4th June, 2013
By Comrade Akido Agenro
An occasion as the nation’s Democracy Day anniversary should ordinarily afford the people an opportunity to celebrate and rededicate themselves to the cause of democracy in Nigeria and at the same time scrutinize the scorecards of men and women at the helm of affairs at the federal, state and local government levels in the country and engage them on critical appraisal. Much as one would like to avoid sounding unfair and uncharitable to the present crop of leaders in the country, one cannot avoid stating the obvious- the total disenchantment of the people with the state of affairs in the country as regards the dearth of infrastructure that should improve their welfare. The much bemoaned lack of transparency and accountability in the old order has continued unabated to the effect that the nation’s vast resources have not reflected on the lives of the people. Alas, it is not yet uhuru.
Election, the process through which candidates aspiring for political office emerge by consensus is the hallmark of democracy. However, it is common knowledge that elections in the country since 1999 are massively rigged. That apart, a mechanism for internal democracy on the whole is grossly absent among the plethora of political parties in the country or subverted where it exists as party overlords impose their henchmen on the members and thereafter manipulate the process to achieve their aim or the whole course is scuttled, the reason for lack of cohesion in all the political parties. Woe betides anyone who dares to raise a voice of protest. Basic democratic tenets as compromise and consensus are rare among the politicians here. A recent case is the Nigerian Governors’ Forum’s election held on 24 April, 2013 where the incumbent chairman, Governor Chibuike Amaechi was returned to office by 19 votes to 16, a result that has fragmented the NGF with another faction emerging to announce to a bewildered world that Governor Jonah Jang who scored 16 votes is the newly elected chairman of the forum. This is typical of the intrigues and shenanigans that have characterized elections in the country since the last 14 years. The hostilities between the two camps could degenerate into a bloody confrontation as it progresses.
In the meantime, religious intolerance has degenerated into insurgency spearheaded by the dreaded Boko Haram group whose onslaught has until most recently continued unchecked leading to the death of many Nigerians through the bombing of churches and public buildings at the same time as the unmitigated assault on the fundamental rights of the ordinary Nigerians by the police and other security agents is unrelenting. On the road and in the street the ordinary Nigerian has remained an object of brutality and arbitrary arrest by security agents ostensibly to maintain law and order but actually to extort them of their hard-earned money. For this reason alone many Nigerians languish in police custody across the land. Freedom of movement, one of the pillars of democracy along with other fundamental human rights enshrined in the constitution suffers abuse regularly in a supposedly democratic country.
Across the nation arbitrariness is the order of the day. In Lagos for instance the operatives of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) are having a field day having arrogated to the agency the role of both the prosecutor and the judge in matters involving traffic offences as the organization dispenses with cases summarily without recourse to the law courts. In their infinite wisdom, fines amounting to huge sums are imposed on offenders for even minor traffic offences, a situation which has led to the forfeiture of a number of vehicles to the agency by those who could not afford the usually prohibitive penalty.
On the economic front the unemployment situation in the country has risen astronomically to 26 percent, leading to a situation where more than 70 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day at the same time as there is a display of opulence at the other side of the spectrum. Whereas it is explicitly affirmed in chapter 14 subsection 2b of the 1999 Constitution [as amended] and thus mandatory on the political leadership that ‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government’ while section 16 subsection 2d stipulates ‘that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old-age care and pensions and unemployment, sick benefit and welfare of the disabled are provided for all persons’, it is a thing of regret that the security of life and property of the people is taken for granted and their welfare is accorded scant attention. It is lamentable to note that only Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State has mustered the will to implement a social security programme that provides food, drugs and pays a monthly stipend to elderly indigenes of the state, the Agba Osun Senior Citizen Scheme.
On the whole, there is a growing lack of trust in the political leadership leading to waning confidence in the democratic process manifesting in political apathy that has resulted in the decline of the number of electorate turning to the polling booths to vote at elections since 1999. With the enthronement of democratic rule after a hard struggle to shove off the military junta’s nuisance, the people were persuaded by the political leaders into harbouring a false sense of hope. Indeed, the people were given the assurance that it would not be business as usual this time around and that there was hope in the horizon, expectation that was soon to fade into despair and then into frustration that at the moment is taking its toll on national security. Proverb 13:12 says ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is the tree of life’.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the people are dissatisfied with the political leadership for being unable to meet their expectations but there is no area where this disappointment is felt so agonizingly as the power sector. The government’s inability to bring about stable electricity supply in the country for domestic, commercial and industrial use fourteen years after democracy was returned to the country has aggravated the hardship of the people more than anything else.
The public was soon after the nation’s return to democratic rule to learn of the million-dollar-guzzling power projects scattered around the country- Papalanto, Omotosho, Geregu, Zungeru and Mambila Plateau among other gigantic projects that were meant to boost electricity for domestic and industrial use. Government spokespersons have latched onto this expectation to continually dazzle the public with a chart showing improvement in power generation that has lately hit an unprecedented 4500mw. Yet this has not in anyway translated into the improvement of electricity distribution reaching the consumer. Nonetheless, the two ministers in charge of the Ministry of Power, the chairman Presidential Task Force on Power [PTFP] and the Special Assistant to the President on Power along with their crowd of aides continue to draw fat salaries and allowances at tax payers’ expense for nothing else but superintending over darkness.
Democracy is all about the transformation of the lives of the people. Democracy is about concrete development. It is about the social, economic and political advancement of the society. Democracy is not mere grandstanding, rhetoric or showmanship. Unfortunately, 14 years on, the type of transformation the people have come to witness is that of the politicians, those occupying the three tiers of government along with their hangers-on. By means of the diligent deployment of resources at his disposal a shrewd elected official earns the support of the masses and could bank on this advantage to call the bluff of an overbearing godfather when the relationship gets strained.
As politicians on Wednesday, 29 May, 2013 marked Democracy Day with fanfare, children could be found all over the country, by anyone who cared to observe, clustering around the barbers’ shops, gaming centres or any place no matter how odd or secluded where a television set powered by a generator could be located, pathetically struggling among themselves to catch a glimpse of the screen in an effort to stave off boredom while the youth gathered at cable viewing centres to watch soccer notwithstanding their subscription to the same channel while several other persons miserably clutched at battery powered transistor radio sets to monitor events and occupy their time.
If democracy is considered against the backdrop of a government that is concerned chiefly with meeting the interest and aspiration of the common people in the society then there is nothing to write home about democracy in Nigeria given the present state of affairs in the country. Except one is misled into the misconceived notion that democracy is merely civil rule i.e. the replacement of military politicians with their civilians counterpart then perhaps many people would be disposed to celebrate, albeit reluctantly, with the politicians, their families friends and cronies who have been the ones reaping the fruits of democracy in abundance all the while.
To call upon people who are thoroughly dejected and disillusioned at the brand of democracy being practised in Nigeria to join in the celebration of what to all intents and purposes is beneficial to only a particular class of the society to the exclusion of the beleaguered masses is a grand attempt to mock the people.
•Agenro is the Coordinator Democracy Orientation Movement,18 James Street, Iju-Ishaga, Lagos.