By Robert Obioha
Next week Tuesday, Nigerians will mark another democracy day. This annual event is marked to remember the May 29, 1999 that the military handed over political power to a civilian regime under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, after long years of military dictatorship. Nigeria gained self-rule from British colonizers on October 1, 1960. It became a republic in 1963.
The military struck on January 15, 1966 and July 29, 1966. It was followed by a bitter civil war between the botched Biafran Republic and the rest of Nigeria from 1967-1970. The military ruled from 1966 to 1979 when they handed power to a democratically elected government. In 1983, the military came back and ruled the country till 1999 when the country returned to another wave of democratic dispensation.
But 19 unbroken years of democratic rule has meant many things to different people in the country. To many people, it meant dashed hopes and squandered opportunities and oppression of the poor masses. To some others, it has also witnessed some developments in terms of infrastructure and development of new universities, new settlements and new towns. All the same, there is still more room for improvement in the political cum democratic fronts.
Generally, our democracy has benefitted the elites more than the masses. Our democracy is elitist and selfish in outlook. It is never a pro-masses political action or movement. Like it or hate it, democracy has come to be regarded as the best form of government in the world, though a debatable issue. Those in Europe and America can say so with all sense of responsibility and pride.
But in most of Africa and other third world countries, democracy is in trouble. Rather than growing, it is stunting every day. Africa is home to many sit-tight leaders and tenure elongation advocates. We shall return to this theme much later in the discourse. No matter the criticism against democracy, especially by communists and Marxists apologists, it appears to be more inclusive than any other form of government. But do not say this in Africa.
It allows the people to participate in the choice of their leaders. With its guaranteed three arms of government, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, it has inbuilt checks and balances that can nip in the bud dictatorial tendencies of those in power. The people are represented in the parliament by their chosen legislators.
The judiciary is in place to dispense justice to all without let or hindrance. The judiciary serves as the last hope of the common man and bastion of democracy. This is just the ideal. But can we say that our democracy is among the best in Africa and the world? The answer is not in the affirmative. Our democracy apparently lacks the basic ingredients of that form of government of the people. Our democracy is dictated by just a few people in position of power and influence. At times, the votes do not count.
It is devoid of internal democracy and party discipline. Our democratic practice is more autocratic. It is only democratic in name. We have governments that disobey court rulings or chose those they can obey at federal and state levels. Our democracy lacks openness, accountability, due process and transparency. Everything is opaque and shrouded in secrecy.
There is indeed no room for questions. There is even no room for criticism. Those in government always alienate the people under them. It is leaders versus the people. Nigerian politics and democracy cannot endure with ‘we’ versus ‘them’ attitude. The political space is shut for many. Women are already shut out of the political system.
The youths do not have much money for political campaigns for elective offices. The political god fathers demand higher returns on investment. Some politicians bribe their way to power and milk the treasury later. It is the reason corruption is rife in our country. It has been established that it is difficult to fight corruption in our country. Does it mean that all the political actors are corrupt? It can never be so.
The fact is that the uncorrupt ones are fewer in number. They cannot change anything pretty soon. Some state actors have publicly acknowledged that corruption will always fight back. Our politics is cash-based and it breeds systemic corruption. This can explain the vote-buying syndrome during elections. This is why we have rancorous party primaries and later violent elections.
Why must our elections be a do or die affair? It is simply because the stakes are too high and the winner takes all the trophies. Under this scenario, the loser becomes an orphan. Our politicians behave like the greedy tortoise in Igbo folklore that takes the alias of ‘All of You’ to deprive other animals of food and drinks offered to them in a feast in the sky. That is why the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had a rancorous and parallel primaries in many states recently. If the political actors want this fledgling democracy to endure, they must begin to play the game according to the laid down rules. They should stop shifting the goal post whenever their opponent wants to score a goal. Nigerian women must be given ample opportunity to participate in the nation’s politics for it to endure.
Excluding the women has ruined our politics for so long. There is need for a change of attitude. We should run an inclusive politics with men, women and the youths participating in equal measure. No group must be excluded. If some of the present Nigerian children are the leaders of tomorrow, then our future is in trouble, a big one at that.
Most of Nigerian children today are in ill-equipped primary and secondary schools scattered all over the country. They are hungry and poorly fed. Some hawk on major highways in cities to make a living. Many lack health care and other basic human needs. Over 10 million of them are said to be out of school.
Many of them engage in child labour to make for a living. If this democracy and even the nation will endure, let’s reclaim our children and youths and give them a strong pedestal to stand to face future challenges. The government must begin to provide the basic needs of all Nigerians, water, light, healthcare, education, good roads, jobs, food, shelter and security of lives and property.
The best way to mark our May 29 is to provide these basic necessities to all Nigerians. Providing them is never a rocket science. May 29 should not be another day for political manifesto, boring speeches and litany of promises. Our democracy does not offer much hope at present. It is not inspiring.