that we are no longer under colonial siege, the economic and political siege is intolerable. Indeed, the sixty years of political independence was eventful but unrewarding experience. This is not unconnected with the fact that virtually all sectors of the economy and the entire system in the last 60 years have not been working to the yearnings of Nigerians, both under the military and democracy; whereas, the last 21 years of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria should have served as a balm soothingly healing the past injuries.

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 a democracy with practicing 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 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 tolls of rulers who cannot rule, administrators who cannot administer, managers who cannot manage and leaders who cannot lead. For twenty-one 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 twenty-one years, our village heads harvest the planted tubers of yams, sell them in cheap prices to the neighbouring villages and buy them back in higher prices in packaged pounded yam or porridge just because they refuse to construct 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. Sadly, each time they do so, the masses bear the brunt of their ineptitude by paying more for what the nature bestowed on them free of charge.

The government expects Nigerians to accept the removal of subsidy in good faith when it was their ineptitude that paralysed the refineries that should’ve naturally forced down the price of fuel locally. We continue to depend on the oil that is approaching the end in the global economic order that’s not designed for the Third-World. We diverted completely from the self-sustaining agriculture to oil instead of allowing the two sources of income to operate in pari-passu. Where is that done?

A couple of days ago, the nation was awashed with the news of NNPC spending N81.41billion on workers of the four dysfunctional refineries between January and August 2020 without refining a single metric tons since August 2019. Yet the Minister of State for petroleum, Mr. Timipre Sylva affirmed that the FG would continue to pay the workers since they’re not the cause of the problems of the refineries. Would a serious government not have redeployed these workers to the ministries or other areas where they would be useful? In their private firms or companies, would they be kind enough to retain workers who have not been productive for years? They are not sincere.

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 understanding 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 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 a power!

State governors take undisclosed security votes monthly without any clear-cut role in the state and national security apparatus. The police and other para-military 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.

Executive Chairmen of local governments are at the mercies of their governors. The latter removes the former at will using different excuses ranging from corruption to insubordination; to who? Political parties look up to governors to select for them candidates that would emerge as chairmen of LGs or sometimes unilaterally appoint LG bosses in the name of TIC as Kwara state governor has just demonstrated by refusing to conduct elections even at the expiration of the tenure of the suspended chairmen. His plans to appoint TIC shall be revealed in few days time. The governors control the fund of the LGs in the name of Joint Accounts and execute projects on their behalf. Local Government Administration is gradually fading away as governors are executing its assassination with close supervision of the President. By implication, governance is taken out of the reach of the common masses at the grassroots.

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.

*Abdullateef Ishowo is an author
and a public affairs analyst based in Ilorin.

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DISCLAIMER: All views expressed on our opinion page are those of the writer and do not represent the position of INSIDER or any of its reporters/editors.

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