The Price of Democracy

by Femi Olawole

Nigerians love to imitate foreign traditions. From Hip-Hop to junk foods, fashions, prosperity churches and even crimes, our people are always trying to out-do each other in showing off adopted foreign traditions. But the same people have a penchant for customizing (or bastardizing) all of these traditions to suit their individual selfish purposes. One such bastardized tradition is democracy.

At independence in 1960, Nigerians inherited a parliamentary system of government from the out-going British colonial leaders. This gave birth to the nation’s 1st Republic. Ironically, this was the only time we have had a full-blown democracy in the nation. Those were the good, old days when public office holders such as Awolowo, Azikiwe, Balewa and their able, loyal lieutenants saw themselves as the people’s obedient servants. To these great leaders, politics was a call to service.

Since the 2nd Republic however, Nigerians have been saddled with mere civilian administrations as opposed to democratic governments. In 1979, the largest black nation on earth adopted the American presidential system of government. The nation went further to bastardize democracy, turning it into “a government of the richest, by the privileged and for the poorest.” Since then, all democratic principles and logics have been grossly defied and violated with impunity. Like a house built on sand, the Nigerian brand of democracy is a system deliberately designed to fail.

In the giant of Africa, only the political party that can assemble the richest and the most privileged individuals can win top prizes at general elections. The consequence of this form of democracy is that a few thousand members of the privileged class surreptitiously become the majority while over 120 millions of the poor masses are turned into the minority.

The question is how did we, as a people with so much intellect, get ourselves into this horrendous situation? The answer lies in world history. A study of the history of France, United States or India will reveal a democracy that arose from the ashes of a revolution. France, for instance, was once a “land of anything goes” like Nigeria until power was forcibly taken by the people after they got fed up with injustice and corruption by the few privileged ruling class.

Under the current charade called democracy in Nigeria, public office holders don’t see themselves as servants of the people and neither do they consider themselves accountable to the people. And this is understandably so because, unlike a country like France, our democracy did not originate from the people. Rather, it was the same small ruling class that imposed their type of democracy on the rest of us.

Therefore, in God’s own African nation, politicians are too powerful and arrogant to engage in rigorous campaigns to get the popular wish of their people. For all they care, some of them may even be in jail for one crime or the other while elections are being conducted in their absence. Yet, they will be victorious. To win elections therefore, the average Nigerian politicians simply resort to all sorts of tactics and rituals that will make the most ruthless American mafia boss green with envy.

As an example of the Nigerian political wonder, a once poverty-stricken welder in the south-western part of Nigeria decided to contest in the primary election of his political party for the position of a local government chairman. The party leadership and his rich, highly educated opponents could not hide their disdain and amusement at the audacity of the poor carpetbagger who could only boast of a high school education.

About a week to the election however, the opponents began to die mysteriously, one after the other. It was therefore not a surprise when the welder was declared unopposed in the ensuing primary election. Subsequently, he went on to win at the general election. And before the end of the year, the new council chairman bought a house, a petrol station and his compound was filled with assorted cars.

If he was too ruthless, another politician, this time in the south-eastern Nigeria proved that he was “nice”. In view of his antecedents as a drug baron and scam artist, the man realized that he would stand no chance on a level-playing ground at his party’s primary election. So, a few days to the election, he sent some burly goons to “persuade” his opponents to withdraw from the election. The drug baron went on to become a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Few months later, the man boasted to his associates in the world of crimes that being a senator was absolutely more powerful and lucrative than the position of a mafia godfather.

However, there are some very few average Nigerian politicians who don’t depend on voodoo or mafia terror to win elections. One retired senior military officer from the northern part of Nigeria simply employed his military background and status to overwhelm and bulldoze his opponents into submission. And now that he is an “honorable” member of the Federal House of Representative, he has cultivated the habit of making loud remarks that past military regimes were a paradise for the Nigerian people when compared to the state of affairs under a civilian government. It’s a tragedy that a beneficiary of past military dictatorship would have the nerve to openly make such a heinous attempt at painting military rule in bright, shining colors even as he enjoys the loots accruing to him from the present farce called democracy.

The 2011 general elections are around the corner. As usual, mysterious things will soon begin to occur all across the nation. On the one hand, sorcerers, herbalists, assassins and other political jobbers will start having a field day. And, on the other hand, a rash of assassinations will commence with some politicians as victims.

The worst scenario though will be the strange disappearance of the most vulnerable in our society whose corpses will later turn up on road sides with vital organs taken as ingredients for election victory rituals. Usually, the victims are the society dregs and hapless night travelers. But there are also some greedy female university students who are easily lured to their deaths by some unscrupulous individuals dangling free cash and fun. For a typical Nigerian politician, the prize for every election victory is so enormous to warrant taking every “necessary” measure, including fetish practices. And it’s the manifestation of this huge prize that turns a public office holder into a stinking rich, tin god.

Ours is a nation where a public official would show off by offering a whopping one hundred thousand Dollars to members of the national football team if they won a match at the world cup. If converted into the local currency, the “chicken change” would have run into over ten million Naira. Ironically, it didn’t occur to the rich man that he could have used the money to grant scholarship awards to some poor students in the nation’s tertiary institutions. By the way, if the man had such a huge amount of hard foreign currency lying around for free spending, obviously, there must be a lot more in his bank accounts.

And talking of accounts, the personal bank accounts of the Nigerian public officials are so bloated with money looted from the nation’s treasury that they are now passing the bizarre acts to their kids. Now, kids of public officials, some of them barely in their twenties, partake in the treasury-looting business through multi-million Naira spurious government contracts that are awarded but never executed. And these kids are all over the nation flaunting their ill-gotten wealth in exotic cars, at polo games and while gambling at casinos.

For too long, the Nigerian people have been held hostage, taken for a ride and forced by the few rich, powerful minority to pay a huge, back-breaking price to s

ustain a most obnoxious, bastardized system of government. And now the question is how long are we, the people, willing to allow this sad state of affairs to continue? Do we just keep folding our arms helplessly while waiting for a messiah?

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1 comment

Goddy June 29, 2010 - 7:17 am


Thanks for the article. I consider it as a clear reflection of my present anger and frustration with the crazy Nigerian political problems. Most times, in private conversations, many of us nigerians will helplessly conclude by saying let’s leave everything in the hands of God or may God please take control of Nigeria. But aren’t we ever going to start asking each other how and when we shall take the matter in our hands (though with the help of God)? Once again, thanks for the article.


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