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March 3, 2019

The death of democracy in Nigeria: A coroner’s inquest

The death of democracy in Nigeria: A coroner’s inquest

PRESIDENT BUHARI

Before I deal with the core issues hidden in the womb of today’s title, let me say one or two things about some intellectually constipated anonymous fellows who, because either they can buy a copy of Sunday Vanguard or read this column on-line, feel entitled in their stupidity and lack of critical thinking to the extent of responding to my criticisms of President Muhammadu Buhari in a manner that strongly suggests that Nnamdi Kanu was probably correct when he described most Nigerians, including the so-called educated ones amongst them, as “animals.” In taxonomy, the science that deals with classification of plants and animals, including speciation processes, the human species, homo sapiens, belongs to the broad category of animal kingdom.

Nnamdi kanu

However, because of the intellectual, moral and spiritual qualities of humans objectively encoded in language – and in addition to human conceit – scholars oftentimes describe our species as “higher animals.” Therefore, to say that a human being is an animal is to state an obvious taxonomical fact. Yet, it often happens that when someone reasons or behaves in a certain manner unbefitting of a reasonable civilised human being, that individual is justifiably called an animal in a very pejorative sense. Now, some buharimaniacs are so worshipful of President Buhari (let us put in abeyance the claim by Nnamdi Kanu that the current Buhari is an impostor) that they insult anyone who criticises the President no matter the validity or cogency of the critic’s arguments. Some of them accuse me of being biased, of not being neutral, without realising that being “neutral” (whatever that means) is definitely different from being truthful.

Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari

As Christiane Amampour, the veteran journalist with the Cable News Network (CNN) proclaims “I would rather be truthful, not neutral.” For the amorphous group of buharimaniacs, Buhari has transfigured into an avatar or small god of some sort such that whatever action or decision he takes, even if it exacerbates ethno-religious divisions, economic stagnation, insecurity and entrenchment of devious corrupt practices amongst members of his innermost circle, is sacrosanct and ought not to be questioned or challenged. One can understand why people like Lai Mohammed, Adams Oshiomhole, Garba Shehu, Festus Keyamo, Tolu Ogunlesi, Osita Okechukwu, Lauretta Onochie, Bashir Ahmad, and other hirelings in the presidency oftentimes distort logic and inconvenient facts to defend their paymaster.

After all, they need to justify and sustain their generously funded “stomach infrastructure” and other benefits of being close to the stinking corridors of power. Nothing motivates a person under the firm grip of bulimic acquisitiveness than money. But these bootlickers and insolent sycophants fail to understand that no condition is permanent, that democracy is imperilled if the citizens are intimidated or made fearful with state power such that they become afraid to criticise their leaders, and that no human being since the evolution of our species is beyond the periscope of ratiocinative scrutiny.

On the other hand, it is really baffling that Nigerians who have not benefitted in any tangible way from the Buhari administration, whose existential condition has stagnated or deteriorated in the last three and half years, have continued to support the President sheepishly, and readily pick up quarrels with family members, friends, colleagues and neighbours that hold justified contrary views about him and his government. In my opinion, the cult followership President Buhari enjoys across the country particularly in the north is extremely dangerous: it leads to irrational, sometimes violent, behaviour by buharimaniacs to defend his political interests. In addition, it makes the President to subconsciously exaggerate his own capability and virtues, which is a necessary psychological prelude for impunity and abuse of power. I have had the revolting experience of people sending me insulting and threatening messages just for criticising President Buhari’s mediocre performance and for suggesting that he should not be re-elected. Recently, someone called my number and, after lambasting me for stating that Nnamdi Kanu’s allegation about Buhari’s impersonation is provocative enough to warrant detailed investigation by competent authorities, refused to listen to my explanation and abruptly cut the call.

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Perhaps, the cognitive-rational part of the brains of Buhari’s ardent admirers cease to function properly the moment they hear or read anything that does not praise or support him. Unfortunately, the President himself appears to be comfortable with the situation because he regularly says negative things about past administrations while projecting himself as the messiah on a rescue mission. Of course, millions of Nigerians have a negative view about him, and rightly so, given his antecedents as a military dictator and incompetent handling of the country since May 29, 2015.

The idea or attitude that President Buhari is such a man of integrity completely above reproach who must not be criticised or challenged in any way is nonsensical and at variance with what is expected of responsible citizens who value positive social transformation. Moreover, it is a sign of intellectual laziness, futile childish expectation of a messiah that would solve our problems, and unconscious refusal to engage meaningfully in the extremely difficult task of nation-building by insisting on transparent and accountable leadership.

To buharimaniacs: despite threats and insults, there will always be honest and sincere Nigerians that would criticise President Buhari and other top political office holders because freedom to express negative views about people in power, irrespective of its inherent dangers, is the surest way of putting leaders on their toes, ensuring a free and open society and preventing it from descending into totalitarianism. Freedom of expression, particularly if the view or opinion expressed is backed by good reasoning and verifiable facts, constitutes an important pillar of democracy which must never be compromised for any reason whatsoever.

So, for those abusing and insulting me for being honest and truthful in my assessment of President Buhari, you are wasting your time. If Buhari turns over a new leaf and begins to lead as a good President should, Nigerians would appreciate that and my criticism would eventually dissipate. But if the existential condition of Nigerians continues to deteriorate under his watch, if he carries on as if he is the President of the Republic of Northern Nigeria, he should be ready for more criticism. Your fanatical attachment to him will probably amplify, not silence, the voice of critics.

Now, the title of today’s intellectual engagement implies that there was democracy in Nigeria which has died and our task is to find out what led to its untimely death. So, the important questions which need to be answered are: What is the meaning of democracy? Has Nigeria ever been a democratic country? If Nigeria was democratic, when did democracy die and what caused it? What is the most effective way to entrench democracy in the country? For starters, the word ‘democracy,’ like other important concepts in socio-political discourse, cannot be exhaustively defined in a single proposition or two.

Etymologically speaking, the word is derived from two Greek expressions, demos and kratos, which mean ‘people’ and ‘rule’ respectively. Although Abraham Lincoln’s inspiring immortal definition of democracy as “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” captures the etymological core of ‘democracy’ and has gained universal acceptability, it should be pointed out that that definition is vague and idealistic. Moreover, descriptions of the actual functioning of democracies often fit what obtains in non-democracies such as China and Russia. For example, in summarising how American democracy functions, Thomas R. Dye and Harmon Zeigler wryly observe in their book, The Irony of Democracy: An Uncommon Introduction to American Politics, that “only a tiny handful of people make decisions that shape the lives of all of us and, despite the elaborate rituals of parties, elections and interest group activity, we have little direct influence over these decisions.” Consequently, it should not be surprising that ‘democracy,’ like the word ‘game,’ is a convenient descriptive label for identifying or picking out certain systems of government that have what the Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, called criss-cross family resemblances. The United Kingdom, Germany, United States and Scandinavian countries are correctly called democracies. Yet, there are significant differences in the way government operates in those counties.

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One essential point often neglected in discourses about democracy is that democracy is about values, that certain values are fundamental in a genuine democratic setting. The overarching value is ontological, from which the others flow. It involves the conviction that all members of the community are equal sui generis in the sense that they are all free human beings with equal rights to participate in the political life of the community.

Thus, the ontological equality of individual citizens is primary or fundamental, such that discrimination on the basis of birth, caste, gender, religion, ethnicity and socio-economic status is radioactive to genuine democracy. Next is the belief that there are inalienable human rights and the citizens have the right to participate directly in choosing those that will lead them and take part directly on indirectly in actual governance. In a democracy, participation in government is based on merit; there is no place or room for hereditary privilege. Just as the citizens have the right to choose their leaders, they also have the power to replace one set of political leaders with another at periodic intervals. To be continued.