Nigeria’s Democracy: Undress That Lie; It Still Looks Pretty Ugly

(By Sylvester Edoh)

Our problem is not that we do not understand the science of leadership or that those who rule us are ignorant of the right thing to do, but that we have gone too far in the wrong direction and are thinking we can reach the right destination by adjusting our compass instead of changing our direction. In our attempt at nation building, both as leaders and ordinary citizens, we must observe the basic governing principles of our union as defined by the constitution. But what happens if that same constitution becomes subject of multiple, conflicting and arbitrary interpretations just to suit the whims and caprices of the ruling class who forget to realise that according to the dictates of true democracy, the leaders are just in power and not with power while the masses are with power and not in power?

 “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is,” Winston Churchill. 

THE strength and viability of a structure or an entity is determined, to a larger extent by the quality of its foundation and principles. A structure is susceptible to an eventual collapse regardless of its size or magnificence if it is erected on a faulty or defective foundation. External renovation is not what is required to correct a foundational or structural defect in a building; rather, some parts of it that are not part of the original plan would have to be dispensed with. A costly error will no doubt require a corresponding costly solution often with painstaking effort and sacrifice.

  Just as the strength of a building is determined by its foundation, the strength as well as the survival of any entity is determined by its guiding principles. Since the return to democracy, unfolding events have left us wondering about the principles guiding the operation of our polity. Ours is a polity founded on stark falsehood, serial impunity and gross controversies. Successive administrations have come, acknowledged the level of decay in the polity, made promises to make amends and gone with little or no impact whatsoever.    We are a people that have waited, prayed and hoped for change for too long, but each passing day leaves us with news or event that leads us farther away from the promised land of our dream. When a step is taken forward, multiple steps are taken backwards in the wrong direction as if it is a norm to maintain the status quo and plunge us into deeper economic and political chaos, misery and crisis.

   Democracy and good governance are two twin mantras of modern day political leadership the world over with the supposition that true democracy is characterised by good governance. Good governance centres on the responsibility of governments and governing bodies to meet the needs of the masses as opposed to select groups in the society by ensuring probity, transparency, accountability and respect for the rule of law. We claim to have had democracy before and we are practising democracy now, but where is its inseparable twin brother – good governance? It has been sacrificed on the altar of brazen falsehood, serial impunity and gross controversies by generations of self-seeking politicians in their bid to satisfy their unbridled quest for power and wealth.

   Our problem is not that we do not understand the science of leadership or that those who rule us are ignorant of the right thing to do, but that we have gone too far in the wrong direction and are thinking we can reach the right destination by adjusting our compass instead of changing our direction. In our attempt at nation building, both as leaders and ordinary citizens, we must observe the basic governing principles of our union as defined by the constitution. But what happens if that same constitution becomes subject of multiple, conflicting and arbitrary interpretations just to suit the whims and caprices of the ruling class who forget to realise that according to the dictates of true democracy, the leaders are just in power and not with power while the masses are with power and not in power?

  What does one make of the recent election of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum where for any absurd reason best known to the supposed paragons of our “nascent” democracy none could tell which is the greater between the numbers 19 and 16 in order to decide the valid winner of that election? Was nobody knowledgeable enough in simple arithmetic or elementary maths among our supposed Chief Executives to tell the greater of the two numbers?    If the winner of an election conducted between 36 governors could not be easily decided, how much more chaotic and complicated would it be to decide the winner of an election by about 70 million valid voters with a constituency of more than 160 million people?   And what do you make of the current situation in the River State House of Assembly where five members became a majority against 27 members with the power to initiate an impeachment process against the speaker of the House?

  Right now, River State is currently immersed in a thick political darkness characterised by intrigues, manipulations and violence. This development if left unchecked would lead to untold hardship and even loss of innocent lives. River State, a dormant epicentre of violence in the Niger Delta region deserves a better deal than this at this time in order to consolidate on the gains of the prevailing relative peace.

   These bizarre and disgusting scenes are symptomatic of our all-too-familiar failures of attempted democratisation. This is the degree of falsehood and impunity in the system.  The most nauseating part of this is that we usually explain away these acts of gross irresponsibility as a sine qua non for our “nascent” democracy. Question is how long will our nascent democracy continue to breed violence and insecurity? Who will live to witness true democracy if we all have to die rehearsing it? Where will we practice it if we have to weary the state out of existence by learning it? How long will it continue to aid and abet corruption? How long will it continue to be characterised by rigging and other electoral frauds? How long will it continue to run without its basic principle of tolerance? When will it start building a politically stable and economically prosperous nation whose name inspires awe and admiration rather than evoking sneer and contempt? How long will it continue in this state of depravity and infamy? How long will it keep us in darkness without electricity? How long will it keep our youths on the streets without jobs? How long will it continue to gamble with our fate as a people? How long will it continue to take our lives and welfare for granted? When can it afford the opportunity for us to live as much as we dream? When will our democracy begin a conscious transition from this “nascent” phase to the mature phase?

  I know there is no alternative to true democracy, but there is an alternative to “democratic” cretinism and imbecility. The challenge of our leadership is the attempt to dress the lie and make it appear immaculate without knowing that lie itself stinks and vitiates even the fragrance of the perfumed window dressing. They are preaching the gospel of change, but having a secret romance with the status quo, advocating justice but shy or rather scared of its double-edged sword, openly holding the heels of corruption but secretly girding its loins by treating its perpetrators with kid gloves and wearing the toga of democrats over the character of autocrats.

   It is not the name democracy that guarantees transformation but the character of those entrusted with the responsibility of manning its apparatus as well as their respect for its basic principles and tenets. It is a question of whether the leaders acknowledge their positions in the scheme of things as stewards entrusted with the mandate of ensuring the welfare of the people by holding the aggregate power of the people voluntarily donated by the people in trust through elections. That is why we have democracy— that the people can say this is the government of their own making and for their own good and not for their evil. And this is why it is different from any other type of government including the military. In this country, we have witnessed both sides -– the military for a longer period and then democracy. The military has been blamed for all the woes that bedevilled the nation before the return to civil rule in 1999, but the only obvious difference democracy has made thus far is that while under military rule, we were not free to denounce injustice and corruption for the fear of the gun, under our current “nascent” democracy, we are free to denounce only to the hearing of Mr impunity and Mr nonchalance.

  The time has come for us to realise the futility of these democratic pretensions. We need to know that it is not only “subsidy” that is not sustainable; lie, corruption, political gimmicks and intrigues are far more unsustainable if not disastrous. If we must move an inch forward in the right direction, we must consciously begin to shield this excess baggage of brazen falsehood and needless controversies and drama that characterise our polity. We are sick and tired of watching grotesque and silly episodes on our national dailies and TV channels of a drama that is meant to be acted with seriousness and sobriety by sincere, honest and civilised men to enliven the souls of their highly suspended and expectant audience. It is time to imbibe the true culture and principles of democracy characterised by tolerance, statesmanship, sincerity and integrity so we can find our true bearing in the comity of nations.   This we can, but not without leaders with character, principle and sacrifice. Our leaders must henceforth stop wasting their efforts in dressing the lie for it still looks pretty ugly.

• Edoh is a writer and public analyst based in Abuja.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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