Former Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Many have not forgiven him for spurious allegations of missing billions of dollars made against the Jonathan government, however more often than not his views are incisive and correct.
At a colloquium in Kaduna to mark his 60th birthday, the former emir said Nigeria has made no economic progress in the past 40 years! As far as he is concerned, democracy has failed to bring about economic progress because Nigeria’s GDP per capita in 2019 has fallen back to around what it was 40 years ago during the 1980’s Shagari era.
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Twenty of the intervening 40 years have been under democratic governance. As the 2023 elections are thankfully on the horizon and people yearn for an end to the nation’s backward slide, Sanusi’s observation is critical.
Democracy is supposed to be the best form of government. It’s based on the belief that once you give good people the vote and run free and fair elections you must get a good government. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, this isn’t the case. The majority of Nigerians are good people but tend to cast their ballot based on emotions and lack of information. They vote for people who promise them heaven and earth despite having neither the capacity nor intention, to deliver, as a result, elections consistently fail to produce good governments.
The blame for the nation’s downward spiral should be placed on the democracide of the current administration. Democracide is the stopping or hindering of democracy by those in government. It relates to attacks on traditional liberties and the failure of public office holders to exhibit integrity and obey the dictates of the constitution. It concerns the failure to solve the problems of crime, poverty, irresponsible corporate governance, unjustifiable wage disparities, inadequate healthcare, substandard public education, and the rule of law.
Running a successful democratic government requires selflessness and an overriding commitment to the public good, which are both markedly absent amongst Nigerian political office holders these days. The solution to Nigeria’s recurring problems involves compassionate leadership and committed knowledgeable professionals. However, because the majority of voters have little real understanding of the issues, such people are unlikely to be elected. Anybody with the necessary financial strength can contest for political office no matter how unsuitable they are for the task at hand.
Recently, Nigerians were appalled by photographs of so called “repentant” Boko Haram terrorists being feted by the Nigerian Army even after slaughtering their comrades in arms! Their well-worded placards begging Nigerians to “forgive” their cold-blooded murder, rape and pillage overlook the fact that such forgiveness is dangerous and counter-productive. The majority of Nigerians are law abiding and express revulsion at gory videos of their atrocities. It’s totally inappropriate for any democratic government, sworn to hold the rule of law, to treat rampaging murderers with kid gloves, while their victims suffer unspeakable hardships in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s). Forgiveness, will to all intents and purposes be a sign of support or an admission of inability to enforce the rule of law. It will destroy any belief that democracy entails justice.
Democracy is a great concept but the question remains as to whether or not it’s the best method for governing a developing nation. Economists reflect upon the fact that China’s undemocratic central government lifted 300milllion citizens out of poverty, turning the nation into a world economic powerhouse, while over the same period, India’s democratic government presided over 300million people being reduced to poverty! Of course, dictatorship isn’t the answer.
Nigeria had a taste of it under military governments who failed woefully. Regrettably, Nigerian democracy has descended into disguised civilian dictatorship. Devoid of meaningful philosophy or underlying principles, democratic governance in Nigeria has been reduced to the whims and caprices of whoever is president.
One advantage of democracy is the opportunity to change government every four years. In Nigeria, electioneering has been reduced to light entertainment full of much dancing, sloganeering, empty promises and virtually no mention of policies. Section 16 of the Constitution concerning the fundamental objectives and principles of state policy says that the primary purpose of government shall be the welfare, security and happiness of the people. Currently, this isn’t the case. By holding substandard elections, Nigerian politicians concentrate on the outward appearance of democracy, while paying scant attention to issues of good governance, transparency, regard for the rule of law, compassion towards suffering and reversing the erosion of democratic institutions.
In this context, the celebrated statement by Robert Kennedy can be paraphrased as; “Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes to corrupt practices and when we fail to speak out against injustices, we strike a blow against justice, freedom, decency and democracy”. The ongoing curtailing of civil rights and freedom of expression is forcing Nigerians to tighten their belts, gird their loins and suffer the most excruciating social and economic pains without complaint.
Government would be well advised to heed the words of Najwa Zebian who said “Don’t break a bird’s wings and expect it to fly, don’t break a heart and expect it to love, don’t break a soul and tell it to be happy, and don’t see the worst in people and expect them to see the best in you.” The best evidence of Nigerian democracide is that in the run up to the 2023 elections, all the talk is about where the next president should come from, rather than what he must do to clear up the mess left behind. Nigerian voters are so disillusioned that they sell their votes to the highest bidder in the knowledge that whatever they collect will be their only guaranteed “dividend of democracy”! Indeed it’s been said that the best case against Nigerian democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average Nigerian voter!”