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Probing the soul of Nigeria’s democracy

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HEINOUS as Tran-Atlantic slave trade was the most cruel of its human demeaning stance is its divesting of the slaves (fellow homo sapiens), any element of liberty and self worth. The slaves lived for their masters and were worth no more than objects intended to fulfill the owner’s bidding. Even their children were subject to this rule except if the  unusual happens, and their freedom is bought off by whatever circumstance.

Merchants of the inhuman trade were not in doubt the sacrilegious connotations of their trade, but chose to ignore that until champions of liberty rose to challenge the despicable act and force enthronement of freedom through equal treatment of mankind. On the heels of this feat, came governance systems to stabilise freedom and liberty across human demography; democracy became the heir apparent.

\  The system in all intent and purpose sets to liberate all people under its coverage from subjugation, exclusion and oppression – Nigerian democracy, signatory to this universal convention.

Democracy had since made inroad into Nigeria political landscape since Independence, in October 1960, but made more flowing headlines  in 1992, and from 1999 to the present time. 1992 was an attempt that produced a stillbirth, while 1999 ushered in the much sought commodity in Nigerian polity. It could well be said that Nigeria has relished two decades of uninterrupted democracy and on course for more.

Significant as the duration of democracy in Nigeria may be, the product of the practice as well would not go without critical evaluation. Drawing from Socrates’s human philosophy, that life lived unexamined is not worth anything.

The hullabaloo of annulled 1992 election in Nigeria no doubt paved way for the eventual emergence of democracy in 1999, but since 1999 that Nigeria has practiced the democracy, more questions than answers seem to trail her record. Democracy promises good life, derived from all inclusive pool of resources (ideas). The big dreams of getting sufficient or near sufficient Infrastructural development in the backward socio-economy of the country seems to find place in the almighty democracy flaunted alluringly by the developed countries and copied by Nigerian politicians to suite their purpose. Quality and affordable education, good health care facility, food availability, excellent road, water and electricity infrastructure among other things are part of the flowery promises democracy shapes in the mind, but can Nigerian version ever yield this sumptuos fruit? The country’s situation provides clear answer, for under her democracy,  economy got wrecked such that she was ranked the poverty capital in the world in 2017, close to two decades of democracy practice. It is in this system that many Nigerian roads practically became impassable, pipe borne water non existent, electricity fairy tale, yet taxes are collected for the purpose of their provision.

The crux of the matter is not the absence of those good promises of democracy in Nigeria polity but what makes democracy deficient in Nigerian. Leadership would easily be cited here, but who are the leaders and what bestowed the title to those who parade themselves as leaders aside from positions they held or hold? If leadership could be said to be the bane of development in democratic Nigeria, then the political class should apologise to Nigeria for the current situation. Yes! If the current sorry state of the country is anything to go by, which government has left Nigeria better than it met it and are all the actors at least from May 29, 1999 till date not from the political class? Like the slaves and their masters in the ignoble human degrading history, Nigerian political class, both the political elites and the politicians have resolved not to hand liberty to the electorate in their bid to compel perpetual loyalty.

The just concluded general election provides ground for objective scrutiny of inherent flaws in Nigeria’s electoral system which had given vent to poor leadership over the years. This is imperative as it is the platform upon which people who govern the country emerge. In putting this into context, the activities of politicians continue to make unending narrative. Their brazen rascality challenges morality and continue to derobe the system of any credibility and value. In the last elections, allegations of vote buying, thuggery, compromised security and electoral officers bent on influencing outcomes of the process were rife. Electoral rules meant nothing to the political elite.  Infractions of electoral rule was manifest to the level of alleged forcing of Returning Officer to announce candidate who did not win as the winner; as in the case of Imo State and Rochas Okorocha episode. 19 out of 36 states had issues leading to inconclusiveness  and mandatory supplementary election. Though, it could be argued that the supplementary election in itself is a conformity with extant electoral rule. The concerns are, how much could the factors that yielded the inconclusive elections be controlled by the process to mitigate the situation?

In fact, performance no longer seemed to matter in soliciting votes from electorates but crude force as in the cases of Rivers, Bauchi, Imo, some parts of Lagos, Kaduna, Plateau, Benue amongst others, yet commensurate arrests and prosecutions seem to miss in the link. Then, what picture is being painted and what message is being transmitted to upcoming generation when impunity is celebrated than punished. In seeking to  answer that, further issue of those behind the nurture of impunity in the polity  arises and the politicians come to mind again.

A gender advocate, Proactive Gender Initiative chairperson, Esther Uzomah paints a succint picture of the country’s poor development run with a simple question, “how do you except meaningful development from a system where impunity has become culture?.”

Take it or leave it, the inference spreads across all sectors of the nation’s polity. The electoral laws are made prior to elections; Accords (peace) are signed by various players involved in some cases, yet, these laws are flagrantly abused in extreme pursuit of electoral victory, whatever it takes. Cases of ballot box snatching, thuggery, taking of electoral officers hostage and compelling them to bid the dictates of certain interests and many other violence had been widely reported in various media up to the last conducted elections. But can people boldly say that culprits were apprehended and duly punished to cushion repeat occurrences? Nigerians watch, they bark, they hawl, they offer possible resistance and resign to their fate in defeatism.

But can Nigeria not get better? A political scientist, Prof. Nuhu Yaqub believes Nigeria can, but on the condition that her electoral process be comprehensively improved. This is possible if the behaviors of the political class could shift from party, class, ethnic and religious considerations to ideological lines. “We have currently a situation where people do not understand that at a certain level of its election, voters are free to vote any candidate of their choice even if from rival political party; especially when and where the opposition party has a better programme than his own party. But in Nigeria’s situation, we have personalities looming too large from what should be expected of a normal democracy. In normal democracy, people vote according to certain policy preferences.”

In the forgoing, emphasis is on politicians and their conduct viz a viz the current state of the country; thus, heightening the curiosity whether the political class had conducted themselves enviably to warrant the peoples’ yearning for democracy or is the country cursed with the continued presence of this crop of politicians in the polity?  By and large, a front line politician, serving senator from Niger north and current Senate House Committee Chairman on Media and Publicity, Sabib Abdulahi in a media discussion provides a soft landing for the growing poor perception of politicians in the present sociopolitical clime. “I  think, in every setting, there is bound to be the good, the bad and the ugly; ours is not an exception. But I would like to situate the context on the saying that whatever you see happening cannot be isolated from the environment itself. In many instances where the blame is on the political class, it is obvious that the environment in which they operate cannot be so free from most of the things you see as infractions.”

Apparently, the prevalent blame games attest to underlying flaw in the system that needs urgent attention if Nigeria is to practically move forward.  In this wise, tempting incentives attached to political offices such as bloated emoluments needs urgent restructuring. The assumption of political office holding as platform for fastest wealth acquisition and surest return for investment should be rooted out as a matter of expediency. The business of governance must be hinged on service to the people and only persons with the character should find their way there. The do or die attitude bedeviling the country’s elections would ebb naturally if the lucrative nature of political investment in Nigeria is given corresponding task.

Many Nigerians are happy that another election has been successfully completed in the country’s history, but not many can look into the anals, from retrospective point, and beat their chest for a guaranteed progressive future.

T he electorates demand better deal from this democracy bargain because it is on the principle of liberty, equity and justice that their bond with it was sealed. Citizens should be allowed to feel democracy that improves living standard not one that enslaves, subjugates and impoverishes them.

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