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The Missing Link in Nigerian Democracy

By Franklin Otorofani, Esq.   Published March 28th, 2009

The 16th President of the United States, the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, was one heck of president, who has been deservedly transformed by the American people from mortality to immortality with the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, and the largest presidential Library and Museum in the United States based in his hometown, Springfield, Illinois. He is President Barack Obamaís hero and I can see the 44th and current President of the United States working in his footsteps for the emancipation of the American people from the scourge of poverty and diseases that have afflicted those below the bottom rungs of the social ladder as did Lincoln to slavery and racial segregation.

It is perhaps fair to say that no American president posthumously commands as much respect and adulation as President Lincoln. Credited with several landmark achievements, which includes the historic Emancipation Proclamation that freed black slaves, he gave the world the most popular and authoritative definition of the word "democracy": "aÖ government of the people by the people and for the people." When broken down, it can be seen at a glance, that this definition has three components: (1) government of the people, (2) government by the people and, (3) a government for the people.

(1)A government of the people refers to a government instituted by the people themselves, i.e., the peopleís institution of a mechanism by which the people themselves wish to be governed as opposed to how someone else might wish for them to be governedóin one word, self-determination. This first limb of the definition involves total rejection of dictatorship, monarchy, military rule, colonialism, and any other form of imposed political leadership, whether from within or from outside the geo-political entity in play. It envisages the unfettered freedom of a people to determine in their absolute discretion, how best they wish to be governed. Any process or mechanism for the acquisition of political power that detracts from the above is pointedly undemocratic. Relating this to the Nigerian situation the question arises as to where the phenomenon of political godfathers and godsons fits into this equation. While political pupilage and god-fatherism are not necessarily evil in a democracy as political mentorship is key feature of political leadership, it is an abuse of the democratic process bordering on criminality, for political godfathers to seek to impose their political sons on the people against their wishes, and thereafter utilize their influence to obtain undue advantages from the political sons in power, sometimes to the extent of dictating policy choices and programs for their elected minions as has been the case in Nigeria. Anambra state under ex-governors Mbadiniju and Ngige, sticks out as sore thumb, and offers a graphic example of political imposition in the current democratic dispensation in Nigeria. But, theyíre by no means the only states affected. Enugu and Oyo states share in the notoriety of Anambra state. Yet these states must not be singled out as the venom of political imposition runs through the veins of the political leadership in virtually all the states in Nigeria. In fact, imposition of candidates is the rule rather than the exception at both party and governmental levels in Nigeria, and gravely undermines the nationís claim to democracy. Without a doubt the right to support or sponsor candidates for elective positions in a democracy is inherent and unquestionable. What is not inherent and therefore not available to anyone is the right to sidetrack or otherwise circumvent the electoral process to impose candidates on the electorate and the nation. If democracy is a political game it must be played according to its laid down rules as every other game, otherwise the results of its electoral processes become illegitimate and disguised imposition as has been shown in some of the judicial pronouncements in Nigeria overturning electoral results in the states. While it is true that no nation has been able to achieve absolute degree of perfection in the practice of democracy, the willful and unsanctioned infractions of basic and fundamental democratic rules and norms show us as an unserious people that thrive in unbridled lawlessness permeating every facet of our public life. As I have argued elsewhere in previous blogs, the blame here lies not in INEC but on the politicians, and the security agencies that abdicated their responsibilities. While not absolving INEC of all blames, it is fair to say that it is not the duty of INEC to police elections. That is the job of the security and law enforcement agencies. INEC cannot reasonably be expected to be all things to all people, playing the statutory roles of other governmental agencies responsible for security and law enforcement. That would be an overkill that no one should impose on INEC. If the nation wants INEC to assume that role, it should provide it with its own police and security apparatuses. Until that is done, the nation should learn to put the blame for violence and sundry electoral malpractices where it rightly belongs: on the doorsteps of politicians and law enforcement agencies.

(2)Government by the people: While the first limb refers to the political system, the second limb refers to the functionaries or operatives of the political system, that is to say, the government. "A government by the people," simply means a government run by the people themselves, either directly or through their representatives duly constituted to act in their behalf in accordance with laid down procedures usually enshrined in a constitution, written or unwritten. Thus, it is not enough in a democracy, for the people to determine the form of government and the means by which it is brought about. The people must in addition determine who is qualified or otherwise participate in deciding who governs them. Democracy is validated if the people themselves govern themselves and/or participate in choosing their political leaders in accordance with the form of government chosen by them. What use is it for a people to choose a form of government only to allow outsiders govern them under the form of government chosen by them? The second limb is thus the natural complement of the first limb. The people get to choose their form of government and actually get to govern themselves under their own chosen form of government. The people call the shots. They are at the front and center of every important decision regarding their political destiny. Thus, when the United States constitution proclaims loudly, "We the peopleÖ," it means just what it says---no second guessing. Iím not entirely sure though, if a similar proclamation in the Nigerian constitution holds water, the Nigerian constitution itself having been imposed on the people at gun point by military fiat. Any such pretentious declarative verbiage found in the Nigerian constitution is outright fraud, or at best, a statement of intent, totally at odds with reality and the facts of history. A more accurate proclamation, which would sit well with history should have read: "We, members of the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), do hereby decree and bequeath to the people of Nigeria with or without their consentÖ." When the constitution itself is a fraud, whatever that is based on it is ipso facto fraudulent. It follows that a government that is a product of a fraudulent constitution is itself a fraud. Such is the shaky foundation on which Nigeriaís current democratic experiment is constructed. Itís a tragedy that the document which today animates our democratic processes is itself fundamentally and incurably flawed. And until Nigerians enact for themselves a true constitution, as opposed to an imposed military decree masquerading as their constitution, they have no claim to democracy in its true and proper meaning. What they have, is at best, a civilian administration---a midpoint between military dictatorship and a democracy. In this presentation therefore, the term "democracy" is used in its corrupted form so far as it applies to the Nigerian anomie.

3)The last but by no means the least is government "for the people." This simply refers to be ultimate beneficiaries of the processes of government. What is the use for a people to determine their own form of government, proceed to govern themselves, but govern for the benefit of others? "Othersíí here refers not necessarily to outsiders only. While that might be considered an obvious affront, it also includes insiders who might form a cabal or clique that hijacks the political system for its own benefit to the total or near total exclusion of the vast majority of the rest of the citizenry. The recent disclosure by the Nigerian Federal Revenue Mobilization and Allocation Commission (FRMAC) that political office holders in Nigeria, (whose population is less than half a million), corner nearly half of the federal budget as personal emoluments for themselves leaving the rest 149 million Nigerians to share the balance sum, epitomizes a government thatís being run for the benefit of a few. Such a system does not answer the Lincolnís definition of democracy. Itís better described as oligarchy. It follows then that the first and second limbs of the definition are useless if the government is not run ultimately for the benefit of the people themselves. It is thus clear that the third and the last limb of the definition is the most important part of the purpose of government. It envisages that the peopleís well being is the very reason for the existence of a democratic government in the first place. A government that fails to meet this basic or elementary standard has no claim to democracy although it might delude and parade itself as one.

Unfortunately under the third criteria, just as in the second, Nigeria cannot be said to be a democracy even today under the present civilian dispensation. Whether under a military dictatorship or civilian oligarchy, Nigeria has no claim to democracy as it has consistently failed to meet the most basic of needs of her citizens. Today, 49 years after independence, it is an irony of fate that the 6th largest producer of crude oil in the world can neither provide potable water, electricity, efficient transportation system, educational and healthcare services, security, nor food and shelter for its 150 million plus citizens, just to mention but a few. Itís not a question of democracy failing us. Itís a question of us failing democracy. In other words, the system has not failed us. We have failed the system. Yes, Nigerians have failed democracy in more ways than one. And here, Iím not about to heap all the blame on the leadership. Clearly there is complete failure of leadership. That much, is universally acknowledged in Nigeria. Lack of committed and visionary leadership and total absence of public accountability have combined to rob the nation of any iota of progress and development, which would have had salutary effects on the wellbeing of the citizenry. The unabashed looting of the public treasury by kleptomaniacs parading as leaders have ensured that the adult nation remains a toddler nation unable to walk amongst its peers in the international arena in the most critical areas of economic, scientific, technological and infrastructural development. Countries like India, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc, endowed with less natural resources that had their independence about the same time with Nigeria, have all left Nigeria behind even with her oil wealth and abundance of natural resources only waiting to be tapped.

The Nigerian paradox is looking more like a case of a people Ďblessedí with abundant natural resources but Ďcursedí with bad leaders. The tragedy of our situation is that the nation cannot grow beyond the sum total of its leadership pool. When one examines the quality of leadership in the developed countries vis-avis that in the developing countries especially in a country like Nigeria, it becomes crystal clear as night and day, that our nationís underdevelopment has everything to do with the preponderance of poor leadership. However, thatís only one side of the story. It begs the question: if poor leadership is holding down our dear nation, what about the followership? Have the people any role to play in the emergence of qualitative leadership in a democratic setting? The answer to the above question is categorically and unambiguously in the affirmative. It takes two to tangle. Democracy is a marriage, if you like, between the people and their leaders. The people sure have a role to play and a critical one at that. However, this critical role has conspicuously been missing in the Nigerian situation. To put bluntly: the people have been missing in action. That is the missing link!

The Missing Link

The missing link is a dis-connect between the leadership and the followership, that is to say, between the government and the people. The people are separated by some invisible wall from their leaders thus denying the leadership the necessary political inputs and stimuli from the people that are so vital to their overall performance. Blame it on elitism. But blame it on lack of political education. Blame it on the press. Blame it on prolonged military rule. Blame it on whomever or whatever, but that is the reality in Nigeria. For whatever reasons the people donít see themselves as part of the government of the day but complete outsiders waiting for the government to bestow on them some material benefit rather than demand it. The government of the day requires political inputs in the formulation and execution of public policies and programs that would benefit the people. Government policies must not be formulated in a vacuum and necessarily have to be shaped by inputs from the people. The opposite is the case in Nigeria. As a result, the leadership is left to second guess and in worse case scenarios, more than willing to ignore the people outright rather than provide them with formal structures for their participation in governance. The point here is, if the government fails to engage the people the people must not fail to engage the government because they hold the ultimate power over their elected representatives. Thus, just as country cannot grow beyond the sum total of its leadership pool, by the same token, the leadership of a country cannot grow beyond the sum-total of the reactive and proactive actions of its followership. In other words, quality of leadership is determined by the quality of followership. To a high degree leadership is a product of the followership and vice versa. Therefore any disconnect between the two can only produce a state of anomie as we currently witness in Nigeria---"things fall apart and the center cannot hold."

As indicated earlier, the people are at the heart of the democratic experience and when de-coupled from the democratic processes disillusionment and disenchantment invariably become their lot. This is the prevailing condition in Nigeria as of today. Things have so fallen apart that the conventional wisdom in the country today is Ďeveryman to himself and God for us allí. What, with every household running its own waterworks, power plant, and security outfits. What, with every household turned into a private chapel or praying ground; and every household becoming a mini-market spilling over to pedestrian lanes. In short, every household has metamorphosed into a mini local government of its own assuming the responsibilities of the three tiers of the real government; call it home government in contradistinction to local, state and federal government.

The failure of leadership at all three levels of government has produced these micro home governments in their places that now undertake the duties of the real government without the corresponding resources available to the government. One of the immediate consequences of this development is the refusal of the people to pay taxes and levies as and when due to the other non-performing levels of government. That in turn further impoverishes public service delivery by these levels of government. Nowhere is this more evident than income taxes and the huge unpaid (and I dare add), un-payable electricity bills. Nigeria is thus caught up in a vicious cycle the end of which is nowhere in sight. Electricity consumers owe the power utility billions of unpaid bills. To put it bluntly, these unpaid bills are unrecoverable. These delinquent accounts are in large part tied to consumer grudges against the government in general, and the utilities in particular in relation to poor or non-existent service deliverables. This scenario replicates itself in virtually every service sector of the Nigerian economy controlled by the government. But itís a different ball game if the services were provided by the private sector, as for instance, in the case of telecommunication now dominated by the private sector.

Yet the question must be asked: is the domestication of municipal government, which for want of a better expression I have described herein as "home government" the way to go? The answer is a resounding no. Resort to home government out of frustration and desperation is totally counterproductive and can at best only produce temporary palliatives or band aids with disastrous consequences as in the case of generators both for health, life, and the environment. Nigerian newspapers are replete with sad reports of Nigerian families dying from toxic generator fumes not to talk of those whose health have been impaired or endangered by the toxic fumes and the lingering health effect on generations unborn. The larger damage to the environment is unquantifiable. Itís clear that Nigerians themselves are not happy with the state of affairs because at the end of the day it dawns on them that they simply cannot play the role of the government of all tiers. Thatís taking on too much! And they cry aloud. But who is listening to their cries? Itís the duty of the people to make their leaders listen to their cries by compelling the leaders to perform their duties. Thatís what they were elected to do and thatís what they must be compelled to do or get out! In other words, the people must re-establish for the good the missing link that has been disconnected. The missing link must be established wherever it doesnít presently exist and re-established wherever it once existed but had been disconnected during the prolonged military interregnum.

Bruised and battered under military jackboots for the better part of their lives, Nigerians have not regained their activist form. While it is true that the Nigerian public has been radicalized by military rule, and in some cases giving rise to outright militancy, such radicalism has yet to be channeled into the mainstream of the democratic process. Political activism utilizing the tools of democracy is the way to go. Itís the only legitimate means, under our democratic system, to jolt and awaken the slumbering leadership and make it accountable to the people. Itís not enough just to cast votes at elections and protest against electoral frauds. Thatís the easy part. Participatory democracy involves more than casting votes and going home to sleep. Democracy must not begin and end with voting and protesting results of elections thereafter. Itís an ongoing process that moves endlessly in cycles. It involves constant monitoring of the performances of elected public office holders as well as their policies and programs through political action such as protests, petitions, enlightenment campaigns, voter registration drives, voter mobilization, demonstrations, and monitoring groups, just to mention but few of the available tools in a democracy. Public apathy and total indifference to the processes of government is not only counter productive, but a disservice to democracy and ultimately to the people themselves resulting in the severance of the umbilical cord that binds the leadership to the people. If democracy is the government of the people by the people and for the people, it is rather odd that the Nigerian people have elected to sit on the sidelines, watching helplessly and hopelessly, as their leaders not only deny them basic services that are taken for granted in other countries, but indulge in unabashed, free-for-all looting of public treasury without as much as a whimper from the people. Contrast that to the attitude and reactions of Americans in the recent case of American Insurance Group (AIG) $165 million bonuses scandal and the attitudinal difference between the Nigerian and American publics becomes glaring in matters relating to corrupt practices in government. Boiling public indignation and protests compelled the government to demand the refund of the bonuses to AIG executives and Congress even took the unusual and draconian measure to tax the bonuses through a special legislation now making its way through Congress. For the benefit of those who donít know the facts: AIG, the American global insurance giant, recently received $180 billion bailout money from the American government out of which it callously gave out $165 million to its executives as bonuses. That is public money going into private pockets! The people were outraged demanded action, and they got it. The people did their part by getting engaged with their government to redress the wrong. And, the good news is, it worked! As revealed by the New York state Attorney-General, Andrew Cuomo, so far, AIG executives have returned some $50 million of the bonuses with more to come, forcing Congress to have a rethink of the special legislation to compel AIG.

In any healthy democracy the fear of the people is the beginning of wisdom. I have watched with admiration how the American people easily take to the streets to protest government shortcomings and injustice whether itís closure of a fire house, library, police brutality, crime, racial discrimination, budget cuts for healthcare and education, even insensitive comments by government officialsóyou name it; the American public would hit the streets at the drop of a pin. Their leaders know this and they take their time to cross their Ts and dot there Is. As a union leader, this writer has participated in some of those protests pertaining to proposed government healthcare budget cuts that would have cut off healthcare services to millions of Americans resulting in shut down of healthcare facilities heavily dependent on Medicaid and Medicare. While not winning back everything, to a large extent, these protests achieved their goals. Iíve been there, done it! Iím advocating what I practice. Thatís the attitude and reaction of a people that stay connected with their government; doing their part to nip in the bud incipient mal-administration. Thatís right. Government itself needs course correction from the people.

In must be pointed out in this regard that a government cannot adequately police itself even if it wanted to with the best constitutional mechanisms in place. These mechanisms are easily compromised, corrupted and/or weakened. That is the reality of human institutions. Itís therefore up to the people themselves, as the ultimate stakeholders of democracy, to step in at the appropriate moments and do their own part. Where such decisive intervention is weak or totally lacking as in the case in Nigeria, the government is left to its own devices totally detached from the people. The result is the total absence of public responsibility and accountability on the part of the government of the day. No contrary results can be expected under such prevailing climate of indifference, apathy, and docility on the part of the citizenry. Were the AIG incident alluded to above to occur in Nigeria, it would most definitely have gone unnoticed, and if noticed, would have been regarded as a non issue by the Nigerian public. Nigerians have surprisingly developed thick skin for corruption and issues pertaining to non-performance by government and its agencies. Is it any surprise then that Nigeria is a country where nothing works because nobody is working to do their part, whether itís the government or the people? In fact, a first time visitor to Nigeria would wonder if there is any government at all because nothing works as it should as taken for granted in other countries. Hardly surprising! And the worse part: Nigerians do not seem to care! They are used to a public life of chaos, inefficiencies, official abuses and unabashed corruption. It has been said that a people deserve the government they get, and thatís not truer elsewhere in the world than in Nigeria.

Some might hold the view that this writer is blaming the victims of official perfidy and neglect. This writer holds the view that the people are as culpable as their insensitive leaders. The only difference between both ends of the spectrum is that the people end up holding the short end of the stick as the ultimate victims of official and as well as their own negligent and indifferent disposition. It is the central theme of this write-up that, just like the leadership, the Nigerian people themselves have failed the system by refusing and/or neglecting to do their part in the democratic process. The legendary indifferent attitude of Nigerians to wanton acts of official abuses and barefaced looting of public treasury constitutes a direct threat to our democracy. Itís an abdication of responsibility that has produced disastrous consequences for the people as evidenced in the total lack of basic amenities and public accountability on the part of their leaders. In fact this writer could go so far as to posit that by refusing and/or neglecting to do their fair share, the people have forfeited their moral right to criticize the leadership, but Iím not going there as yet. Suffice it to state that this sad state of affairs calls for immediate remedial measures. Government is too important to be left in the hands of government alone. Itís so easy for the government to derail and lose sight of its responsibilities in the absence of constant prodding and close scrutiny by the public. Government officials live in a bubble and thus easily disconnected from realities that the people themselves face everyday in their lives. The Nigerian press and the public owe a duty themselves to keep the government on its toes by all legitimate democratic means necessary. This is because until the Nigerian people themselves wake up to do their part, their government will not wake up to its responsibilities and be hard at sleep at the wheel. While the Nigerian press has, to a large extent, been doing its part in the equation, for whatever reasons, the Nigerian people themselves have remained docile, apathetic, and indifferent to their own suffering; seemingly resigning themselves to fate in the face of untold hardships inflicted by a succession of insensitive, irresponsible, and un-accountable leadership that caters only to itself to the detriment of the Nigerian people. The nation must work to break this cycle failures and underdevelopment. And the people themselves, rather than the government, must rise up to the occasion to usher in a New Nigeria. For, itís not enough to grumble in darkness in their living rooms about power failure, dry taps and bad roads. Nigerians must make their voices heard, loud, and clear at the public square, and send an unmistakable message to their leaders at every level that corruption, inefficiencies, abuse of public trust, and other official malfeasances will not be tolerated by the people. In other words, the Nigerian people must resolve now or never to hold government at every level accountable to the people, whatever it takes. That is the irreducible minimum. This is not the time to sit on the sidelines expecting some miracle to happen. People make things happen, not the government. Qualitative leadership does not come on a platter of goodwill of some benevolent leader, but fought for with blood and brine, grit, and unwavering determination of committed citizens. Change will come, but only when itís demanded by the people, or as candidate Obama would put it: "from the ground up". Fellow Nigerians, it is time to make things happen. Itís time for you, the armchair critic to get off that couch and hit the streets and the citadels of democracy and make your voice heard. Get organized, and get Nigeria working again! Isnít it about time? Yes it is and you can do it. Do it. Do it responsibly. Do it conscientiously. Do it for posterity. And, above all, do it within the law. Itís the law!

Franklin Otorofani, Esq. is a Nigerian-trained attorney and political analyst based in the United States. Contact:


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