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Between Demos and Loot, a cultural dilemma

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By ‎Dr. Olusegun Phillips-Alonge


Culture is the organic synthesis of the essential social and intellectual heritage of a people and the primary differentiator of civilizations and time. According to the immediate experience principle, culture is informed by the sum of societal experience, norms, practice, and ideology, while language remains the transport and the articulation of culture. Language is a composite tool that enlivens the experience spectrum of the human cultural ecosystem. It follows that language has no vocabulary or simple expression for whatever does not exist in the cultural environment and the collective experience of the people.



Culture and language are both fluid and plastic and remains in a state of constant flux like the water of a flowing river; new ideas are added, and outdated elements are dropped to keep the cultural ecosystem fresh and consistently balanced. As a human dynamic, the cultural ecosystem consists of a network of unique complementary cultural elements that operate in harmony with the whole. The effective operation of a cultural element often infuses best practices from the global cultural principles within the parent ecosystems. Essentially, both culture and language are active inseparable praxis that shapes the continuous evolution of humanity and practice.

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Culture may evolve through a slow homogeneous and seamless natural process that is hard to notice or as a spontaneous response to the influence of forcing agents. Irrespective of the source of change, culture may evolve through extensive alteration, progressive expansion, or the outright shedding of exoteric and outdated ideologies and conventions from the larger cultural framework.


As culture evolves, so does its language expand to cover the new grounds. The expansion of culture leads to the injection of rich lexis into the ecosystem for active cultivation and proliferation of the evolving cultural experience. Thus, demokratia (now democracy) is the manifestation of cultural evolution in the Athenian theater around 5007 BC as a response to years of oppressive authoritative governments. The word Demokratia comes from two words Demo, which means people and Kratos, which translates to power or authority.


Democracy engenders the culture of free

selection of responsible leaders with limited powers from the citizenry. Therefore, democracy as a culture element embodies the attainment of leadership authority or power through a voluntary free and fair election. The representative nature of democracy negates the palpable total authority and power of the authocratic government systems including the final powers of the religious leaders. The point here is that democracy started and thrived in the classical Athenian state because the people desired a better leadership structure that is compatible with the egalitarian stance of the society at the time. Hence, the tenets of democracy are well-chronicled in the classical Athenian vocabulary and value systems.


Democratic barter is cultural and remains one of the sacred and immutable moduli of representative politics. Democratic barter is the mutual good faith promise that allows the politicians to get the peoples’ mandate in exchange for government protection and a free and fair society that promotes free access to justice, and equal rights and opportunities. Whether one perceives Nigeria as a harmonic or fractured state with no common denominator is not the case, the supposition that barter is a common currency of all our classical and contemporary cultures is beyond reproach.


Because democracy is a cultural element, it maintains a fluid and plastic character and is nonetheless subject to cultural forcing. As democracy integrates into a new culture, it assimilates the colors of the principal cultural force of the host ecosystem. The effects of over two millennia of subtle cultural forcing have added compatible external concepts such as the rule of law, sovereignty, political and social liberty, and legal and political equality into the mainstream character of democracy. Although once strange to the Nigerian cultural framework, democracy in the Nigerian context is not without its obvious cultural tint. Albeit, a very puzzling tint that question our seriousness, national direction, and sense of value.


From its humble origin in the traditional Athenian state up to its present homes in the western nations, the fulfillment of the mutual good faith covenant of the democratic barter remains the cornerstone of a thriving democracy. Without the good faith execution of the mutual exchange of trust between the voters and the elected officials, there can be no democracy. However, the Nigerian experience is different. Over the years, the good faith trust of the citizenry has been violated with reckless abandon. Instead of delivering the democratic goods to the people, the politicians replaced good faith performance of the democratic barter with cash inducement. The use of cash stimuli only buys the political operators enough time to fool the electorate foranother four years.


As the corrupt politicians brag about being richer than the state while the people wallow in abject poverty, the mirror neurons in human brains triggered an interactive learning response in the voters. By the year 2007 electoral cycle, the electorate has caught up with the crooked politicians. It is now the turn of the electorate to alter the equation, operation, and the value of the democratic barter. Democracy has once again encountered another negative turning point, the one that will echo loudly throughout every facet of the Nigeria political landscape. Money they say answers all things, it provides an irresistible instant solution in the Nigerian political theater. With the voters back now turned solidly at the democratic barter, the corruption of the Nigerian democratic process became enshrined in cash and carry. After all, self-protection is only human, and according to Einstein, justice is the ability of each person to get what is equally theirs.


The violation of the democratic barter gave birth to a destructive monster popularly known as voter mobilization, an apparent and egregious vote-buying scheme. The dilemma of vote buying is that it robs the electorate their legitimate voice and allows the elected officials to corrupt the forms and functions of governance by diverting public funds and assets for personal use. The two-headed monster of cash inducement and vote buying successfully forced the mutation of the nascent Nigerian democracy into Loot-o-cracy.


While we tend to blame poverty as the easy scapegoat for the vote buying scourge, we must remember that the same poor electorates voted in 1993 and 1999 without demanding a kobo from any candidate.

Before questioning the legitimacy of vote buying and before concluding that vote buying is just a small part of the greater societal rot that is eating Nigeria from the inside out, we must allow ourselves a clear perspective on why the Nigerian voters are eager to accept a worthless sum of money for their powerful votes.

It is clear in the mind of the people that to the victor of the lootocracy elections goes the spoil of the electoral warfare. The electorate is not oblivious of the fact that politicians only care about supporting their extravagant lives and looting the treasury to fortify their war chest for the next electoral warfare and more. So, in the mind of the average victimized Nigerian voter, it is better to get some value for their vote than risk getting no benefits for giving someone the chance to be richer than the state. The electorate understands the little vote buying money adds up. The voter estimation is that the cumulative effect of the quantum paid for each vote will drain a sizeable portion of the stolen trillions back into the economy.


After four years of the rigorous anti-corruption campaign, one might expect the anti-corruption crusaders to know that setting democracy free from the brutal claws of cash inducement and vote buying should be the primary starting point of the anti-corruption crusade. After all, without free and fair election that is devoid of financial and oppressive coercion, there is no democracy. It is my observation in the 2019 elections that the anti-corruption crusaders were equally guilty of cash inducement and vote-buying just like those they deemed corrupt. With an estimated .25 trillion Naira worth of vote buying transactions in the 2019 elections, no political party wanted to self-defeat by not providing voter mobilization money; the anti-corruptioncrusaders inclusive. The polling stations were nothing more than war theaters, with each political party holding strategic transactional corridors where an immense amount of cash is fired at the electorates or a mixture of cash and intimidation as the case may require. The battle was to score the highest unit votes, and cash was the preferred weapon of the vote fare.


On election day it was apparent that pre-election campaign was a mockery, the real campaign started and ended in each of the nearly 120,000 polling units nationwide. The scores are kept by the number of votes a political party could get at the highest possible price. At a certain pooling station, the people arrived very early with their permanent voter card in hand and queued up responsibly but refused to get accredited or vote. We inquired if there was any problem with the voting process, the voters chorused no money, no vote without a shred of remorse. Here we are sadly enough at the junction of a jaundiced cultural poisoning of a culture that has worked wonders right from its classical origins to its modern home in the most advanced nations in human history.


As I continue to ruminate on my election day experience, it suddenly hit me that democracy as the freewill selection of leadership by the people shipped out of Nigeria over a decade ago. Instead, we practice a very destructive and unsustainable lootocracy. Lootocracy is the Nigerian system of transactional politics by voter intimidation and vote buying for a chance to participate in treasury looting. Whereas the focus of democracy is the people, lootocracy is transactional and money is its language and medium of operation. The question is neither how much a vote is worth, nor the utility of the money spent in vote buying, but why do we continue to push our nation towards the precipice of self-destruction deliberately?


Painfully enough, the vicious lootocracy circle continues and only gets uglier at the turn of every electoral cycle.

Because vote buying has now become a critical cornerstone of our leadership selection process, our dilemma does not fit the hypothesis of cultural evolution, but how corruption as a cultural forcing agent has driven democracy out of Nigeria. I am confident that democracy can be restored in Nigeria stronger than before. However, it seems lootocracy is here to stay until the politicians started delivering their end of the democratic barter, and the electorate realizes the destructive no winner dilemma of vote-buying and cash inducement.

Otherwise, we must admit that lootocracy is Nigeria’s gift to the political world just as the classical Athenians gave the world democracy. Perhaps, we must also accept that fact that lootocracy is the one highly repugnant and destructive gift that nobody desires.


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