Deciphering Deception, Populism and Nigerian Citizens’ Complacency

by Adepoju Paul Olusegun

It was meant to be a thanksgiving service to thank God for keeping His Excellency safe from the Warri bomb blast. The choir sang with a rejuvenated spirit, the pastor preached with a fresh passion, and the congregation danced with great joy, all forgetting the popular notion that His Excellency owes some accumulated salaries.

The first lady gave a heartfelt testimony much to the adoration of the congregation and while the happy moment lasted, all set aside anti-government grudges only to pick such up few hours after the service when the realities of the mighty hands of hunger, familiar state insecurity and poor infrastructures dawned. At this time however, grievances could not be aired (or heard) as fundamental issues were set aside when the opportunity beckoned. The reason is simple, aggrieved citizens got star struck at the sight of Their Excellencies.

While democracy is reputed worldwide as a collaborative, all-encompassing participatory style of government, the 21st century has been characterized with modification and redefinition of democracy.

Twenty years ago, the Commission of Inquiry into Possible Illegal Activities and Associated Police Misconduct, commonly referred to as The Fitzgerald Inquiry, tabled its findings in the Queensland Parliament after an exhaustive and sensational two years of public investigation. Its findings and recommendations continue to have a significant effect on many aspects of public life in Queensland and beyond. In the report, the lead investigator and Queensland’s ex commissioner for corruption, Tim Fitzgerald gave an insight into the budding style of democracy in Australia where the ruling party and opposition fight over power in order to use power to empower a small group, members of which dictate and influence all decision making processes.

In the mutant Australian democratic style of governance, vetted interests now reign supreme over collective well being, and the views of the opposition, no matter how reasonable and thoughtful, are suppressed and unaired, hence the citizens are unaware of the ills of those in power. The deception is taken to the polls where continuity is inevitable. As horrible as this seems, America’s new brand of democracy- populism – is worse.

Populism is a type of political-social thought which juxtaposes “the people” against “the elites”, and urges social and political system changes. It can also be defined as a rhetorical style employed by members of political or social movements. It is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as “political ideas and activities that are intended to represent ordinary people’s needs and wishes”

According to James Long in Deception as a Principle of Governance, prior to the 2000 US general elections, the Democrats all agreed that President George Bush received a surplus when he took office after President Clinton’s term, and he passed a deficit to President Obama. The truth of the case however was made public in a 07 February 2010 New York Times editorial which put the situation this way:

“When President Bush took office in 2001, the federal budget had been in the black for three (four, actually) years, and continued surpluses were projected for a decade to come.”

President Obama in his first State of the Union address also mentioned the large surplus that President Bush inherited in contrast to the deficit that Obama himself met.

However, every economic indicator during Clinton’s last year in office turned decisively downward — the surplus, government revenues, and the markets included. This is in line with the belief in economics that economic projections made at the very top of an economic bubble are foolish. The dot-com bubble had long since popped, and everything was going south by the time Clinton left office. Consequently, the Democrats’ projections of surpluses years into the future at a time when all indices were falling were not just foolish, but dishonest.

Empirically, if the American voters in late 2000 believed that the Clinton surplus was as high as the Democrats now claim, and if the long-term projection for the surplus was accepted as valid by those voters, Al Gore would have won the 2000 election in a landslide that would have rivaled President Reagan’s victories. In reality, the voters in 2000 were nervous about the economy, having just witnessed trillions of dollars lost in the dot-com fiasco, and Bush won.

Africa’s democratic styles are also undergoing several modifications due to its peculiar challenges. In a 1997 address to the International Conference on Governance for Sustainable Growth and Equity, Mr. K. Y. Amoako, who was then the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa identified six fundamental challenges facing us as Africa as well as the problems of governance and citizen participation in development. These are strife, non- participatory governance, inert civil society, disenfranchisement of women in politics and governance, incapacitated institutions, and poor government reforms. These myriad of challenges had culminated in a heterogeneous rare blend of Australian deception, America’s populism, and star struck sycophancy by the citizenry. Nigeria is a good case study.

At any forum for interaction with the citizens of Nigeria, governments at all levels had perfected ways of manipulating the citizenry and gaining false commendations and recommendations to secure and consolidate their stolen mandates. Their latest strategy is the invasion of the once distinguished and dignified online community. Akala is one of such public office holders currently enjoying online dominance. The wall post of one of his fans read thus:

Happy Easter to you too sir! Keep up the good work we are behind you 1001% all the way…because nobody can do it better!!! We have seen what the past governors have done, we are seeing yours and the difference is very clear…AKALA NI ALL D WAY!!!

On close examination, I discovered that the person who posted the message is a young secondary school student of Queens School Apata, Ibadan. Considering the number of months (almost running into a year) that she and her contemporaries were compelled to stay at home due to the governor’s protracted misunderstanding with the state chapter of the Nigerian Union of Teachers, one begins to wonder what the girl was thinking. She is not the only one affected by this syndrome.

Market women forget the fact that the market sanitary condition is deplorable; farmers forget that the cost of state funded fertilizers is astronomic; and women groups forget that they occupy less than 5% of political offices (even God accepts 10%!) when these political office holders come around. It’s disheartening that often when citizens have the opportunity to shout and scream at high resounding decibels, brownish fluoride- deficient teeth are flashed at the camera, depicting an all-is-well situation, not knowing that everything lies comatose!

It is a thing of shame that at every medium available to the masses to show their grievances and dissatisfaction, and have their real situations made public; the long swift arms of politicians frequently hijack such divinely ordained opportunities. It’s not only the citizens that are enchanted; even our active civil societies are gradually being compromised.

We all remember the Farouk Lawan led Integrity Group in the National Assembly, and how they’ve joined fellow members of the house to continually illegalize and desecrate the Presidency. Also, recently, it was announced that the Save Nigeria Group received a whooping US$25,000 donation from a source in support of its activities, and as expected, th

e money was accepted. As nice and kind the gesture might be, I believe 25,000 US Dollars is a whole lot of money to give away without expecting something in return considering the corruption prone Nigerian terrain. How are we sure that there were no strings attached, sooner or later? There is also the rising clamor that the SNG should transmogrify into a political party. How sure are we that the youths campaigning will not be used to drum support for some political office seekers? The template is there, we are only awaiting its doom spelling manifestation.

Thanks to unionism and civil clamors, we now have youth groups, women societies, masses unions, and several others speaking for different strata of the society. And in most cases, fraternization with these communities is used to gain popularity. They organize government funded rallies to facilitate popularity such that when elections are rigged as usual, no external observer raises eye brow since the candidate is popular. Who are we deceiving but ourselves?

This citizens’ supported decepto- populist act is gradually becoming our trademark as a nation. Governors have on their entourage gaily dressed women representing all the women in the state; US based children and nephews of political office holders form youth organizations with the financial help of their benefactors who they later turn around to support at the next elections; pastors, reverends, bishops, Imams, traditional healers, and occult group leaders are either afraid of losing huge donations, or afflicted by the ubiquitous and widely cosmopolitan complacence in the discharge of their duties as faith leaders.

Our corridors of power are filled with well fed and over joyous individuals who give the rulers a misrepresentation of what truly happens on the streets and at the grassroots; radio and TV stations air pro-government adverts sponsored by political prostitutes and desperate jobbers seeking offices hourly; the streets are littered with solidarity billboards and posters of well fed potbellied political office holders and their obedient protégés; and the aggrieved have no choice than to stir clear, or keep mute for the fear of being lynched.

Nigeria’s situation is a unique case study in managerial classes as even the best professors of governance cannot decipher why angry masses could detour from being annoyed with the status quo, to overnight praise singers. Poverty is one potent factor.

A poor mind is not poor of ideas, but of coordinated reasoning. When poverty becomes so deeply rooted, it becomes impossible for the individual to reason sanely, and any source of income generation is seen as a favor. No wonder Nigerian workers still thank politicians for paying salaries, and in return, political office seekers make payment of salaries their number one point agenda. This shows that Nigerians, despite 50 years of independence, are still tightly bound by shackles that are stronger than colonial rule. The mindset of an average Nigerian on governance has been bastardized such that all that is expected from the government is for individual civil servant to get his or her monthly salary. When this is achieved, all is well, and continuity is supported to secure and ensure food safety.

It is shameful that we are still far from the days when Nigerian will rise up and fight for better infrastructures, good healthcare policies, government initiated life insurance, citizen participation in governance, corruption free administration, rejuvenation of local indigenous industries, beautification and beatification of our institutions and accountability by government officials. Instead, we’ve resolved to patch things up. No one knows his or her rights, and we daily live with you’re-on-your-own mindset. How can we progress?

It is therefore expedient for every attempt to liberate Nigeria and Nigerians from the strongholds of political oppressions to start with the reorientation of the average Nigerian. Presently, on most streets of Nigeria, no one knows of any plan for liberation. Free readers read newspapers only to be informed, and entertained by the plights of our nation, and the exploits of our leaders. In the markets, Hausa traders are taunted with Yar’adua’s health status not because the ‘taunters’ want good leadership, but are in search of fun which is more or less a rare commodity, just like petrol!

We joke with sorrowful issues; we take with levity what looks like generational curses all because citizens feel hapless and regrettably helpless. We claim to be in democracy yet the vibrations of old Army boots are putting all happily under great trepidation. How can we progress to the next phase when our orientation is so bastardized?

The remaining civil societies have a lot to do. There is the need to seek revolution. If they are serious about it, they need to take the quest for a better Nigeria from corner offices, air conditioned apartments, comfort zones and online communities to the streets and creeks. If Nigeria will be liberated, it’s not the ajebutters that will achieve it; it’s not the well fed new vanguards like Dele Momodu who once fraternized with corrupt government officials that will lead it, it’s the individual responsibility and collective saddled duties of the poor masses. Until then, our liberation will remain virtual, our freedom will remain elusive, and the baton will be handed over to the next generation to continue the age-long tradition of deception, populism and apoplectic citizen complacency.

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