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Nigerians, the cookie is crumbling (1)

By Douglas Anele

The naïve belief in certain quarters that Nigeria’s developmental problems would be drastically ameliorated once democratic governance is established has turned into a red-herring because it tends to divert attention from the crisis of values among the ruling elites and cabals in the country.

The way I see it, our developmental problems are not so much due to the type of government we operate as to the mediocre quality of men and women who were privileged to lead. After all, a wise compassionate dictatorship is better than the agbata ekee democracy we have been operating since 1999 which is a far cry from Abraham Lincoln’s iconic definition of democracy as “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” Of course, no country in the world has attained the democratic ideal embedded in Lincoln’s definition.

For instance, the people of United States of America, one of the most advanced stable democracies in the world, are still grappling with the problem of creating a just and more egalitarian society. In this connection Thomas R. Dye and Harmon Zeigler correctly observed, in their interesting exposé titled The Irony of Democracy: An Uncommon Introduction to American Politics, that “elites, not the masses govern America.”

Evidently, in an industrial, scientific, and globalising historical period the practice of democracy, just as in a totalitarian system, is determined by a handful of people. Therefore, it is not surprising that in Nigeria the most important political, economic, and social decisions are made by tiny minorities.

A genuine democratic system founded on a legitimate representative format can be truly described as “government by the people.” That said, it is clear that, no matter the system of government operational in a given society, a few individuals exercise a great deal of power whereas the bulk of the population exercise comparatively minute power.

The survival and sustenance of democracy rests on the shoulders of the elites who must govern wisely and humanely if the citizens are to benefit from the system. Since Nigeria got flag independence in 1960, Nigerians have not made appreciable progress in transforming the colonial amalgam they inherited from Britain into a just and equitable nation.

A little reflection on the matter would reveal that building a cohesive society on the foundation of multifarious ethnic nationalities is always a work-in-progress. But then, the extent of progress recorded at any given time is crucially determined by the character of the ruling elite.

It is one of the intriguing ironies of our country’s political history that neither of the two greatest Nigerian politicians to date, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, emerged as Prime Minister or Executive President before they died. Now, despite exaggerated praises heaped on both men by hero worshippers, Azikiwe and Awolowo like all human beings have character weaknesses which might have negatively affect their performance as Prime Minister or President, as the case may be.

Yet, it must be acknowledged that the two men had the intelligence, knowledge, gravitas, experience, vision and credibility to provide top quality leadership for Nigerians. Extended periods of shambolic military rule derailed the democratic progression of Nigeria and exacerbated the self-inflicted problems which led to civil war in May, 1967.

The problems created by repeated military interventions in Nigeria’s democratic evolution are legion, and to analyse even the most critical ones will elongate this essay intolerably. Suffice it to say, however, that the messianic pretensions of soldiers who seize power forcefully are smokescreens by kakistocratic megalomaniacs to control allocation of the country’s resources for self-serving purposes.

In a few lucky places like Singapore and Ghana, dictators propelled their countries into the path of political stability and economic growth by dealing harshly with corruption at the highest levels of governance and business. In Nigeria, military dictators and their civilian cronies worked hand in glove to appropriate the country’s resources among themselves.

This explains why military dictators have not been held accountable for their misdeeds by successive civilian governments: it also sheds some light on an intriguing fact about our rendezvous with democratic governance, that is, the deteriorating quality of civilian leadership with the passage of time.

Consider, for instance the issue of corruption within the ruling elite: there is no doubt that top political office holders during the tenure of Alhaji Shehu Shagari were more corrupt than politicians of the First Republic. Similarly, Shagari’s government was less corrupt than Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s.

Most well-informed Nigerians would agree that corruption in high places has reached unprecedented height in the current dispensation of President Goodluck Jonathan. Sycophants who are enjoying now can deceive themselves for as long as they please. The truth remains that, never in the history of civilian administration in Nigeria have principal actors in the three tiers of government been implicated in gargantuan corruption.

In my view, President Jonathan has not demonstrated genuine leadership on this all-important issue. Indeed, Jonathan’s arrogant and ill-tempered authoritarian stance on the subject of declaring his assets publicly suggests that he is not prepared to be accountable and transparent to the Nigerian people.

Moreover, corruption allegations surrounding the President and his wife, recent eye service appointment of the latter as a permanent secretary in the civil service in his home state, and the  perceived feeling that Mr. President lacks decisive action to curtail corruption and indiscipline among his lieutenants – all these and more demonstrate that, probably, the current administration is not really serious about tackling corruption where it matters most, that is, among members of the ruling political and business elites.

Consequently, the executive branch of government is swarming with corruption, and President Jonathan cannot, or is unwilling to, do anything about it. But some of the worst cases of corruption Nigerians have witnessed were perpetrated by members of the National Assembly.

From 1999 to date, so-called elected representatives of our people have manifested an insatiable, devilish, appetite for primitive accumulation. A despicable form of legalised corruption perfected by senators and members of the House of Representatives is the outrageous emoluments they regularly awarded to themselves. The strategic importance of the legislature in a democratic setting cannot be overemphasised: aside from law-making, it is empowered to check the excesses of the President and his cabinet.

That is what obtains in mature democracies like The United States and Britain. But in our own case things are upside down because lawmakers have converted the business of law making into the sale of favours and privileges. The number and frequency of corruption attributed to federal legislators are enough to make any reasonable person sceptical and genuinely worried about the future of this country and her stinking presidential democracy.

Hence it is largely correct to assert that the present House of Representatives is fast becoming the Vatican city of corruption and abuse of legislative powers, to the extent Nigerians regard its threat to impeach President Jonathan for failing to implement the 2012 Appropriation Act as a ploy by members to extort money from the executive.

The Senate has remained relatively insulated from reports of corruption. All the same, since a leopard does not lose its spots overnight, I conjecture that a lot of chop and clean mouth might have been going there especially since David Ma
rk became Senate President.



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