The trouble with Nigeria is simply arrogance of power based on complete lack of accountability from its leaders. All else – corruption, traffic jams, police brutality etc, etc are simply details of these.
(Kyari Tijjani in “Nigeria – A Republic in ruins”)
This paper, written by a humble concerned citizen of this potentially great nation, which is on the brink of joining the fast growing rank of failed states, seeks to make an attempt at identifying some of the causes of our predicament with the aim of finding appropriate short and long term solutions. In so doing, we shall endeavor to fashion an exposition of the subject matter that draws the attention of readers to the realities of our situation and allows them to make a free choice of the ultimate course of action best suited for the attainment of a virile and truly democratic entity that may one day stand as a refreshing model of democracy and the envy of even the oldest democracies. The Nigerian air is filled with hues and cries, groans and moans, clamors and uproars – all for change – amidst chaos, agony and tears. But what change?
Every state (which is an organization of the populace) must be governed by some decision-making process if it is ever to hold together and to last.
That process must, in the first instance, always come into being for the same reason as that which gave rise to the state.
So we must start by asking ourselves what gave rise to the state called Nigeria and for what reason it must continue to exist as one country. History shows that it was originally forcibly cobbled from a jumble of independent autonomous peoples (some even warring and others only recently discovered in a hitherto unexplored hilly abode) of diverse cultures into a single state by the colonialists in such a manner (smoothing the way for neo-colonialism) as to serve their own interests and mostly to the detriment of the “locals”.
The colonialists eventually left and we remained stuck together trying to build a nation using tools that could at best only keep us weak and divided – for as long as we used them!! Come to think of it, what, after attaining independence, kept the country together? It was clear even before independence that discord was abound due to incompatible interests and views that were held by different parts of the country. This state of affairs has remained throughout our existence as an independent nation. Without doubt the country was held together by its constitution, and laws, all created under alternating systems of military as well as “democratic” dictatorship. Yes, our democracy could only be so described because the country was held together – and still is – by sheer brute force. The “law” may be pretentiously used to hold our communities together (willy-nilly), but harmony can only be achieved if justice has been embodied in it and is the same for everyone – for all communities and for all citizens – because ours is supposed to be a country of equal partnership in fellowship of a community, a nation.
During our more than forty years of “independence” we have tried numerous amendments of the “imperialist custom designed” constitution only to find ourselves progressively sinking deeper into a sea of bad governance. This has given rise to conflicting opinions on whether or not Nigeria should remain as one country. Majority of Nigerians from all walks of life have long favored the continued existence of the country as one nation. For this reason, no consideration is given here for the break-up of the country as a possible way out.
SYSTEMS OF GOVERNANCE
We shall begin by making a cursory examination of some of the options history has, as much bequeathed mankind, as the Nigerian peoples who are confronted by seemingly endless saga of misrule in a country inhabited by a great number of diverse communities that share the African heritage of hospitality and peaceful coexistence – begging to be employed as vital tools for good governance.
Let us start with a glance at the literal meaning of the few forms of government that have proven their worth – or the lack of it – from antiquity to date.
Of the six systems of rule listed and roughly described above, Nigeria is officially [indeed, superficially] practicing the last – Democracy – but in reality, and as its name implies, it is run as a Republic by default not, as one might be led to assume, by choice per se. The name Federal Republic of Nigeria may partly answer the question about what kind of democracy is practiced or meant to be practiced in the country. The word republic was deliberately inserted to define the system of rule desired by the framers of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In both democratic and republican systems of rule the power to govern is delegated to elected representatives. But in a republic the elected representatives are expected to act according to their own best judgment of the needs and interests of the country, while in a [true] democracy they subordinate their actions to the wishes of the people in a more general and direct way.
Considering the furor with which the might of “The New World Order” may come descending (condemning, applying economic pressure and sanctions followed by the prospects of foreign military intervention etc.) upon our tottering nation, or the fact that it is the state of the art system of rule, or the apparent success democracy has had in many countries, Nigerians may be left with no choice but the one in fashion – democracy – even if in name only, as is happening in many countries. Once we settle for democracy (true, republican or whatever blend and colouring), we shall be faced with only one more little riddle to answer – why democracy has failed in our dear country while appearing to succeed in many others. Again we may have to resort to history for part of the answer.
The success of democratic institutions in the United States served as a model for many modern democracies including our good Nigeria. But if the US model is not serving us as well as it should, we are bound to examine it against the background of our different histories, cultures and levels of development.
Since any form of democracy is hinged mainly on the business of electing representatives of the people by the majority of the people to rule through any form of government they (the people) choose to establish, we should give the greatest attention to fair representation and leave the form of government for the representatives of the governed to freely decide on the basis of the wishes of the electorate – the people. Of course we are free to present to the people suggestions of various forms of government for their consideration without appearing to appoint ourselves as the all-wise makers of “designer” political system on behalf of the people – just as, believe it or leave it, the string of respectable builders of our not-so-bad-a-constitution appear to have done – all, one believes, in good faith.
Fair representation is understood by modern day democrats to be credible and achievable only through the establishment of political parties and workable electoral systems. Let us therefore examine the two institutions for starters.
Whenever the powers of government are placed in any hands other than those of the community—whether those of one man, of a few, or of several—those principles of human nature which imply that government is at all necessary, imply that those persons will make use of them to defeat the very end for which government exists.
(Scottish-born philosopher and economist James Mill [1773-1836])
A political party is an organization of people who share the same broad political views and goals, usually geared towards electing its members to government positions. Parties formulate political and policy agendas, select candidates, conduct election campaigns, and monitor the work of their (the parties’) elected representatives (candidates, to be precise). In other words, the party is a [legally] self-appointed organization which draws up a formula for the governance of a state, competes with other parties in selling and then setting itself up over the people as ruler by receiving (or claiming to receive) the greatest number of votes in an electoral process. This, in effect, means that the freedom and equal right of the individual to participate in the political process has been completely taken over by the parties; the individual are left with no alternative to what the parties offer; no mind of their own – slaves to the parties in the formation of which only the founders – G-Yes, G-No, G-Greed, G-Weed, G-Kill, G-419, G-Nuts… – have a hand or say. This then is the morals of the story of party politics made virtually indiscernible by the even less discernible hands of topnotch uninspired champion advocates of freedom, justice, fair play, equality and…. – the list is inexhaustible and incomplete without the mother of all freedom and rights – …. democracy!
How then can we confront this stealthy, slippery and dodgy monster that has converted democracy to the villain that has succeeded in teleguiding the world and creating before it a mirage so smartly crafted as to actually subvert true democracy? No betta way than to start by combing through the features of authentic democracy.
The major features of modern democracy include:-
• Individual freedom, which entitles citizens to the liberty and responsibility of their own careers and conducting their own affairs
• Equality before the law
• Universal suffrage
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees all of the above and more, but no one can honestly deny that such inalienable rights are not accruing from our Nigerian adaptation of democracy. We, the ordinary people of the world plus hordes of gullible advocates of people’s power that litter the annals of the huwoman [more gender-neutral and baby-friendly than huperson] political struggle for good governance, have been brainwashed into accepting the position that once the individual has been given the right to vote – and does appear to vote – democracy has been “achieved”, providing political parties and their handlers with the most fertile ground shrouded in emotion laden rhetoric for cheap fraud and blackmail against the governed!
So without beating about the bush we shall pursue the question from its root – universal suffrage – the right to vote! How then has suffrage faired – or suffered – in Nigeria?
THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM
When, immediately after all observers, foreign and Nigerian, unanimously declared that the April 2007 elections were rigged, a BBC reporter put the point across to the outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo he retorted, “You cannot use European standards to judge the performance of a developing country….” Then why, for goodness sake, must we blindly – the moment you shut your eyes you go blind – use European standard electoral system and open our eyes only to defend an untenable position – again – blindly?! Double standard may be in vogue on the international political arena, but what compels a “developing” Nigeria to stoop [no, rise] to this level of decadence when we are still lagging behind in all but a few out scores of global field events – corruption, human rights abuse and poverty?
“Since free election is the flagship of democracy, it must be allowed to sail smoothly to the shores of good governance and the rule of law. Any form of physical or mental coercion aimed at the electorate will be unacceptable.”
(Sultan S. Abubakar at Inter-religious conference – 3rd April 2007)
True, any form of physical or mental coercion aimed at the electorate is unacceptable, but it has been accepted by the ruling class on behalf of the Nigerian people throughout our over forty years of existence as one nation!
Our “jungle” and constantly mutating electoral systems [but of European descent], which have always guaranteed and “granted” victory to the strongest (most moneyed, ruthless do-or-die) contestant, – if ever the votes get cast – have consistently been the lot of the poor Nigerian electorate and the fact that it is universally acknowledged – by the good, the bad and the whole global community – makes it totally unnecessary for us to engage in any narrative to prove a case against this one main culprit in the serious business of Nigerian politics (actually, all politics), which our home-grown western educated and traditional elite – not the so called scrambling politicians alone – have shamelessly turned into a game; a game that has devoured a great number of our talented people and turned an even greater number into common thieves and murderers; a game that places foul play at the top of its list of foul rules; a game no self-respecting person of integrity dares play and remain sak [straight, upright, candid, level, dependable, fair, compassionate, selfless, fearless,…]!
Nigeria is endowed with all the good and talented people it will ever need. And there is nothing much wrong with the electoral system except it is sitting the wrong way up, making it impossible for any huwoman being to escape the temptation of abuse (even by European standard). We do not even have to try to replace (or shoot down, as many have suggested) our old hats – the operators of the system – who, looking from a distance, appear to carry the blame for the system failure. All we need to do is critically [open our eyes and] examine the system and come up with suitable constructive changes, as near foolproof as possible, that can easily be adopted by our people for the voyage ashore.