By Tonnie O. Iredia
In 2015, when the then US President, Barrack Obama visited a handful of African countries, Nigeria was excluded, though he got as close as neighbouring Ghana. Later in the year, at an International Conference on Media Development and Sustainability in Africa organized by the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, one participant engaged me on the visit suggesting that Obama was probably persuaded into believing that Ghana was a more stable democracy. While I was inwardly sure that real democracy was yet to get to my country-Nigeria, it did not appear rational that the visit of an American President to an African country was a sufficiently well-thought out criterion for determining the degree of adherence to democratic practices in such a country. My inner feeling that things would change soonest for Nigeria has painfully, not happened 5 years down the line because Nigerian politicians like my colleagues at the Switzerland conference, did not appreciate the difference between the object and the subject of democracy.
Perhaps, because military intervention in Nigeria’s political life lasted far beyond what makes sense, many people in the country have erroneously come to see democracy as a system of government by civilians as distinct from militocracy. In reality, democracy is not about the absence of uniformed-people in positions of power and authority, it is instead, a system which institutionalizes freedom – free speech, free movement, free association etc. It is a world-wide recognized system of government premised on 5 pillars namely: a) sovereignty of the people, b) rule of law, c) free and fair elections, d) majority rule and e) protection of minority rights. In other words, democracy is not about the rule by civilians but by leaders who recognize the expedience of adhering to the 5 pillars. So far, it has not been easy to see Nigerian politicians who would comfortably allow the minority to even have a say because their disposition is that democracy is a game of numbers.
As for majority rule, no one is sure who genuinely obtains the highest number of votes in a typical Nigerian election which is never free or fair. Even if some contestants are not assured of public support in our elections, both the police and the judiciary can get them to be declared elected. Put differently, the existence in Nigeria of judicial institutions that are charged with the mandate of appropriately resolving political and electoral disputes, does not translate to the presence of rule of law in the country. For long, many contestants have been smartly edged out of their electoral victories through legal technicalities or brutally terminated for unconvincing reasons. One of such bizarre outcomes was the emergence of a governor in Imo state that was credited with more votes than voters thereby placing our bogus democracy outside the precincts of the rule of law.
The undemocratic routes through which people got into power to enjoy huge perquisites of office converted the methods of getting into office to the goal of governance. This explains the lack of accountability by office holders and their preoccupation with arrangements to snatch their next tenure. To them, every opportunity was for electioneering and none for governance. Private armies were organized to guard political leaders thereby leaving the nation with a law enforcement framework that had nothing to do with the people. Every opportunity – jobs, school admissions and even palliatives during the recent pandemic were for politicians and their friends/families. Thus, elections were fought as battles while incumbency was stretched to the point of ridicule. Whereas there was a reduction in impunity in the recent elections in Edo and Ondo states, it was occasioned by threats of visa ban and forfeiture of assets on some of our political actors by some foreign countries.
The major obstacle to the coming of democracy to Nigeria is the failure of our people to recognize the sovereignty of the people as the most important pillar of democracy. It is easily forgotten that it is people who vote at elections for other people to become political leaders. It is also people who form governments, it is people too who undertake governance to improve the living conditions of people. Whether or not a government succeeds and gets reelected is determined by people. Accordingly, government ought to be for the people and by the people. A country where government is for politicians rather than the people is not a democracy. Some patriots shouted themselves hoarse that except Nigeria stopped functioning as if government was a profitable venture by the elected segment of society instead of as a service to the generality of the people, she cannot have sustainable democracy. Luckily, from nowhere, a glimpse of hope emerged; democracy suddenly boarded a flight and arrived at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport 12 days ago. The flight was carrying Nigerian youths who having become fed up decided to take their destiny in their own hands by engaging in a non-stop protest against the statusquo.
Since then, those courageous youths have remained in the streets making several demands beginning with the call for an end to SARS- a team of fearful law enforcement operatives notorious for inflicting bodily harm on innocent citizens while criminals operated unhindered. Many in my generation may not have agreed with the modus operandi of the youths but they seem to have proven that Nigerians can get more from democracy. If truly things have become so hard for the nation particularly economically why are we all not part of the pains, instead of the ordinary people alone bearing the entire brunt? With such undaunting and unending narrative, some governors took steps to reduce the tension. Sanwo-olu of Lagos quickly picked up the list of demands of the protesters in his location and handed them personally to President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja. Other governors, notably Wike of Rivers and Abdulrazaq of Kwara virtually joined the protests. Indeed, the protesters ferried the Kwara governor by Okada to the office of the Commissioner of Police. The lesson here is that if it has become so bad, we needn’t buy cars for our leaders as they too like us can use Okada and cut off all the expenses of their motorcades.
From the protests, the lyrics of democracy easily reached many parts of the nation. It helped our Senate to call for a reconsideration of the nomination of a presidential media aide to serve as an electoral umpire because our constitution does not allow a card-carrying member of a political party to serve in INEC. Those who are unwilling to see such a change of heart as a product of the protesters’ sermon, should remember that such partisan nominations successfully passed through in the past. Only last month when Nigerians including this writer raised eyebrows over the electoral commissioner in Edo, no one listened. Even INEC dismissed the matter with the argument that the appointment was not made by the commission. Although, democracy is about freedom, our legislators have been anxious to increase the laws which frighten everyone off from freedom of speech. While thanking God for the visit of the democracy flight, for how long will the passengers remain here?
– Oct. 18, 2020 @ 8:56 GMT /