Thursday, 20 June 2024 04:42

Democracy day in Nigeria is actually deception day - Babafemi A. Badejo

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Babafemi A. Badejo Babafemi A. Badejo

On 11 June at about 5 p.m., I was at my friend, Femi Onabajo’s office to listen to Al Jazeera, as well as charge my phone, before returning to my apartment in Abeokuta for the usual dark nights and, of late, no water. There was no water, not because the Ogun State government or the local government authority responsible for my place of abode had a temporary delivery problem. The two levels of governance eagerly collect taxes, share federal allocations meant to care for all of us, but never provide one of the reasons why people pay taxes and revenues are shared in other climes.

As a kid, I joined my parents in dancing all over the streets when the self-government authorities provided pipe borne water and electricity in Ijebu-Ode, where I grew up. But all that has become history, at least in Lagos, Abeokuta and Ijebu-Ode – places I am familiar with. State and local government authorities do not provide water anymore. Hence, there is a cholera outbreak with many deaths in a Nigerian state claiming to be the seventh richest political space, when compared with countries in Africa.

It is very fortunate to have a very good friend, retired Justice S. Abidoye Olugbemi, who insisted that I must have electricity in Abeokuta. I decided not to bring my stand-by generator from Lagos or buy another one. He went ahead to lend me his stand-by generator. I had concluded against setting up another personal mini-local government in Abeokuta, as I run in Lagos. There, I supply my water, since no one in most areas of Lagos receive water supply from any central arrangement, as was once the case. With an inverter and a generator fuelled by impossibly expensive diesel fuel, in comparison with Nigerian earnings, I meet my energy needs, in Lagos. In Abeokuta, the borrowed petrol fuelled generator has never been easy for me to manipulate, so I hardly use it. On rare occasions, I call on a friend to come over and help crank the generator to save my food stuffs.

Onabajo and I have come a long way. We did not just meet at Chrisland University, where he serves as the Head of the Mass Communication Department, as I do the same for Political Science. We both were two of the many Nigerians who were dribbled by our own fake Maradona, aka Evil Genius, who asked Nigerians if they wanted the IMF loan with its conditionalities or not. With me serving as a Consultant to the Nigerian Television Authority, Channel 7 at Tejuosho, Onabajo, and other staff members of media houses, criss-crossed the heights, valleys, rivers and swamps that made up the entire Lagos State. We sought the views of the people of Lagos State as others did in other states and local governments to give the accurate expression of the will of Nigerians.

The people overwhelmingly rejected the IMF loan and its conditionalities. I compiled the report of our consultations, which was in line with responses from all over Nigeria. However, Maradona, like our so-called traditional rulers of yore, under indirect rule, knew he could not go against the IMF as his people wanted. He knew he came to power by supplanting Buhari/Idiagbon in a coup that received the support of MKO Abiola, then arguably the richest African, alongside external support. It was in their interests to execute the will of the IMF that had insisted on the devaluation of the national currency, with N1 then being equivalent to $1, which Generals Buhari and Idiagbon had resisted, and instead chose trade by barter, having been blacklisted by the West. So, supported by Olu Falae and others, Maradona deceived us that we were going to have home-grown answers to our economic problems. He devalued the naira, even more than the initial demands of the IMF without the soft loans. We all acquiesced, for want of a better word. As Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, his will held sway. Many of our people, especially from the academia, joined the gravy train that he laid out. Those of us who countered him either got driven into exile or rendered irrelevant, as Nigeria continued its ignominious decline.

As I was glued to the television on the latest situation in Gaza and whatever else, Ms Taiwo Gbadegesin, Onabajo’s assistant, came in at the end of the work day at Chrisland University, Abeokuta, and wished us a great holiday on the following day. We were shocked, asking which holiday again, since the Eid holidays would come in the following week. She quipped that it would be 12 June. Oh!, we responded in unison. I pondered on the fact that it would be another day in the list of Nigeria’s governance deceptions.

Another deception is that of celebrating independence day, as we pretend to be independent in a world of Western indirect rule and control over much, if not all, of Africa through the Bretton Woods institutions. How can a country be sovereign in a world in which you cannot feed your people? Of course, we collect visa fees at border posts but our value has declined radically over time, as the external environment dictated. Recently and precisely a year ago, it was announced by a president, who in 2012 had boldly written clearly against the economic policy plans of the then President Goodluck Jonathan, who was then forced to abort the so-called fuel subsidy removal (another thieving design), as well as allowing the naira to “find its level” under the grand deception of market forces, that we have been brainwashed into believing is a natural law of human existence.

In Nigeria, Democracy Day, formerly designated as 29 May, and now 12 June, has been officially set aside to remember and celebrate the return to civilian rule. However, the level of commitment to true democratic principles in the last 25 years raises a lot of doubts. This is why many, including myself, have continued to maintain that, saying Nigeria is democratic on the grounds of the holding of elections, normally, characterised by shambolic periodic voting, is a major deception. As such, any day set aside to celebrate this deception of grandeur, is nothing but a “Deception Day.”

I have taken this position, being aware of the usual widespread soft-spots that make some Nigerians quip that Nigeria’s democracy is a work in progress, in spite of the disillusionment with the political system and the persistent challenges undermining the possibility of democratic governance in Nigeria.

More importantly, it is wrong to continue to celebrate the mediocrity of a system from a very limited conception of democracy that runs only with the minimalist election component with respect to “government by the people”, ignoring the two other components of “government of the people” and “for the people”. In this respect, I align with A. Bolaji Akinyẹmi, as reported in a very recent piece in the Leadership newspaper, to the effect that what we have is civil rule and not truly a democracy. He showed the failure of our system to deliver so much to ensure better life for Nigerians. He paid dues in the struggles against General Abacha like I also did in a smaller way but outside the formal structures they used.

Even if we try to overlook much and pretend to have a “government of the people”, in which those who govern are from among us, by refusing to see the controllers of our “agbero” leaders who are really in the service of the real drivers but able to pilfer a reasonable portion of national patrimony and store in Panama, Paradise, Pandora, etc., papers, there is no way in which we can usefully define democracy without a focus on what the concept was/is to achieve, i.e., the “for the people” aspect.

The most crucial strive for democracy is towards what I refer to as utmost freedom, an ambitious but a pursuable process, with the right approach to governance, including leadership, reduction of corruption and improvements on the rule of law. Utmost Freedom in itself is the summation of the rights from and the rights to, which are inherent in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We cannot be democratic if freedom from asphyxiation from failed environmental policies, freedom from thirst and hunger, at the minimalist options are not guaranteed. Along this priority line is also the right to life as the State would normally be expected to guarantee freedom from unlawful killings, whether by kidnappers, bandits and/or terrorists. These four which deal directly with existential realities have superiority over other necessary ones like freedoms of association, thoughts, speech, voting, and religion.

How do we continue in the deceptive celebration of a journey characterised by 2 steps forward and 4 steps backward? Do Nigerians truly have hope and aspirations for a government that respects their rights, promotes transparency, and ensures equitable development? It is very unfortunate that we keep telling younger Nigerians of how better it once was for us as a country. Japa syndrome became important because many of our youths, especially from the southern portions of Nigeria, could no longer see any hope or inspiration for a better Nigeria and are voting with their feet.

Based on recent official household survey data from Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, 30.9 percent of Nigerians lived below the international extreme poverty line of $2.15 per person per day (2017 PPP) in 2018/19; just before the Covid-19 crisis. The situation today can only be worse when we factor the impact of the devaluation in the last one year on costs of the production of foods, including transportation, procurement of medicine and many other manufactured needs. We need not go on and on with respect to qualities of the provision of health and education, unemployment and underemployment, etc.

Herein lies the huge disconnect between the annual ritual of celebrating democracy amidst very unpleasant and harsh realities facing ordinary Nigerians. In spite of the pretentious honour of democracy day by commemorating sham elections, the impact of persistent autocratic practices, including by a corrupt system at different arms and levels of governance, as well as sectors of society, resultant socio-economic inequities, and pains in living continue to bite hard and harder.

Democracy is a governance structural arrangement to guarantee the good life for people in their environment on earth. It is not like religion where benefits and gratification are delayed until existence in a presumed heavenly space. Democracy is for improved lives and living on earth. It is a conception that is superior to the current deceptive fixation on elections irrespective of performance failures of those who put themselves forward as leaders, on accountabilities on many other freedoms that are crucial for human existence.

The performances of elected office-holders on all crucial freedoms are very important. Whether elected leaders fail on other important freedoms beyond the freedom to vote should be of great concern. Democracy should be a preferred structural arrangement for the strive towards the many crucial freedoms for human existence that are put together as utmost freedom.

** Babafemi A. Badejo, the author of a best-seller on politics in Kenya, was a former deputy special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia, and currently a legal practitioner and professor of Political Science and International Relations at Chrisland University, Abeokuta, Nigeria.

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