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Bloody democracy

By Hakeem Baba-Ahmed
ANNUAL budgets are important policy instruments which do more than just inform citizens of the priorities and plans of an administration, and the resources which it plans to mobilise towards achieving them. They reveal an administration’s basic philosophy, challenges and opportunities.

Budgets reveal the state of the nation, the disposition of leadership towards competing priorities, and the long-term implications of economic policy on political developments. Budgetary estimates also reveal capacities to tap into resources available, or failure of administrations to do so.

They are important yardsticks for judging performance of governments, and they test transparency and effectiveness of a system which links citizens with the state in many important ways.

Revenue estimates in budgets tell citizens where the administration hopes to mobilise resources from, and its efficiency in terms of the management of resources and the responsiveness of its key institutions involved in mobilising the resources.

Expenditure outlines inform citizens of a government’s priorities, and its levels of commitment to expand the economy, as opposed to maintenance of the system.

On the whole, budgets are political instruments of governance and they provide standards for assessing whether an administration is committed to one of the two basic purposes of all governments, which is the pursuit of the welfare of citizens. The other is the protection of the rights of citizens, including their right to life, security and basic freedoms.

The budget proposals submitted recently by President Jonathan reveal many of these elements of a budgetary process. In the context of the raging debate over the removal of subsidy and the security of the nation, they fail the test of standard openness, and raise serious concerns over the nature of our democratic system.

While the proposals do not mention removal of subsidy, the radical improvement in the revenue estimates say loud and clear that it will be removed. Where else will an  in crease of more than a trillion Naira come from? The claim that the administration is still consulting over the removal of subsidy is even more hollow when the figures are scrutinised more closely.

Obviously, it does the administration little credit when it submits proposals which make no provision for payment for subsidy, and then informs the nation that it has not made up its mind over the issue. Nigerians are likely to think that their intelligence is being insulted. Worse, they may shut their minds against any relief measu
res the President may want to introduce.

But a far more worrying issue which the budget raises is the alarming amount set aside for security. The budget estimates propose an allocation of N920 billion Naira for security, an amount bigger than that of many sectors combined.

This amount is being budgeted in time of peace; or at least peace without a war. The total amount being budgeted as a whole could amount to one-quarter of the entire budget, and this is for the Federal government alone.

All States will also budget huge amounts for security, and their decisions over the amount they budget will be substantially influenced by the Federal government’s standards. When the Federal government spends N920billion on security, State Governments will guess that something  is seriously wrong, and they will also set aside large chunks of their resources for security.

Spending these amounts around security at this time will give the impression that the nation is at war. Those who will say we are not at war will be wrong. We are at war against endemic violence which is intimately linked with our political system.

We are at war against the violence which has dwarfed our democracy, and corrupted our capacities to develop our human and material resources. We are at war against a political system which is founded on blood and guts, and the dashed hopes of many aspiring democrats.

We are at war against terror which is deeply rooted in our politics, and we are at war against greed and corruption which have made it impossible to organise credible elections.

The frightening amount being voted for security in the next one year is evidence that violence has overwhelmed our political system. The history of the linkages between overt or covert violence and key political developments in our nation  is long.

Violence in the form of a military coup truncated the new democratic government which was bequeathed after colonial rule. More coups followed, and a civil war which cost over a million lives had to be fought to keep the nation together.

But the damage had been done. The continued stay of the military was violence against the right of Nigerians to live under governments of their own choice. The longer it remained, the more violence came to define our political system.

Coups attracted more coups, until the military found itself almost at war with itself, and a nation which had become weary of its limitations and corrupting influences. Violence defined the abortion of the 1992 elections which could have produced Abiola as President; and the violence which followed forced the military to engineer a process of handing over power to a Yoruba man.

Our democratic system since 1999 has never been far from underlying violence or the threat of it. Our electoral process has been characterised by increasing violence; and the more elections we organised since 1999, the more violent they became.

In 2002, former President Olusegun Obasanjo organised a conference on violence and the electoral process, because even in those early days, the spectre of violence was threatening to become the defining characteristic of our democracy.

High profile assassinations of politicians, and the emerging linkages between political competition and increasing use of arms by political gangs in the Niger Delta and the South East were threatening the 2003 elections. The conference was revealing in terms of the manner it exposed the widespread use of violence as a political asset, and the existence of armed groups in many States of the federation under the control of governors or the opposition, or both.

The 2003 elections marked a new benchmark in the intimate relationship which existed between political activities and organised violence.

It marked the beginning of widespread criminal activities in the Niger Delta, when thousands of young people, armed and funded by politicians, suddenly found themselves demobilised but heavily armed. They turned their attention to kidnappings, sabotage, and thinly-veiled criminal activities under the cover of political militancy using genuine community grievances.

In the north, shortsighted opportunism played into the hands of groups mobilised around religion and economic progress. Young people looking for some glimmer of hope that tinkering with the laws of the land will given then value systems which will limit the damage of corruption and the impunity of leaders were bitterly disappointed.

Sharia failed to create better societies, and leaders who promised it retreated behind the security of Government Houses leaving behind armed and bitter young people, who then turned away from the law, and against the democratic process.

Across the nation, citizens became increasingly disenchanted with a democratic system which came to life only during elections. Elections assumed the same dimensions of wars in many areas, and created massive bitterness and alienation among the people.

Politicians used symbols and tactics which were almost certainly guaranteed to create violence in and between communities. Armed enforcers became better at guaranteeing election victories than campaign convoys; and politicians became hostages of the violence they organised.

More and more, they retreated from the people who supposedly elected them; and communities on the whole became more prone to violence. Where the state was unable or unwilling to mediate or intervene in intra or inter-community disputes, citizens settled issues themselves.

Huge pockets of endemic violence emerged in the Niger Delta, in parts of the Middle Belt and the North East. Violent crimes spread where security agencies became stretched beyond their capacities or by corruption; and highways and residences became equally unsafe. The South East began to look like an occupied territory, and the South West began to tinker with do-it-yourself internal security.

A Nigerian state severely weakened by a political system rooted in violence is now having to confront another threat from Boko Haram insurgency. The huge expenditure on security, most of which will go into the purchase of expensive and sophisticated weaponry and logistics is an admission that the political process cannot process and neutralise this threat.

The option of arming the nation against this threat almost to the exclusion of all others is very dangerous. It appears to be informed only by panic, which makes the situation for the Nigerian state even more dangerous because its enemies can see this.

It closes up other options which may be less costly, but more effective. It is difficult to assess as a security strategy, because it requires time to prove its effectiveness and time is a very rare commodity under these circumstances. It ties up resources and the security assets of the nation around one issue or one threat, and exposes the nation to the emergence of other threats.

The amount of money the federal and state governments are planning to spend for security will scare Nigerians even more. Citizens are likely to believe that the threat they face is monumental, and may not even have the courage to ask how all these expenditure can be verified and assessed as useful.

How, for instance, are we to evaluate the utility of all this expenditure? In the immediate cessation of violent acts? In the reduction of their numbers, damage and frequency? Are we likely to spend less, more or the same amount next year?

What else is being done by government to deal with Boko Haram; with the stranglehold of crime in the South East; with the ever-present threats of resurgence of violence in the Niger Delta; and with the burning fires from ethno-religious conflicts in Plateau and Kaduna States?

Our political process has many things wrong with it. We spend billions to organise elections, which produce massive disputes, questionable winners and widespread violence. Every election shrinks our democratic process further, and there is no guarantee that 2015 will produce a better election.

Our politics breeds more violence in our homes; on our highways and in our hearts. The intimate relationship between our politics and organized violence is responsible for the state of insecurity in Nigeria today. Our leaders have failed us, and they will fail us even more if they see the solution to our problems only in terms of spending huge amounts in their personal security.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.