If half of what is stolen from Nigeria is stolen from the United Kingdom, UK could have since collapsed as a country….former British Prime Minister, David Cameron
The past has demonstrated that democracy is a fount of political stability, social justice, rule of law, principled distribution of wealth and overall societal progress. It has improved the standards of political morality, elevated societal ethics and refined the value system in several countries. Lamentably, in the topsy-turvy world of our beloved Nigeria, democracy has not been attended with any of these laudable outcomes. It has been fraught with social injustice, lawlessness, inequity, poverty, repression of free speech and most disturbingly, insecurity and the demeaning of human lives.
Most Nigerians are not politically fastidious; our concerns are limited to the mundane and pedestrian. We long for the basic essentials of life, jobs, food, education, electricity, water, security and protection from the inhumanities of those in governing us and their agents strategically positioned in government.
Unfortunately, after more than 20 years of democracy, our basic expectations of democracy continue to elude us. In some climes, the electorates are transformed into sycophancy tools while in others able-bodied people have resorted to praise singing to eke a living from the crumbs of the thieving leaders.
In their usual brand of hypocrisy, our leaders posture as democrats and sentinels of the public good, but are, in essence, tyrannical and voracious feudal lords. Shelter in their cocoons, they live in islands of influence and extravagance in an ocean of poverty, gloom and misery. Their thievery and profligacy make it impossible for most Nigerians to share in the general prosperity of the country. So, while the political elite and their cronies maintain life styles that amaze even the wealthy and the famous of the wealthiest countries of the world, a frightening proportion of Nigerians are trapped in extreme poverty and starvation.
A onetime American Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, once described Nigeria as “the poorest oil-rich nation in the world”. What an oxymoron-oil-rich poverty? It was an appropriate characterization of Nigeria because despite the oil wealth, the country ranks with the poorest and war-torn countries of the world in life expectancy, child mortality, and other social indices. Life is a cruel grind for countless Nigerians; so many are consumed by the drudgery for daily existence. Many families can barely eat a meal a day no matter how bad the meal may be. Many survive as scavengers, rummaging through trash dumps for edibles, reusable items and sellable scraps; and as street hawkers, thronging the streets hoping to eke out a living by selling sachet water, soft drinks, fruits etc.
Several Nigerians, even in urban areas, do not have access to clean drinking water. Consequently, dirt borne diseases, like malaria and typhoid fever, are very prevalent; people suffer and die from these readily preventable and treatable diseases. Many, especially, in urban areas, are homeless; living in open space, under the bridges and wherever possible. Some of the supposedly lucky ones that can afford housing inhabit decrepit and dilapidated houses, just hovels and pigsties. In them, people are crowded, sometimes, up to 10 persons in one room in dusty, filthy, festering, trash strewn neighborhoods, with gutters clogged with filth and debris, and streets pock-marked with potholes. While we generally train our focus and criticisms on the federal government, the state governors and lawmakers at the national and state levels are just as corrupt, irresponsible and dictatorial to the core.
Without financial independence, state legislatures lack the financial independence and intrepidity of a serious parliament; they are mere rubber stamp parliaments. The governors are essentially provincial despots; their powers are uninhibited. Each state governor appropriates from the state coffers, not less than N500million every month as security vote. The security vote is unaccounted for; it is expended strictly at the discretion of the governor. In their avarice and wastefulness, some state governors refuse to pay state employees for months, sometimes, for more than 12 months. And those that demand a partial payment of the backlog salaries are either dismissed or severely punished for demanding their right. At this junction, I must commend the efforts of Governor Bala Muhammed of Bauchi state for the prompt payment of monthly salaries and pension allowances. That is the policy of good governance anchored on sincerity of purpose and concern to the welfare of those concerned.
It has been written that, “Money is like muck, not good unless it is spread”. As such, the best antidote for political upheaval is equitable distribution of wealth. Corollary, the most potent trigger of political turmoil is in inequitable distribution of wealth. The social injustice and income disparity in Nigeria will inevitably lead to political turmoil at the end. In our present political passivity and docility, we seem to have forgotten that we have, in the past, risen up, in protest, against exploitative and oppressive powers. Long ago, we successfully rallied against a colonial power and wrested the country from its grip.
In 1993, we rose up in protest against the repudiation of the collective will of the people—the annulment of June 12 presidential election—by gun totting soldiers.
Nigerians need to break the vicious grip of our evil rulers, and bring to an end their looting and tearing down the country and deliberate impoverishment of the people. To do these, we must unite in agitation against iniquitous cabal that rules the country as a birth right. It is collective, courageous, sustained and strategically directed agitation that will break its ruthless grip on the country and force it to reform its ways.
The killing of peaceful, flag waving, national anthem singing protesters during the October 8 #EndSARS protest was, meant to intimidate Nigerians into passivity. However, Nigerians must muster the guts and gumption to start another more elaborate, better organized, peaceful and protected protest against maladministration, imposition through the electoral umpire and security agencies during elections. After all, has the cudgel of the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICC) not seen falling on many dictators that wantonly murdered the innocent? Secondly, has history not demonstrated that those that wanted to maintain their power, with guns and bayonets in defiance of the legitimate aspirations of the people have always kissed the dust?
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues