By Niran Adedokun
“Democracy is not a destination, but a journey. I hope that every institution, political party and individual citizen will make it their business to be part of that journey”
– Sir Donald McKinnon, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth
One of the most curious things about the human being is his capacity for rosy retrospection, the tendency to very easily forget where they are coming from.
Like the drunkard who forgets the humiliation on his way home last night, the average human suddenly begins to crave their debilitating past in the face of little bumps on their way to what they thought was redemptive.
Even though the new track may not have lost its redemptive capability, the sojourn to liberation is almost always littered with various forms and levels of antagonism. These ones diminish the hope of man and make him desire a return to the past, no matter how unpleasant.
Recall the story of the Israelites who, when caught between an intimidating mass of water in the Red Sea and the marauding armies of Pharaoh, preferred their more than 400 years of slavery to the salvation ahead. That is how some Nigerians currently feel; nostalgic of the depressing days of military rule. So, every now and then, lately, people talk about chances that democracy would never work in Nigeria and why a total return to dictatorship or restoration of at least, some of the traits that marked President Muhammadu Buhari’s era as a military head of state.
The sense in the argument of those who have given up on democracy is two-fold. Some have looked back at the past 19 years of democratic governance and concluded that the system may after all, not bear the optimism they imagined. Their position is understandable.
For starters, the ethos of democracy does not seem to have found root in the average Nigerian, leader or the led. That is why internal democracy remains strange to political parties and why elections have remained a do-or-die affair.
But more than that, the hope of the people for improved quality and standard of living has remained a mirage 19 years on. In 2018, unemployment is at an all-time high, more Nigerian children are out of school and die before their fifth birthdays than at any other time in history. Even our leaders have no confidence in the healthcare sector they promote as they jump at every opportunity for medical tourism as President Buhari does at the drop of the hat. The other day, our health minister was justifying the President’s preference for a London hospital by the inability of the system at home to guarantee confidentiality. Such a sad testimony from the one who should turn things around! But I digress.
Nineteen years on, the legendary demon of darkness seems to have taken permanent residence here as our efforts at solving our energy challenges yield meagre results. Insurgencies, militancy and banditry have escalated the insecurity scale in the country, while corruption remains an intractable monster.
When all of these and innumerable other issues stare a people in the face, you can appreciate the repudiation of a system of government that promised all would be well without a fulfilment after nearly a quarter of a century.
The second group of those who romanticise with autocracy is of those who have eternal confidence in the ability of Buhari to turn Nigeria around but sees his only handicap in the democratic principle of the separation of powers and rule of law.
These fellows opine that corruption is the most formidable clog in the wheel of Nigeria’s progress and that only the tough boots of a soldier can stamp out the malaise.
So, they long for those days of censured speech and conduct, days when people were arbitrarily dumped into jail houses and eventually slammed with sentences equal to five lifetimes in some instances.
But as enthusiastic and arguably patriotic as these arguments may sound, there are inherent errors which portend days for the country.
In the tempting world of power, the axiom: “‘Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely” concisely enounced by British historian, Lord John Acton, in an 1887 letter is as trite as it is evidential of the nature of man to overreach. Any system that allows one man appropriate the right of other men to self-determination is unnatural and likely to hurt the very national interest that it aims at fostering.
More importantly, however, it is erroneous to suggest that democracy and democratic values have not been on a slow but steady path of growth since 1999.
Cast your mind back to how President Olusegun Obasanjo, the immediate beneficiary of the return to democratic rule in 1999, lorded it over Nigeria and you will get the point.
Two years after he was sworn in, an unfortunate bomb blast which led to the death of more than 1,000 people happened in Ikeja Cantonment, Lagos. While citizens cried about the delayed appearance of the then President at the scene, Obasanjo lashed at the grieving multitude, telling them that he did not have to be at the scene!
Recall the number of governors that were removed from office in questionable circumstances under Obasanjo’s watch; remember the number of national chairmen his Peoples Democratic Party had; remember the number of Senate Presidents the then President crowned and dethroned and you will see how much Nigeria has progressed.
A good point to start is to state that the same National Assembly which Obasanjo dictated to and manipulated at will sounded the death knell on the attempt to extend his rule by another term. And in the years following, the National Assembly has attained more sovereignty.
It was the National Assembly that resolved the logjam following the illness of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua; it initiated and led the revolution that brought down the Jonathan administration and has proved to have a mind of its own since Buhari became President in 2015!
The same can be said of the judiciary, which in spite of splinters of compromises, has largely proved to be the last recourse for every citizen, high or low.
On the socio-economic front, Nigeria still has a long way to go. The country, in fact, seems like a non-starter on the very long and complex journey to economic and social development, yet we cannot say things have not improved.
The economy has expanded tremendously and the world now sees the avalanche of opportunities that Nigeria offers. What remains is the proper deployment of our abundant human and natural capital and the continuous willingness to open up the democratic space.
It must be said though, that a lot of what remains rests on the citizenry. Even on this front, there has been an incredible awakening amongst Nigerians as to the enormity of the powers that they wield in the determination of the future of the country. Check the revolutionary event of the March 28, 2015 election and get the fact that the days when Nigerians can be taken for granted without consequences have passed and are forgotten. However, a whole lot of work remains to be done.
It is the democratic right of the people to interrogate the credentials of people who present themselves for public office, Nigerians must realise. Those who desire a prosperous future must reject the temptation to subject their choice of whom to elect to primordial sentiments like tribe, religion and such. Conversely, such decisions must be determined by the presentation of satisfactory academic, mental and visionary competencies.
And after electing them, the citizenry cannot afford to remain star-struck on any politician. Truth be told, there is no one as a reliable politician, not here in Nigeria, not anyone in the world. Politicians are human, fallible and susceptible to the same emotions of greed, selfishness and ambition that affect all men and cause them to recant and fall for selective amnesia. What determines how well politicians perform and how well they look after the interest of the people is the alertness of those who elected them. It is the only thing that can make Nigeria’s democratic journey more eventful and beneficial for generations coming. For now however, let us count our blessings.
Niran can be contacted on Twitter via @niranadedokun