Come 2019, the citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will once again participate in another General Election, and as has become the tradition in these parts, the members of the political establishment are already gearing up to animate the electioneering process.
For the political parties, 2019 represents another opportunity for them to test their popularity at the polls by fielding candidates to contest for the several political positions that would be on offer at both the federal (Presidential and Parliamentary) and state (Governorship and Legislative) levels of government on D-Day. Whereas for the electorate, 2019 is more than just an election year; it is an opportunity for them to pass their votes (of either confidence or no confidence) on the current crop of political office holders who have been running the affairs of the country since 2015, consequent to the Tsunami that saw off the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan-led administration.
That Nigerians have bones to pick with the Buhari-led government is no longer breaking news. They are, in fact, roaring for blood for what they perceive as gross betrayal of their collective trust by a government they saw as a Messiah that had supposedly come to deliver them from the strangulating sleeper hold of the much vilified Jonathan years; angry that a government they placed their unalloyed hopes and expectations on had turned out worse than the supposedly ‘clueless’ one they sacked from office. From a moribund economy that continues to recede by the day, a worsening security situation that threatens to envelope the whole country if care is not taken, a crisis-prone political system that does not inspire much hope within the populace, to mention just a few, Nigerians could be said to be in desperate need of another CHANGE.
However, Buhari’s shortcomings notwithstanding, one does not have to be a mage, sage, soothsayer or intellectual giant to comprehend what Nigeria’s major affliction are, for even the most casual observers of the melodramatic events that have sadly defined Nigeria’s political evolution can easily decipher that the country’s primary challenge is poor leadership at all the levels of governance. This painfully nauseating historical fact is a gigantic albatross that has been hanging on the country’s jugular since independence, consequently stalling its evolution into the giant it was projected to become; a cancerous tumor that has consistently defied all attempts – mostly feeble, though – to destroy it. Buhari has simply continued a tradition that is as old as post-independent Nigeria. That is why elections should mean more to Nigerians than mere routine exercises.
Elections have always presented Nigerians with escape routes from the debilitating challenges – of inept leadership, grinding poverty in the midst of plenty, infrastructural decay, debilitating corruption, cyclical unemployment, insecurity of lives and property and sundry other avoidable deficits of democracy – that are traceable to the several years of inept leadership festooned on the country by successive administrations – civilian and military – since independence. But unfortunately, Nigerians have failed to key into the opportunities past elections presented them to make the much needed change in their country’s leadership structure; have failed to utilize the major strengths of this most powerful democratic weapon to put the country back on the path of development.
Accepted that the country’s electoral processes have not been open, free and fair, due to the mischievous inclinations of its overambitious power-seeking politicians, Nigerians themselves are as culpable as the political class they keep blaming for the inconsistencies and malpractices that have turned elections into the comic shows they have become in these parts. When you help a politician to rig himself into office, and get paid for your indiscretions, how can you expect anything tangible from him once he consolidates on his position? Has he not paid his dues to you already? Have you any moral grounds to expect anything from him in return once he is in office? No wonder the culture of impunity has continued to fester in this country. No wonder those who ultimately succeed to political offices become impassive to the demands of the people to deliver the much-vaunted dividends of democracy. Why not? Have they not paid their pipers? Why shouldn’t they dictate the tunes?
From the Utilitarian standpoint, the actions of government should be measured by the extent it contributes to overall utility in maximizing happiness or pleasure as summed among all people. It is, then, the total utility of individuals which is important here; “the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people” (Mill, J.S. 1863. “Utilitarianism”). Most truly democratic societies are constructed on this philosophical plank. Any government that deviates from performing its primary task of providing the good life for its citizens, whose authority it holds in trust, renders itself illegitimate -unworthy of the citizenry’s mandate to continue managing their affairs.
The outcome of the 2015 General Elections in Nigeria was a test case of the possibility of peaceful, non-violent change, despite the ethnic, religious and other primordial variables that defined and ultimately shaped the processes and outcomes. For the first time in recent memory, an opposition party, leveraging on the shortcomings of the ruling party, at the center, was able to mobilize a large segment of the populace around the creed of Change to come out on top in an electoral contest. It was a vociferous, forceful and clear expression of a people’s willingness and readiness to fight for change, using the only currency available to them as it were: their sheer will and God-given freedom to choose. It was an unprecedented development that if sustained would ultimately lead Nigerians to their paradise– that land of possibilities which have, until now, remained a utopia. This mass action for change should not only be sustained, but should become a benchmark that should guide future popular, peaceful agitations for better deals from the governing class.
However, a critical appraisal of Nigeria’s democratic history since 1960 reveals a sadly reoccurring decimal: the fact that elections in Nigeria have only served as avenues for the recycling of governments, and not for improving on the quality of governance – the former being a mere change of guards, while the latter connotes a practical utilization of the administrative apparatuses of the state to allocate values for the common good. While governments in Nigeria continue to change with each turn the country makes in its political labyrinth, quality leadership continues to be a mere ideal.
Nigerians must move from the traditional practices of routinely “Changing Governments” to making pragmatic “Changes in the Processes of Governance” (Obuseh, J. O. 2015. “From Change of Government to Change in Governance”). Change of government is one of the chief pillars of any democratic system. It affords the people the opportunity of collectively contributing their quota to the processes of choosing those they feel are the most qualified to govern them, and the rejection of those unfit to do so. These choices are expressed through elections. But when such change does not result in the enthronement of responsible, responsive and productive leadership, it makes a huge mockery of the electioneering process.
The truth must be told that in order for Nigerians to achieve the objective of transforming the manner their country is governed, a new political class must emerge; a productive, result-oriented and transformative type of leadership that is committed to providing the greatest happiness for the greatest possible number; a leadership that is ingrained in the utilitarian approach to governance; a leadership that would strive to provide the basic necessities of life (food, clothing, shelter, security et al) for the majority; a patriotic kind of leadership that is committed to liberating Nigerians from several years of asphyxiating underdevelopment. There are many Nigerians out there capable of leading their country into the new age of light the majority longs for. But unfortunately, while the best minds in the country are not interested in politics, the few ones that are interested operate on the fringes. Yinka Odumakin (Vanguard, Tuesday, May 9, 2017) succinctly captures this pathetically apathetic state of affairs in these evergreen words:
The tragedy of our situation is that every now and then, I meet Nigerians who are intelligent enough to give leadership to any country in the world, but are not interested in getting involved in politics. The ones who have shown interest in politics are scheming to be vice-president or ministers under the dregs.
Thus, as we approach the 2019 polls, the best minds are enjoined to join the political train en masse by vying for principal political positions. The noblemen and women among us must stand up to be counted. They must shed their apolitical skins and join the mass movement for progressive change. However, Nigerians, on their part, must be ready to back the best minds in the country who ultimately express sincere interests in contesting for key political offices in the forthcoming elections, as this is the only way to arrest the current leadership deficits that have turned Nigerians into walking corpse, and their country, into a living hell from where peace has completely taken flight; an animal kingdom where dogs eat dogs; a vast uncultivated jungle where only the fittest survive. The shameful practices in the past where the electorate preferred supporting mingy, inglorious, narcissistic and clueless money bags who only needed their votes to gain entrance into the mansions of power, and not to better their lives, must be completely jettisoned, if we are to move this country forward.
Sovereign authority ideally belongs to the people in any democratic society; that is, real power belongs to the popular sovereigns – and not the political sovereigns who owe their privileged stations to the collective will of the people. It is the citizens of a state who, through their collective actions, decide the direction they want their ship of state to sail. The citizens decide those that should govern them, how these chosen ones should act while in office, and when there is need to change the operators of the machinery of the state, especially when they begin to act contrary to their oaths and terms of office. Indeed, the collective power of the people is truly omnipotent, if well utilized.
According to Alexis de Tocqueville, “in a democracy, the people get the government they deserve”. Thus, it is incumbent on Nigerians, as 2019 beckons, to ensure that the right crop of leaders are elected to navigate their ship of state out of the tempestuous waters it currently wallows in, consequent to the misdemeanors of the bloodthirsty Piranhas, the ignoble animals in human skin, who have deliberately pushed their country to the brink of explosion. 2019 should not be business as usual! We must make our numerical strength count, for popular sovereignty is superior to political sovereignty! God bless Nigeria!