Opinion | By Tony Osakpamwan Agbons | 15. 02. 2022
It was with pomp and pageantry Nigerians celebrated the return to Democratic rule on 29th May 1999. Despite the initial cynicism that greeted the `quick` transition to civil rule of the General Abdulsalami Abubakar junta, the Military Head of State managed to put in place a fast-tracked transition programme at a time of great national emergency. Not many believed that the now bearded General was going to willingly hand over power to civilians. A number of reputable, well-meaning Nigerians abandoned the ship in the process leading up to the elections that brought the current democratic dispensation into being. That foundational mistake could yet turn out to be our albatross.
One of the major challenges of the Nigerian state has always been that our democracy had never has time to blossom at each milestone. This can be better explained by a child’s mastery of developmental milestones. The operative word here is mastery. Imagine, if a child does not master seating upright then goes on to crawling which he or she does not master either, yet the child is set to run a race on a track. Just imagine the many tumbles and falls that would happen along the way in the race. The feeling has always been that of `what might have been`, `if that happened`, or `if that had not happened`. We always had the feeling of De ja vu each time our democratic evolution was truncated by the `Men in Khaki`. Some of us have always felt that 1960 – 1966 was too short for the first-generation independence-era politicians to get their acts together. The same gut feeling came back during the military incursion of 1983 that yanked off the democratically elected government of Late President Shehu Shagari. The circus by the men in jack boots came to an end when they eventually pulled out in 1999 and here, we are today. The last 22 years have been a mixed bag. Nigerians born from May 29th, 1999, are perhaps the luckiest generation. They have grown up knowing (without been taught in primary or secondary schools) that there are 3 arms of government – the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Some of us were not so fortunate.
Democracy is the best form of government. No doubt about that. Democracy is a system that enables citizens to put in trust, their sovereignty in the hands of a select group of individuals within a given period. Every system takes time to fine tune and Nigerians certainly knew that the first ten years of this democratic dispensation was going to be a steep learning curve. Perfection was not expected. Patience, endurance, and painstaking obeisance was required. Some measure of success has been achieved and a couple of jinx broken. For the first time, we have been able to witness the peaceful transition of power from one civilian administration to another. President Olusegun Obasanjo did that in handing over the reins of power to Late President Umaru Musa Yar `Adua in 2007. Similarly, we scored another first when for the first time, an incumbent President lost in a general election and amiable gentleman, President Goodluck Jonathan handed over peacefully. It was also the first time; we had a change of guard from one political party to another in our history. Another first Nigerians would love to see in future is the `democratic removal` of elected executive and legislative officials at local, state, and federal levels after first tenures for under performance.
In this democratic dispensation, a few disturbing recurring events bothers the mass of Nigerian people. First, is the high level of impunity by the political elite. Majority of them simply do not learn from history. Their selective amnesia and penchant for display of affluence while in office is demonic and unethical. Political office is for service and service alone. Not in Nigeria. A politician who was campaigning yesterday, begging the electorates for votes suddenly becomes an imperial lord immediately after getting into office. They instantly become inaccessible to the people they swore to serve. They quickly become Your Excellency when they have not displayed any excellence. They become demi-gods and transform to a monarchical element, surrounding themselves with lackeys and hangers-on, who worship them, tell them things they want to hear and flock around them like Bees to bright coloured flowers with pollen. These bees of
political affiliate, however, do not positively pollinate the polity but rather set out to thwart the political process to favour their leech-like life style off the hapless political class they suck on.
The second is the undemocratic and laughable elections often conducted by the various state independent electoral commissions, SIEC. This has been a huge joke across the length and breadth of the country. A situation where the political party of the Governor sweeps all the local government council seats does not bode well for our democratic evolution. Politics is local, and when the local flavour in it is lost, the wider implications are that other tiers of government are starved of genuine and quality aspirants. Time was, when performing local government leaders were fast-tracked to state and federal levels. It was a starting point for many politicians to test themselves locally, learn the ropes and proceed further. Ask any aspiring politician today about local politics, and the answer you get is that the party in power at the state level are superintending. Sycophantic loyalty to the State Governors have become a pre-requisite to be picked for local council candidature or offices. It is no longer elections but selections.
The third is the behaviour of many State Governors in Nigeria. A lot of them are hiding under the cloak of our pseudo-federal system to justify their non-performance. Many state governors are quick to heap the blames of our economic woes and their own incompetence on the President. They blame the federal government for everything and have taken criticism of the federal government to another level. It has now become the publicity stunt they use to shore up approval ratings in their states. The more a state governor is able to heap blames and vituperations on the federal government, the more popular they become on social media, and with their people. It is true that the government at the centre (federal) have their problems, but to blame all the wrongdoings on the federal government is a step taken too far. There is a particular governor from the middle belt who enjoys such publicity. It was therefore shocking recently, when news filtered out that workers in the employ
of the state and pensioners are being owed arrears of unpaid salaries and entitlements. Certainly, a case of ‘much ado about nothing’!
The fourth angle in this discuss is the transfer market syndrome by the political class. This is a major `democratic immorality` in our polity. Due to the weak party system, we operate in Nigeria, our political parties are nothing but `vehicular machines` that politicians ride to the destination of powerful positions. The modern day Nigerian politicians have no regards whatsoever for party discipline. All our current political parties lack ideologies. Hardly anyone know what they stand for on Education, Health, Housing, Agriculture, Power, to mention but a few. The word, `manifesto` which in the day’s yore was a swansong in party politics lexicon has been permanently consigned to the scrap heap. The two so called Mega political parties of the day – the APC and PDP (All Progressives Congress, People`s Democratic Party) are the worst culprits. Nigerians really cannot differentiate between them ideologically. Make a didactic comparison between the APC or PDP and the hey days of the NPN or UPN (National Party of Nigeria or Unity Party of Nigeria) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We can look further back to the early 1960s when the Action Group, AG or the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, NCNC or the Northern People`s Congress, NPC held sway. During those dispensation, even a child can on their fingertips outline the cardinal programs of those political parties. Today, ask a Nigerian about the ideology of the APC or PDP or any of the political parties. Sadly, no one knows. Not because we do not want to know, but it’s because we were never told. Ask an APC or PDP stalwart about their manifesto on Education, Health, Agriculture, Transport, Housing etc all you will get is a blank stare. Election campaigns have degenerated to mere entertainment events where politicians show off their latest dancing steps amidst loud afro-juju music beats. No attempt is made to address key policy issues or strategic socio-economic indices. What a shame!
The final part of the jigsaw of Nigeria`s democratic immorality is citizens orientation. It is often posited that a people are deserving of the type of leadership they get. This axiom is apt as it is from the Nigerian population that leaders will emerge to lead the country. It is understandable that majority of the populace have been beaten to pulp by the `satanic` ruling political elite. Poverty, anger, frustration flows across the land. There is a vile struggle of survival of the fittest amongst the citizenries. The mantra is `grab what you can grab`. Care, love, and compassion for others have disappeared from the mind and psyche of majority of our people. The mantra is `so long as my family and I are okay, other folks can go to blazes`. All sectors of the society are daily being bastardized and monsters being created from the ever-increasing multitude of young people, many of whom have been deprived of opportunities in their motherland. However, if we must reverse the trend of impending destruction facing our nation, we the people must take it in our stride. We must show that sovereignty belongs to us, and not a few political elites and their hangers-on.
The Nigerian citizens must coalesce to unite in purpose, and send the group of wicked, inhuman politicians a clear message. Politics is a game of numbers. We the people, have to flood the membership of these political parties and take active part in the process. If the right candidates do not emerge from the political parties, voting for irresponsible contestants on election day is akin to facing the devil and the deep blue sea. The crux of our leadership conundrum is at the party level. We find a solution to that mountain, and we will be good to go! As a people let us stop blaming others for the problem which we can resolve collectively. Politics is a dirty game no doubt about that, but therein lies the salvation of our shared nationhood. For as the Sage, Kwame Nkrumah puts it succinctly, “seek ye first the political kingdom and every other thing shall be added unto you”. Our time to act is now. We, the Nigerian people, must stop this music with its symphony of democratic immorality.
•Dr Agbons is founder of the Institute of Good Governance