Simply put, democracy is ” a government of the people, by the people and for the people”. However, this definition has become a clich� but it nonetheless encapsulates the very essence of democracy. There is hardly one commonly accepted and agreed meaning of the term. This is so because it means one thing to one person and quite another to someone else depending on each person’s point, circumstances, economic and social positions. In other words, these different meanings of democracy to different people have origin both in history, social and political circumstances.
Happily, Nigeria is currently marking fourteen years of unbroken democratic structure in the history of its fatherland without the junta’s intervention. This is symbolic celebration indeed! This is symbolic because the closest the country has come since independence, that is 1st of October 1960 was that of the first Republic under the leadership of the Late Rt. Hon. (Dr.) Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe (popularly known as Zik of Africa) as ceremonial president that lasted for five years with Alhaji Abubakar Tafewa Balewa as prime minister.
The next attempt of democratic structure under Alhaji Aliyu Shehu Shagari, grassroots teacher and politician, first executive president of Nigeria ended after four years. The race to democracy demands stamina, sacrifice, skills and determination. We must make sure that our democracy is well guided so that it will not be controlled by individuals and groups who are bent on promoting their own selfish ideas and agenda. With high rate of corruption in Nigeria, bombings, maimings and killings, a popular musician ( the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s) definition of democracy may apply here, that is ”dem all crazy”. Are we really not crazy? A situation where an individual will want to be richer than the country as a whole is flabbergasting. Is this not greed of the highest order? What a dangerous dichotomy! In this connection, we have to change our ways for our democracy to thrive. In the words of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and in his address on the occasion of democracy day in 2012, he pointed out categorically that ”our democracy is stable. Its foundation is strong and firm. Its future is bright. We will continue to sustain our democratic institutions”. Let us give kudos to the statement.
For our democracy to continue to survive, our leaders should drastically reduce the level of crime rate as well as corruption. While speaking in Akure, Ondo State Capital during a visit to commemorate with Sehinde Arogbofa on his 70th birthday, immediate past governor of Kano State, Ibrahim Shekarau has this to say ” If the nation’s leaders had shown concern about the welfare of the masses in the past, crime and corruption would have been a thing of the past”. He noted that leadership in any part of the world is a call to service, lamenting that the reverse had, in most cases been the problem in Nigeria where leadership had been equated with self-service. Refer to the Guardian newspaper of Monday, March 30, 2009 P.7.
Generally, human beings can do anything to get whatever they want. They do not mind commencing on people’s destruction programme to achieve their aims. Realizing this fact, Chief Matthew Okikiola Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo popularly known as ” OBJ”, one- time military head of state and eight years as an executive president writes in his book The Animal Called Man �Man is an insatiable animal as far as quest for position, power, possession, popularity and pleasures are concerned”.
For any democratic structure to make meaningful progress, it must have as one of its basic attributes, a free and responsible press. The press in democracy must be free in the sense that it must not be the organ for the articulation of the interest of only those in power but should be advocates of higher national interests. The press must also be responsible in the sense that it should not articulate interest that retard, undermine or the social weal and the unifying bond that holds society together and guarantees its solidarity, integrity and sovereignty.
In the case of political parties, these are crucial institutions in a democracy for the aggregation and articulation of the interests and points of view of differing sections of the society in addition to proffering competing agenda from which the electorate may choose. In other words, political parties should be freely formed by the people and their fate as well as that of the election candidates nominated by them should be decided by the electorate in a free, fair and transparent election.
It is disappointing that when some politicians get elected, they always feel that there are in office to amass wealth. This is not good enough for the people who voted them into power. In other words, the electorate no longer benefit from any dividend of democracy. I think that was why Rev. Fr. Felix Femi Ajakaye, former Director of Social Communications, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Lagos wrote that Nigerian Politicians have turned to ‘moneyticians’, where they use politics to enrich themselves. They have this impression because Nigeria is a ”country of anything goes”, courtesy of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
It is appropriate at this stage to quote a sage and elder statesman, Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo (of blessed memory), the best president Nigeria never had. According to Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, ex-Biafran warlord and Ikemba of Nnewi (of blessed memory) �I must say, however, that in all conscience, I felt and still feel that a truly public-spirit person should accept public service not for what he can get for himself such as a profit and glamour of office, but for the opportunity which it offers him of serving his people for the best of his ability, by promoting their welfare and happiness�. In this connection, our leaders should be jealously and rigorously guided with this statement appropriately. In other words, there is the need to be imbued with Mandela’s stoicism and Caesar’s bravery in services to the people. Furthermore, our leaders should always be guided with the statement of James Oppenheim that is, ”learn from yesterday, live for today, and hope for tomorrow”. Max De Oree added when he said �the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant�. What it implies here is that leaders should be known to build legacies, mobilize and harness resources through motivated people as well as develop successors.
Whatever the case may be, Nigerians should be congratulated as lovers of democracy since May 29, 1999 and for an uninterrupted democratic structure for fourteen years. From my own opinion for the past fourteen years, one can say that democracy can efficiently and be effectively practiced in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the past fourteen years has been characterized by desperation for power, political parties without identifiable ideologies, electoral violence, killings, bombings, and kidnappings, prolonged and incessant electoral litigations and up turning of election results through judicial process.
In addition, it is a truism to say that fourteen years is enough duration for a nation to correct its mistakes and learn properly and scientifically for efficient and effective administration. One of the biggest gains during this political dispensation is the true rebirth of the rule of law, with a freer judicial system that has restored confidence of the people in the Nigerian judiciary. Furthermore, it is obvious that our democracy is still not perfect, though there is no perfection in humanity. It is gratifying to state that the nation has survived the imperfection so far and finding our ways on the road of perfection. It seems to me that there is hope for democracy in Nigeria, especially if and when the political elites learn to use power for service not for destruction and respect strictly the opinions and views of the electorates as demonstrated or shown through the ballot box.
It is a sad commentary on our national affairs that the problem of corruption remains intractable. It has now been elevated to a prime position of a national culture. It is crystal clear that corrupt officials direct our affairs and successive governments appear incapable of arresting the situation. It is unfortunate that key functionaries, specifically those under whose offices the burden rest to address the situation are its promoters.
It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the key sectors of the economy have been run aground. Service deliveries in various sectors are silly and laughable. Our roads continue to be a major source of death trap and unpardonable mortality after the appropriation of Trillions of Naira. Acts of criminality in different directions thrive while the issue of security weighs down Nigeria to the extent that some ‘big guys’ in our society provide their own security.
Finally, for us to make meaningful development and benefit from dividends of democracy, we should all join hands, in fact all hands must be on deck with the President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan to make Nigeria better under democracy.
Charles Ikedikwa Soeze, is based in Warri, Delta State