This fragile Democracy, By Dele Agekameh
Much has been said about the year 2015 in Nigeria. The consensus of opinion is that the year may be a turning point in the history of the most populous Black Country in the world. In other words, bookmakers have predicted that the year will either make or break the country. What is paramount at this point is how to hold the country together well after the February 2015 general elections. First and foremost, we must know that there must be a country for any meaningful political activities to take place.
Sometimes, I am amused by the way some people carry on as if come rain, come shine, the country called Nigeria, must survive. I am sure that people, who think this way, are only basking in the euphoria of the past when Nigeria remained intact as a country in spite of several odds that have threatened its corporate existence. For instance, shortly after the country’s independence on October 1, 1960, there were several challenges which were principally ethnicity-induced. The first was the January 15, 1966 coup which was largely a form of ethnic cleansing in which a particular part of the country suffered heavy human casualties with the loss of some of its prominent indigenes. This was followed by another major pogrom in which a whole tribe came under massacre. The massacre was so overwhelmingly carried out that it plunged the country into a 30-month civil war that created gargantuan material and human carnage.
Even though peace seems to have been restored much later, the war succeeded in sowing the seed of ethnic suspicion and political imbalance in the country. Since then, the major ethnic groups have consistently engaged themselves in a war of attrition for political control of the country. It is as if the country has been ceded to the politicians, be they those in uniform or their civilian compatriots. The return to democratic rule in 1999, after several years of military interregnum, was a welcome relief to all, both in the country and beyond. At least, it afforded the people the opportunity to choose and change their leaders according to international best practices. But what the whole world did not take cognizance of was the black man’s factor in the whole process called democracy.
Mind you, democracy is one and only one thing all over the globe. Dictionary.com defines democracy as “a system of government in which power is vested in the people, who rule either directly or through freely elected representatives.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, went further. It describes democracy as “a system involving distribution of political power in the hands of the public which forms the electorate.” According to it: “Democracy is a form of government based on four elements: The citizens choose and replace the government through free and fair elections; there is active participation of the citizens in politics and civic life; there is protection of the human rights of all citizens; and there is rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.”
From the above, it is clear that even though we pride ourselves as practising democracy in Nigeria, our true situation is that of democracy without democrats. The reasons are simple. Let us analyse the four component parts of a truly democratic culture. The first is that the citizens should be able to choose and replace the government through free and fair elections. In all honesty, what takes place periodically in Nigeria (every four years) is contrary to this first rule. The citizens are not able to choose or replace the government through free and fair elections. In most cases, it is either the electorate are coaxed or intimidated to vote for a particular candidate or their votes don’t count at all. In this case, the electorate can do the voting only for the criminal politicians to sit in the comfort of their homes or somewhere in the jungle and tinker or rewrite the results thereby foisting the wrong candidates or representatives on the people. It is for this reason that politicians nowadays have adopted ‘one man, one vote’ or ‘your votes will count’ as part of their campaign mantra. They mouth this even when they are neck deep in the manipulation of votes.
The second element is that “there is active participation of the citizens in politics and civic life.” In Nigeria, the citizens are not in any way active participants in politics. Those who dare at all are those who venture out to make some gains. In most cases, people serve as foot-soldiers to some money bags who invest fortunes in politics with the hope of reaping abundantly from it. These are the people who actually corrupt and bastardise the system for pecuniary gains. They have formed a formidable cult-like persona in the business of politics and they will do anything, including killing and maiming their fellow men, to protect their satanic interests. They determine who does what and who goes to which office, as far as their interest is unshakeable.
Now, let’s talk about the protection of the human rights of all citizens, which is the third in the elements of true democracy. We are all witnesses to issues bothering on flagrant human rights abuses pervading all over the country. It is like there are different applications of human rights for different categories of citizens. Depending on whom you are and who you know, it is possible to commit heinous crimes and go scot free, while the other man, who is a nobody and who knows no one up there, is thrown into jail or sent to the gallows for any little infringement on the law. Different strokes for different folks, you may want to call it. Also, the rampant impunity in government and in the society as a whole, is a direct assault on the human rights of the citizens.
Therefore, it is these acts of impunity that impugn the rule of law, in which the laws and procedures are unequally applied to the citizens. Whereas, a vital element of democracy says there must be rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens, it is this disparity in the application of the law that usually give rise to civil disobedience, anarchy and tremor in the polity. It is the lack of or non-existence of the rule of law that must have contributed significantly to the outbreak of terrorism in some parts of the country. Remember that Mohammed Yusuf, the late leader of the Boko Haram group, was allegedly extra-judicially executed by some over-zealous security agents in 2009 and since then, peace has taken flight from the northeast part of the country in particular and the entire country in general. Till date, conservative estimate of the human carnage of the violence and terrorism that is holding sway in that part of the country with occasional and intermittent incursion into other parts of the country is put at more than 35,000, excluding material ruins.
With all the cheerless news all over the place, can we really say that Nigeria is under a democratic rule? Not quite. The closest thing we have is civilian dictatorship. If you look around and listen to our politicians canvassing their positions on the soapbox these days, you will wonder whether Nigeria is preparing for elections or war. Already, missiles are flying at campaign grounds and bombs are being detonated. Perhaps, very soon, the guns may be booming as well. The fact is that politicians and Nigerians have not learnt any lesson from past mistakes and that is why we are carrying on as if God will continue to look the other way, while we systematically destroy ourselves, destroy our country, destroy our children and destroy our future. If Nigeria must survive, our politicians need to do a re-think, eschew bitterness and acrimony in our body politics. It will be foolhardy to think that we can always get to the brink and miraculously survive each time we get there. We should not overstretch the elasticity of our luck anymore!