NIGERIANS and their democracy are unique. If elsewhere people delight in the capacities of their government to deepen their liberties, broaden opportunities, our democracy is delivered as structures, visible and tangible. We call them dividends of democracy.
The lure of dividends – a throw back to the days when the economy supported companies making returns to shareholders – has created an array of expectations. People expect democracy to translate to instant wellbeing. Politicians egg them on in the desires for a better life, which they paint in rosy strokes during campaigns, but often do not deliver.
Where people expect employment, health services, rural development, security, education, governments point to peace and unity (currently eluding many parts) as dividends of democracy. Dividends of democracy manifest in renovated schools, repainted hospitals, more vehicles for the judiciary and security agencies. They are celebrated as if their impacts would in a wave wipe out the deep-seated issues distracting the country.
One of them is the tendency to deny the people their rights to choose, especially their leaders. Choice as a foundation of democracy is reflected in the importance and regularity of elections. The decisions about leaders should be made in fairer setting and in ways that produce leaders whose acceptability derives from the processes, at every level, across the country.
Equating physical developments with gains of democracy could result in dissipating the more important aspects of democracy and by extension accepting any form of rule, as long as it builds better roads and bridges. Democracy is deeper. The liberties of democratic rule since 1999 are reminders of the possibilities of democratic governance.
Democracy awards us vast liberties which our Constitution enunciates. We must expand our peoples’ rights to life, to ownership of property, to participation in the economy and most importantly, their participation in politics. The rights to security of lives and property are facing challenges; they should be tackled more decisively. Rights have prospered or withered in various measures in the past 16 years. Nigerians like to be heard, they have been talking. Is anyone listening? More people are agitating for more States or local governments. Others want re-structuring, to award the States more powers. Would Nigerians be free to live in any part of Nigeria? Democracy should induce more economic competition among Nigeria’s federating units and improve lives.
Democracy is about the people. The consistent exclusion of the people in decisions about them is undemocratic. It is at the centre of the agitations that question the relevance of democracy and minimises people’s stake in Nigeria. Our democracy can be saved from being a ritual when governments are about the people and for the people.