‘We are taking democracy for granted in Nigeria’
Activist Senator, Shehu Sani who represents Kaduna Central in the upper legislative chamber blew the whistle on one of the best-kept secrets in the National Assembly, the huge amount members earn as salaries and allowances. In this interview with Saxone Akhaine, he speaks on the failure of democracy especially under the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. Excerpts:
As one of the few pro-democracy activists that found themselves in government today, how will you assess democracy under the current dispensation in Nigeria?
Democracy is almost two decades and there have been achievements and failures. For the first time in the history of our country, an opposition party has been able to wrest power from the ruling party and that showed the credibility of the electoral process, and also the rising consciousness and political awareness in the minds and hearts of our people.
We have left Egypt but we are not yet in the Promised Land. There has been appreciable infrastructural development in areas of health, education, roads and housing. But over the years we have seen a progressive and gradual slide into tyranny. Some of the fundamental petals and principles and components of our democratic process have been falling apart. In the last 19 years we have seen political actors and role players coming onto the stage and also exiting out of the stage. What we have all generally agreed is that democracy has come to stay. It is the only avenue, means and instrument for which we can govern a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society like ours.
But we must accept the fact that there has been a widening division among the nation’s geo-ethnic and political configuration. And Nigerians have never been so divided as they are now. And the achievements that we have recorded over the years have seriously been dented by the mindless bloodletting and violence that we have seen of recent. And if you have not forgotten, in the early part of our democratic process, we have seen the violence in Kaduna and some northern parts of Nigeria that borders on religion. And we have seen the ethnic militia in the South-South, Southwest, and the Southeastern part of Nigeria. But, now the bloodletting, the violence and the killings are in the North central, Northeast and the Northwest.
The mindless level of corruption and the disconnect between those in power and those that are being governed and the arrogance and indifference of the political elites, as far as the governance of Nigeria is concerned, should be a thing of concern to us all. And if we should assess the performance of the government in the last three years, we can say that President Muhammadu Buhari has been able to make some achievements in some areas; in the fight against the insurgents and also as far as global perception of Nigeria is concerned he has been able to establish himself.
He has been able to make appreciable progress in beefing up our foreign reserve and the economy has stabilised to a certain level and we can also see some form of direction as to where we are heading. But, we have failed to secure Nigerians. The killings going on in this country, the perception of nepotism, and the negative perception of members of the public about members of the parliament, the onslaught against the parliament, the desecration of the democratic process happening now and the perception of the President that is not in control of issues and surrounded by a vicious cabal are threats to the democratic process and the country as a whole.
And then we also have docile civil societies that are not able to rise to the challenges facing our country and hold people to account. And we also have timid major opposition parties and a reluctant and disorderly ruling party; such is what we have today. So, when you put all these into consideration you will see that we have left where we are, but we are not where we are supposed to be.
You were part of the struggle…
You see, each time you remind me of the struggle, I will also appreciate a person like you who have been through all the periods of our struggle, right from our student union days and till today and I believe that we owe you and this country a lot. As a journalist, you have seen our struggle in Kaduna and the northern part of Nigeria, from when the situation was bad and worse. Well, what we would accept is that we are done with the military rule, but we must not take our democracy
The reality of the situation today is that both the ruling party and those in opposition are yet to come to grasp with democracy and the spirit of change, which we promised to deliver to Nigerians. Take the issue of the ruling party in particular, as example. We promised to Nigerians that we would bring change to the country. Not just change in governance but change in how the party is being run. But, you can see the disorder, chaos and the violence that attended the ruling party, APC congresses. And that is not in any way inspirational, that is not in any way a good model for others to follow. It is antithetical to the preaching of change and democracy. If a ruling party cannot provide fairness and justice to its members, if a ruling party cannot guarantee internal democracy then it is not different from the party that it displaced out of power.
One of the issues being raised against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is that some certain persons whose actions and tendencies were anti-democratic own the party. And again, in the last three years the National Assembly has been vilified and deliberately maligned by campaigns of propaganda and misinformation from the side of the executive arm of the government.
And to a certain point, they are trying to manipulate the conscience of Nigerians to accept that democracy can work only in the judiciary and executive arms of the state. So, there is a basic lack of understanding and appreciation and embrace of the fundamentals of democracy and separation of powers on the side of the people who are in position of power today. And that is very dangerous to our democratic process in the very sense that they are pushing the country into tyranny.
What are the symptoms of this? People are being criticised, people are still being arrested and persecuted for expressing their opinions. And we have seen members of the parliament that are being framed up for one criminal charge or another for simply being independent minded and we have seen a kind of insecticides and deodorants anti-corruption fight which undermines the credibility and independence and impartiality of the crusade of anti-corruption. And you can also see the very fact that the Federal Government who will come out and criticize the governor of Ekiti for hate speeches and violence, is the same Federal Government who will remain silent when the governor of Kaduna is engaged in hate speeches and advocating violence.
How can a serving governor from the ruling party come out publicly to call for violence against serving senators, both of ruling party and opposition party and you don’t find any statement coming from the Federal Government? Who is going to take hate speeches and violence very seriously in Nigeria when the Federal Government will keep quiet when a serving governor will call on the citizens to openly attack and kill serving senators? What kind of a country do we live in? What kind of a country do we live in where a serving governor, despite the killings in Taraba, Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau states and mindless massacre in Birnin Gwari in Kaduna state; for a governor of a ruling party to come out openly, mock and ridicule the number of people that were killed in the states without a single statement coming from the Federal Government to criticise such a person?
So, as far as I am concerned, one of the deficits of change today is the very fact that the Federal Government behaves like a sheep, when it comes to holding people in position of power from the ruling party into account and it behaves like a tiger when it comes to issues of holding people to account on the opposition side. And that is not good for our democracy and our country.
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