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Nigeria @ 58: A Dangerous Dysfunction By Churchill Okonkwo

October 2, 2018

At 58, the message from Nigeria to Nigerians as we celebrate her independence is that we are in a much deeper state of shit and decay than most of us that throw punches at ourselves in social media have realized.


If you are worried that the apparatus of Nigeria’s democracy is already damaged, you are not alone. Our Nigeria is not only dysfunctional; it’s broken and it decayed without ripening. The Nigerian political experiment from the amalgamation of Northern and southern protectorate in 1914 to independence in 1960 and the present agitation for resource control and restructuring remains a search for a democratic meaning. Clearly, the Nigerian democratic system is not functioning in good faith with the ideals of good governance, fairness, true federalism, rule of law and equity.

The colossal concentration of power in the presidency is made worse by the equally over bloated powers of the corrupt governors and the Nigerian National Assembly; the High Courts is riven with corruption, flawed processes, and procedures; Boko Haram has ravaged Northeastern Nigeria; and the renewed agitation for an independent state of Biafra is a reminder of our fragility. The result of these is decay and a systemic halt of a functioning democracy.

The visible dysfunction in the Nigerian democratic evolution is no longer a temporal aberration that is expected in the early stages of experimental democracy. The dangerous dysfunction can be seen in the disturbing facts of corruption; the glaring acts of nepotism; the horrifying disregard to human life; the complete decay of educational institution and most importantly, the impotent citizens that are laughing at their exposed dirty butts, forgetting that he who kills his plantain with his own gun is destroying his property.

At 58, the message from Nigeria to Nigerians as we celebrate her independence is that we are in a much deeper state of shit and decay than most of us that throw punches at ourselves in social media have realized. There is also a deeper reason for pessimism: the inherent dysfunction of the Nigerian political process itself. Our political system has never delivered good results to the average Nigerian. What exists now is a classic political system that bids and pays for votes on “cash and carry” basis and an electorate that backs the highest bidder at the polling units. It is a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces of authoritarianism, misogyny, demagogy, narcissism and misrule.

Here is another dangerous dysfunction: over the past several months, the National Assembly leaders despite being embroiled in countless high-level cases of corruption have been parading themselves as untouchables. Saraki’s operation of the National Assembly as an executive arm of government is a pseudo-coup. The only difference is that while coups usually aim to overthrow one government and replace it with another, the leaders of the NASS absconded after “successfully” executing their coup. So, we have a country that is governed by everyone and no one.

The inability of our Military under Jonathan and now Buhari to contain the activities of the dreaded Boko Haram terrorists shows how dysfunctional the government as a whole, has become. Priorities have been misplaced. In 2014, while Nigerian soldiers were fleeing to Cameron and surrendering to rampaging Boko Haram, President Goodluck sent over 50, 000 police men to “protect” the Osun State governorship election. Fast forward 2018: while the terrorist herdsmen were ransacking and overrunning villages in the Middle Belt and armed bandit maiming villagers, President Buhari sent over 30, 000 police men to “protect” the Ekiti State governorship election.

To get a government that can govern, we need to first, change the mentality of the electorate. You can’t change the system unless you can reorient the mindset of electorates that have been in the wilderness of “stomach infrastructure” for a long time. For those who assumed that the APC is on a downward spiral following the return of Saraki and his gang to their old home, the “out-buying” of Ekiti and Osun electorates must come as a rude awakening to the PDP. The situation is sadly predictable and speaks volumes about the sorry state of the country’s political landscape.

To reverse the current dangerous dysfunction, we need new leaders capable of telling the truth and not pandering to our fears. To be legitimate, those leaders must convince us of the need to break the cycle of working for entrenched political interests with substantial reforms. Until such a time, the empty demagogy and dangerous brinkmanship of the APC and the PDP that is the order of the day will continue to both placate and fuel those fears.

The energetic minorities who still believe in the Nigerian dream have been struggling with this dissonance between ideals and realities. But if we accept genuine democracy per Vaclav Havel as a distant horizon that no human society has yet reached or perhaps ever will reach, then, our present chaotic democracy should not be the end of the story, as is being predicted by some doomsayers, but rather, the beginning. 

To start this new beginning, we need Nigerians that will engage in genuine acts of democratic expression. We need Nigerians that have a political ideology anchored on the principles of good governance and not religion or ethnicity. This renewal will, however, not come from political activism on twitter or other social media platforms. The political insurgency needed to rescue Nigeria will not materialize with the emergence of political leaders that seize the moment. It must and should originate from ordinary people willing to engage fellow citizens by questioning the conflict between what they were told and what they experience.

At 58, real change is needed in Nigeria, but it is not clear where it will come from. If the recent history of PDP and Nigerian politics were any guide, a PDP government in 2019 will produce only fresh paralysis, if not chaos. The recent threat by the tout in the Rivers State Government House, Nesoyem Wike, to teach the leadership of his party a bitter lesson if they fail to succumb to his wishes is just a reminder of the despicable level of impunity in the PDP. President Buhari’s government might fall in 2019 or he could muddle through. Either way, the dangerous dysfunction will continue.

@ 58, the question on the mind of motherland Nigerian is, for how long will our political system continue to totter dangerously over a precipice?

Happy Birthday, Nigeria.


You can email Churchill at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @churchillnnobi