Is Democracy Not For The People? —Isaac Asabor



Democracy, as widely defined, is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. No doubt, the people are the centerpiece of an ideal democracy. Apparently to demonstrate that the people are indispensable in the concept and application of democracy in any nation, politicians are wont to adopt and reflect the word “People” in the configuration of their party names and identities.

For instance, both existing and defunct political parties in Nigeria were or are still being identified as People’s Democratic People (PDP), People’s Redemption Party (PRP), Movement of the People, while in neighbouring Ghana they are Democratic People’s Party (DPP) and People’s National Convention among others.

A further clarification of what democracy on the website of Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia says: “Democracy in its purest or most ideal form would be a society in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.” Contrary to Wikipedia’s explanation, millions of Nigerians are already being excluded from having a say in the decisions that affect their lives as long as the removal of the oil subsidy is concerned.

In Nigeria , it appears that Democracy is being redefined to mean government of the elites, by the elites and for the elites. Or how else can one explain what is at the moment going on regarding the planned removal of the petroleum subsidy?

Nevertheless, it is no more news that the issue of the removal of fuel subsidy has been on the front burner of our national discourse until 22 December, 2011 when a Town Hall meeting was convened on the Removal of Petroleum Subsidy under the auspices of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN). While watching the live transmission of the event, the countenance on my face was like that of one who has mistakenly placed his foot on a mound of fresh faeces.

The reason for my mood was because my expectations were not met. I expected the President, through his ministers that represented him and the government at the event, to say that the fuel subsidy would no longer be removed in consideration of the people’s discontent. To me, most questions and answers that were raised at the event were not specifically addressed to the issue that necessitated the meeting. Most of the questions, answers and comments, no doubt, dwelt on the issue of corruption and bad governance instead persuading the government to change its plan on the issue of removal of subsidy. At the end of the programme, it was very obvious that most participants began to see reason with the government on why the subsidy should be removed.

The government representatives were, no doubt, driving home their points on why the subsidy should remain by engaging in self-adulation regarding their efforts in their various ministries or parastatals. To me, the focal point of the event would have been that Nigerians say they do not want the removal of fuel subsidy. Rather, the participants that ought to have represented the people began to receive what I may term a tutorial on the issue.

What actually inspired me to express this opinion is not because subsidy would be removed come 2012 or not, but because the present government in Nigeria has called the people’s bluff. As it is, the government has stifled the voice of the people; the government has further “commonised” the people by its insistence on the removal of the subsidy. As it is, the government has indirectly called the people “Rat”. Apology to late Muammar Ghadaffi.

Before the NPAN Town Hall event was convened, it was very obvious, through casual observations on media reports and “Street Talks”, that the Nigerian people were saying “NO” to the removal of the fuel subsidy.

The question now is, does it mean that the present democratic government does not have regard for the people? Putting the already resolved Minimum Wage brouhaha, the yet to be resolved ASUU-FGN crisis and the fuel subsidy issues into consideration, your answer may be as good as mine.

Nevertheless, the government should begin to recognize the people in the scheme of governance. Without the people, there would be no democracy because the leaders cannot rule large expanse of land or vegetation.

If I was before now asked to express my opinion on the performance of the present government, I would have given it a pass mark. But as it is now, the ship of governance is seemingly drifting towards the high sea of dictatorship. Yes, any government that is neglecting the people in its decision-taking process on issues that directly affect the people is seemingly a dictatorial government. It appears that there are some bad advisers that are misleading the captain of the ship.

In the book of Exodus in the Bible, Moses was always listening to the yearnings, aspirations and cries of the people. With complaints or grumblings received from the people he would go to God and let Him know the feelings of the people. In most cases he pleaded on behalf of the people. In a particular occasion, he opted to be punished for the sins of the people by suggesting that his name should be wiped-off from the book of life. How many contemporary leaders can opt to be a sacrificial lamb to the people like Moses? With this Mosaic leadership style one can be able to understand what true leadership truly is. Leadership is about the people and not about self.

Despite the cruel and wicked tendencies of Pontius Pilate in the book of Acts of the Apostles in the Bible, he was wont to defer to the people before releasing any Prisoner from the Prison, according to the custom, during the feast. Therefore, if such a wicked man, as documented by Theologians, had an egregious regard for the people, why are leaders of that often preach the principles of rule of law and the fundamental human rights not do better?

My advice to our president is that he should look back into his political life and take a bold step in identifying with the people, and make the people the focal point of his government. He is a good and humble man. This writer understands the feeling of those at the grassroots toward our president. He should not allow his image or charisma to be misconceived.

Also, he should not allow some so-called advisers to mislead him by using the people of Nigeria as guinea pigs in re-testing the theories they borrowed from Europe and America in the laboratory of macro-economics. Nigerians need jobs, they need food, education, medical attention and what have you.

It is not ideal to say that Nigerians should bear the pain within the period they would test run the fuel subsidy removal. But do we realize that people may likely suffer to death within the period, or to put it mildly that people may turn into human vegetables?

For us to understand how sensitive and indispensable the people’s voice is in the scheme of governance, it would be expedient to re-appraise the flame of uprising that ignited the spectrum of some Arab countries some months back.

The crises in some Arab countries were precipitated by the arrant disregard for people’s opinion or people’s discontent on issues that border on their welfare.

As we saw, and are still seeing on footages of both local and international televisions, leaders in most of these countries, like Syria , Egypt , Libya and others paid dearly for being intransigent.

Personally, I am appealing to our President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to once again re-appraise the issue of the removal of fuel subsidy purposely to see how the masses could be helped. The bible in the book of Proverbs chapter 3 verse 27 says “Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Our president has the power to turn the plan towards removal of fuel subsidy to his political advantage and to the betterment of the people. To me, he can use it to build trust for himself and the government.

Leaders have to be very careful and tactful with issues that have direct bearing on the economic and social well-being of the people. The bible in Ecclesiastes chapter 10 verse 1 says “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savor: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour. Also, an African proverb says a little salt can spoil a well-prepared soup. Our President should not allow the issue of fuel subsidy make people begin to see him as a dictator, which he is not. He should do what would make the people smile into year 2012. He should not allow the people that voted him into power to enter into a new year with a collective sense of fear of economic hardship.


•Asabor writes from Lagos