No matter how you look at it, the question above is a very important one. It is the question critical minds in critical times like we are now should be asking and insist they get an answer. Answer from who, you may ask? From the political class and their protégés who aspire to join them very soon. I had wanted to put something else across on this page on May 28, but decided later to seize the opportunity offered by the May 29 Democracy Day celebration to critically review what we are doing and see if it amounts to anything worthwhile. I must confess I didn’t find anything of meaningful significance. I saw a people celebrating a concept we borrowed and of which a few know what the principles are and what it takes to be a true democratic nation.
Let me begin from the first that will take me back to the question. How did our nation come by democracy day? What is the difference between what we do on Democracy Day and what we are supposed to do on the Independence Day on October 1st? If we answer the question honestly the first big aberration we will find would be a clear case of duplication and of course all the wastages that go with it in terms of scarce resources and time. I don’t know how the May 29 issue came about, but the indication is that our former president Olusegun Obasanjo introduced the date to stoke the fire of June 12 activists. If this is true, doesn’t it tell a story that this nation has been administered on whims and caprices of individuals and groups and that the problems threatening to tear the nation apart have their roots in such myopic actions.
For the Democracy Day, I see in many instances very elaborate ceremonies. The apparatus of governance at the state is fully rolled out and a section of citizens are mobilized to the state capital at huge cost to the public purse. The twist in the whole thing is that those who are mobilized come for the money they would be paid for leaving their homes or their business not because they know what the event was all about. I have seen people who, few minutes after the event, would tell you that they have not been paid salaries nor have they seen any concrete evidence of democratic or governance dividends, yet they had to attend. Ask them why, the answer you get is that they want to avoid a backlash. Some public commentators carry the joke about this Democracy Day too far. I heard some of my country men and women publicly state that Democracy Day must be celebrated if not for any other reason, for the fact that we have had 18 years of unbroken democracy; a development they claim is a landmark. It is this same people that tell us that we should celebrate Nigeria because after 57 years of nationhood we are still a united nation. What a yardstick and what a high expectation!
Celebrating 18 years of unbroken democratic practice is for me like substituting substance for shadow. If it were not so why would a mundane matter like unbroken democracy be an issue? Some will say because of our history, an allusion to military interruption of the civil political process. This line of thought would also throw up another big question and that would be how did the military start to fancy themselves as alternatives to their civilian counterparts. All the fears are products of one thing, a foundation the fathers of the nation should have laid at the beginning of independence which for whatever reason they failed to do. That failure is what is haunting us till today. It explains why the Chief of Army Staff would dabble into the political arena and begin to offer publicly very critical political opinions including the possibility of a coup and all we do is to stand by the side, clap and fear. If things were done properly this situation won’t arise and if even it did, the response would be clear and direct.
The point am trying to make is that this nation ought to have been negotiated into existence but the British for mischievous reasons didn’t find that option very interesting. A friend told me during the week that it was a deliberate act that the colonialists did not want Africa and the Black world to have a rallying point which they knew Nigeria had the potential to provide. The trap the colonialists set was obvious and should have been noted by the founding fathers whose responsibility it was to have convened national conference to discuss basis for national coexistence. If at that point we had collectively agreed on democracy as our system of governance and our law books expressly stipulate that we will not accept any other system than democracy, perhaps this nation would have experienced only one or two military interruptions, it would have been so because by collective agreement criminal interruptions would remain what they are and would constitute a huge criminal offence, time lapse notwithstanding. What this would have done would be that instead of according respect, honour and offering free reign to ex-coup plotters, we would rather make the space uncomfortable for them, shame and try them for offences against the state. If we took this path we won’t be celebrating unbroken democracy, because what the people want is what should be.
Sometimes too I ask myself if what we do here is democracy or something else. Democracy has a soul and set of principles. It is about honesty and credibility. It runs on visions and its essence is encapsulated in democracy being the government of the people, for the people and by the people. Look at those attributes and tell me the ones you find prevalent in our democratic culture. If I were to say, my position would be in 18 years of democracy, the story has been anything but democratic and how you can know this is if Barack Obama and 39-year-old President Emmanuel Macron of America and France respectively, would not be able to contest for councillorship let alone the presidency, not to talk of winning. We know the distortions they have to battle with and it is those hindrances that suggest to me that what we have is not democracy. The name for it is what I don’t know. Some say we must learn by experiences but I agree with Acting President Yemi Osinbajo who rightly said that discarding the lessons of history can be very fatal. We don’t have to experience everything; some things can be jumped over with the aid of patriotism and good conscience. As one scholar rightly noted, no system of governance is so badly structured that if operated by good men would not work. I think our main challenge is that of quality [well tutored and visionary] leaders.