The first time I asked this question was May 28, 2012. Six years after, May 28, 2018, has not witnessed much difference in the response elicited by that poser.
Democracy, in Nigeria, has ostensibly been government of a few people ruling in the interests of a privileged, powerful few!
The poor gets poorer; majority wallow in misery and all sorts of deprivation. Democracy, in the last 19 years, if we must tell ourselves the bitter truth, has served largely the interests of those who have found themselves at the helm of leadership.
Three years on, has the President Muhammadu Buhari administration changed or reordered the predatory notion of leadership and democracy in our land? Are Nigerians happier than they were before he assumed office? Is there hope things could truly change for the better or we are in for a worse nightmare if he gets reelected? Is he truly offering his best and Nigerians are just impatient for a miracle, after many years of the rampage of the locusts?
Nigerians, you be the judge. Let conscience be your guide in 2019, like I always say. But, truth is: The choice we make will inevitably return to haunt us one way or the other.
Democracy, whose democracy? …
The piece you ought to be reading right now should have been entitled: “The House Lugard Built.” But at the last minute, I had a change of mind and jettisoned the idea of running it in today’s column. As you all know, May 29, 24 hours from now, is Nigeria’s Democracy Day. This day, 19 years ago, democracy, or better still, civilian rule, was restored in our land after over three decades of the rule of the jackboot.
For the curious, here is a snippet of the article you haven’t read: The House Lugard Built was expected to be an expository piece on our nation; why we are the way we have been in the last 58 years since we gained political independence from the colonialist; why we haven’t quite coalesced into a nation and how our country’s rulers have ironically been striving to realise Lugard’s 100-year-old dream. Expiration of the Amalgamation treaty!
Here is what I mean: Lord Frederick Lugard, the colonial administrator, never disguised his reason for amalgamating this country: administrative convenience and tax purposes. From all intents and purposes, Lugard never wanted to build a nation. He couldn’t be bothered about such fangled expressions as ‘unity and nationalism.’ He was a pure businessman representing the colonial office’s business interest!
My second thesis: our founding fathers seemed to have abandoned nationalism soon after independence. What the three brilliant musketeers, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, practiced was regionalism or, at best, confederation: loose federation, with greater regional autonomy. The result: aggressive regional development and expansion. Each of the regions developed at its own pace. The centre was unattractive as power base. That did not mean the regional leaders were not patriotic. They loved their nation, but you could not call them nationalists. Patriotic regionalists, if you like. But that healthy dose of patriotism has been the best and last we have ever witnessed since independence. The civilian administrations that came after them neither loved their nation, regions nor states. What we have had has been predatory leadership. Leadership dictated by what goes into the stomach.
It was the military, which came in with their command structure, that restored power to the centre, ruling as unitarists. All orders flowed from the office of Head of State/Commander-in-Chief. The presidential system we practice today combines elements of parliamentary system of the First Republic, militarism or military regime structure and an ill-digested presidential system we are still grappling to understand. What we now have: a rumbling stomach triggered by consumption of concepts and practices incompatible with any human system.
The third thesis: the reason we have found it difficult to function as a nation in the true sense of the word is simple – elite greed and a conquered followership. Conquered by hunger, poverty and division festered by same rampaging leadership holding the people in servitude over the years.
Thesis four: Nigeria can be great again. When? Not too long from now. The people are speaking up today as never before. They recognise bad leadership at every level of governance, even if they are not yet able to do something about it. They know governors that are serving them well and those that are not, self-serving lawmakers, local government councillors who are canceling projects and enriching themselves. Execu-thieves at all levels will not continue to have a field day. How will it happen? The same way all change occurs: massive discontent and the survival instinct. When people are pushed to the wall and there is nowhere else to go, they will fight back. With mass poverty and systematic pauperisation of the people, no one needs soothsayers to predict that, sooner than we all think, Nigeria will be restored to Nigerians: a nation guaranteeing the welfare of all its citizenry!
But before that happens, shall we return to today’s piece by posing the question: which democracy have we been practicing in the past 19 years? Government of the people or government of the elite, by the elite and for the privileged few connected to the power base?
Abraham Lincoln, the former president of the United States of America, defined democracy as government of the people, by the people and for the people. Can anyone honestly stand on the rooftop to proclaim that, in the past 19 years, what we have had (at all tiers of government) has been government of the people for the people? Certainly not.
We all can see who have been beneficiaries of dividends of democracy. The group of Nigerians for whom democracy has been exceedingly beneficial. We see them in their state-of-the-art cars and eye-popping mansions; we see their well-fed faces, starched kaftans and designer suits on television and the newspapers. We see them as they address us the day after tomorrow, asking us to bear with them, that things will soon get better, the same message they delivered last year and the year before, for 19 years running now.
Yet, we know some of them who could barely afford a flight ticket on their assumption of legislative duties in Abuja in 1999. They had to take the night bus in order not to miss the inauguration. But today, they have become regular faces on first class tickets on international carriers. Let’s not talk about their wages. Let’s forget the perks of office of political office holders in what we expected to be government of the people and you will weep for democracy; Lincoln would turn in his grave at the bastardisation of his popular definition of democracy.
I was reading the interview of Chief Philip Asiodu, the former economic adviser to former President Obasanjo, sometime ago in Sunday Independent newspaper, and what he said struck me. His words: “In the eight years, between 1999 and 2007, Nigeria earned more than $300b, but it did not translate into wealth for Nigerians. So, we are saying that the path we are following, this inflation of recurrent expenditure, shows us that what we are paying our officials and legislators, is not sustainable. At Independence, legislators earned 800 pounds. They came twice to sit. They would sit for appropriation for two months and after that they all went home. Around July, they would come to approve proposals for laws. That was all. Today, when you tune your television and see the Houses of Assembly, House of Representatives and Senate, how many people do you see in these Houses when they are debating? The big question is: do we really need what we are paying for?”
He went further: “A senator is accounting for N300m in a country where per capita income is N3,000. In America, where GDP is $40 trillon, if we were to use the Nigerian yardstick, then the American senators should earn $40m in a year, but he does not earn up to $250,000. Has this not shown we are really out of realities in the world.”
Of course, Asiodu, a super-permanent secretary in his days, is right. We have democracy without dividends for the people, except a privileged few. We have democracy serving the interest of a greedy minority at the expense of the grieving and starving majority.
To make democracy meaningful, we all must be collective beneficiaries of its dividends. We must have good roads, quality education for our kids and youths, functional health care for our mothers and sisters and transformation of our lives for the better. As we celebrate another Democracy Day tomorrow, these are the parameters by which we will continue to hold our leaders.