By Tabia Princewill
Democracy, in the African context, has delivered nothing to the masses, beyond the illusion of the freedom to elect their leaders through controversial voting processes. Now that everything around us is collapsing and that our eyes are finally opening to the unsustainable nature of our politics, policies, businesses and general lifestyle, we have a window of opportunity to get to the root of the issues plaguing our development.
Moreover, we have the exceptional opportunity to correct them and to be a generation of people who will go down in history, for having created lasting change for those who come after us. Unfortunately, many of us are still not ready for change.
As I have said many times, change threatens some people’s livelihood, their lazy, uncreative comfort, state sponsored weddings and champagne lifestyle, businesses based solely on import rather than export, round-tripping with foreign currency, failed bank loans given only to friends and family, the inability to legitimately provide goods and services that can survive without government as a customer, the unwillingness, finally, to lift the majority out of poverty, so they can become the consumer class with the spending power to access goods created and delivered by a new elite, one based on a currency of ideas rather than the prevalence of stolen money.
Wouldn’t that be a wonderful country, one we could all be proud of?
The truth is that too many of us would hate such a country, where hard work determines success, where business integrity and the rule of law determine outcomes rather than bandying about a corrupt name. This is the country Buhari’s media handlers have been unable to describe.
They’ve been unable to make us want it, to make us understand why we must suffer for it, why our suffering this time is different, why, as the British say, we must get ready for one last “hoorah”, one last fight to wrench our nation from the clutches of those unfaithful to its great promise. The country even some of his ministers might neither know nor truly want. Yet, it is surely the country the President sees in his mind’s eye.
Tragically, he is practically alone in his quest for it: even we, the people who should be most concerned, have either given up or refuse to afford him the same chance we gave to all our previous leaders, simply because they bought our love and anaesthetised our ability to constructively criticise and see reality by introducing us to the opium our society has relished, corruption, the only dream we now know or recognise, one where individuals make money with no effort and no productive output.
Now the country is broke and shall I add broken, we’re awake and angry after surgical manipulations that rid us of all our internal organs, we’re haemorrhaging fast, and now, ironically, we wake up to criticise and admonish: we should have done this long ago!
On democracy day, we mark our return to civilian rule. Yet, we have never truly understood what democracy means, beyond the external imagery of elections.
Our system has never been fully participatory, nor has it been inclusive or transparent. Our states are moribund administrative enclaves, creating nothing, attracting zero investment; the political class has operated separately from the society, feeding off of it yet giving nothing back, and we expected this to continue forever without a reckoning?
Politics is the only business conducted in Nigeria. We have no real industries, the few we have are monopolies that allow the virtual concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. Furthermore, governance in Nigeria has never been for the people: how much infrastructural development has there been since 1999? Our country is still surviving on the roads and bridges built in the ’70s and ’80s, with not much more added. Yet the Federal Ministry of Works is allocated huge sums every year and contractors grow endlessly rich.
The crisis (economic and security related) we face today has been in the making since our inception as a country, a combination of untenable factors: unproductive state(s), ethnic competition instead of nation-building conver-sations, over reliance on oil and a heinously unequal society.
It is true that globally, the wealthy, as the economist Paul Krugman puts it, are less likely to show empathy or to respect the law but in our climes, it is simply because of the likelihood that once allegations of their misconduct comes up, they can pretend to be ill and receive sympathy from the same people they’ve succeeded in robbing.
There’ll be no talk of public hospitals for them. Almost everything about the way we do business, the way we enact policies, the way we live our lives, has been wrong from the very beginning. We have accumulated mistakes, celebrated those who’ve wronged us, and strangely, erroneously, believed we could continue limping along without collapsing.
The Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, made an interesting declaration recently, which wasn’t dissected, proof of our acceptance or ignorance of where the real problems lie.
She said the Federal Government discovered that agencies, in the past, received percentages of whatever funds were available, without proper monitoring of how funds were spent or whether disbursement translated to completed projects of not.
Instead of this, funds will now only be released based on verifiable, identifiable milestones and the government will need to know what project the funds will be used for in the first place!
How basic yet ironically, sadly revolutionary. Nigeria’s main problem is both simple and very complex: it’s corruption, stupid. We’ve seen where the money goes. Yet, we’ve said nothing, hoping our turn to partake in the fun will come.
Now we’re being forced to look at ourselves by a leader who isn’t afraid of the ugly truths he finds hidden in our reflections. May we also find the courage to see ourselves for who we truly are.
Sharia law and a ‘dishonourable’ house
A certain Abdullahi Salame, a Sokoto State federal lawmaker, recently said in an interview that the speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, recognising a bill to grant Sharia courts more powers, could cause “public outrage” asked the bill’s sponsor(Salame) to “keep quiet about the bill”.
“You know there are some issues that it is not necessary to publicly discuss them or deliberate on them to avoid problems,” Mr. Salame was quoted as saying.
Where does one begin? The House cannot “hide” or “keep quiet” about its dealings, as the people’s elected representatives, supposed “honourables” discuss and debate laws to develop citizens or so it is done in saner climes.
What happened to Nigeria not having any particular state religion? Have we forgotten that part of the Constitution? President Obasanjo did immeasurable damage to this country by allowing Sharia law in a secular state; it was the beginning of ethnic, tribal and religious excuses for actions that belong in ancient history.
Who will have the courage to tackle the Sharia courts? It’s a question I’ve asked before and to which I haven’t, unfortunately, found an answer.
IF the National Assembly seems incapable of any real oversight, if our “honourables” are only interested in dubious “constituency projects” (one would think that with all the money spent on constituencies since 1999 they would all look like Dubai by now), one must look to his administration for answers.
He is one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s greatest critics simply because, he, Buhari, is not an executive director or stakeholder of the mafia syndicate Nigeria Inc., and refuses to “sell out” like all our leaders have done.
Those who mean well for Nigeria need our prayers now more than ever because those who don’t mean well are facing the greatest challenge to their survival, perhaps since Hope ’93.