By Tochukwu Ezukanma
MEDIA hype is an awkward cachet of Nigerian public life. Not surprisingly, the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, in its media hype, indict, try and convict suspects in the media, and then, with its shoddy investigations and sloppy prosecution, loses the case in court. In the characteristic media show-off of Nigerian public officials, the Nigerian Army Chief of Staff, Tukur Buratai, told Nigerians that some army officers, in-concert with their political sponsors, were ponder a coup attempt. Many Nigerians thought that it was a military matter that should have been investigated (with other security agencies) and addressed by the military, and not thrown out into the public domain.
Agitated by the prospect of some politicians luring elements of the military into attempting a coup, the political elite denounced any attempt at military intrusion into politics and urged Nigerians to resist any coup attempt by the military. Of course, ordinarily, Nigerians should stand up in defense of democracy. After all, democracy has proven to be the best form of government, which explains the disproportionate representation of democracies among the world’s most prosperous, powerful and politically stable countries. Potentially, democracy offered Nigeria so much. It was expected to be a refreshing contrast to military rule and its associated aberrations of corruption, official brutality, moral and ethical collapse, etc. It was to be a wellspring of political stability, social justice and overall societal progress. Nigerians rightly expected that it will significantly improve the quality of life for the majority of Nigerians, progressively raise our standards of morality and ethics and re-orient our earlier distorted value system. Lamentably, Nigerian democracy disappointed these expectations.
Military intervention in politics has always been a direct consequence of failure in democratic leadership. And history has taught us that mass discontent is a desideratum for a successful military coup. One the one hand, the pertinent questions are: has Nigerian democracy failed Nigerians and is there mass discontent in Nigeria – are most Nigerians disillusioned and frustrated with the shadiness of the political class: corruption, arrogance of power and the economic strangulation of the masses? If the honest answers of the political class to these questions are no, then, they have nothing to worry about because a military coup against responsible and responsive democratic leaders that command the confidence and support of the people can hardly succeed. But if, on the other hand, their answers to the questions are yes, then, they have reasons to be very jittery because a political system that has failed its people cannot endure. It will inevitably collapse. The particular trigger for its collapse will be a question of detail.
The dissatisfaction of the Nigerian masses with the status quo is profound and pervasive. The political class needs to stem this disenchantment not by “beating their heads against the wall” about political fraternization between politicians and soldiers but by changing their objectionable ways. They must stop looting our commonwealth, riding roughshod over us and disregarding our legitimate aspirations. Thus far, Nigeria democracy has only replicated the obnoxious records of military rule: graft, arrogance of power, theft of public funds, and scorn for the genuine longings of the people. It essentially replaced kakhi-clad, greedy, lying and stealing ruling elite with agdada-clad, greedy, lying and stealing ruling elite.
Consequently, eighteen years of democracy failed to bring about a more principled and equitable distribution of the national wealth. It continues to reinforce an unconscionable economic system that panders to the inordinate wealth of an elite few at the economic misery of the generality of the people. So, while the political elite and their cronies maintain life-styles that amaze even the rich and the famous of the wealthiest countries of the world, a frightening proportion of Nigerians remain trapped in poverty, ignorance, sickness and disease. Many survive as scavengers, rummaging through trash dumps for edibles, reusable items and sellable scraps, and street hawkers (including children and women with babies strapped to their backs), thronging the streets hoping to eke out a living by selling water, soft drinks, etc to motorists and pedestrians.
Many Nigerians are homeless, and millions live in wretched housing, sometimes up to 10 persons per room, in festering squalid neighbourhoods with clogged gutters that provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes and all forms of vermin. Consequently, dirt borne diseases, like malaria and typhoid fever are widespread in Nigeria. With a deplorable health care delivery system, Nigeria with a population of only 2% of the world’s population accounts for 11% of the world’s maternal mortality and 12% of the world’s under-five mortality. The continued stealing and salting away of billions of dollars by our rulers against the background of desperate poverty and inconceivable human suffering in our land of plenty is a testament to the failure of democracy in Nigerian.
In their grasping avarice and remorseless misappropriation of public funds, many state governments refuse to pay their employees for months, sometimes, for up to six months. And those who demand their salaries are severely punished. For example, a primary school headmistress, Mrs. Maryleen Ezichi, who, like her colleagues, had not been paid for six months appealed to the wife of the Abia State governor, Mrs. Nkechi Ikpeazu, to intercede on their behalf to get paid some of their backlog salaries. Unbelievably, she was punished: demoted and transferred to a rural outpost. To refuse to pay an employee for six months is incredible cruelty. To work for six months without being paid your salary is worse than peonage for a peon (waged slave), at least, gets paid. And to be punished for appealing to be paid part of your backlog salary is tantamount to enslavement – 21st Century slavery – which is definitely not characteristic of a democracy; Nigeria is a pseudo-democracy.
The police force, that indispensible tool of governance and the barometer of the attitude of the governing towards the governed, remains something of a colonial or Apartheid institution because the power elite it represents and is answerable to are totally indifferent to the rule of law and the individual rights of Nigerian citizens. It remains notorious for its brutality, the torture and murder of Nigerian citizens without recourse to the law. Ostensibly, for urban redevelopment, but sometime, for the seizure of choice real estate locations for the elite, our “democratic governments” demolish the homes of the indigent without due process. Sometimes, without prior notice, government agents bulldoze homes and render families homeless. Families (including children, babies and pregnant women) with no alternative accommodation are abruptly thrown outside in the rain and cold.
An exhaustive disquisition on the evil catalog of the oligarchy -“democratic” rulers – that rule this country at the detriment of people and in subversion of every tenet of democracy is beyond the scope of this article. However, the point is that Nigerian democracy has, thus far, been a failure and Nigerians are deeply disillusioned. And if elements of the military and their political sponsors resolve to exploit this failure of democracy and its attendant mass discontent, why would Nigerians stand up in defense of the pretensions of an amoral oligarchy and its pseudo-democracy?
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria