JJ. Omojuwa: Nigerian Democracy and Its Anomalies

The army officer gets to beat up the police officer, the police officer gets to inflict pain on the road safety officer, and they all focus their frustration on the ordinary citizen. Far from looking like a democratic dispensation, Nigeria in reality is closer to being a conquered territory than a democratic setting.  The people in power who in practice derive their power from the people do not feel they are in power yet, until they make an example of the people they rule over; Much like conquerors over a conquered people. The hierarchy of power has been turned on its head. It goes thus; the President, the Senate President, the Chief Justice of the Federation, other appurtenances of power and the government, the uniform wearing officers, then finally the ordinary citizens of Nigeria. The authority that ought to be at the top of that hierarchy, i.e. the Nigerian people is in practice at its foot. The head of the house has become its foot mat. This is not what democracy is about and this is not a government of the people, by the people, for the people. It is why since 1999, this has been a largely troubled democracy, and one that has produced lots of money for the government and those that run it, and poverty to the people and those that are ruled.

We are often angered by the symptoms of our democratic paradoxes, when in truth we ought to be more concerned about the roots of its failings. Take the National Assembly, for example, no one knows how it spends its budget. We just know that it spends 100 per cent of whatever money it allocates to itself per year. For a long time that was N150bn or so per year; it has reduced marginally to accommodate the massive reduction in oil prices. Year in and out, we are often angered by the size of their budget; in truth, the real anger ought to be the fact that we do not know how the budget gets spent and we still do not know. The tenants of the National Assembly i.e. the senators and representatives are, at least on paper, the representatives of the people. Can anyone in truth admit this has been the case?

Crisis is an opportunity for change. It would be great to see all those involved in the budget scam at the National Assembly dance to the music of justice but the real change would be to make it impossible for a few men and women to simply allocate chunks of the national budget to themselves and their interests. The law actually allows the National Assembly to adjust and reallocate resources in the budget, but that is required to be an open, transparent process. The current “budget padding” allegations show that our budget process is anything but open and transparent. There can be no accountability without openness and transparency. What are you accounting for if your process is shrouded in secrecy, games and gimmicks? As the scandal fades off the national conversation, we will eventually move on and future lawmakers will simply perfect the process of cheating the Nigerian people by making sure the largesse gets round and no one is deprived within the sharing caucus. If this makes you feel like our budget process is doomed going forward without reforms, it is the right feeling.

The roles of the Senate and House Ethics committees must be brought to the fore. As a matter of fact, if set up properly, both committees will prove very useful and effective in making sure issues around conflict of interest and outright corruption among members are dealt with by both Houses even before the relevant agencies get on with their work. But a situation where members of such committees are beholden to the leaders of their respective houses means such leaders will be essentially exempt from facing justice in its unadulterated form. You cannot have justice do its job if justice derives its ego and sustenance from those it ought to mete out its sting.

The Judiciary – the merchants of justice – out to be the last hope of the ordinary citizen when all others fail but one did not get such hope when the same judiciary that granted an order for the Peoples Democratic Party, to go ahead with its convention also granted an order for the convention not to hold. Rulings like these are not an anomaly as we have come to see over the years. Credit to its stakeholders though, they do express disappointment and shock at such bizarre rulings. And in the case of the PDP leadership tussle rulings, there are indications the leadership of the judiciary will take a critical look at things. Hopefully, this will not only fix the quagmire that is the PDP leadership but also help set up the judiciary and refocus it to see only through the eyes of justice and not the eyes of the governor where the court sits.

Our democracy has become as ceremonial as the big “agbadas” and other big attire our male leaders wear, to host one another in courtesy calls when they are not hosting foreign dignitaries. Our system of governance has become as cosmetic as the faces of the privileged women who got a chance to prove their mettle but instead seemed to prove that “what a man can do, a woman can do even better,” applies to the good, the bad and the ugly.

Ours has been in truth more the reality of a systemic failure than that of the failure of just those we trusted with power. President Buhari must have come to see that, as much as he needs to fight the corrupt – especially those who made away with the billions of dollars that would have helped to protect the people of the North-East against Boko Haram and hence largely reduce the incidence of the now displaced people in their millions – he needs to help institutionalise transparency and accountability in our system, to truly fight corruption itself. Corruption thrives in darkness, just like most crimes. The light that makes corruption much more harder to execute is shone by transparency and accountability. It is much cheaper to prevent corruption than it is to fight corruption. This is the way forward, that as we fight the corrupt of today, we must prevent the corrupt of tomorrow from having their way. Until this is done, we will all lose out as the system continues to fail.

The biggest losers in all of these, the downtrodden, poor and disenchanted Nigerian masses have since let go of asking for things to get better, some, if not most, have simply taken their places in the queues behind separate ends of the elite machines of looting and oppression, looking to feed off the crumbs that fall of their tables. In most cases, such crumbs make them better off than the very poor and being around the corridors of power at least gives their battered esteem some temporary bounce, as long as it takes to spend their own crumbs off the seemingly unending national cake.

But in the end, we will all use the bad roads that simply refuse to discriminate against the battered vehicles of the poor or the posh machines of the rich. We have built high fences and installed ugly gates to fend of armed robbers. We have discovered ways of enrolling our kids in private schools in Nigeria when not sending them to Malaysia, Uganda or Kenya. We have built walls of escape by travelling abroad, rewarding ourselves for summer even when we do not partake in the sufferings of winter. We have done all we can, even as rich and privileged Nigerians, to escape the failings of our country. But have you seen any rich and/or powerful Nigerian who does not get to pay, in one way or the other for the failings of Nigeria? None. Except you say getting to live with generators and inverters at home is the way to live. Except you will be regarded as a first class citizen in those countries you look to escape to. So then, ultimately, we either fix this country or we go down together! And to fix this country, we must take another look at this thing we call Nigerian democracy!

This article was published in the Punch Newspapers, and syndicated via AfricanLiberty.org to other platforms