Writing in The Enforcement of Morals, the eminent jurist Patrick Devlin emphasizes that in the delineation of the political space of any free society, the bias is always towards freedom. This ought to be so in order that authority remains a grant and liberty not a privilege.
In the same vein Chinua Achebe in “What Nigeria is to me” made it clear that Nigeria is neither our mother nor our father, rather that Nigeria is a child albeit enormously talented but incredibly wayward. This means that the child is not someone in an unknown world that coaxes his would-be parents to copulate. Rather, the child is a product of the free act of copulation of the parents. It is only through this prism can any father or mother be held accountable for the waywardness of the child that escaped from her womb or his loins. From the foregoing, it becomes clear that the citizens of a state, in this case, the Nigerian-state, is both logically and existentially prior to the political or ruling class of such state. What this means is that the political class or any contestant to political office cannot be seen as having a prima facie right to any political office which makes him or her an object of ingratiation and, on the other hand, society or the people has the right to grant political offices to any of her citizens irrespective of his or her antecedent.
In Nigeria, a certain falsehood has been around for some time and is now being demystified; that is, the intellectual mendacity that a certain group of people be it based on their ethnicity, religion or social-status, has the prima facie right to decide who run or head political offices. The problem is that when falsehood abides for so long, it starts looking like the truth. We must be clear that it is not about the chicken coming home to roost, rather telling the chicken that its roosting place is not its home. Only fellow usurpers will engage the chicken in the argument to determine the true owner of the house. That a group of people should be engaged in a shouting-feat that they have been denied their right to political office or that hell will be let loose if they are not granted the power to run such offices just because there are other contestants or because of a prearrangement or agreement is not only insulting to the intelligence of Nigerians but also morally repulsive. It above all portrays such individuals as petty and misfits for political offices. Such individuals should be reminded that no one has the monopoly of violence and none is immune to the consequences of violence. Superman only exists in the movies and it is just a Hollywood make-believe for kindergarten consumption. Even dictators that portray themselves as supermen have been known to scurry into holes when the bombs start falling. This have even given rise to the cliché “Dummies in holes” a reference to Saddam’s dash to a hole when Americans advanced. Indeed we must note as Bert Rölling pointed out that “the road to hell is paved with good conventions.”
It is germane to add that democracy as the free assent of citizens to individuals’ quest to run political offices does not exist of itself. Citizens must be won over by contestants to such offices. Any individual vying for any political office, if he or she plans to win, must be able through his manifesto, campaign and above all character to convince the voters that he or she is the best candidate for the office. The citizens on their own—if they are not to be held accountable for the deeds of the evil child that escaped from their womb—must use every opportunity they have to scrutinize such individuals to ascertain their character and whether their words will actually match their deeds when the time comes; for as the Latin man says Agere Sequitor esse meaning that action follows being. A contestant of over forty or fifty years old is no longer a child. And in so far as we believe in the capacity for remedial actions or the potentiality for self-renewal, we are not hoodwinked—at least I am not—to believe that a man of over fifty years will suddenly change his ways. Perhaps this happens in the Christian setting where there is the saying that “old things have passed away” or the belief that baptism washes away sins. Well, I say, “talk to the Christians.” As a citizen, I urge fellow citizens, if I may also borrow the cliché of the Christians, “discern every spirit.” All I know is that I have been inebriated by my Igbo culture with her saying that “Agadi nwanyi anaghi amu aka ekpe na-nka” an old woman doesn’t learn how to use her left hand in her old age.
To be specific, I urge my fellow citizens in the name of democracy to reject those individuals who have at any point in time in the evolution of our political space truncated the will of the people to choose their own leaders. In other words, coup-plotters and military heads of state remain top most in the list. To be sure, we also have to make room for remedial actions, but the polity is large enough to accommodate such actions. In the name of remedy, any past military head of state can start by vying for the office of the local government chairman or that of a house of representative or at most the senatorial seat of his constituency. To tell me that the only way a coup-plotter can make-up for truncating the will of the people is to occupy the same office as the President of the state is nothing but mere sophistry. However, if we choose to bend the truth, we cannot abscond from history to the extent that we accept the falsehood that democrats and coup-plotters should stand shoulder to shoulder as if nothing has happened. It is pure nonsense.
To reiterate what I have said somewhere else, democracy is not equal to development. That is to say, where development or success is conceived as infrastructural and institutional building, it cannot be equated with the right of citizens to freely choose their leaders. Of course, infrastructural development can occur and has been seen to have occured where there are dictators and totalitarian governments. Spain saw much of its development in the era of Franco and most South Asian states achieved much infrastructural development through the instrumentality of dictators. But history still points to the fact that the most democratized states are the most developed in terms of infrastructure. This means that to set the issue of democracy and that of infrastructural development radically apart is to misconstrue the argument for democracy. The United States remains the most developed country in the western hemisphere if not in the world and it is the most democratized state. On the Eastern axis, after the Second World War and the entrance of America into Japan with multi-party democracy, Japan developed at a faster rate. And till today, Japan remains the most developed in Asia. In fact since the exit of Koizumi, Japan has been changing Prime Ministers like a woman changing her undergarments but that has not radically affected the development of Japan. In effect development happens at a faster and better rate where people are given the free hand to manage their affairs.
Development is not devoid or averse to minds that are capable of cool and rational judgement. The American development cannot be separated from her intellectual leaders dating back to Abraham Lincoln down to the present Obama. In this respect, I think that Nigeria has not been as lucky as she is at the moment. This is the first time of her having a PhD holder as a president and a presidential candidate. It is clear that degrees are not prerequisites for vying or running political offices. But we should make no mistake about it, intellectuality counts in the development of any state.
In actual fact, Goodluck Jonathan from any perspective is the most qualified for the job and it is our task to enlighten the public voters as such. From a moral point of view, this is the first time in the history of Nigeria that a person from the Niger Delta is the President or came close to the office. The same Niger Delta produces over 80% of the wealth of the state. From the perspective of managerial-experience, no candidate matches that of GEJ; a person who moved from being a deputy Governor to a Governor and from that to being a Vice-President and then a President. Whatever one may say or infer, being the president for a day in a democratic setting offers one more experience and information than any other office. People have complained that GEJ is weak and clueless; my answer is that the problem stems from our being ruled by dictators for so long. We have come to believe that good governance can only be achieved by manhandling people or flagellating them in public in the name of WAI or throwing imprecations on any one even to an artist who dares shout “Nigeria jaga jaga.” GEJ has shown that he is neither weak nor clueless. You can call it political opportunism , but no president dared to appoint an Igbo as the Army chief after the civil war. This singular act is a manifestation of courage on its own. When the people was calling for the sack of Dambazu, he remained calm and acted at the appointed time, and John Togo have also come to know that it will not be business as usual. He appointed the first woman ever to head the Petroleum Ministry and we can see that a woman is performing better than men. My advice to cynics is, underestimate him at your own peril.
I have said it before that Nigeria stands at the threshold of history, that is to say either to be progressively minded and remake the state or be reactionary and do the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome. It must be noted also that in the remaking of Nigeria, “the road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep.” But what we need is a president and leaders who will be honest and ready to work. Many of us are quick to compare Nigeria with other countries. The issue as my people say is “kpuom isi akpuru obi, isi gi odika isi obi?” that is to say that comparison cannot suffice. One wonders, if those who compare know that there are no bases for comparison, for instance, to compare Nigeria with the United States. In Nigeria no single institution is in good working condition. We recall that in America the judiciary was quick to re-administer the oath of office on Obama just because of the omission or pronouncement of some words. In Nigeria who cares. At this moment we are still talking about DDC machines seconds away from elections. And no one has stopped to question what happened to the money given to the erstwhile INEC chairman for DDC machines. For sure, Prof. Attahiru Jega is not the first one to tell us about DDC machines. But millions have been given to INEC again for the same machines. And perhaps after Jega has finished his assignment, nobody will scrutinize INEC’s account or audit her books. It is really a shame. It beats my imagination that INEC has no credible logistics team that would have accompanied the delivery of DDC machines from producers to the warehouses to avoid them being tampered with in transit. Lo and behold, the airport management also don’t care about the security of such sensible materials.
Democracy is about institutional building and such institutions will help to check the excesses of individuals heading political offices—both in the federal and state levels. Institutions can only be built by credible people for them to have positive effects on the life of the common man. The Federal Government cannot solve the myriads of problems beleaguering Nigeria and we can only hope so to our utter disappointment. Every citizen must play his or her own part starting from his or her own constituency. In this regard I salute Prof. Dora Akunyili who has retraced her steps by trying to start from the grass root and I wish her luck in her candidacy for the senate. In the same vein I salute Prof. Wole Soyinka whose agenda for his party is to start from the roots, i.e, either limiting themselves for a start to local governments or particular states. Such actions embody the spirit of “achuwa abuo otu ala” meaning to say that engaging in multiple agenda at the same time often translates to the loss of all. More credible people are needed to be granted authorities not only at the federal level but at the ward levels where they can positively make an impact.