As Democracy Is Backtracked In Nigeria!

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

It is impossible to control government if you have no idea of what government is. Today what people generally see as “Government” in Nigeria is not a government at all. It is a private ‘municipal corporation’ that was formed in, but we have a government that is essentially run by “one party” (PDP) with goals that will hurt average Nigerians and we have a “leader” who is hinting at controlling what can be said publicly about said goals. Our Founding Fathers revolted against the British government in order to gain freedom and control of their own destinies. As we lose more and more control of our government and our personal lives every day, can the government sit up?

It’s just so stupid! It’s just so brain-dead? For a government not to understand or not to see how much money could be raised for important causes, like helping those that contributes to Nigeria’s growth but suffered from abject poverty… there’s just so much free money to be made off of regulating something that they cannot control under any circumstances, that it’s so beyond foolish for them not to take that route.

Why has democracy failed to take root in Nigeria? After shedding the shackles of military rule, some countries in the post-dictators region undertook lasting democratization. Yet Nigeria did not. Nigeria experienced dramatic political breakthroughs in the late 1990s and the millennium, but it subsequently failed to maintain progress toward democracy. What direction of this regime can change post-military Nigeria? Relying on cross-national comparative analysis as well as on in-depth field research in Nigeria, it shows that Nigeria’s failure to democratize has three causes: too much economic reliance on oil, too little economic liberalization, and too weak a national legislature. Such explanation challenges others that have attributed Nigeria’s political travails to history, political culture, or to ‘shock therapy’ in economic policy. A theoretically, original and empirically rigorous explanation for one of the most pressing political problems of our time requires attention.

But, you know what; I don’t really worry about it anymore. Lip-service is fine. The good news is that Nigeria government doesn’t rule the globe, so while Lip-service may be taking hits inside us, it doesn’t flourish around the world. Maybe it’s just something that can’t be stopped, but if allowed to multiply, these bloodsuckers will breed future generations of parasites, all jockeying to find a place at the government trough. Their story are usually the same, a radio-Nigeria broadcast that goes: It’s for the future generation; It takes a millennium goals, there would be a village social services outreach; There ought to be a law-abiding Nigerians; I know what’s best for you; People are entitled to basic needs.

Of course my first thought being, how is this my problem? They are quick to enlighten me that it is everyone’s problem. Their pathetic dribble is only matched by their shameless welfare state of mind. I feel at times that I am in a bad horror movie, where all the logical and rational government officials are being replaced in the middle of the night with mindless pods, as in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” I see it everywhere I go, from the endless flag waving idiots who drive down the street with their “vote for Obasanjo” or “vote for Yar’Adua” bumper stickers, to the sheep who hold parade as INEC chief to signs on Election Day telling you who to vote for, as if it matters in the first place.

When will people learn that it does not matter who you vote for, government still gets elected? I have not participated in the sham known as voting for 12 years now, and I am ashamed that I ever did. There is nothing more brain-dead than the people who walk around with their “I voted” thumb-print ink stuck to their fists on Election Day. To me it resembles a large beacon flashing the word “moron” over and over again.

I must confess that I take pleasure in watching the mindless in action, and I have been known to watch the circus known as the “All Party” and or PDP conventions (for entertainment value only). I truly enjoy watching the glazed over look the sheep get in their eyes as they wave their campaign flags for their candidate, and think to themselves, “If we could only get our man in office, then all would be right again.”

With every election cycle, I know that the sheep will be too stupid to realize that if voting worked, it would be illegal, and they always manage to live up to my expectations of them as they stumble into the voting booths for another round. The problem seems to be that we just have not found the right man yet.

Looking back, I really envy the little boy in the movie “The Sixth Sense” because his only fear was that of dead people, and dead people don’t vote. I, on the other hand, have to live the rest of my life in fear of Brain-Dead politicians. As a child of the 70s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.” So presumably, having decided that government is not corrupt, that business is not exploitative, and that people are rotten, I see justice derailed. Derailed Democracy goes deep into the machinery of government to reveal how the past regime have methodically maintained their grip on power by dodging accountability, manipulating public opinion and stifling dissent both inside and outside of government. In doing so, they have undermined the very foundation of democracy: government must be accountable to the people it is elected to serve.

Few years ago, the government used charges of corruption and sodomy to sack and jail Chief DSP Alamieseigha, then a serving governor in the Niger Delta,
The most outcome of such tack was increased violence in that region. Sadly, this could be just what the ruling party wants, so it could have an excuse to declare a state of emergency in the region and jail its opponents. Nigeria is one step ahead of Mauritania in terms of derailing democracy. The street protesters occupied the national assembly and brought government to a standstill, brazenly declaring that democracy doesn’t work.

In their view the mass of rural voters are incapable of electing leaders responsibly because they are too ignorant and susceptible to vote buying. Instead, the so-called ruling party proposes an audaciously undemocratic ”new politics” whereby most members of their “national working committee” would be appointed.

The motive for this backtracking is rather similar to the situation in the military regime. The ruling authority based establishment, which controls the bureaucracy and much of the corporate sector, was horrified when after 1994; the late Sani Abacha built a strong majority in a military tribunal using a mixture of populism and patronage.

Previous democratically elected governments were frail coalitions that relied on entrenched vested interests and immovable pillars of bureaucratic authority to survive. Mr Abacha changed the rules by using his immense wealth to build a strong political party and a rural support base from Youth Earnest Ask For Abacha ’98.Again,there is no denying that ex-president Obasanjo’s buying power and uncompromising illiberal views posed a threat to freedom and security in Nigeria. The telecoms tycoon took a dim view of Nigeria’s untrammeled media; his crackdown on drug dealers through NAFDAC frame-up is alleged to have killed up to 2,000 people.

Nigeria has had bad leaders before, but they have been swiftly replaced without anyone caring too much about what people really think. In their opinion, Democracy in Nigeria wasn’t supposed to empower people, especially the rural masses, but rather maintain a stable status quo. Democratizing our national affairs changed all that and for this reason, as well as all the others, any controversial had to go. This would be fine, if like the military coup that originally ousted Gen. Buhari in August 1985, sovereignty was eventually returned to the people. Now it seems, there is a well-financed move to ensure that someone like Gen. Buhari can never come back, despite the purported Supreme Court ruling, by completely changing the rules of the game. In this sense, former president Olusegun Obasanjo, despite his crude style, had a point: he was elected by the people and to give into a mob is to undermine democracy.

Sadly, in this country the ruling party seems to be saying that democracy is fine so long as they retain power, or at least a big say in who holds the reins of power. This is a disturbing backlash to the success of democratic change, which few pundits predicted a decade ago when it seemed that political reform and openness was the silver lining of the financial crisis that swept this country.

A preliminary assessment of our levels of democratization is being drawn with other post-militarized countries. Nigeria is not a democracy – elections are ‘riddled with too much fraud and coercion to call them free. The evidence of electoral fraud, including the anecdotal. Significant distortions in the electoral process and a failure to discover these by monitoring bodies are missing. Falsifications and election-related coercion, both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’, had been identified as the most acute symptoms of electoral fraud. My personal experience gives such a touch of first-hand reporting. The most common fraudulent election practices, often overlooked by the INEC over-influenced by ‘incumbent executives’, include denying citizens access to protocols, cooking numbers and drawing on reservoirs of ‘dead souls’.

Our platform “Nigeria4betterrule” confronts and largely rejects some common explanations of why democracy has not taken hold in Nigeria: the level of economic development; social/ethnic diversity; the role of socio-political heritage, including a militarized heritage; and religion. Mr. Arizona-Ogwu responds by claiming that natural resources, economic development and ethnic fractionalization are all correlated with a lack of political openness, while the militarized heritage and Orthodox religion do not have much influence. Moreover, I do not consider the critical role of trust in building free-market economies and democratic systems.

To swiftly dismiss religion and fondness for autocrats as factors in the limited progress of democratization is certainly counter-intuitive! Nigerians as we are, often describe our culture as “Afro-lineage”, implying respect for authority and hierarchy. There is a popular preference for strong, charismatic leaders. Obasanjo’s popularity is evidence of that, as is the 2004 finding that 50 per cent of Nigerians expressed the belief that democratization process played a positive role in Nigeria’s history, in a survey conducted by the “Nigeria4betterrule” Study of Public Opinion.

The positive statistical correlation between the abundance of natural resources, especially oil, and the failure of democratic politics (i.e. the abundance of natural resources impedes democratization). As supported by a number of mathematical models and statistical data; the notion that natural resources corrupt and that corruption in turn discourages political openness is a fact with proof.

This write-up begs a series of questions. Surely the impact of natural resources is mediated by the political system and culture? But for Britain’s, and Norway’s, oil era did not lead to corruption, thanks mainly to the ‘sturdy democratic regimes in place’. And why did the abundance of natural resources under the military system, before 1990, not lead to the kind of corruption and appropriation of state assets witnessed this time? Why does Sao Tome/ Principe – where their prime minister scored a recent electoral victory – continue to avoid not just free-market reforms but the scale of corruption and theft of natural assets reached in Nigeria? And is Senegal retreating from the ‘NEPAD, in part to avoid the Nigerian model in which officials get rich quick while the rest of the population is left at the mercy of hardship?

In openness, the truly shocking scale of corruption (Nigerians spent 37 billion US Dollars on bribes), everyday corruption which had become a necessary part of life, perhaps a way of life, in military era Nigeria, and the large-scale theft of state’s assets, which occurred in this country alongside the partial liberalization of the economy. My argument could be usefully supplemented by a consideration of the correlation between the type of political regime, corruption and the theft of state assets.

Partial liberalization of our economy has caused a more general failure of democratization. Since economic deregulation facilitates democracy, our own picture is becoming more complex. When our government followed policies of market deregulation the result was not only healthy economic growth and fast development of private companies and businesses. The result was also a high proportion of people living in poverty, mass unemployment, and the highest income-disparities inside this country. The current PDP government is increasing its control over the media, promoting Catholic values in schools and public life, and banning demonstrations of groups which do not fit its social agenda. Perhaps Sao Tome – where economic prosperity and avoidance of mass unemployment are present – might yet lead to a more mature pluralism and a greater political openness than in Nigeria.

During Obasanjo’s regime, the liberalization of the economy, though stable institutions, but lack procedures, created favourable conditions for theft, corruption and potential capture of our economy by entrenched interests. This was the case here in this country; our democratic institutions were used as a façade. It is likely that a fuller liberalization of our economy would have led to even greater levels of chaos, theft and corruption.

We need a more nuanced understanding of the nexus of liberalization and democratization. The fall of military regimes should have led to the establishment of Western-style democracies, provided basic conditions – such as free elections and free media – were in place. What a shame? Our democracy – which ought to score highest among the post-military African government – rests on shallow foundations. The elitist character of the political process created a syndrome of the ‘abandoned society’. The formidable political power of the party stalwarts remained unchecked. And the prospects for democratic revival seem remote under the current government, which is demonstrably pro-party, ultra-conservative and anti-Nigerians.

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