Democracy is again on the slab in Nigeria. It’s gasping for breath! The slaughterers are ready. The knives are drawn. Notices of the plans to “do in” democracy in that country are being rushed to the press .The latest of such notices was served on the Cable News Network (CNN) news program last Sunday, March 5, 2006 by Fani-Kayode, Special Assistant on Public Affairs to the Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo.
On the CNN news program Fani Kayode confirmed, what was already an the open -secret- that the Nigerian government has some hands in the moves to amend the constitution so that Mr. Obasanjo can stand for election in 2007. He also dismissed warnings from United States Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other global leaders, that Nigeria might indeed be plunged into chaos and violence if the Third Term campaign of his boss succeeds.
Hear him: “It is part and parcel of democratic process for people to make choices and that is precisely what Nigerian people are trying to do today through constitutional process and no one should take that from them”. It would not be proper for us to comment now (on third term). When we get to the bridge we shall cross it.
Just days before, Olabode George, Deputy National Chairman of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), compared the Nigerian state to an aircraft, needing Obasanjo as the only pilot to take it to a cruising democratic level before “Ah! Democracy groans. What democratic process? What are these choices; who are those framing these choices, Are the Nigerian people as willing as being portrayed, to be passengers in this “aircraft”? It’s funny that a navy commodore will use an aircraft as imagery for democracy. Do you still wonder why aviation mishaps are commonplace in Nigeria? Round pegs in square holes.
First, one must acknowledge President Olusegun Obasanjo’s achievements. Beyond making cell phones affordable to Nigerians. His anti-corruption and fiscal investment drives are actually commendable. Obasanjo’s assistance towards the humanitarian and security situations in the Darfur region of the Sudan and the Great Lakes is also as important as his effort in the fight against global terrorism. There however seem to be less enthusiasm and aptness on the part of the Obasanjo government to ensure that democracy and respect for human rights become seated culture of politics in addition to being the key indexes of good governance in the country.
To be sure, if we were to follow the paradigm of how democracy would look if democratic institutions were working, as they should in Nigeria, elsewhere too, we would locate sovereignty squarely in the citizenry, or more accurately in the Nigerian people. President Obasanjo could act differently by allowing Nigerians exercise their sovereignty actively, freely and regularly, especially on the 3rd term issue and its implication for the future of Nigeria. The Nigerian government, if indeed it is not trying to hurt democracy, could act differently by engaging the Nigerian people on these issues, in ways that bring to the surface those things that are valuable to Nigerians.
Since the Nigerian president and those campaigning for his self-succession plans have so far not made genuine efforts to explore the concerns of the citizens, the survival of Democracy in Nigeria now depends on you. To be sure, whether or not democracy survives and become part of public life in Nigeria will depend on what citizens of Nigeria and democrats across s the world do now.
Fani-Kayode and Olabode George are just doing what Chukwumerije, another government spokes person in Nigeria did, just years ago when Sanni Abacha was pursuing a self-succession plan. Yes, what’s going on in Nigeria at this time is not really fresh. Many can vividly recall how late Sani Abacha similarly cowed, manipulated and used politicians to pursue his ill-fated agenda.
Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has done it. Obasanjo wants to do it. So What? But will he respect the presidential oath of office he swore to in 1999 and 2003? Nigerian citizens, the press, civic society, lawmakers, judges, professionals, students, youth, women, religious, and community leaders may have to begin to explore all other non-violent ways to protect our cherished democracy and restore its due process.
But how do you deal with a man like Obasanjo? How do you convince a man with a unique destiny that, in the ongoing re-arrangement for the new world order, he may not be as important or powerful as he think he is? Tunde Bakare, a Nigeria pastor, had no success. How do citizens and civic institutions act differently to prevent the demise of democracy in Nigeria especially now that, the opposition party in Nigeria is almost extinct?
Especially now that the labor movement in Nigeria has been fragmented; now that the pro-democracy activists are either dead or wearied; now that politicians and law-makers have been whipped into line and the others are scared stiff of the consequences of opposing 3rd term agenda; now that Northern leaders through Governor Abdulkhadir Kure of Niger State have served warning that any attempt not to allow power to shift to the North come 2007 may spell doom and lead to polarization of the country. How should the Nigerian people and lovers of freedom, justice and democracy deal with this powerful ruler of a great country? Remain silent. Look and laugh. Run to the bushes. How?
As apparent from the situations in the oil rich Niger Delta, Anambra, Oyo and the North of Nigeria, violent resistance to poverty, injustice and perceived political exclusion by the Nigerian people will not ensure stability, prosperity or democratic peace. A Coup de tat is not also an option for the Nigerian people. Those of us that went into different “trenches” in support of democracy the last time, know that military take over of government in Nigeria, will be a step
backward. Besides, the military already seem to have taken over in Nigeria.