As Nigeria celebrates another episode of the June 12 Democracy Day in honour of Late M.K.O Abiola whose electoral victory was annulled on the same day in 1993, from her usual May 29 which was the official day power changed hands from the military to civilians 21 years ago, most Nigerians are yet to understand what democracy means, not to mention enjoying its dividends.
Major General Muhammadu Buhari the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in his Democracy Day speech which sounded more of a Nigerian kind of campaign than solidarity for democracy, asserted that: “…sustaining our democracy thus far has been a collective struggle and I congratulate all Nigerians and particularly leaders of our democratic institutions on their resilience and determination to ensure that Nigeria remains a shining example of democracy…”
A shining example of democracy? The speech which was ill-conceived and full of fallacies seems more of a scorecard of someone who is scared of people reading from reality than informing the nation on what the government is doing to strengthen the already fragile democracy.
After taking time to go through the lengthy speech which most citizens believe will not better their lives in any manner, a dozen fusillades of questions flash through our minds:
Is the lopsided and nepotic appointment of government officials a dividend of democracy? Is the critical and total lack of security where herdsmen, Boko Haram, bandits kill at will and move about scot-free a dividend of democracy? Is the alienation of one religion or genocide targeted towards a particular group of persons who pays allegiance to and are supposed to benefit from the collective inheritance of the nation a dividend? Or is it the lack of job opportunities for the teeming Nigerian youths, gross abuse of power, the government’s insensitivity to the welfare of her people, religious and ethnic bigotry, denial of citizens’ fundamental freedoms etc. that the government understands as the dividends of Democracy?
While discussing leadership in one of the events I was invited to as the guest speaker, I asked the people what crossed their minds at the first mention of the word “politics”. As usual, I was inundated with several ridiculous replies. A huge section of the audience said that politics ‘is a dirty game; a business for criminals and the like-minded, which requires active participation in black magic and occult to achieve strides and protect one’s life’. On the other hand, others felt that politics ‘is an illicit business; a dog-eat-dog affair exclusively reserved for the affluent old, aged and retired people; that, it’s the manipulation of electoral processes, with the sole intent of buying votes rather than winning them at the ballots”. Some also saw politics as “a cheap means of changing one’s social class; as a form of scandal; a means of dividing people; a cause of crises, pains and untold sorrows; as inconclusive elections, a means of acquiring cheap fame and influence; and that if one needed to dine with the devil, that’s exactly what they ought to do’.
Although all these replies may seem a bit distinct, they are a product of a single line of thought. This is because it is seemingly impossible to explicate politics in Nigeria from the myriad of ills tied to it. Obviously, my audience’s replies were only based on their distasteful experiences at different times, and not on what the term means. So, the simple question is what is politics?
The word “Politics” is derived from the Greek word ‘politicos‘ meaning the affairs of the cities. The term itself is defined “as the process of making the decision on the affairs of society; the distribution of power and resources within a given community as well as the inter-relationships between communities”
In truth politics and democracy are like the teeth and tongue: the two concepts cannot be separated, because politics is the bedrock upon which a reliable democracy is built. It is a tool used to evaluate democracy in any society. In most saner climes of the world, Democracy is practised because it upholds the right of humans, makes everyone equal and makes everyone inclusive.
The fact that most politicians in Nigeria’s political landscape do not have a clear understanding of what democracy is and entails, is the reason why the nation, although it appears to be democratic, in the true sense of her political disposition, is something else.
Democracy is a form of government, a way of life and a goal or an ideal. The term also refers to a country that has a democratic form of government. The word democracy means rule by the people. Abraham Lincoln described such government as “a government of the people by the people and for the people.”The citizens of a democratic state take part in government either directly or indirectly.
The goal of any democratic society is the creation of better grounds for a peaceful living in the society, through the protection of the lives and properties, as well as the rights and privilege of all the members of that society.
A democratic system of government recognises the equality and dignity of races, religions, sex or social standing. It upholds the equality of everyone before the law and guarantees the non-violation of the citizens’ freedom. Democracy isn’t complete when it lacks Freedom of religion, Freedom of expression and of speech, Freedom of association, Free and fair elections, Majority rule and minority rights, Political parties, Division of power, Constitutional government, Self-determination, Equality of citizenship, Rule of law, Private organisations etc. These features among many others make up democracy.
Abdul Akhtar in the movie titled the ‘The Dictator’ uttered some thought-provoking statements in attempting to bring to light what democracy is. He states “Why are you people so ant-dictator? Imagine if America was a dictatorship, you could let one percent (1%) of the people have the whole of the nation’s wealth, you could help your rich friends get richer by cutting their taxes and bailing them out when they gamble and lose. You could ignore the demand of the poor for health care and education, your media would appear free but would secretly be controlled by one person and his family; you could wire top phones, you could torture foreign prisoners, you could have rigged elections, you could lie about why you go to war, you could fill your prisons with one particular racial group and no one would complain; you could use the media to scare people into supporting policies that are against their interests. Democracy is the worst, it is stupidity and listening to every stupid opinion; everybody’s vote counts, no matter how cripple or black or how female they are”.
The words of Abdul bring to fore the perils in the democratic dispensation of Nigeria. Even though Nigeria claims to be democratic, she exhibits the characteristics of dictatorship. Philip Bobbitt states that “it is the self-portrayal of a society that enables it to know its own identity”. If these words are anything to go by then Democracy in Nigeria can be understood as the demonstration of craziness otherwise simply put as “Democracy”. This is because the people whom the masses entrust with their security and welfare, in turn, deny the masses the very security and welfare they desire.
Nigeria cannot in all sincerity be defined as a democratic state if anything; it is still a million miles away from true democracy.
In a constitutional democracy, where the constitution states clearly how the affairs of the state are carried out, but where an individual feel to be better than the over 200 million other populaces and therefore creates and abides by the dictates of his own making and conscience is nothing close to democracy. A truly democratic state does not disobey court orders, and cannot detain people even when they had been tried in the court and found guiltless. A democratic state cannot acquire properties without the consent of the legislators, when it is constituted that the legislators must assent to such an endeavour. A democratic state cannot remove or suspend a Chief Justice of the federation (a head to an arm of government) without recourse to the due and unambiguously constitutionally stipulated process. A democratic state cannot foist individuals on the citizens as public officials as though it were a public enterprise, without allowing room for the citizens to freely select their representatives. A democratic state cannot select those to prosecute and those not to prosecute when both parties are culpable. These pyramids of anomalies constitute the Nigerian democratic settings.
Politics, on the other hand, has made the actualisation of a true democracy difficult in Nigeria. If anything, it has only succeeded in foisting a sort of “Anarcycrazy” (a state where one is a dictator in a democratic dispensation) on the nation.
Instead of politics to be a mechanism that will make democracy possible in Nigeria, it has, in turn, become the bump which not only slows down democracy but a gizmo which denies the citizens from enjoying democratic dividends in the nation.
This has become a reason why a person who knows or understands nothing foists themselves into public offices in the political landscape of the nation. It is ironical that in a complex economy and environment as Nigeria’s, illiterates or those with little understanding of the nation’s dynamics continue to rule the vastly educated populace
Nigeria since 1999 has spent over 13 years out of the possible 21 years to political illiterates. The nation has continually been ruled by those who may only know how to sign their names and nothing else. The legislative arm is not also spared of this conundrum.
Politics is supposed to be a medium through which politicians better the lives of their citizens; nonetheless, it has become an avenue through which they only better their own lives. This remains a reason why close to 60 years after gaining her independence, Nigerian politicians are still promising the masses basic amenities such as portable water supply, good and affordable health care facilities, steady electricity, security and other basic infrastructure while other governments are delving into inventions and technologies because they have long scaled those margins.
Politics in Nigeria is no longer about patriotism, ideas, innovations, peaceful coexistence and development but voodooism, fame, wealth, connections, tribalism, nepotism and religious bigotry.
Ado Musa observes that “in Nigeria, people have effectively been disenfranchised by their circumstances in the one hand and their leaders’ perfidy on the other. As a result, Nigeria is approaching a situation where democracy is being practised without democrats and elections are been conducted with scant regards for the electorates”. He advises that “we must, therefore, arrive at a consensus that only collegiate leadership of knowledgeable, humble, patriotic and committed Nigerians are voted into public offices. We have had enough of this contraception”.
Accordingly, the fact that political parties in Nigeria demand tens of millions of naira as fees for tickets confirms that democracy has been deliberately killed by our reigning politicians and political parties. This is not as it were in the first and second republic, politicians and political parties were not in politics simply to take over power for self-aggrandizement but rather ran what amounts to a textbook politics in terms of cleanliness, especially compared to the atrocious pillage witnessed in the latest turn of political events in the country.
In the same vein, Nigerian democracy has been rubbished by the militarization of the polity, the forced migration to a centralized pseudo-federal presidential system; a system that is more unitary than federal in all respects which is in line with the military’s tradition of centralized command. The system has consistently favoured money and moneybags.
Nigeria is confronted with soaring unemployment, chronic poverty, a legislative gridlocked by regional rivalries, sluggish economy described as the poverty capital of the world, heavy dependence on fluctuating oil prices, judicial insomnia, a bogus and porous constitution, distrust and suspicions, fear and the Continuous Involvement and interference of the military in politics, corruption, the false, constitution, leadership and followership phenomenon, lack of Human security and human rights etc.
Although the Nigerian democratic journey had been jagged, by the grace of God, Nigerians are still living and striving despite the far-reaching effects most of which include insecurity problems etc. Despite these ascending numerical antecedents of politics in the Nigerian democracy, there are still a lot of glaring positive benefits accrued to it which still keeps the hope of the citizenry aflame. You may hate politics, but you need politics unless you like having no voice in your affair. Larry Sabato once said “there are plenty of examples where political action has produced real change”. Indeed politics has ameliorated our democracy in several ways, notably in the following ways.
The Voters’ Authority, Incumbency Defeated, Equal Opportunity, Conceding of Defeat, Majority Rule and Minority Right, Political Parties etc.
For democracy to work more effectively and for its dividends to be enjoyed by all and sundry, there are some requirements and they include:
Education on Democracy, Citizen Participation, Understanding Democracy as a Tool for Economic Development, Social mobility, Agreement on Fundamentals, Preserving Human Rights, Ensuring Peaceful Change.
Unless and until when these factors are achieved, Nigeria should stop deceiving herself and lying to the world that she is a democratic state. Because in truth, she is nothing compared to democracy. Until then, Nigerians can only put faith in the hope that things will turn around someday.
Comrade Enenche Justin ODUGBO is the author of the ‘Problem With Nigeria: Ensuring A More Cohesive, Peaceful and United Nation’.
He is a young dynamic and energetic Nigerian youth, a blogger and an erudite speaker.
He is highly passionate about the Nigerian project.