NIGERIA: With 20 years of democracy, warts and all, under our belt, why should the democratic ethos and temperament in Nigeria still be such scarce commodities among our politicians, the movers and shakers of the polity? Why should our politicians still distance themselves from decent and civilized conduct? Why should they, at every election, major or minor, beat the drums of war and unnecessarily heat up the polity; making Nigeria look like a country at war?
These questions must baffle you as much as they baffle me; especially as you watch these great actors strutting the stage in Edo and Ondo states in the poorly choreographic dance of the inebriated. I raised the questions for two reasons.
One, the unwillingness or the inability of our politicians to be more democratic is a telling evidence that autocracy appears to be the preferred form of government among them. This would suggest that our democracy is yet to sprout roots that could hold it up and sustain it. The politicians, godfathers and godsons, et al, were led to the cool waters of democracy. But they have refused to drink from it. That is a greater problem for our country than you might think. Rightly or wrongly, nations are judged by the behavior and the attitude of their political leaders. You should have no problems with our political dividends here. No, I am not even talking of power and financial corruption.
To be fair, remember that most of these politicians came of age when the arbitrary nature of military rule was firmly entrenched in our country; when decisions were taken and implemented with immediate effect, all to doubtful effects. They were thus forged on the anvils of autocracy. Today, they are burdened with the detritus of what we should now regard as anachronistic. I think they deserve our sympathy, even if we must criticize them; as indeed we must; for the sake of the present and the future of our choice form of government. As the Bible would put it rather inelegantly, they actually know not what they do; brother, given the slippery nature of the democratic temperament.
Two, change is a critical element in human development and progress. If nothing changes for the better; human progress and development are hobbled and man matches on gaily on one spot. We should naturally expect that our post military democracy should have redefined our national politics; moving it a safe distance away from the primitive accumulation of political power, influence and wealth. That has not happened.
Nothing has actually fundamentally changed in the nature and the character of our national politics. Compared to the politics of our immediate post-independence years; our post-military democracy should have by now produced and entrenched a new attitude among our politicians. In a way, it has. The emergence of the godfather is part of this change; unwelcome though it might be for those who have no godfathers. The progressive marginalization of the ballot box as a means by which the people willingly institute a government by surrendering their weal to a chosen group of people is part of this change. The increasing assumption of the right of the judiciary to help institute governments for the people is part of this change.
It seems to me, and it disturbs me; that we are rapidly losing our grip on the fundamentals of democracy. The consequences could be huge. Injustice and unfairness in the conduct of our national politics have progressively marginalized the people and their right to institute governments of their choice. If democracy is a government of the people by the judiciary, there is a serious problem. The politicians in Nigeria brought in the judiciary because, given their nature; they cannot be trusted to eat amala with ewedu without soiling their expensive baba riga. And we should not forget that the rule of law; respect of human rights and dignity are products of democracy, not of autocracy.
The ballot paper and the ballot box were conceived as the most decent means of winning power; mainly through persuasion. In the unwelcome change that has taken over our national politics, the ballot paper and the ballot box have been turned into instruments for the purchase of power by political power seekers and taken corruption in the system to new heights. Our politicians do not win elections anymore; they capture power. Politics has been turned into war by other means. Blood flows in every election in the land. You should have no problems with appreciating this; if you watch the politicians on the stage and listen to their incendiary rhetoric.
I dare say this was not the intendment of the ancient people who gave us democracy, admittedly; to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the most difficult form of government. I raise these issues because it is easy to surrender to the primitive forces that have a vice grip on our national politics; hobbling our fitful efforts to progressively grow our democracy; then watching it flower in the salubrious climate of decent, matured and civilized behavior. Democracy must not remain a pipe dream and a nightmare rolled into one in our land. It will, if we refuse to take steps to save it and make it a government of the people; instituted by the people with the best intentions for their own good.
I suppose what we are seeing in Nigeria at the moment is the Nigerianisation of democracy. It is a hybrid form of governance in which autocracy and some elements of democracy are forced to co-habit in the interest of the few to the detriment of the many. Hardly complimentary. No one is speaking for democracy anymore because democracy prescribes winning rather than capturing power. Therefore, if capturing power is the norm in our national politics; no politicians would be so naïve as to worship in the shrine of democracy. It is inadvisable even. This is actually a frontal assault on democracy; something I do not think we should be particularly proud of as a nation.
Mark my words. When the war in Edo and Ondo states are fought and won, the day after would clearly show; as has consistently been done, that the elections in no way served the ends of democracy. They served the will of the godfathers and the godsons. And so, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation matches on to the drum beats of capturing power; and denying the people the right to fully express their will through the ballot paper and the ballot box. American sports legend George Lombard once said that winning was everything. So, it is too that capturing power is everything now in our national politics. If you can capture power with money and influence, why bother to win it?
And so, the world’s most populous black nation keeps disappointing black people everywhere; who trusted in its inherent capacity to be a role model for black nations. Consequently, Nigeria, a country with immense potential for political maturity and decency and economic and social development; keeps wobbling; picking up the pieces; and subjecting its future to a debt trap; as well as a heavy debt burden. And so, the world, too polite to laugh, snickers at us.
All because we cannot get our politics right and in a proper shape to serve our social and economic development needs. It is the way the cookies crumble.