Nigeria; Democracy and the lost Battles

If a prince bases the defence of his state on mercenaries he will never achieve stability or security. For mercenaries are disunited, thirsty for power undisciplined and disloyal; they are brave among their friends and cowards before their enemies; they have no fear of God, they do not keep faith with their fellow men; …They are only ready to sein your army when you are not at war, but when war comes they either desert or disperse’

-Niccolo Machiavelli 

An arresting paradox occurred on Friday 29th May, 2020, while I was reflecting on Nigeria’s journey as a democratic nation and the challenges of the leadership crisis in the country which daily brings dropping spirit among Nigerians. On that day, at that time and in that place, as I was left lost in the maze of high voltage confusion wondering how we will continue to live as a people under the present system as well as fail future generations by leaving a system far diminished from what we received from our heroes past, I stumbled at an article entitled; Democracies Have an Edge in Fighting Wars, written by Dan Reiter and Allan C Stan, and published by the Foreign Affairs Journals on the 7th of May, 2020.

Among other points, the piece underlined that people have long assumed that autocrats and dictators have an advantage in waging war. Contrary to popular beliefs, today, democracies are more effective in responding to various crises. Our political science research found that democracies are more likely than autocracies to win their wars. From 1816 to 1987, democracies won about 76 per cent of their wars, while non-democracies won about 46 per cent of their wars. Even more striking, democracies rarely lose when they start wars, winning 93 per cent of the time what is true of wars against armies is also true of a campaign against the disease. Past studies have found that citizens in democracies are healthier than citizens living in none.

Without any shadow of the doubt, these views are globally recognized. And, about two decades ago when democracy re-emerged on the nation’s political space I felt the same way. I envisioned democracy changing on our political shores the tradition of keeping things the way they are hoping that luck will correct our part and put us on the right part. I was also full of hope that the advent of democracy will help win the war against environmental pollution in the Niger Delta region, end the senseless killings in the country, transform the lives of the Almajiris in the northern part of the country, employ the millions of unemployed youths in Nigeria, tackle the menace of kidnapping across the land and reduce the level of poverty in the country.

But, considering the experience of the past two decades,- a feeling that cannot be characterized as a period of achievements but a gestation of frustrations, an average Nigerian will not believe in the above postulation about democracy.

Rather, while many may view it as a false and unfounded claim, some may consider it as a system where power is unchecked and unaccountable, where incompetence flourhes, dishonesty is encouraged and rewarded. To the rest Nigerians, democracy is but a mere palliative which relieves political and socio-economic emotional distresses but leaves the disease and its rages unaffected.

Indeed, Nigerians of this class should be excused for their assessment of democracy in this light. This orientation was shaped by 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 or powerful personalities against each other. This myriad of contradictions has turned the country into a hotbed for all manners of violence, and conspire directly and indirectly to give the nation unenviable tag of a country in constant search of social harmony, justice, equity, equality, and peace.

More particularly, democracy practice aside from making life quoting Thomas Hobbs has become nasty, brutish and short, I remember with nostalgia how a friend amidst euphoria triggered by the declaration of the 2015 presidential election result cautioned me with these few words; ‘’ men will change their ruler expecting to fare better; this expectation induces them to take up arm against him, but they only deceive themselves, and they learn from experience that they have made matters worse’.

Still, in that milieu, I had reminded him that the result ushered in a season of integrity in the country, he again replied thus; no single attribute could be identified as a ‘virtue’. Remember! He added, ‘Politics has its own rules’.

Five years after that conversation, the present instinct in the country explains two things; first, is that the shout of integrity which hitherto rend the nation’s political space has like light faded, The second stems from the first and has to do with the fact that jeer has since overtaken the cheers of political performance while fears have displaced reason-resulting in an entirely separate set of consequences–irrational hatred and division.

This says something else. The problem is one of perspective. It is not democracy as a system of government. The challenge is in the people’s election of politicians as leaders laced with the attributes of mercenaries described above by Niccolo Machiavellithere is no longer credible basis for doubt. It is neither democracy nor lack of natural resource but leadership that is the challenge.

Specifically, the nation’s inabilities to win socioeconomic wars in the country further supports the belief that every nation needs first, good people to have good government. However good the system, bad leaders will bring harm to their people. On the other hand, several societies have been well governed despite poor systems of government because good strong leaders were in charge. It also explains why, going by reports, over 80 constitutions drafted by Britain and France for their former colonies come to grief not because of flaws in the constitutions, but simply because the pre-conditions for a democratic system of government did not exist.

Consider this example reported in depth about China- a non-democratic state and a country with ‘supposedly bad system. China from what development experts are saying is ruled, increasingly dictatorially by an unelected communist party. Yet, has experienced a period of economic growth, the likes the world had never before seen. The account provides a profound lesson for Nigerians.

In fact, there are two basic questions which bother on education and aviation, posed by a commentator recently, that will probably do more than anything else to help us understand fully well to understand, and look differently at the great damage elected public officials have done to democracy in Nigeria.

What happened to our educational system which used to be a model to other nations of the world and a beacon of glory for Africa-and immensely adored and celebrated globally as our students/graduates showed unsearchable depth and great intellects in every discourse, ahead of their counterparts in other nations? But have recently taken a nosedive, as examination malpractice, constant strike actions, poor educational facilities, corruption, are all on the rise. To the extent that countries that once esteemed our educational system can hardly admit Nigerian students now, let alone employ graduates unless they undergo compulsory preliminary training.

What about the national carrier, Nigerian Airways, which as at 1973, was a super continental airline, travelling 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? But today has lost both its operational and physical address.

Have Nigerians ever taken out time to ask; how over 13.2 million Nigerian children suddenly found themselves to be out of school? Or find out why about 112 million Nigerians now live below the UN poverty line? And why the world-poverty-clock (WPC) in mid-2018 declared that 86.9 million Nigerians are extremely poor and has overtaken India as host to the largest number of world’s poorest people? What about the unemployment rate in Nigeria which the NBS says is currently at 28% and under-employment at 16%? What pushed Nigeria to become a very high risked borrower despite the abundant natural resources?

Unquestionably, that the nation experienced these failures and other lost battles such as;  insecurity, infrastructural decay, terrorism, unchecked population explosion, technological backwardness, poor planning and implementation of policies, are but testaments that our leaders neither understand nor possess the needed expertise to perform modern jobs of leadership.

Jerome-Mario Utomi(, is a Lagos-based media consultant.

Subscribe to our newsletter for latest news and updates. You can disable anytime.