A Decade of Pseudo-Democracy

by Sheyi Oriade

It is somewhat paradoxical that our current experiment at representative government – which in matter of fact and practice – is severely deficient in its ‘representative’ component; should, on the attainment of its decennial milestone – have achieved something of a longevity which eluded previous ‘Abiku’ experiments at democratic government. This extraordinary feat of endurance is remarkable from the perspective, that in spite of the best efforts of many of Nigeria’s current political operatives to snuff out the essential life-breath from the nation’s body-politic, a faint pulse continues to be detected within its fragile frame; thus, giving it a semblance of systemic vitality.

This feat of longevity is also remarkable from the standpoint, that in political pugilistic terms, most of the dominant political actors of the past decade can rightly be categorised as ‘lightweights’ in comparison to some of the ‘heavyweights’ of bygone political eras. For example, such undisputed political ‘heavyweights’ like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe; Chief Obafemi Awolowo; and Sir Ahmadu Bello; all of whom, without exception, were in different ways men of towering political stature; but of conflicting and competing vision. Conflicting and competing visions, the pursuit of which, ensured, that despite their substantive personalities – they were not able to work together constructively to engender an environment in which democracy was able to take root and blossom to full flower.

And so, it turns out that what a collective of political ‘giants’ were unable to accomplish in their time, a collection of political ‘Lilliputians’ have – albeit in deeply flawed fashion. Without a doubt, this decennary of pseudo-democracy will be viewed, within the nation’s upper echelons of political power, as a great ‘achievement.’ An ‘achievement’ which must now suffuse the atmosphere in corridors of power across the nation with an air of euphoric self-validation; one in which our political leaders must delight in drawing breath. Feeling as they do, rather pat with themselves, as they pat one another on the back in mutual self-satisfaction on this ‘achievement’.

But in the attainment of this so-called ‘achievement’, our political leaders owe a huge debt of gratitude to our armed forces. An institution notorious for its intrusive restiveness, but which now appears properly subordinated to civilian oversight. To the extent that it now seems able to resist its restive impulse; remaining ensconced within barracks – for the longest continuous period since independence. This is a good thing considering its previous disruptive and intermittent interventions in our national politics and its largely abysmal record of governance. Our political class will do well not to take its present subordination for granted.

In ordinary circumstance, Nigerians – to a man and to a woman – ought to be exultant at the survival of this ‘experiment’ at representative government. But there is and remains a huge gulf of disconnection between our so-called ‘representatives’ and the ‘represented’. And there is little indication at present to suggest that this gulf is about to be breached anytime soon.

This decade of pseudo-democracy like the decades of military dictatorships before it, has distinguished itself, above all else, not by its service to the people, but by its institutionalised corruption. A terrible situation in which politicians of all persuasions appear united in their quest to outdo one another in their unbridled acquisitiveness and acquisition of public funds.

The political costumes of our leadership may have changed a decade ago, but their corrupt customs have not. The nation’s finances continue to be misappropriated with impunity and almost without limit for personal benefit. Indeed, it is now the case that our national and state treasuries have become nothing more than glorified ‘cash machines’ from which seemingly endless withdrawals are made for entirely spurious reasons. Such that even in death, the words of the late Alhaji Shehu Musa continue to ring true in resounding fashion – to wit:

The problem with corruption in Nigeria is not (only) the fact that Nigerian officials are corrupt, but the fact that corruption is official.’

An equally troubling development of the past decade has been the seemingly inexorable march, in lockstep fashion, towards One-Party statism at the federal level; a situation orchestrated by the ruling party. A ruling party which appears intent on holding on to power simply for the sake of it, without having a proper basis for wanting to do so. Such a serious lack of a basis, underscored by the absence of a people-centred manifesto devoted to improving the lot of Nigerians. It is a travesty and tragedy.

If our political system is to endure in a meaningful way, for an appreciable length of time, beyond this, its first decade of continuous existence; then at a minimum, it needs to operate on a functional two party basis (but preferably more); one in which there can be a discourse, intercourse, and interchange of ideas, and on the strength of which, political power can, in accordance with the will of the people and the dictates of the law, be exchanged between them at prescribed intervals.

But as worrying as many of the political events of the past decade have been, thankfully, it has not, been an altogether period of doom and gloom. There have been some rays of sunshine filter through to illuminate the political landscape. There have been some strong performances put in by certain political functionaries which have bucked the national trend of non-performance.

For example, Donald Duke is reputed, in his administration of Cross River State, to have put in a sterling performance; one which elevated his state to the status of being one of the best run in the federation. That he is also thought of in some quarters, as having ‘feet of clay’ in some other areas, is a matter of, and for, further debate.

Fairly lately also, another star has arisen in resplendent fashion in the Nigerian political firmament. Babatunde Fashola, governor of Lagos State – has in just two years in office – undertaken an ordinary job in an extraordinary manner. In a manner which qualifies him, despite his relative youth, to stand – shoulder to shoulder – in performance terms with that other great reformer, performer, and former governor of Lagos State; Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande.

Indeed, it must be the case also, that there are other performers (but not enough) in some of the other 35 states across our federation; but who, because of the relative remoteness of their states are not given sufficient publicity or acclamation for their good works. Whoever and wherever they are, they too are deserving of our collective praise as they labour in the behalf of their people.

In some ways even as we bemoan the widespread corruption bedevilling our current political system; as a people we must draw comfort from the fact that our political system for all its flaws, is still in its nascent stages; and is ever so slowly approaching its prepubescent phase, and is a long way away from attaining to political puberty. At which point, it is hoped that its political voice will break and boom with commanding resonance and achieve its proper democratic aims on behalf of Nigerians.

For now, however, it seems that political childishness will remain a feature of our political system. But it is hoped that the more mature institutions within our system – such as the judiciary – will, when called upon, wield the ‘legal rod of correction’ – without fear or favour – to deter and discipline those who flou

t the laws of the land in pursuit of their corrupt activities.

It is hoped that the next decade will see our democratic experiment attain some authenticity. It also hoped that our representatives will begin to represent the people rather than their narrow and selfish interest. For now, however, the foundation upon which our political system sits remains an uncertain one. But if it is to be made firm and endure and evolve into a meaningful system of government and escape the morbid fate of other ‘Abiku’ experiments; then our political class will do well to heed the wise counsel of the sainted Paul in the biblical scriptures – to wit:

‘When I was a child,
I spake as a child,
I understood as a child,
I thought as a child:
But when I became a man,
I put away childish things.’

It is time for our politicians to become responsible men and put aside their childish behaviour and unbridled acquisitiveness and begin to govern for the good of the Nigerian people.

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