The New Democracy And The Crashed Confidence

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

That check is typically $14 million, but lately it has been more than double that because of soaring oil prices. In a safe-nation like this, that money could go far toward meeting the basic needs of the population; schools, roads, health clinics, running water. In reality, many governors steal with impunity, buying the loyalty of the legislature and using state money to erect systems of patronage that help keep incumbents in office, analysts and political leaders say. Electoral Bill 2004 currently before the National Assembly contains a number of promising suggestions to enhance transparency around the role of money in politics, and should be adopted. We should adopt integrity education to have a national culture of integrity. We believe that if there is a national culture of integrity, we don’t need to police people as we do now to ensure that they do what is right. In addition, political parties should be strongly encouraged to submit audited accounts to electoral authorities, and should be subject to sanction if they do not do so.

New democracies naturally suffer from the letdown of high expectations, but the drop in this nation is virtually unparalleled on the continent. Confidence in the new democracy crashed. Nigerians expected a democratic dividend in 1999. We expected more economic opportunity and better governance. It is plain to see why confidence in democracy has fallen so far, so fast. Nowhere is Nigeria ‘s democracy in deeper trouble than at the state and local levels, where the most bruising contests for power take place in a bloody, winner-take-all system in which the voters are all but superfluous. Greedy politicians are literally killing their own people by stealing the money for health care, for schools, for clean water, for everything the state should provide its people. In April this year, Nigeria held elections that chose a president, governors and legislators in its third contest since making the transition to civilian rule in 1999, after 16 years of military domination. Though the election held months ago, political chaos and electoral violence are yet gripping the nation. The main political parties to hold primaries in this December by the ruling People’s Democratic Party may splinter over its nominee to hang on. The wave of electoral annulment has left statehouses in disarray and sparked violence that has killed dozens.

There’s no recognition at all that individuals and organizations do not necessarily require money to gain influence: what about the role of class, social networks, personal friendships, sexual attraction, ideological commitment, and even the power of persuasive articles and arguments? All of these things can sway policy-makers, sometimes morally, sometimes immorally; sometimes for what turns out to be the public good, other times not. So the obsession with financial donations totally misses the point of what constitutes political power. It does – conveniently for some, predictably, and unhelpfully – boost the public perception that politicians are solely “in it” for the money. The obsession with “rich businessmen” isn’t constructive either. People don’t become immoral/corrupt simply by becoming rich businesspeople – many will be as motivated by memories of a good education/ investment/support for international democracy as those who can’t so conveniently be ridiculed. Yes, the amounts may be larger, but one should gauge corruption via corrupt or erroneous outcomes, not merely by making assumptions based upon the occupation of donors.

All in all, I think the main priority is that political decision-making be made more transparent, so that – whether policy changes because an adviser just happened to read the latest and greatest book, bumped into just the right economist at a drinks party, or saw N100 billion go into the Party’s account – there is either an explanation for the change, or at the very least the public/the media are able to see the kind of information (donated amounts, lists of advisers, their CVs, etc.) that would allow them to watch changes in a more informed manner. Once we have system like this in place, arbitrary rules on the size of donations, loans, rates, and the kind of people who can contribute, can be done away with. Ok, there ought to be a limit, below which ordinary people can contribute to their preferred party without having their names in the papers, but we’d be talking more like N100 billion than N150 billion. Since ex-president Obasanjo, who was barred from running again by the Constitution, has successfully passes the baton to an elected president, it is the first time this troubled giant of a nation has handed over power from one civilian government to another. This cements our place in the growing family of democratic nations in Africa and further stabilizes an uneasy corner of the globe. We have allowed our politics to be so debased by money and violence that of course nothing but misery can come of it, It is the politics of the belly, and it is destroying us. Governors get a check each month that represents their state’s cut of Nigeria ‘s booming oil fortune, and have almost no one to answer to for how they spend the money.

Reflecting on the display of guns, armoured personnel and tanks during the Presidential inauguration, it could be noted that the “past remains powerfully within us”. Between military salutes, meetings with the people in power were finalizing the cabinet. It appeared as one of the mechanisms to ensure that the power of money does not gain an upper-hand over the interests of the poor in the next decade of freedom. The past months have also seen a foreseen administration of reshaping itself with the appointment of cabinet ministers, provincial cabinets and parliamentary office-bearers. Given the nature of corrupt practice it would be naive to believe that we can expect five years of corruption free governance .This is not necessarily because ‘Nigeria deserves better’ but because as a recent World Bank Institute report reveals, approximately $2,7 billion is paid in bribed alone on a daily basis . This excludes money embezzled or stolen. With that kind of money floating about, we should expect some of our icons of today in sports, business, politics and religion to be exposed for corrupt practice in the next ten years. This is not uniquely Nigerian phenomenon, and if we are to believe research published by the Transparency International, Nigeria is still doing better than most countries in terms of preventing corruption.

Our task is however, is both to make it harder for them to make choices that will result in their fall – and should they make the wrong choice – never to cushion the fall from grace. Although INEC has a legal responsibility to audit the accounts of political parties on an annual basis, it has not previously been fulfilling this duty. This and other issues surrounding party funding remain extremely murky. Disagreements between powerful godfather party funders and candidates have led to destructive political crises in various parts of the country since the last polls. Meanwhile legal restrictions on electoral spending and contributions from outside the country remain unrealistic, consequently meaning that almost all parties break the law in this respect. Political actors and other rights transgressors in Nigeria continue to commit frauds, abuses and acts of violence buoyed up by the knowledge that, as very few such offences are successfully prosecuted even in the rare instances when they are brought to court, they can expect to enjoy almost complete impunity for their actions. More usual is that beyond an initial police intervention, politically-related crimes and human rights abuses are simply not investigated.

If the regime is serious about fighting corruption all the political/ public office holders should first declare their assets and give periodic assessments; earn average wages of skilled workers; government should give adequate funding of social services and amenities like education, health, transportation, security, electricity etc. But the regime will never do this. On the contrary, public office holders earn fabulous salaries and allowances, with some receiving their salaries in dollars, inflating contracts, etc. This is combined with the policy of privatizations and the commercialization of public utilities. This allows a handful of rich people to steal, via business fronts, to grab properties at give away prices, at the expense of the poor majority. In this kind of situation, the regime’s ‘crusade’ against corruption is a farce.

While international observers ultimately deemed them to be largely free and fair, Nigeria ‘s last two elections were marred by widespread allegations of ballot stuffing, intimidation and fraud. But even now, with ex-president Obasanjo and his style of politics discredited, candidates in this nation are expected to spread cash around. The candid politicians’ campaign treads the treacherous middle ground between the high road, on which pro-democracy advocates have traditionally marched directly to defeat, and the bruising, money-driven politics that dominate Nigeria ‘s electoral contests. Furthermore, political parties should take it upon themselves to publicly volunteer information on their finances in order to show the public that they can be trusted to be similarly transparent in their exercise of public office. Ultimately, if we try to regulate the finances of political parties, we are only setting ourselves up for disappointment. Letting the electorate do its thing is the only sensible way forward.

The only way forward is for the masses to rely on their own strength, and to mobilize, organize and build a movement that will struggle against the system. Such a movement needs the vision of replacing this unjust government with a working class-based government that will nationalize the commanding heights of the economy so that working people can begin to democratically plan the economy for common good. This can be achieved when workers, youth, farmers and the poor masses organize into a mass working class party with socialist perspective, programmes and ideas.

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