Since the year 2000 when the country purportedly returned to democratic governance after decades of tyrannical military rule, the 29th day of the month of May has been dubbed and is now celebrated as Democracy Day in Nigeria.
However, from our experience on how our socio-political affairs have been managed, this notion has at best remained a semantic and narrrative conspiracy as our country’s affairs has continued to be propelled by forces that negate the fundamental tenets of a democratic polity.
The phrase semantic conspiracy is used here because we have veiled the objective reality in our democratic aspiration with terminologies that has no substantial co-relation with our prevailing situation. It can be safely asserted without any fear of contradiction that we are still very far away from the thresholds underpinning a functional democracy. This is because the sheer substitution of military officers as our principal state actors with civilians cannot equate us as a democratic country.
Functional democracies are epitomes of organic and structural differentiation by decentralization of political and economic powers with attendant devolution and decongestion of such powers, effective representation and citizens popular participation in the political process especially with the capacity without hindrance to determine those who preside over their affairs in exercise of the authority legitimately given by the people.
It also reflects the efficacy of institutionalized checks and balances, sacrosanct adherence of the rule of law, and effective accommodation of pluralities in the society especially in the areas of religion, ethnicity, opinions and ideology etc.
As we gyrate in the euphoria and panorama of our Democracy Day, it is in my considered opinion, that we also see the need to at the same time, undertake an objective appraisal of the journey so far with a view to charting the right path moving forward. It is no doubt clearly discernable and axiomatic that ours is at best a pseudo democratic nation as what we have to celebrate is civil rather than functional democratic rule.
So far, economic and political powers of the country are still without let and hindrance concentrated in very few state actors to the detriment of the great majority of the citizenry.
The federal Government in negation of a basic principle of federalism; great measure of devolution of fiscal and socio-economic assets, still arrogates to itself, an overriding and unwieldy control of those cardinal assets as well as the apparatus of internal security to the detriment of the other tiers of government.
For instance; the oil and gas reserves; the undisputed mainstay of Nigeria’s economy, managed by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and on the average accounting for above 70% of the distributable revenue pool of the federation is presently controlled by a seraph that operates in a trinity of Mr. President, the Petroleum Minister and the Group Managing Director of NNPC. This trinity wields the greatest influence over what comes to the federation account from the sector, and the so call 13% to the oil and gas producing State in respect of the Derivation Principle is only 13% of what is disclosed by the same trinity without blemish.
The centrally pooled economic resources of the country rather than fertilize national integration and balanced development across the nation has fuelled the dependency syndrome, strangles creativity and innovation while crushing entrepreneurial enthusiasm and breeding parasites and bandits for the system. The over concentration of economic and political powers at the centre has remained a major albatross of our national development.
Apart from inducing the Dutch Disease and Resource Curse syndromes, it accounts more than any other factor for the character of our national politics and the ruthless contestation of power at the national level. It has engendered unpopular national policy preferences resulting in resource distribution conflict and structural imbalance which have manifested as major regional conflict drivers in the country lubricating and nourishing ethnic and geo-political antagonism.
At both national and state levels, we have continued to witness in the character of our so discredited military rule, the reign of strong men not the flowering and deepening of strong institutions obtainable in functional and rising democracies.
Our Presidents and Governors are custodians of benevolence, political cherubs with papal infallibility. They preside over us not with the humility of privileged representatives, mandate and touch bearers but with the bravado of absolute monarchs; reminiscent of the quaint postulation of the revered Islamic leader; Usman Dan Fodio that ‘the government of a country is the government of its king without question.
To them, Thomas Jefferson’s saying that ‘I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves’ remains a fallacy.
In our present dispensation, our President as well as the Governors combines unquestionable control over the government and the political parties. In government, they alone have remained the access to public coffers and at the political parties, they determine who gets what.
In fact the Governors are more powerful than the President because they determine who gets their party’s ticket to run for the office of President in the country. The case of President Goodluck Jonathan is apt here.
Most keen watchers of the political developments during the 2015 Presidential Election would acknowledge the high profile roles played by most Governors especially from the Northern States that resulted in the failure of his re-election bid.
We are all witnesses to how most of the proposed laudable alterations to the 1999 Constitution at the National Assembly crumbled at the State Assemblies through the whims and caprices of the Governors who use their carrot and stick to ensure that members of the legislature in their States are subjugated and kept in their servile fearfulness.
Our judiciary has not been spared of the strangulating powers of the chief executives. The judiciary in Rivers State was shut down for a year by a Governor of the State. The same Governor refused to attend the inauguration of his successor to perform the constitutional and ceremonial duty of handing over of office. The welfare of judicial officers is a political weapon in the hands of the chief executives.
The trade unions, students movement and other citizens groups have been conquered, even voices of the opposition political parties are either bought over, harassed or intimidated and the minds of the greater majority of our citizens have unfortunately been rendered nubile to the existing aberrations and the anti-democratic forces to the extent that they; the obvious casualties of these strong men of power are the ones who rise to their defense whenever any critical mind dare to spotlight their unethical conducts against our collective aspirations.
The security agencies and the electoral umpire(s) are not also spared. We have seen what the Governors have made of elections into the Local Government Councils in the country through their control of the supposedly Independent Electoral Commissions in their respective States. Even the media has been rendered more of agents of brainwashing than playing the revered role of the fourth estate of the realm.
If we must truly proclaim ours a democratic country, we must free our nation from the stranglehold of our President and Governors.
We must institutionalize a truly independent legislature and judiciary with financial autonomy, the President and Governors must cease to control the political parties and we must embark on serious campaigns and network building to take back the trade unions and other citizens’ platforms for effective civic engagements in over sighting and censorship of our elected representatives.
For now we should be celebrating uninterrupted civil not democratic rule.
Writes from Asaba, Delta State.