The Federal Character Commission, though a creation of law to ensure the equitable distribution of national offices and resources, has not helped the advancement of our nascent democracy. It has resulted instead in the abuse of power, brazen ineptitude, and weakening of our social institutions.
It is generally believed that some of the appointments made by this administration did not conform to the provisions of the Federal Character provisions in the 1999 constitution. However, the same constitution gives the President the wholesome right to appoint his personal aides.
Ethnicity is adjudged as a wedge in the effort to enthrone sustainable democracy in Nigeria. This is responsible for the lopsided appointments in our national life. One is left to wonder why ethnicity, favouritism and nepotism cannot be done away with after years of existing together. Why should we allow language and culture to divide us when we can steadily bond together?
There are at present over 500 languages spoken in Nigeria by the over 300 ethnic groups that populate it. Should it be enough to divide us? Interestingly, the political relevance of the three major geographic entities that constitute Nigeria, namely Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba, determine the power configuration and wealth distribution.
Another feature of Nigeria’s politics and which has persistently fallen victim to the malfeasant disposition of the political leadership is education, which before the degenerative era flourished. The Universal Basic Education (UBE) Fund and the Education Trust Fund (ETF) have been recklessly pilfered to such an abysmal level that educational infrastructure has been left decrepit. The rating of Nigeria as one of the 9 most educationally disadvantaged countries in the world some years ago, because of the growing numbers of its illiterate citizens, is a visible testimony to the decay in our educational system. Our schools, including universities and other tertiary institutions, have been turned into war zones and theatres of absurdities as a result of the neglect of education.
The standards of education, not excluding the quality of graduates, have fallen regrettably very low in recent times, forcing the government to rethink its policies as it concerns educational development in the country.
Every year large sums are budgeted for education with less than 20 per cent of these sums actually released. It is envisaged that if the actual amount budgeted for education is released every year there will a marked difference within 5 years. What happens is that infrastructure in the sector keeps depreciating, leading to falling standards. Is it not painful that a nation as rich as Nigeria is producing half-baked graduates?
One professor at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) once described many Nigerian students as ‘unteachable’. By this I think he meant that many Nigerian students lack the cognitive ability to assimilate what they are taught. I agree totally with him.
The performance of some of our graduates at their various places of work leaves one wondering what kind of schools they attended and if at all some of them even ever did.
Education is the biggest asset any nation can bequeath to its citizens. Failure to deliver this all-important asset is a great disservice on the part of government.
I still remember with nostalgia an incident that occurred some four years ago when the authorities of the Nigerian Air Force had to withhold the certificate of a graduate seeking employment with it for his inability to write a single word of English correctly. And the person in question paraded a Second Class Upper Division from a recognised University in Nigeria. This tells you the base level our education has got to.
Definitely there are many of such persons who parade ‘big’ certificates without any capacity to defend them. This is the bane of our social system. Indeed mediocrity has taken the centre-stage of our national life.
Apart from inadequate facilities in our schools, the absence of qualified teaching personnel is a huge challenge. Most of the teachers, particularly those in the sciences, are not qualified to teach the subjects assigned to them. Even at that, some of them have never seen the national curriculums for the teaching of the subjects. The implication is that they teach out of context, and by the time the students enter the exam halls they are faced with strange questions. The result is mass failure. It is on record that the rate of failure in national examinations has been on a steady increase in the past 10 years – the worst being last year’s where the failure rate was as high as 81 per cent. The impact of this development is that those who failed would not be able to gain admission into the universities and other tertiary institutions. In the end, they end up as dropouts and ready tools for questionable characters in the society, including the political class that uses them as thugs.
Gladly, nonetheless, the performance of candidates in the 2016 WASSCE May/June examination was slightly better than last year’s. At least the pass rate soared significantly to over 50 per cent.
Let us digress and look at the connection between political violence and illiteracy. The gap is quite discernible since the majority of those who engage in political brigandage come from this class of people. Indeed, politicians hire their thugs and other hatchet men from illiterate, unemployed youths that find sanctuary in motor-parks and other rendezvous from where they perpetrate their heinous crimes.
Aware of the dangerous tilt illiteracy is assuming in recent times some state governments have taken steps to introduce measures to address it. The menace of school dropouts has continued to exacerbate. Who do you think the thousands of hawkers that line our major streets and roads are? Many of them are school dropouts at different levels. While some dropped at the primary level, some of others did so at the tertiary level.
We cannot discuss the features of Nigeria’s democracy and how to promote our democracy without pragmatically evaluating the progress we have made to build unity through fostering religious tolerance and ethnic homogeneity, mutual respect for one another, rule of law, constitutionality and political stability. It is generally agreed that the inability of the political leadership to build a united, egalitarian nation can be blamed on the ineffective and poor management of these democratic features.
Look at it objectively – 60 per cent of all the wars globally are caused by poor application of these factors. It is, indeed, surprising that Nigeria, in spite of its cultural and ethnic plurality and recurring political conflagrations, especially in the regions in the 50’s, has managed to remain united. Even the 30-month civil war did not succeed in destroying the bond that binds us as a nation. What we lost in the war we have gained in the fragile peace and unity that prevail in our nation today.
Some may contend that the way the country is going at present it would soon break up. I do not see it that way. I see Nigeria as a very special nation designed by God to overcome its challenges at every stage of its advancement. If God had not been a part of our existence, probably, we would have disintegrated as a nation – which had been the expectations of many of the people who prophesised about the extinction of the Nigerian nation.
This brings us to obedience of the constitution, which is one of the pillars on which any democratic institution stands. Sadly, some politicians (because of their high positions) treat the constitution like a rag sheet. Even though there have been efforts to design a workable constitution little has been achieved in this respect. It is believed that Nigeria will make greater progress if it succeeds, any time, to put in place a well-articulated and people-oriented constitution.
The efforts of the national assembly joint committee on the review of the constitution are yet to conclude its work. For over eight years since it was formed it is yet to give Nigerians a less controversial constitution. The inability to achieve a reasonably acceptable constitution can be found in the parochialism and nepotism that trailed the committee’s assignment. Every section of the country wants its interests to supersede others’. Nobody wants to make any sacrifices for the continued existence of our nation.
Disdain for the constitution breeds instability and threatens rule of law and natural justice. Often highly-placed persons refuse to obey the constitution for reasons best known to them. No nation can make progress without strict adherence to the tenets of the constitution and the rule of law.
Religion has always featured prominently in Nigeria’s political life. It has also been recognised as a prominent factor in determining who governs the nation. The excesses of religious bigots have over the years affected tenuously the political stability of the nation. In fact, the several altercations that have dotted our political landscape are often traceable to religion. The era between 1957 and 1966 witnessed an upsurge of religion-related violence. The situation, unfortunately, continued in the 80’s and early 90’s when the Maitasine and other religious sects caused unparalleled uprisings that almost tore the nation apart. Even though the Maitasine and similar groups have since been silenced religion still features visibly in our national politics.
The leadership of this country has revolved between the two dominant religions – Christianity and Islam. The constant unhealthy rivalry between the adherents of the two religions has remained of paramount worry to their leaderships, including the security agencies that are kept on their toes endlessly. The ongoing unrests across the country are deemed to have a semblance of religion, which makes them precariously frightening.
In any case, the determination of the government to foster mutualism in the relations between the two major religions has begun to bear fruits, even though pessimists believe we still have a long way to go.
Political stability cannot be achieved without first addressing critical issues of religion and ethnic imbalance.
The Boko Haram sect has hinged its activities on religion. But I regret to state here that there is nothing religious about Boko Haram. Their activities are antithetical to national development. Whatever good reasons they might have for their rebellious activities have been vitiated by their resort to violence as a means of settling scores. I have written in this column that the way and manner its leader was killed in 2008 was not fair. He would have been arrested, tried and if found guilty sentenced in accordance with our statutes.
But that should not have warranted the wanton loss of lives and keeping in bondage of over 200 innocent Chibok schoolgirls for nearly three years now.
In fact, the activities of the sect have continued to create tension in the country and sent the wrong signals to foreign investors.
I still advocate quick resolution of the crises rocking different parts of the country if at all we will have democratic stability. The emergence of new insurgent groups has sent jitters to the spines of many Nigerians, including the security agencies. Money hitherto would have been used for the development of the country has been channelled to arms procurement and payment of security operatives that maintain law and order in different parts of the nation.
While government was grappling with the activities of MEND, a new and more daring group – the Niger Delta Avengers – emerged from nowhere. This group has been a thorn in the flesh of government, destroying oil pipelines in the process.
The losses the nation has incurred in the less than three months the group has operated are tantamount to what it had experienced under Boko Haram. How can any reasonable group embark on the destruction of oil pipelines – the mainstay of the nation’s economy?
As we do an overview of the challenges facing our democracy we need, at the same time, to evaluate the roles organizations such as security, judicial and electoral officials have played in the growth of our democracy and the well being of the people. We must have read diverse reports in the media about the ignoble role some of these officials played in the manipulation of elections in Nigeria, especially in the 16 years of PDP rule.
The sad reality is that our democracy is headed for the rocks if the judiciary is made to lose its independence and integrity by becoming pawns on the chessboard of lascivious and power-hungry politicians. This is why every reasonable person should be worried by some of the judgments coming out of our courts. They smacked of judicial recklessness.
Painfully, some of these judgements create more problems than they had set out to solve, leading to bad blood and restiveness in some cases.
To be continued