Sometime ago, Nigerian politicians enjoyed a buzz-phrase: ‘Our nascent democracy’. An exclusive new club had opened at various locations across the country, and this would appear to be the pass code. Club members daily waddled to their offices, did little that was not in the interest of themselves and their cronies, and inundated the public with words that unapologetically contributed nothing to insight, so incurious and defiantly unimaginative you wondered if the speakers were comatose. The more interesting ones didn’t playact. They didn’t pretend an interest in the welfare of the citizens and constituencies they had sworn to serve. No, they went for the main business of the day: ripping open the public purse strings and liberally spraying themselves with the contents.
Who are they, these politicians that appear in a sickeningly inexhaustible parade? From where do they emerge in such stunning numbers? Are there factories where they’re newly minted, standing in row after row, line after line. ready to leap from the production line smack into local politics, factory-fitted with insane greed and incompetence? In a country teeming with all kinds, with citizens that have found their way to every corner of the earth, are these sorts the best we can do in terms of leadership? Plodders, in their own worlds, disconnected from the realities of the average citizen, looking out only for themselves, incapable of designing practical home-grown solutions to peculiar home-grown issues, blindly copying and pasting ‘solutions’ from foreign countries, sometimes retaining the original labels from the countries of import?
Nigerian political parties are a uniquely Nigerian phenomenon. They represent no ideology, they’re known for their stand on no issue. They’re machinery, minimalist in design, that serve one purpose: catapult inept and sometimes murderous individuals into political office. There they take decisions that influence the lives of the rest of us. After the horrible misfortune of military rule, enough time has passed so that a system has entrenched itself in place, a certain kind of politics, with its own rules, codes and tacit understandings. It is rich soil only for a certain kind of person, the kind that feed us with despair and use words like ‘our nascent democracy.’ Yes, every country has its Andoaakaas, Iboris and Obasanjos. Our tragedy is a political system that greases the path such people take to power, that allows them to flourish and have a say in the fate of millions of people. It’s a system that disillusions and weeds out the genuinely public-spirited, the true civil servant. It is a system that has failed to produce, that cannot produce, a Dag Hammarskjold or a Nelson Mandela. Surely, in a country of over a hundred million people, we must have such exemplary leaders among us. But the political system we’ve long had in place and the values it espouses will not suffer such people to come to the fore.
And so we have the inept, and they rule.
These politicians, these ‘leaders’, well, they have supporters, some of whom are ready to battle on their behalf. Their supporters do not appear overly critical of their man’s decided lack of virtue or solid real-world credentials and know-how. They nevertheless issue their support, as is their right. And these people, these supporters, they are us. Perhaps we are getting the kind of leaders we deserve. But it’s hard to see how Nigerian citizens as a whole have come to deserve the ‘leaders’- some comical, some criminal, some psychotic- foisted on them, time after time after time. It’s hard to see how citizens of any country could ‘deserve’ leaders who fritter away the resources of an entire country, fail to develop its people- surely its most important resource- and nail the legacies of generations unborn to the door of breathtaking corruption and personal gain.
No one expected the 2011 elections to be flawless. But compared to what obtained before, it was real progress. It was marred only by the lunatic fringe in the North who ensured, in an intolerable, meaningless murder spree, that many innocents paid with their lives for a party’s own shortcomings.
Democracy? Er- not yet. Calling whatever it is we have in this country a ‘democracy’ doesn’t make it one. It’s not a democracy when a president blatantly rigs his cronies into power, as we witnessed in 2007. It’s not democracy when another ‘permits’ a fair election to be held. It’s not a democracy when democracy’s length and breadth is defined by any one individual, however well-intentioned. It’s a democracy when a majority of Nigerians get to define what it is and how they want it, when they outline its parameters. It’s a democracy when they can collectively enforce their political will, irrespective of the wishes of any leader or politician. It’s a democracy when they stop accepting terrible leadership, when the electorate fully understand that elected officials, all government officials, are servants, not masters.
When a state, constituency or country is issued a bad leader, we grin and bear it for four interminable years. That needs to change. We need a process whereby bad leaders are kicked out by citizens, with minimal fuss. Nothing says we must endure four years of mismanagement, only to witness the donkey’s ass trying to rig himself into power once again. The so-called ‘impeachment’ attempts in the country tend to be in the service of personal political agendas, and have naught to do with the welfare of Nigerian citizens. No, true democracy has not arrived. We may get there yet. But one thing is sure: There is no salvation from the West, or any foreign country. The West is for itself, and so it should be. We must peel our eyes from other places, and look inward for solution to our own problems. As long as we fold our hands and wait for the next person to ‘do something’, as long as we are accepting of whatever our politicians inflict upon us, as has been the norm for decades, nothing, but nothing, will change.