Like many words and concepts that have had their meanings blurred, democracy is little more than a myth today. People find comfort by reciting its worn ‘definition’ as ‘government of the people by the people and for the people.’ Except for the most deluded, it is clear that this definition is mere wishful recitation. Being stuck with the remains of the concept some analysts have gone as far as classifying countries as being fully democratic, partially democratic or autocratic at the other end of the scale. And the measure of this democratic experience is often hinged on the electoral processes or systems run in such nations. All these are measured by metres that dominant power blocs have imposed and secured as currently prevalent understanding of democratic norms.
It is not difficult to see that if democracy were to be the rule of the majority and if free elections were the measure of such political expressions they would have since been outlawed everywhere in the world. A rule of the people would not tolerate the treatment of peoples as mere pawns in any political arrangements. Consider Nigeria.
To contest an electoral office requires huge bags or barrels of cash. The price tag of a political party’s nomination form is so high that it erects a formidable barrier to candidates that may have the genuine interest of the people at heart rather and often pose no trouble for those seeking chunks of the national cake and the ubiquitous and heavily disputable titles of Excellency, Honourable, Right Honourable and what not. So, many genuine ambitions crash at the cash barrier. And the moneybags, or those clinging to the backs of godfathers, trudge on. Democratically. That is one.
With elections a few days away and with desperate campaigns from all quarters, do we see any offer by the parties of a whiff of system change? How many care to ask questions? Blossom Nnodim, the writer and social activist, recently tweeted to the end that she was waiting for the elections to be over so that we may all reboot our thinking faculties. I fully agree. Mass and social media commentaries are loaded with inanities and the gladiators seek to draw blood to the loud cheers of their supporters.
Our main political parties toe the same lines. Not surprising because they have the same bloodline. The numbing neoliberal creed is their fort and the key players are angling to play the role of middlemen reminiscent of the warrant chiefs of the colonial era. Their top offer with regard to boosting the economy is to dig deeper into extractivism. This route is attractive only because they do not bother to consider that the externalities such as those related to pollutions, social dislocations and the like are ultimately borne by the society. By the poor. Since they are bent on this track, the least that must be done will be to include those usually externalised costs in the pricing of the products or extracted materials. For example, while obtaining licenses for extraction of Nature’s gifts, the companies (whether public or private) should be made to pay a hefty deposit that would guarantee remediation and containment of foreseeable externalities. And if they suitably decommission and decontaminate their areas of operation after their operations there, they may be have a refund of the deposits – and possibly with interest.
The elections will come and go. But we will not forget the theatrics. Yes, the campaign rallies are sheer theatre, starting from the costumes to the dance and drama. And talking about speeches and chants at those rallies I doff my hat for Governor Rochas Okorocha with his trademark, My people, My people!
But the people play no role in the construction of the future of the nation. Their role begins at the campaign train and terminates at the ballot box. In the recent past we have heard of elected politicians that declared that they were not accountable to the people because it was not their votes that put them in power. Hopefully this will no longer be the case.
The path to progress in the nation will be built by the people and not by career politicians. This is one reason why the government at the very local level must be invigorated and funded by the State governments with a focus to driving development according to real needs and context. In plain terms, local governments should be truly local. They should not be a means for state governments to short-change the people by seeing local government funds as their pocket money. Let the states fund the local government under any name. Let them create as many as may be needed. And let the people be in the driving seat and move this nation forward from below.
How about the penchant of our politicians to go on road shows abroad in the hope of attracting foreign investment? Does this not underscore their lack of faith in local entrepreneurs and public institutions as drivers of national well being or progress? The road shows are arenas for making outrageous concessions to transnational agencies that see our nations as nothing more than storehouses of raw materials to be exploited and exported. And, sometimes, as warehouses into which to dump obsolete equipment and sundry junk.
The campaigns have not presented alternatives. Truth must be told. Even the personalities are gripped in unwinnable struggles of differentiation. Photographs taken a year ago show them dinning and wining together. I do not entertain any doubt as to whether they call each other once they get off the soapboxes to compare notes and share ideas on how they would once more cross carpets and embrace each other as soon as any of them is declared the winner of the elections.
Crass cross carpeting has become a virtue for Nigerian politicians rather than being badges of shame. Elected officials dump their parties and hop unto the next in open shows of their utter disregard for the citizens that voted for them based on the platforms they stood on in the first place. To add insult to injury, some of these chameleons that should be publicly carpeted present themselves as heroes and insist on remaining in the offices they assumed on another platform. How shameless can we get? Top of the bill must be the deputy governor that jumped ship to embrace a different party and insists on staying in power without any prior negotiations for a sort of unity government!
Thankfully the shifting of the polls from 14 February to 28 March has helped to douse some of the tension that had engulfed the land. Citizens should now look beyond the dates and the plastic ballot boxes. We have seen enough of the ubiquitous posters, banners and flags that obstruct our views and know that the election is just a moment. We must all go back to the drawing board to construct the future.