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Democracy And Expectations In Nigeria By Kayode Oladele

May 29, 2013

There have been hue and cry over whether Nigeria should retain May 29 as its democracy Day or it should revert to October 1. Both days hold significance for Nigerians, but for different reasons. And as such they either elicit animosity or excitement. Advocates and adherents of May 29 see it as a day in which some people forced the military out of power against their wish. Quite contradictorily, others see it as a day foisted on the Nigerian people by the military; that rather than affirming democracy, it meant the funeral of democracy. Some argued that Nigeria was in a hurry to have something done, to rewrite the history of democracy and hence they wanted to turn a new leaf in authoritarian rule.

There have been hue and cry over whether Nigeria should retain May 29 as its democracy Day or it should revert to October 1. Both days hold significance for Nigerians, but for different reasons. And as such they either elicit animosity or excitement. Advocates and adherents of May 29 see it as a day in which some people forced the military out of power against their wish. Quite contradictorily, others see it as a day foisted on the Nigerian people by the military; that rather than affirming democracy, it meant the funeral of democracy. Some argued that Nigeria was in a hurry to have something done, to rewrite the history of democracy and hence they wanted to turn a new leaf in authoritarian rule.

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Yet, some have argued that subsequent events after May 29, 1999 did not suggest that much was achieved in democratic consolidation. First, the adherents of this school of thought marshaled the point that those who are beneficiaries of power today or since May 29, 1999 were not those who struggled for it, hence they do not even know, neither do they appreciate the meaning of democracy-having being mere opportunistic gatecrashers and beneficiaries of the struggle for democracy. Second, some argued that those who took over power on May 29, 1999 were anti-M.K.O Abiola, to the extent that they in one way or another worked to undermine the June 12 struggle.

On the other hand, October 1 was seen as a culmination of the struggle for decolonization, anti-racism and emancipation. Hence, October 1 is said to be more politically superior to May 29. Indeed, May 29 is said to be an aberration, a political oddity and an anathema that  impinges on our democratic credentials as a nation state.

My take on this is that symbols and symbolisms are important in the political life of a people and nation state; hence we shall continue to have emotional attachment to October 1st, as we shall have several political interpretations of May 29. Just like a myth, what is important is not whether it is true or false, but what we make out of our present existence or the use to which we are able to put those symbolisms is far more important.

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Ordinary Nigerians are unhappy, disenchanted with, and disappointed by the political class. This is because every where they turned they find failure or defeat. The promises of the struggles of independence have been betrayed. The promises of the struggle for June 12 have been betrayed; the promises of the struggle of antimilitarism have also been betrayed. The electoral promises of the political class to the people have been betrayed. The civil servants have betrayed the people, the private sector operators have betrayed them, and the bankers have also betrayed them. It is a galore of betrayal, nationwide.

Undergirding this betrayal is greed and corruption. The cost of corruption in Nigeria is socially and economically heavy and burdensome. Poverty and crime, unemployed and underdevelopment are some of its social consequences. We are paying the price of bad governance and the culture of impunity in Nigeria. Nobody cares about the public interest; everyone is so inward looking and individualistic that we are losing the meaning and essence of patriotism. But where will all this take us? Failure rate at WAEC is over 80%, failure rate in JAMB is over 70%; unemployment rate is almost 50 million, PHCN of Nigeria cannot meet the minimum 6,000 Megawatts set for it in the past 10 years. The EFCC cannot conclude the prosecution of corrupt politicians due to the inherent weakness of Nigeria’s criminal justice system and the corruption in the judiciary.   The Police have remained the chief extortionist agency in Nigeria with even an Inspector-General charged with corruption and unaccountable police funds. Many state Governors left office richer than their states.

Everywhere we turn we find ignorance, poverty and disease. Infrastructure have collapsed, the notion of the public good has disappeared and a new discourse whose root is to be found in the head offices of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Trade Organizations (WTO) has taken over in Nigeria.

Our role as a developing country is now being re-conceptualized as that of perpetual or permanent dependence. Our leaders are hardly keen about how to get the country out of poverty as many of their actions plunge the nation further into poverty and want.  All we are concerned with is poverty management, as if the management of poverty is the catalyst or recipe for economic growth. Several other countries of the world whose take-off point was the same as Nigeria’s have made marked improvement on the development template-Brazil, Malaysian, Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea and so on.

What is worse about Nigeria is that we have not only witnessed reversal but worse still; we have witnessed a decline and negative development. Most of our key industries are shut down, the private sector has weak absorptive capacity, and there is a process of de-industrialization taking place. The privatization of enterprises by BPE has not made such enterprises efficient neither has it made them to have an impressive absorptive capacity. The logical consequences of all this can be seen in the soaring and alarming unemployment rates.

Nigeria is in a dire situation of social and economic emergency. There is need for concrete and progressive policies that will lift people out of poverty, create jobs, provide efficient infrastructure and ensure decent livelihood to the people. There is no linkage between the financial, manufacturing and agricultural sectors; and the small scale enterprises. While oil money is in the air, it gives us a delusional sense of growth, while indeed, there is no real manufacturing taking place. Indeed there has been negative growth in the economy due to weak impact on development and minimal effect on toiling Nigerians. The private sector performance continues to be experience doldrums and inertia with poor inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) occasioned by negative international perception.  

The cost of running our democracy is too high, relative to other countries such as Britain or even the United States of America. There is a retinue of hangers and parasites who feast on the political system, from jobless Godfathers to Political Aides and Assistants who merely parasite on the system. Sometime ago, a Governor in one of the northern states of Nigeria was reported to have on his pay roll almost 1,000 political aids and assistants.

Minimally this would have meant that those aids gulped  N300 Million Naira in salary and allowances, monthly. This same amount if properly invested could have saved lives of many mothers and infants in the same state which is reputed to have very high maternal and infant mortality.

We have failed to invest in our people; we have failed to believe in our people. We have taken them for granted, ignored them, ridiculed them and insulted their sensibilities. The other day an elected official paid the arrears of salary of workers and began to celebrate it on the pages of newspapers. When indeed he should have been asked why was the salary not paid in the first place? Nigerians must learn to ask the right questions, and insist on the right answers.

We must hold our leaders accountable; we must demand good governance and justice. We must demand inclusive and participatory government, But to do this we must also be responsible ourselves, we must meet our civic responsibility, pay tax and abide by the law. There are many good laws, rules and procedures in Nigeria but they are upheld in the breach. The culture of impunity is so repugnant and appalling. Everybody blames it on long years of military rule. But this is a self- defeating assertion because the military had left the turf over a decade ago; yet we have not changed in our values. For how long shall we continue to be prisoners of the “military-caused it” mentality?

All of us are to share in this blame, from the lowest to the highest placed person. Every society gets the government it deserves. We must fix our electoral process, fix our schools and hospitals; we must fix our roads, our banks and our governance. To do this successfully we must fix our homes, fix our mindset, our value system and mentality, we must fix our churches and mosques that have also been part of the problem rather than the solution. Everything has to be fixed; our behavior and attitude have to be fixed or reoriented. Nobody should therefore exempt his or herself from the Nigerian crises. We all share in it through our actions and inactions. That is why we must now all return to the drawing board and be honest enough to admit our guilt and seek a new methodology of political work.

May 29 affords us the opportunity of rethink, for sober reflection on what is good for our people, the future of our children and the unborn. We should not be thinking about now, about ourselves but about generations yet to come. That is how great nations are built, that is what statesmen do for their people. Our leaders must know that it is better for them to immortalize themselves rather  than get themselves into money racketeering, corruption and bad governance.  They should strive to do things that will outlive them, they should try to create a legacy of service for others to emulate. They should initiate strong policies and build strong institutions. They should know, and indeed they do know but do not care, that a good name is far more superior and enduring than a notorious one that many current have. How we are judged by history should be more important to us than how we are judged by praise-singers, bootlickers and sycophants.

Finally, it is the people that make history, not individuals; hence Nigerians must crave for the government they want and struggle for it. People must make demands on their leaders and insist  that governance must be inclusive and participatory.