“The best government rests on the people, and not on the few, on persons and not on property, on the free development of public opinion and not on authority” – George Bancroft
It used to be one time that free milk used to be a derivative aid for school children in Nigeria especially during the Civil and Post-Civil war days. The milk was offered free to school children through the “benevolence” of American and Canadian tax payers. Somehow, as a token of appreciation they were known as America Do Me Good. You got it right, the milk was good at least while it lasted. In the year 2007, a year now widely referred to as the James Bond year in obodo naija (2-007: Double-Zero Seven), it is apparent that after seven plus years of waffling, missing, walking, limping, grins and cheers- democracy has by and large been good to Nigeria. Do not be deceived by the discontent in the land, do not be disenchanted by the missed opportunities; look past the momentary unmanaged expectations, the fact of the matter is that for Nigerians at large democracy has been a tolerable system of government than military rule.
For starters, let it be made loud and clear that the discontent, the disappointments, the missed opportunities, the expectations, the anger, and impatience are certainly genuine. Nigeria could be a better place eight years onwards from May 29, 1999 if it has a less political national government (talk about utopia), a less selfish and more mature President, a more responsible legislature, a firmer judiciary, more focused policy makers, and certainly a more functional local government system. Nigeria could be a better place, if it is not Nigeria. There you go, if we as ordinary citizens are more protective of public property, committed to maintenance of public infrastructure, not given to public littering cum discharge of intestinal waste in public space and resisting all forms of bribery and corruption. There is no doubt in my mind, that by leaps and bounds Nigeria would have outperformed her current status by a radical change of public orientation.
But truth being said is it possible to achieve the above without some measure of dictatorship? Are the words “radical change” and “democracy” actually compatible? Is slow and steady evolution achieved by mutual respect and consensus not the bedrock of democracy? Can Nigeria have her cake and have it? Is eight years enough to right the wrongs of four decades? Is it possible to annihilate the benefiting elites who are reaping bounties from the imbalance in the system without throwing the whole system in spiral jolt that end up in colossal destruction? Is the government singularly responsible for the woes and imperfections of our country that we all know too well today? Is the government a product or the manufacturer of the universal system named after the Niger River? Can we divorce history from the child or divorce the child from history?
After pondering through these questions, I have arrived at the conclusion, based on firsthand observation that no matter how we cut it- North-South, East or West – democracy has done Nigeria more good than harm; hence, keeping our democracy intact regardless of what the military apologists or those nostalgic of those locust years might say must be a primary objective. Central to this theme must be a demand by all and sundry that the rule of law be supreme regardless of whose ox is gored. Indeed, based on this realization I based my extrapolation that “corruption is far more a tolerable disease than anarchy”. While on one hand the excise of corruption from our national polity is necessary if we must develop, we must also realize that no development can take place in the midst of anarchy which the disobedience of the rule of law breeds as we see too well in Oyo and Plateau states. Hence, in our determined fight against corruption- the rule of law must never be sacrificed: indeed, I am of the opinion that if this fight is based on the law, then the law must be obeyed not disobeyed to achieve temporary results that could quickly degenerate to the death of our democratic experiment. We can do both.
As I traveled through the states of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ekiti, Edo, Delta and Ogun states, what was apparent was that democracy is working. While there might not yet be a method to national development there is definitely a view out there that things cannot continue as they have been. Politicians might not be reactive to the yearnings of the wider public because they achieve their office by rigging, but internal party dynamics is slowly forcing them to do something for the locals at least to clinch the ticket of the “winning party” when the next four years come around. Of all levels of government, by far the state governments have outperformed others in terms of visible development. The far worst performer is the federal government- whose simplest functions of providing security is virtually non-existent thanks to a deceased police service, neglecting its duty to provide a safe means of inter-state transport best exemplified by the miscarriage inducing road that links the East-West of the country i.e. the Benin-Ore road. Air travel in the FG hands is a death trap, so are the infrastructures including federal buildings chiefly those in Lagos. Power is a foregone conclusion; OBJ’s promises of 1999 are blowing in the winds.
Based on an on the spot observation, without fear of the well coordinated enemies the following political players might have on the Internet, and especially with a mind of objectivity based on relative comparison, the far better performing state governments (eight years inclusive since government is a continuous process) are those of Lagos, Cross Rivers and Delta states. Tinubu regardless of what his detractors might say is transforming Lagos- slowly but surely. A visit to the terraced streets of Victoria Island, Lekki, Ikoyi, and more recently Marina/Lagos Business District will reveal that he is a man of vision. Lagos State University medical school and the bar beach project are also testimonies to this fact. His more recent move to begin either the partial or complete regentrification of hitherto slums like Ajegunle through World Bank assistance is also commendable. The BRT lane Lagos Mass Transit idea is one of the first actual implementation of Jakande’s idea of a working Lagos devoid of mind blowing traffic. Tinubu has made that happen before his departure. If every administration hence forth in Lagos at least tries to modernize a sector of the Lagos area as much as Tinubu has done, we would be saying “Eko O ni Baje” thirty years down the road. Tinubu has without Local Government funds famously withheld by his number one detractors in Abuja turned around the myth of incapable Lagos on its head and changed the elite areas and I say let the next person do for the less advantaged areas of Lagos. Next!
The governments of Delta and Cross River states have also done commendably well in terms of physical infrastructure. Warri is a radically different city than it was almost a decade and a half ago when I first breathe the polluted air of that oil city. Road dualization projects have slowly upped the status of these hitherto over hyped city into its well deserved place. Oghara- okay let me say the truth, it is Governor Ibori’s hometown- is also wearing the look of any rural city in the USA. I mean who can beat well constructed drainage system, well tarred roads, well distributed solar powered street lights coupled with a new stadium and city hall to match. I say, visit Oghara and tell your own governor to transform his own town. By the time Delta has seven governors in thirty something years, transforming seven new villages into modern cities we all will all have Ibori to thank. It is not a perfect system but it is better than the Ubanization of Anambra
Of course, things are not jolly, jolly. The cities of Benin, Ibadan, and Port Harcourt have existed as if they have no gover
nments. While that of Ibadan is a little bit understandable when one qualifies it within the framework of the political squabbles of the past four years- those of Edo and River states is at best a shame. There is nothing but elevated level of corruption and day light robbery currently ongoing in these states. Is Lucky really a governor or some seat warmer? And what of that delusional Odili? He wants to be President. I laugh. I say elevated because any common commodity will not swear that Ibori, Tinubu or Duke has not faired economically better in their bank accounts – but truth is that they have done something that legacy will judge them positively by. The same cannot be said of these non-performing threesome states. Quite interestingly, even Fayose outperforms Lucky and Odili in Ekiti state as hated as he is.
When all is said and done- democracy is a good thing. Nothing best exemplifies it than the abstract as ironical as it might sound. There is a radio program on Independent Radio of Benin called “people talk to people”-PTP; this is where Governor Lucky get chewed on a regular basis – you call in and call his attention to the last shoddy job he has done. PTP would have been shot cum shut down during those evil days. But today, we enjoy a qualified freedom of speech in our country and it is a thing that we cannot lose. We cannot lose it to a rampaging dictatorial executive with military mentality nor an unlearned Attorney General who sees it fit to usurp the functions of the judiciary. It is a thing we must jealously protect and in the words of my ancestors: Nigeria a gbe a o!