The foundation of
democracy is the ability and readiness of the people to replace those political
office holders perceived as betraying their votes. There can be no functional
and effective democracy where the people are stuck with a set of rulers
irrespective of their misuse or abuse of power. Tyrants or dictators are not
only rulers who silence opposition and dissent with the gun and bayonet; they
include those who are kept in power by their fellow citizens despite their
ineptitude, cluelessness and fundamental inability to maintain and put the
state on the path of sustainable growth and development.
Because of our history
of coups and military dictatorships, most of the third world – and in
particular, African – countries have grown to understand political tyranny in
the narrow sense of usurpers. Even in the
worse cases of presidents-for-life like the Robert Mugabes (of Zimbabwe) and
the Yahya Jammehs (of the Gambia), there are people who are ready to kill in defence or promotion of their
belief that those despots are products of democracy. This explains why it is
difficult to sell the expanded definitions of tyranny and dictatorship
to leaders who have the unfettered power to personalize public office and
resources, and those who use public office and resources to pursue or promote
personal agenda, including the gratification of supporters and disentitlement
or denial of patronage to perceived enemies or political opponents.
Nigeria is one good
case of how political institutions reflect the cultural values of the societies
in which they are established. Many people can offhandedly finger leadership as
Nigeria’s major problem; but no leader has ever featured in our political
landscape without having an army of those who would swear to the heavens that
he is the very personification of good and effective leadership. Nigeria has
never been in short supply of government supporters who are very inventive and
adept at turning logic on its head regarding the purpose of government and
opposition in the polity. These sycophants and apologists, ably aided by the
lethargic apathy and permissiveness of the generality of the citizenry, have
been effective in perpetuating the cycle of weak, purposeless leadership
characterized by ineptitude and abuse of office.
The promotion of the
undemocratic argument that Nigeria has no opposition is a typical case of
deliberate mischief stimulated with the aid of effective propaganda machinery.
The core argument of this rhetorical nonsense upon stilts is that all those in
opposition were once members of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and,
as such, theirs is merely a pilgrimage of disgruntled elements. The supporting
argument is that the opposition hardly offers constructive criticism or provides
viable and productive alternatives to issues or problems confronting the state.
Such clever arguments have permeated the citizenry and have diverted their
attention from the need to relate the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of
governance to the ability to meet their basic daily needs and respond
appropriately to their challenges.
There is no human
society where the opposition does not come from among the people. The history
of an oppositionist is as immaterial to their functions and purposes as the
origin of Robin Van Persie in his present Manchester United Colours. What
matters, and that which the opponents of the opposition are afraid of, is that opposition
stands as a constant reminder to those in government that there is an
alternative to them. The opposition is
that physical manifestation of the saying that power belongs to the people and,
as such, the people have the power to replace those in government if they fail
to meet their expectations.
assessment of the opposition is therefore not a democratic instrument but a
moral tool. Yes, a better and qualitative opposition would be a good reward for
the decision of the electorate at the polls, but it is not a requirement for
democratic governance. What matters in democracy is the availability of options
for the people. That is the situation that promotes quality leadership across
the strata of democratic institutions.
Of course, the people
will benefit immensely from constructive criticism, but the opposition does not
owe that to the people. It is the government of the day that owes the people;
it is the government that needs to show a clear political vision, and has to,
as a matter of obligation, equip itself with the necessary intellectual and
scientific-cum-socio-political base to formulate, promote and implement
policies and strategies capable of delivering the proverbial dividends of
democracy. It is the duty of the government of the day to do the right thing
and be right in all things that border on the purpose of government. That is
why the government has the sovereignty and power to appropriate the resources
of the state. That is why government functionaries are handsomely remunerated,
and deferred to in matters pertaining to the use and management of the public
The opposition is doing
its job gratis – a sacrificial job that must be assessed and evaluated as such,
and until it enters into a social contract with the people when – and if – it
wins power, it will have to use its resources to do the opposition job.
Indeed, there are
categories of oppositions – the opposition that is localized and the one that
is national in outlook. However, no matter their location and area of focus or concentration,
what is important to democracy is for the opposition to put the government of
the day on its toes and, thus, strengthen the people’s ultimate sovereignty.
Without the opposition,
the word ‘corruption’ would have long disappeared from our lexicon. Of course,
some of those in opposition are as corrupt as – sometimes much more corrupt
than – those they accuse of corruption; but the important thing is that they
educate us on the magnitude and effects of corruption, and thereby, provide us
with material to make informed choices regarding those who are immersed in or
Nigeria would have been at par with countries like Canada and South Africa;
Nigeria would have been much more than a numerical giant of the African
continent. Without corruption, history would have, by now, provided a pride of
place for Nigeria’s contribution to civilization. Without corruption, the
surrender value of graduates of Nigerian universities would have been at par
with their Israeli counterparts. Without corruption, Nigeria would have been
the best place on the continent for a child to be born in. Without corruption,
Nigeria would have been a great medical tourists’ home. Without corruption,
Nigeria would have been exporting more rice than Thailand. Without corruption,
every Nigerian graduate would have been gainfully employed or contributing to
global wealth creation and aggregation. Without corruption, every Nigerian
would have been well off, even if not a millionaire; the Nigerian would have
lived much longer and better than any other creature under the sun. But alas!
Nigeria is today the butt of all and sundry, including hypocritical critics and
analysts who are now calculating the amount of dollars our country is losing to
corruption and the opportunities we have been missing through corruption.
Elena Floristeanu, discussing the Causes and Effects of
Corruption, declares that:
Corruption interferes with economic growth,
generates inequities and erodes government credibility and the efficient
functioning of state institutions. As it becomes generalized and perpetuated,
corruption becomes a major threat to stability and democracy, eroding the
fundamentals of the state. Consequences of corruption that are acknowledged as
well include: low quality services, public resource embezzlement, increase in
the degree of population poverty and suffering, high social costs, abuse
spreading, property impairment, decrease.
This is a golden
message for our beloved country.