Nigeria’s Democracy, More Questions than Answers

February 25, 2022
Democracy Day

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

I believe that when plundering and debilitating hands of the military are removed from governance and the country’s infrastructure, educational and health systems are reconstructed, Nigeria will enjoy a boom of creativity and productivity, Mr Ola Vincent, former CBN Governor.

Prior to May 1999, when democracy re-emerged on the political surface called Nigeria, there existed so many reasons why Nigerians yearned for and preferred a democratic system of government to the military regime.

First, many believed that in democratic governments, political leaders will be elected as against military regimes where members of the administration are not elected.

To others, in a democratic government, fundamental human rights are guaranteed and respected while in military regimes, they are curtailed and violated with impunity. The actions of democratic governments are open to public scrutiny and criticism while military regimes are intolerant and undemocratic.

The rest argued back then (before 1999) that political instability in the country is the handiwork of the military and exacerbated by their reputation of intolerance, immature, corrupt, unserious, unpatriotic and tribalistic.

Today, aside from committing the same offence that the military was accused of, our present crop of leaders has added non-performance to the lists.

More painfully, looking at the indicators universally recognized as democratic pillars, it will elicit the question as to how far have Nigeria and Nigerians fared under the democratic era, ideas and ideals? Have we truly as a nation enjoyed a boom of creativity and productivity in the past two decades when plundering and debilitating hands of the military were removed from governance? Has the nation’s infrastructure made any appreciable progress? What about the nation’s educational sector where strike actions have become the order of the day? And the health sector which has become the easiest gateway to the ‘great beyond’? Why has it taken democracy a long time to have these systems reconstructed?

Why has democracy not curbed the alarming insecurity in the country (terrorism, banditry and kidnapping among others)? Why has democracy not solved the problem of galloping youth unemployment in the country or saving the Niger Deltans from environmental degradation and socioeconomic squalor?

Viewed differently, it is believed that in a democracy, the value of individual personality is restored which implies the need to respect the other man, to listen to his arguments and to take into account his point of view. Also, in a democracy, Independent it amounts to a standing rule the electoral commission must be independent and impartial so as to be able to conduct and organize all elections. But how well have as a nation practising democracy kept to this dictate?

This question becomes even more well-appreciated when one remembers that the global community, especially development-based groups and elections observers, do not think that what Nigeria is doing is the best way to organize elections be it at the federal, state or local government levels as government’s actions often fail to meet the four basic conditions necessary to create an enabling environment for holding of free and fair elections.

These conditions they noted include; an honest, competent and non-partisan body to administer the election, the knowledge and willingness of the political community to accept basic rules and regulations governing the contest for power, a developed system of political parties and teams of candidates presented to the electorates as alternative choices. And an independent judiciary to interpret electoral laws and settle election disputes.

Without a doubt, these worries, failures and failings partly explain the inertia, and damning/reports that trail every election in the country monitored by international observers; local, state and federal government.

While the above remains a lamentable development, the piece signposts yet another ugly development inherent in the nation’s democratic practice.

A recent report noted that periodic elections, which of course are an essential feature of modern democracies, help to establish, nurture and sustain democracy and democratic political culture while providing the electorate with the power to freely participate in choosing their leaders and in providing the much-needed support and legitimacy to the state. But when you cast a glance at the nation’s democratic that has spanned for two decades, is it possible to truly say that the nation’s electoral experience meets the said responsibility? Or visibly and curiously derogates the sanctity of elections as an institutional mechanism for conferring political power on citizens in a democratic dispensation?

That is not the only worry about our democracy.

Let’s take another illustration. In a democracy, the law is said to be the ‘king’. It has also been established that in a democracy, the ‘rule of law ‘makes us stronger by ensuring that decisions will be tested, studied, reviewed, and examined through the processes of government that are designed to improve policy. And the knowledge that they will be reviewed prevents over-reaching and checks the accretion of power. As whenever power is unchecked and unaccountable, it almost inevitably leads to mistakes and abuses. And in the absence of rigorous accountability, incompetence flourishes, dishonesty is encouraged and rewarded’.

Despite the validity of this expression, what daily flies on the faces of Nigerians is but a direct opposite.

Before this piece catalyses answers to the above questions, it is very important to first add context to why our leaders behave the way they do.

Acting on his research result carried out to unravel why leaders make bad decisions, Sydney Finkelstein, a Steven Roth Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College, United States of America, underlined; the presence of inappropriate self-interest, distorting attachments and the presence of misleading memories act as factors/red flags that fuels deformed decisions.

Flawed decisions start with errors of judgment from individuals, he concluded.

Although corporate organizations were Finkelstein’s focal point in that research, one could not agree more that the fruit of his findings has since transcended to,/found a home in the public office sphere particularly here in Nigeria- where those underlined factors have become not just a challenge but a crisis.

Specifically, examples of such acts on our political space essentially consist of the denial/non-recognition of the supremacy of, and optional adherence to the nation’s 1999 constitution (as amended) and its provisions. And its ‘works/consequences are principally manifest in actions such as; non-consideration of the human rights approach to governance that will guarantee education/infusion of the human rights principle of participation, accountability, transparency and non-discrimination, as well as foster the attainment of equity and justice.

Without a doubt, this piece admits that leading a person into the future, preparing others for what lies ahead whether in the concrete terms of actual or conceptual scenarios requires prolonged efforts and certain administrative pressure.

That notwithstanding, performing this duty as a leader is made complex not because of leadership encumbrances,  ambiguity or lacuna in the nation’s constitution but because of the leader’s asymmetrical culture of promoting democracy only when it is in line with their state of mind and favourable to their personal interests.

To further underscore this position, history taught us that ‘democracy works where the people have the culture of accommodation and tolerance which makes a minority accept the majority to have its way until the next election and wait patiently and peacefully for its turn to become the government by persuading more voters to support its views.

Instead of keeping to this rule, particularly when considered unfavourable, those in positions of authority fracture the nation’s geography into ‘ethnosyncrasies’ and idiosyncrasies and turn the country into an entity where tribal loyalty becomes stronger than the sense of common nationhood.

Under this arrangement, they neither consider the feelings of the masses nor work towards gaining the people’s confidence that the government will not cheat or harm them. This fact, coupled with the prevailing ignorance, democratized poverty and backwardness in the country, make these leaders the primary reality that Nigerians worry about.

Certainly, why this development should not be a surprise is that globally, any country that allows or enthrones leadership without ‘disciplined thoughts and actions, such a nation must not expect a disciplined political and socioeconomic culture.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), a Lagos-based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) and can be reached via [email protected]/08032725374

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