Is This Government Anti-People?

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

In the continuous struggle to improve the living conditions of our people, there are battles between those who will lose out if there is fair distribution of the national cake and those who are bound to benefit from it. The forces that are ruling Nigeria today are the forces of pro-foreign businesses. Mr. President talks about the “7-point business” and creating poverty as probity owning democracy. What this entire mean is that they will use the state to amass wealth. To do that others must loose. And so it comes to pass, they have increased petroleum prices by almost 100% and put up tariffs of water and electricity by 12% and have planned more hardships for the people in the next couple of months.

By squeezing the mass of the people and impoverishing them into submission they believe they are creating the necessary conditions for their continuous stay in power and the property classes that they want to create and entrench. This government does not have in their imagination dream that it is the same policies that saw off the fore-fathers. They fail to comprehend that it their policies that are contributing to the mass flight of our professionals in the medical profession from the country for greener pastures. The appeals for the national good will fall on deaf ears, because they do not practice what they preached. This government has failed to realize and recognize that it their failure to do something about the health service and astronomical cost of education of our children through the school system that is contributing to the massive corruption in the country.

As the new year forges ahead with the expected price hikes in utilities, foodstuffs and the basic resources that underpin Nigeria’s efforts at socio-economic and by extension political development, so must we begin to delve into the question of how entrenched our democracy would become, given that the quagmire of the zone has almost always inevitably and tragically been due to lapses in political activity and/or organization. Presently the debate has indeed been joined as to how political parties should be funded if they are to remain the basis upon which our democracy would be sustained and mature into what democracies ought to be. It might be trite to posit that a well coordinated and widely acceptable framework of funding within which our party political activities would take place would certainly lift an enormous burden on well wishers and nation-wreckers alike, given that the basic underlying factor that might serve as the remote cause of discontent and misgiving would in one fell swoop be done away with.

Nigeria is not alone in the quest to find viable sources to fund its political parties. It is said that democracy is a very expensive venture and they that choose that path better be prepared to bear the costs and ramifications accordingly. Nonetheless, it is also true that the sorry state of economic affairs of most Third World states means that they have a double burden to bear: on the one hand, they must strive to consolidate whatever gains have been chalked over the years as far as democracy and the democratic culture goes and on the other, they must seek new ways of addressing new challenges that are posed to the growth and sustenance of democracy and simultaneously conform to expectations of the international community if support for processes, be they economic or political is to be overwhelmingly provided, given the sorry state of our institutional frameworks that are necessary for engendering socio-political as well as economic development. Comparatively, it is paradoxical to note that even in the most advanced of democracies of which the West features prominently, this debate rages on, what with the massive provision of both legal and illegal, bloc and sectarian support that interest groups and parochial entities lavish on their preferred political parties? The recent debate about funding in the US should be a pointer to this debacle.

The issue of stability assumes paramount significance in relation to a country which is a gas power and where militants are at work just below the surface. A continued eight-year Obasanjo rule may not amount to stability but its traumatic ending runs the risk of inviting instability. In Nigeria’s history only OBJ ruled for longer periods, Abacha and IBB stylish. It is an irony of Nigeria’s politics that military rulers enjoy longer tenure than civilian politicians. A conclusion to be drawn from the Nigerian turmoil is that the vote does not amount to democracy; even limited media freedom will not suffice. If the culture is militarist, ideology is communal and negative, tolerance level is low, extremism and militancy are not officially countered, and the political parties themselves lack democratic credentials, the vote becomes merely superficial, a concession yielded under pressure to impress outsiders. Time has come to say goodbye to the gun, or if not then say goodbye to the constitution. In Nigeria the gun co-existed with the vote with all the attendant anomalies.

The question then arises: if the west with its entire wherewithal is unable to set limits and acceptable criteria for the funding of political parties/ activities, can Nigeria provide any better alternative? Fortunately, yours truly happens to belong to the school that believes that the west is not the repository of knowledge on human affairs and management. In any case, a rigid following of their prescriptions have often left us in the lurch, reason for which we have to design home grown alternatives to address home created problems. At the risk of sounding rather anti-western, I hasten to state that no western prescription would be able to provide the solution needed to solve our political problems. Of course our reference point starts with the “one pill for all illnesses” approach unleashed by the geeks at the quest for $500million Bond for this government and World Bank who visited our sorry state with further drudgery through the imposition of the notorious Structural Adjustment Program and the Financial Meltdown heat. To that economic quagmire we were thrust into, I shall return shortly.

What then can we do to sort our funding problem? It is the opinion of this writer that those who benefit most from our present political dispensation must bear the costs of funding. I am referring here to both the individuals that collectively make up the state of Nigeria and the businesses that operate thrive and are registered legally in Nigeria. As far as individuals are concerned, it must be the determination of political parties beginning from now to break the tendency of deepening political patronage, of which the type that exempts the ordinary party member from paying his basic dues are the most blatant. Is it not ironic that dues payment is such a Herculean problem and yet when an individual is interested in a position, that individual manages to keep his books up to date? Hello? What sort of mockery are we making of ourselves? We must start to cultivate the culture of investing in what we believe in.

If we can spend God knows how much patronizing the lotteries and entertaining ourselves, surely it does make sense to contribute to the sustenance of the very conducive atmosphere within which our extra-curricular activities take place. This certainly seems a small price to pay for democratic growth. As a matter of fact, this tendency of leaving parties to be run by a few is what has created the anomaly of certain interests hijacking otherwise vibrant parties for their narrow parochial interests and which stunts the growth of true democracy at all levels of party organization. One needs not mention specific parties here; the records and reports are there for the interested to ascertain the truth or otherwise of this statement.

If the contributions of individuals is really a drop in the ocean as some have asserted, then what of businesses? Dear reader, it is my humble opinion that businesses must be encouraged to contribute massively for two specific rea

sons. Firstly, they obviously would be contributing to sustaining democracy in Nigeria and at the same time creating an even more liberal atmosphere within which their expectations would materialize. More significantly, by paying more, businesses would break the patronage mentioned above and the dependence on certain individuals for opportunities. In other words, it is the case that businesses are known to pay into certain war chests of specific political parties due to the influence of certain patrons. As soon as these patrons fall from grace, away with them goes the interest and survival of those businesses. This tendency would be broken if a different form of funding is accepted.

How then do we do this effectively? This writer believes that businesses must be asked to pay a given amount into an account annually. This amount would then be shared among vibrant political parties for the simple reason that some free riders might want to take advantage of available money for no work done. To check the vibrancy of a party, electoral results can be used as the criterion by which disbursements would be made to the parties. In addition to this, the funds should be managed by independent officers in conjunction with the electoral commission and the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) to ensure that no interests are sidestepped under this new funding regime.

This might have the additional blessing of forcing parties to be forthright with their books and open about their expenses, given that the electoral commission has been grappling with this rather appalling trend of “hide and seek” as far as accountability at the party level is concerned. In other words, one criterion would simply be to receive funding according to verifiable revenue and expenditure at all levels of party activity. Another expected benefit of this system would obviously be that no business would collapse upon a change in government because there would be hardly any finger pointing that “business A” massively funded “party B” which failed to win and lost to “party C” and therefore would be punished for siding with the wrong horse. This way, democracy would really be consolidated in Nigeria; businesses would flourish in real development and freedom from fear while accountability at the party level would be deepened.

Despite the poverty and the mismanagement of the economy by this government of obvious nepotism has put off squared pegs in round holes, we must continue to struggle for democracy in a blessed country. We should definitely fight for a voice of all oppressed people and ensure that the NPP does not dominate the news media as it does currently. We must struggle and ensure that no adventurists like the type of Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida AND Atiku Abubakar use the genuine problems of the people for their personal aggrandizement. There are quite a number of issues that many people care about and we can all organize around those issues and ensure that we prevent this government from implementing policies that detrimentally affect us all.

First of all we must strengthen the campaign to ensure that water is not privatized. Already civil society and many organizations including the TUC are against the oil-sector privatization. We must continue the campaign to ensure that this government does not sell our petroleum sector to the highest bidders. The campaign apart from demonstrations, meetings, seminars, poster campaigns, could also include letter writing to the law-makers to oppose these policies. We should mount a campaign to stop the wholesale implementation and the increase of tariffs on water and electricity as demanded by the IMF/World Bank that this government is implementing with relish. We must campaign against the increasing hospital charges, the exorbitant prices of drugs in the drugstores and ask this government to honour its commitment for access to health services for our people. Thousands of people are dying daily in their homes because they cannot go to the hospitals. This is a human rights issue that this government must honour. We must fight to ensure that education is free to all, and not for the rich minority. The developed countries did not develop by making it impossible for the mass of the people to access to education. Today fuel costs N65 yet scarce. We must be on our guide constantly and subject Yar’Adua’s policies to the microscope and point out the anti-people nature that is often grossed in populist rhetoric and half-hearted measures to dampen down opposition to their policies.

And finally we must ensure that this government does not single out people, such as they tried to do in the case of Jonathan Elendu to discredit so as not to have any opposition to their moribund policies. We must continually point out to this government, that it was the culminated struggles of our people for fair play, justice, democracy, independence and what have you that made them beneficiaries to the demise of the Abacha or Obasanjo dictatorship. And we must point out to them, that when we criticize them, we are doing so as Nigerians with alternative views that can push Nigeria forward.

We must be on our guard and use all avenues, private newspapers, the private radios and state newspapers if they allow us, to expose the anti-people and unpatriotic policies of this government. If equally they take up measures and implement policies that benefit our people, we must praise them for such courageous actions. Through these struggles, we will and can build an alternative to this government. There are a whole host of organizations out there and civil society that we must struggle with and ensure that the view of the powerless and the disadvantaged is heard. It is only through these struggles against the monopoly of state power by the ruling part; PDP, that we can begin to offer a viable alternative to the DEMOCRACY.

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