Democracy without democrats

Democracy without democrats

Wednesday, May 22, 2019 11:26 am

Voting at a polling unit in Akwa Ibom in the governorship, state assembly election

By Edward T. Dibiana

A tale was told about a once very powerful Principal Officer of the National Assembly, who led a delegation of a major political party from Abuja to conduct a senatorial primary in Anambra state in 2014.  This supposed democrat with many years of legislative experience, who ought to show example of how to promote democracy, especially internal democracy in a party which should be an important democratic platform, allegedly landed with his team at the Asaba Airport, in neighboring Delta state.

But rather than making the remaining leg of the trip by road to Awka the capital of Anambra state, where the primary election was to take place, these self-acclaimed democrats checked into a plush hotel in Asaba, with the obvious connivance of some interests, that included a particular “favoured aspirant”, who allegedly funded the diversion of the  Abuja “democrats” to Asaba.

Subsequently, in the cozy ambiance of the presidential suite of the Asaba hotel, these very powerful Abuja party officials, allegedly got busy entertaining themselves. They made merry in a free flow of choice champagne, enjoyed the warmth of girls young enough to be their grandchildren and dubiously wrote the result of the supposed election in the hotel, without setting foot on the Anambra venue of the exercise. The next morning, they flew back to Abuja with the concocted result. Mission accomplished!

Meanwhile, the other aspirants and the teeming party men and women, who had thronged the venue of the primary, were kept waiting, endlessly and in vain. They eventually left for their various homes, frustrated. And gutted. This was especially when news reached them that the party headquarters had received the result of the election that never held. And a winner announced, leaving them with the bad feeling that their participation and democratic rights to choose their representative, did not matter.

When eventually the aggrieved aspirants protested this unfair, unjust and undemocratic process that excluded them from lawful participation in the exercise, the same dubious party officials responded thus: “Anybody who is not satisfied with the result of the election should go to the court and seek redress. That is the beauty of democracy, the judiciary is always there. And as democrats, we shall always abide by the pronouncements of the law court.”

That, incidentally, was one of the instances in our faulty leadership recruitment process. It is, also sadly, a reflection of our unique brand of democracy. But we are all democrats, or so we claim!

Ironically, these same undemocratic elements would mount the podium and spew weather-beaten rhetorics about democracy in utter mockery of those who know their dismal undemocratic credentials. Not a few would agree that with these kinds of democrats, Nigeria is still deep in the woods.

This kind of impunity apparently informed a proposal by a former deputy governor of Akwa Ibom state, Patrick Ekpotu, of the need to establish “an institutional framework outside of INEC but next to it that will compel strict compliance with all aspects of our electoral laws and political parties’ constitution.”

Ekpotu had suggested that the proposed body “could be identified as Electoral Practices & Values Commission, with responsibility of ensuring that politicians, political parties and members play by the rules. And just as the National Judicial Council regulates activities of and punishes airing judicial officers, so should this body deal with all manners of electoral conspiracies within and outside the electoral framework that contravenes the law by prescribing heavy punishments on defaulters to infuse sanity, check abuses, impunity of party officials and members”, in order to protect the sanctity of our electoral system and by extension, our democracy.

A prolific writer and public affairs analyst, Obi Nwakanma, in a recent open letter to the governor-elect of Imo state, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, wrote, “The promise of democracy itself is not just that it makes prosperity attainable, but that citizens feel themselves direct participants in the ways that they are governed. That they send representatives who listen to them; who do not impose their will, or act beyond the legitimate authority that defines the consent of the governed.”

But do Nigerian politicians accord the people the deserved respect and recognition, as defined by democratic principles, that make the will and the overall interest of the people the core objective of democracy?

It is yet another season of podium-hugging, big talks and very big talks! A season of songs of imaginary rainbows; drumbeats of praise-singers, self-adulation and banal ululation about democracy practice in Nigeria. In this season, we are all democrats, defenders and pillars of democracy. This is especially of the politicians.

Nigerian politicians never fail to amaze. When it comes to democracy, every politician is a ‘democrat’. This is irrespective of their antecedents as people with little patience for democratic norms, and civil rule protocols. They just like the name, “democrat”.

Democracy ought to be about the people. Their wishes. Aspirations. Wellbeing.  And more. Democracy in its purest form, promotes Justice, equity and fairness, as guaranteed by the fundamental human rights. These rights among many other liberating principles of democracy, including the rule of law, are provided for, and protected by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And every believer of democracy, or a democrat (who is an advocate or supporter of democracy) is bound by law, convention or morality, to promote and protect the principles and values of democracy, in the true sense of the ideology.

A famous 19th century French writer, George Sand, once argued, “Believe in no other God than the one who insists on justice and equality among men”. That God is unlikely the one politicians worship. Especially in Nigeria. Many politicians in this clime, appear to worship a dark god of deceit, avarice and impunity, cocooned in a decadent shrine of ballooned ego and overrated self-importance.

For instance, before the last governorship election in Akwa Ibom state, a case was made against a powerful political appointee, before the Peoples Democratic Party’s Integration and Harmonisation Committee, charged with the responsibility of addressing the grievances of the party members across the state.

It was said that the state governor requested for five individuals from the appointee’s local government to be appointed as aides, as part of his programme to accommodate every local government in his administration. This official, quietly submitted five names from his family. His niece, her husband and three of his nephews. And they got the appointment. To the chagrin of many who were in the know. A single individual appropriated for his family, what was meant for a whole local government of over 20 communities, in a democracy. But is this not often the trend in the political circles or corridors of power?

Yet we celebrate. And hail ourselves as democrats.

Even those with manifest disdain for the wishes and opinions of the people, also binge in self-adulation, as “progressives”.  Some of them are so much affluent and enjoy a cult following that erroneously give them a larger than life image. These political “lords of the ring” are sometimes so powerful they can unilaterally decide the fate of the rest of the society as their whims dictate. This is often in a manner that is everything but democratic.

The power opium of these kinds of people is often sustained by the praise-singing orchestra of their mostly sycophantic supporters, who ceaselessly hail them as “pillars and defenders of our democracy,” and feed their famished ego with a sweet but toxic brew of omnipotence, which corrupts their sense of propriety and leads to impunity.

It is very disturbing that this anti-democratic culture is fast burrowing into the foundation of democracy in Nigeria across the nation. No zone is immune to this ugly trend. But the Southwest is perhaps a special case. Every politician in the southwest is a “progressive”. Everybody, “a disciple of Baba Awolowo”. All are democracy advocates. Not necessarily by conduct, discipline or track record of democratic behavior or ethos. Just for validation. Political showmanship. And as a tool to awe and control. A brand that is fast petering into puppeteer or ashebi democracy.

What manner of progressive democracy confiscates the fundamental rights of people to aspire for political leadership positions or the right to choose who represents the people, unless such names emanate from the political shrine of an overlord that arrogates monopoly of political wisdom and intelligence?

In the Southeast, it is a transactional arrangement between godfathers and the beneficiaries of their sponsorship in the name of democracy. In Anambra, for instance, a particular notorious godfather insists that his “political captives” provide monthly post-dated cheque of agreed percentage from anticipated income to cover a four year tenure.

Sadly, this authoritarianism and mockery of democracy is not only the affliction of the Southwest and Southeast. It is replicated in different forms and degrees in the 36 states of Nigeria, where state governors turn their states into ego-yards and the legislature into a boot-liking department under the civil service, in a democratic government where the executive and the legislature are constitutionally designed to be equal, independent partners working for the good of the people.

But “lack of autonomy of these key institutions at the state levels”, according to the Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, “has been the bane of our democracy. It is the main reason why there are not effective checks on governors, most of whom run the states as fiefdoms.”

Yet state governors across the nation will roll out drums, hug the podium and lecture the rest of us about democracy on Democracy Day. But Should Nigeria continue on this path?

It is imperative, going forward, to adopt a complete change of ethos and orientation. And this new beginning, occasioned by the emergence of a fresh leadership class, offers a new window to attempt a re-engineering of a democratic culture that would make the interest and wellbeing of the people, justice and fairness, its core priority, less we will remain a caricature of a democracy.

-Dibiana, a journalist, wrote from Abuja.


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