Innocent Democracy in a Guilty Nation

Prior to the re-emergence of democracy in Nigeria in May 1999, political pundits specifically blamed the socioeconomic and political instability on the military.

Specifically, while many at that time roundly accused the military of intolerance, immature, corrupt, and seriousness, unpatriotic and tribalistic, some were of the view that until the plundering and debilitating hands of the military are removed from governance, and replaced with democracy-that guarantees rule of law- and ensures decision will be tested, studied, reviewed, and examined through the processes of government that are designed to formulate and implement such policies, the nation’s infrastructures, education, health, and power sectors can never be reconstructed and Nigerians will not enjoy a boom of creativity and productivity, others vividly castigated the military for terminating democracy and its elements-popular sovereignty, political equality, political freedom, and majority rule.

Indeed, for ‘clarity and clarification’, no development-minded Nigeria, looking at their past records here and at a global stage, will support a military or any undemocratic form of government. As mountains of evidence attest that such leadership styles are often always reputed for putting people in prison for their convictions and limit all forms of free expressions and associations. 

However, for the past two decades, I have followed with curiosity news reports, commentaries, opinion articles and street reactions for and against different political decisions, policies, and actions of the nation’s democratically elected officials. And, a careful analysis of democracy as a system of government in relation to various political and socioeconomic occurrences in the country within the period under review, it provides a canonical proof that democracy just like every other system lacks the capacity for producing a definite outcome as it depends largely on how they are employed.

As an illustration, comprehensive evaluation of the mechanics of power, its acquisition, and its exercise in Nigeria which has resulted in fractured the political geography into polarised ‘ethnosyncrasies’ and idiosyncrasies, coupled with recent fiscal, sociological, political and communal happenings in the country; coupled with the pockets of Ethno-religious upheavals and misgivings from one region against another, bring agitation of different forms and shapes, its enough to feel concerned and look differently at our system and method.

Separate from the believe that since the return of democracy in the country, the nation has conducted different elections that cannot be characterized as credible because they were never organized in an atmosphere of peace, devoid of rancor and acrimony, there have been so many sad chapters of democratic practice that sets it apart from that of the wider world.

These include; elected official’s use of office as an opportunity for private gain instead of avenue for the public good. Others include but not limited to; poor leadership; poor strategy for development; lack of capable and effective state and bureaucracy; lack of focus on sectors that will improve the condition of living of citizens such as education, health, agriculture and the building of infrastructure; corruption and undeveloped.

A painful example of these failures and its impact on the nation’s economy is the national carrier, Nigerian Airways. It was factually supported that as at 1972, Nigerian Airways used to be a super continental airline, traveling to over 1,500 destinations across the globe, generating 150 billion naira profit yearly, and providing jobs to about 10,000 Nigerians, Kenyans, Ethiopians, and South Africans, to the admiration and amazement of foreign nations. In the same, style, when Nigeria launched her first television in 1959, under the watch of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, it did that ahead of China, Canada, Netherlands, and a lot of other Europeans, Asia, and South American countries today.

To find a solution to this situation that has persistently occurred for two decades unabated, two vital points need to be underlined.

First and fundamental, is that to enjoy good governance, we need not just democracy as a system of government but good people (both leaders and followers) who understand public order, personal and national security, economic and social programs, and prosperity is not the natural order of things but depends on the ceaseless efforts and attention from an honest and effective government that the people elect. That, however, good the system may be, bad leaders, will bring harm to their people-but several nations, such as China without democratic ethos have been well-governed despite poor system because good and capable leaders were involved.

To explain the above fact, China, aside from being ruled, ‘increasingly dictatorially by an unelected communist party that puts people in prison for their convictions and limits all forms of free expressions and associations’, the country economic and scientific achievements supports the claim that not the system of government but the quality of leaders in charge that determine the height a state or society could go. it is a country that has just experienced a period of economic growth, the likes of which the world had never before seen. Its model, says a report blazes a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization and offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development.

The second concern is that until Nigerians develop the freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of thoughts and belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association and political/electoral sovereignty reside in, take actions that will change the narrative, no reform, measures or intervention coming from other quarters will reverse the shocking infrastructural decay and degradation on the nation’s space, or save this suffering democracy. Until Nigerians themselves re-examine their roles in allowing and not preventing the dangerous imbalance that has emerged with the executive branch dominating the constitutional system.

Viewed differently, this worries may not be in any way unique to Nigerians as Samuel Bagg of McGill University in a recent report expressed similar worry about democracy when he passionately submitted that; political ignorance, shortsightedness, and irrationality of the ordinary citizens are the major challenges confronting democracy; warning that for a nation to have a responsible government, such a decision must not be left in the hands of political ignorant of the ordinary citizens or given freely to everyone.

In absolute terms, the above argument may not be wrong as; political ignorance, shortsightedness, and citizen’s non-possession of action logic to study the various propositions presented by the leaders in the past, has resulted in situations where politicians persuaded electorates to endorse and applaud policies that were harmful to their interest.

In my objective views, democracy is not the problem but Nigerians.

 Jerome-Mario Utomi, Lagos.

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