Last Wednesday, June 12 was celebrated for the first time as Democracy Day in Nigeria. In fairness, it is better date than the old May 29 which merely reminds us of when the military finally left our political scene. But opinions are divided as to whether current politicians have shown more faith in the features of democracy. Some three decades back, foremost political scientist, Claud Ake, now late, had warned Nigerians against what he called the “criminalization of political dissent” where opposing political views are deprecated. Ake was on point because since 1999, our politicians have struggled not just to defeat their opponents at the polls but to indeed kill any form of opposition leading to where Ake described as “the inexorable march to political monolithism.” The conduct of elections in the country has remained an ordeal and an all-consuming business. In fact, we no longer vote, we endorse. A few politicians have no doubt raised concerns that were probably misunderstood. In this piece, attention is drawn to the over-looked postures of two mainstream politicians – Senators Kabiru Marafa and Ali Ndume.
The other day, Senator Kabiru Marafa who represented Zamfara Central District in the 8th National Assembly was allegedly expelled along with a few others by their state branch of the All Progressives Congress, APC, for alleged anti-party activities. To the party, but for Marafa and others, the Governor, Senators, House of Representatives members and state legislators would have all belonged to the APC. But in truth Marafa was not against his party winning everywhere, his only demand was that such victories should be premised on truth, justice, equity and fairness. Marafa was like that Nigerian critic who once cried out that our junior eagles were over-aged and everyone descended on him for exposing our dear nation, yet no would like his nation to be classified as a fraud. Marafa warned ahead that democracy presupposes the rule of law in which everything ought to be done according to the established rules. No one listened to him whereas the greatest democrat from Zamfara at the time unknown to many, was Senator Marafa who had the courage to speak truth to power.
This column was not surprised that Marafa exhibited ample political sagacity. He would be remembered for among other things, the way he articulated a motion that brought N10 billion to rehabilitate victims of Bandits in his state. More importantly, he proved to be a great politician unlike most of his colleagues who had little or no respect for truth and honesty. As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), he was probably the only person who had the guts to attempt to locate the so-called ghosts in our oil sector. After an assessment of the fuel situation in the country on New Year’s Day in 2018, he argued that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was behind it all. Marafa disclosed that by his own simple but empirical calculation, fuel gets to Nigeria at N141 and not N171 as officially claimed. He then proceeded to ask a question that was never answered but which could make us identify the direction of the oil cartels – why do relevant government agencies collect in dollars, charges of our naira denominated petroleum products? Senator Marafa may resolve ample riddles if given a chance with a higher appointment.
On his part, Ali Ndume, the Borno South Senator may have lifted himself above many of his colleagues for being the only one who was able to challenge party impunity in the contest for Senate Presidency, a few days ago. The APC had nominated and endorsed another candidate for the position using all party organs to establish that no one else was to vie for the post. In fact, every other interested aspirant was asked to withdraw for the party’s anointed candidate. Ali Ndume raised objections and contested. But what made him to be respected by people outside the party was his ability to show that he only wanted to make a point. In fact, he did not just make a point, he proved he was probably the only democrat around arguing that his insistence on contesting would in future portray to posterity that the party was democratic. Accordingly, rather than seeing himself as a loser because he lost the contest at the end, he urged the APC to appreciate him for making her have a scintilla of democracy.
Ali Ndume’s posture last week reminded me of my days in service in the NTA when the government of the day was often prompted by its political totalitarians to stop us from according any form of coverage to the opposition. On one occasion, I was summoned to explain why the then vibrant Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, got so much coverage from our government owned broadcaster in its campaign for abolition of increases in the price of petroleum products. The occasion offered me an opportunity to tell government that when two people are fighting and television promotes only one of them, the one in focus would look like a mad man because viewers would see only one person fighting and perhaps against himself. Interestingly, the leadership of the alleged favoured NLC had issued statements condemning NTA for not transmitting their views verbatim. Today, the labour leaders of the past are in politics and are championing the sanctions on the public media for allowing any coverage of the activities of their opponents.
Nigeria is making feeble progress because leading political parties criminalize political dissent. The situation is more horrible in the states where even during elections, opposition candidates are not allowed to use public infrastructures like Stadium and the media to educate voters on their election promises. Unknown to the actors, it is the country and its entire people and not just political opponents that are so short-changed. Indeed, the reason the federal INEC is better than those constituted by the states is because the bedroom of the governor is usually the collation centre for local government elections. That is why the ruling parties irrespective of what names they bear always win all the chairmanship seats and 99 percent of councillorship positions. In some states, no local government elections are organized, instead, it is caretaker committees that are appointed in place of what our constitution calls ‘democratically elected local government.’
As we celebrate Democracy Day, we need to be reminded, of what democracy really entails. It is a system which recognizes, the sovereignty of the people, the rule of law, majority rule and the protection of minority rights. For it to function well, there must be separation of powers to enable the arms of government to serve as checks and balances on one another. The much-mouthed cordiality between the arms can hardly engender development if one arm is subordinated to another. Ali Ndume and Marafa among a few others have persuasively promoted democratic values.