By Tonnie Iredia
In far away Prague, Czech Republic, David Mark, President of the Nigerian Senate and a retired Brigadier General in the Nigerian Army affirmed a few days back that Military rule in Nigeria was gone forever. The affirmation appears heartwarming especially if it is binding on Mark’s successors in the military.
If however, our Senate President was suggesting that Nigeria is now a democracy, not many would agree with him. Although those in government today do not wear military uniforms, democracy should never be identified by the dress code of its practitioners. In Nigeria, there are many non-uniformed political leaders who through their acts and utterances are quite distant from the attributes of democracy. We can only pray that anti-democratic forces particularly those outside the military would allow Nigeria’s democracy to grow.
‘Government of the people by the people and for the people’ – a phrase credited to former American President Abraham Lincoln- has become perhaps the most popular understanding of the word, democracy. It is however a word that has been thoroughly subjected to misuse as totalitarian regimes and dictatorships alike are known to seek popular support by pinning democratic labels upon themselves. But the truth is that democracy is not a matter for claim. Rather, it is a set of ideas and principles with a set of practices and procedures designed to institutionalize freedom. In short, democracy entails the sovereignty of the people where the government is based on the consent of the governed through free and fair elections.
Democracy is about majority rule but it guarantees minority rights. It neither accommodates arbitrariness nor does it provide room for militancy and sectoral threats as we have in Nigeria where activists in different parts of the nation threaten to bring the nation to a halt if their preferences do not prevail. Democracy is premised on the free will of the people without which it lacks legitimacy. As Professor Pat Utomi opined at a public lecture last week, unless Nigeria moves to a situation where people speak through the ballot box, we cannot have the kind of legitimacy we need. Utomi was talking about the absence of free and fair elections- a subject everyone inwardly knows to be true but which only a few openly admit.
In our elections, many people are disenfranchised; some are dissuaded by the overwhelming presence of armed security operatives in voting centres just as the centres are deliberately located near people’s houses to make malpractices easier notwithstanding that public schools are opposite or adjacent to such centres. At the end, some candidates score high votes in low turnout elections. Through election petitions many judges now find their reward close to their courts leaving the authorities to handle dry disciplinary cases relating to their conduct.
Every election in Nigerian is now fun. In Ondo State for instance, there are fears now that law and order would break down shortly. This is because, a faction of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in the State is threatening severe consequences if their election of a new executive is further delayed. It has sent a letter to the state governor Dr Olusegun Mimiko who is not their member to act fast.
What the governor would do is hard to predict in view of the standard set by Governors in their recent chairmanship election. Will he caution that no one should imitate Governors as the Deputy Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly, Mr. Leyii Kwanee, did last week? Kwanee had told a delegation of Niger Delta Students Union Government, which visited him, that he was disturbed by how the younger generation would perceive democracy, judging by the outcome of the Governors forum’s recent election.
So, who are those celebrating our democracy? I was almost tempted to say Senators considering the strong speech their President made in far away Prague until I ran into an interview by Senator Ali Ndume, Chairman, Senate Committee on Millennium Development Goals (MDG) where he claimed to be unable to find anything to celebrate. If democracy is our promised land, it seems we are far away from it because the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Alfred Adewale Martins also suggests that “all we have been receiving over the years have been more of promises than action.
The result can be seen in the large number of jobless youths, dwindling basic infrastructures of inadequate power supply, insecurity and general ineptitude in the system” Put differently, many people are yet to see the dividends of democracy in our clime. Prof Abubakar Momoh underscored this last week when he asked Lagos State which is generally believed to be working to borrow a leaf from Lateef Jakande and build houses that the people can afford.
Those who rule must never oppress or fool the people. Thus, if legislators are the people’s representative, it appears strange that a frontline lawyer is now asking the Judiciary to compel the National Assembly to tell the same people they purport to represent how much legislators earn as salaries. The executive branch is also expected to follow not only the letter but the spirit of the laws of the land as well; because democracy is premised on the rule of law. No one should remain in office when he is ill and unable to discharge his duties.
The silent murmurs which followed the absence for awhile of Governor Imoke from his desk in Calabar became much louder when Governor Chime of Enugu was away for a much longer period. Now that Danbaba Suntai of Taraba will soon celebrate one year of being away from his office in Jalingo, what is the nature of Nigeria’s democracy and its rule on the tenure of political offices and succession?
This is a question that 16 persons, led by Senator Saleh Usman Danboyi, are now asking the Judiciary to answer because the supposed democrats in Taraba State who are empowered by the constitution to do so are still under military rule. Those who may not accept this view should just take a look at anywhere a security operative is seen standing behind a leader in any gathering; what they would find is that the VIP concerned is a Nigerian ‘democrat’.