Recent developments in the polity represent a frightening attestation that Nigerian politicians are yet to reconcile themselves to the sterling principles of democratic governance more than eighteen years into civil rule. Indeed, at all times, the freedom of Nigerians to express themselves and assert their preferences in the polity should command the unreserved respect of the government of the day. But when the government begins to erect brick walls before an aggrieved population, deploying the machinery of state to muffle dissenting voices, it must be clear to it that it is only putting forward an appointment with the inevitable; it can be voted out. Given the fact that the country is almost stagnant economically, and that biting hardship in the land has assumed such a choking proportion, the people at the receiving end should be allowed to express themselves. Little wonder then that Nigerians of decent disposition are rudely jolted by our politicians’ most revolting attitude to the practice of politics in the country. Is this really a democratic dispensation? This is the question many Nigerians seem to be asking!
It is true that the nation transited to civil rule after a prolonged disruption during which the military held sway. Sadly, we cannot in all honesty say that transition to genuine democratic practice had taken place. This perhaps is not surprising, as the decades of military imposition stalled the evolution of a democratic culture. Like any other form of societal activity, inducing the acceptance of norms, attitudes and behaviour compatible with the functioning of a democratic culture is bound to take time. But eighteen years is quite a long time for even a pupil to graduate from primary school to the university. Those whose formative years took place under military dictatorship might perhaps be forgiven for not knowing how a democratic environment is supposed to play out. Unfortunately, natural wastage, the infirmities of old age and loss of interest and relevance have prevented those who could be described as “trainers” from providing the sort of guidance and advisory role which they could normally have been expected to play.
The absence of this critical factor means that the apprentice gains his freedom without completing the rigours of full training. In the absence of properly constituted political parties, which inculcate in their members a clear philosophical-cum-ideological orientation as well as a sense of loyalty to a strong organizational structure anchored on disciplined esprit de corps, the woes currently bedeviling the political system are almost inevitable. The parties were hurriedly cobbled together to meet deadlines set by the military transition. Because of the essentially loose electoral alliances, strange bedfellows were expected to cohabit presumably in some peace. The forced cohabitation has clearly not been harmonious. Even the All Progressives Congress, APC, the party currently in power, has shown that it was forced to emerge from the ashes of several other political parties just to capture power from the erstwhile ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, not for any ideological standpoint but for showmanship. The absence of a strong middle class and corresponding social safety nets to cushion the uncertainties of the economy has meant that joining a political formation is akin to another form of economic activity.
Not surprisingly, it becomes a turf war over territorial control or in the worst kind of circumstances, a matter of life and death. That the political process is just another form of economic activity is a reflection of the constrictions in the productive/income generating sphere. Those who have been at the helm at all levels – Federal, State and Local Government – since the return to civil rule have not helped matters. Indeed, most of them have been irresponsible by recklessly flaunting the appurtenances of power, privileges and perks, which were unknown or forbidden in our previous democratic experiments. Some of the emoluments attached to political office and the bounties to be gained by access to the corridors of power are clearly unknown and will not be tolerated in any genuine democratic arrangement. Political office in Nigeria has become unnaturally attractive as an investment, hence the desperation of politicians.
The decline in standards in our political terrain can only be arrested by going back to the basics. We have to build proper political parties anchored on structure and discipline, funded by the generality of its membership and bound together by a coherent philosophical or ideological thrust. There is nothing new about this as we have had proper political parties in the past. Secondly, a national agreement on democratic principles needs to be fashioned by all key stakeholders, setting out in clear, unambiguous terms, the way and manner in which the democratic process is to be operated. There is no longstanding democracy in which such an agreement, sometimes unwritten, does not guide the democratic system. Again, our foreign reserves must be used to develop our economy to combat mass unemployment and excruciating poverty. Democracy is not all about election, and winning election is not an end in itself but a means to an end. It is only in Nigeria that the Executive can order the Army to occupy parts of the country without inputs from the National Assembly even without declaration of a state of emergency in those zones. It is unfortunate that advisers to the president themselves do not know that their principal is operating under a democratic dispensation.
Governors, whether of the ruling party or opposition ones are busy travelling up and down knowing full well that each day a governor leaves his state, he attracts an estacode of $10,000. A shocked world is watching Nigeria exhibiting the unmistakable symptoms of a police state. The government should jettison its present vainglorious chest-beating and rouse itself to the rude reality that the people are grossly disenchanted with it. Even the opposition parties are all in the same game that has confined Nigeria within the underdevelopment bracket more than two decades into a democratic dispensation. This is giving democracy a bad name.