Democracy in whose interest?(1)


For more than 10 years, I have been pondering on Nigeria’s democracy, opportunities and challenges it has brought to the nation in the past 17 years. In theory, the opportunities far outweigh the challenges. But in practice, the challenges are numerous and that is why political scientists always say that democracy is a very complex endeavour. Although, democracy is a fallacy in practice, but I love it more than any type of undemocratic rule especially military rule. This is because in a democracy, the people are supposed to keep the government in check provided they know what the government is doing.

When Abraham Lincoln defines democracy as “the government of the people, by the people, for the people,” he was perhaps referring to Western democracies. Lincoln’s definition of democracy doesn’t refer to democracies practiced by politicians of African genre. In the 1990s, some commentators and analysts expressed some condescending perceptions about Africans in their paperwork. One of them by name, George Louis Beer, claims that the “black race has hitherto shown no capacity for progressive development except under the tutelage of other peoples.” As if he was enhancing this derogatory assertion, he affirms that Africans existing stage of civilization in the late Twentieth Century is far below the potentialities for progress.

Beer was not alone in this severe remark about Africans. There were other commentators and analysts who painted an apocalyptic portrait of African nations in the early 1990s because of the immense human tragedy that pervaded the continent at that time under assorted military regimes. Of particular reference, is the statement made by one Paul Johnson, who opines that “some states are not yet fit to govern themselves, and so the civilized world has a mission to go out to these desperate places and govern.” He suggests further that individual “civilized countries would serve under his proposal as trustees.” Even Donald Trump, the Republican Presidential candidate, recently expresses his desire, if elected, to recolonize Africa and perhaps educate its politicians on how to govern Africans.

When I reflect on some of these disparaging assertions, I vehemently condemned them on grounds that African nations have come of age. And that our leaders have sufficient knowledge of the imperatives of good governance. More so that Africans have generally agreed to take their destiny in their own hands. My arguments were further driven by the fact that underdevelopment in most African nations were due to military rule in the1990s. And that military incursion into governance is an aberration from the norm.

Since Nigeria chose the path of democracy in 1999, there has been undulating progress made by successive governments in all spheres of its polity. We thought with democracy, various institutions of governance will be strengthened. This is because democracy is the best when compared to other systems of government. Many Nigerians accepted democracy because we assumed wrongly though, that it would build bridges and not walls between the rich and the poor. Our democracy has not given the poor any hope. Inflation and unemployment now make the poor more miserable.

The current economic challenges facing Nigeria today have been conceptualized, orchestrated and implemented since independence not by colonialists but by the political elites. I am aware that democracy alone will not solve all the problems of the nation with multiple ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. Democracy operated by an assemblage of sincere and committed leaders, supported by ardent followers would have gone a long way in solving most of the nation’s problems. It was in 2014 that Nigerians aligned themselves with a few politicians that there was need for change in governance as corruption and disregard for the rule of law were at their highest amplitudes.

A careful study of current political and socio-economic challenges, gives an impression that the electorate was deceived with the “change” mantra in 2014. The masses fell for it. Even some Nigerians who knew these crops of politicians and their antecedents fell for their strategic deception during the 2015 general elections. I thought the primary question Nigerians should have asked politicians before going to the polls was that: whose values, beliefs, attitudes, or behaviour would require change in order to have a progressive Nigeria? Nigerians should have asked what shift in national priorities, resources, and power were necessary for development in the country? And what sacrifices would have to be made by whom, and for who, in order to actualize the desired change? We did not ask these questions. Thus, Nigerians missed the opportunity big time!

The challenges Nigeria is currently facing are numerous and could better be solved when we have committed and sincere leaders at all levels of government. When all known indices of good governance are examined globally, Nigeria is always at the end of the ladder. Indeed, the reputation of Nigeria in the international arena is strained and embarrassing. Instead of democracy improving the quality of lives of the people, it has made many poor. Poverty experienced by Nigerians has reached a crescendo that some local analysts at a seminar asked: “in whose interest is Nigeria’s democracy.”

Nigerians want to know what they stand to benefit in democracy. Some Nigerians reason that democracy in Nigeria means “government of politicians, by politicians, for politicians only.” A fellow while expressing his views at the seminar says that “if governors and lawmakers serve for only 4 years and each go home with severance allowance and pension, but a public servant who served for about 20 years has not been paid gratuity and pension, democracy is only for politicians.” Then came a poser from me: Should Nigerians now abandon their legitimate jobs for politics? The answer was a loud “yes,” as politics seems to be the only profitable venture in Nigeria now. That is the way most Nigerians see politics. But El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna state, says that “the worst job available is to be a governor” as most of them cannot pay salaries.

To be continue…


MA Johnson

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