A call to rescue democracy
If Nigeria’s democracy is confined to these twin descriptions – nascent and fledging – it means all the years of apprenticeship totaling 29 from the first through to the ongoing fourth republic have not added up to freedom or proficiency for Nigeria to practice democracy without hiccups. And we do not seem to be troubled because we are guided and consoled by the wrong references.
The first thing we usually say is that, 56 years, which is the length of time we have operated as an independent country, is nothing in the life of a nation. We would then add that it took centuries of uninterrupted practice for democracy to grow taproot in the United States of America and other advanced climes. We make these statements as if all things remaining static, the mere passage of time would translate to development for us. In case we do not know or pretending not to know, progression in time can only cause growth (not even development in terms of spatial conquest) in a strict biological sense and ultimately degeneration as all living things must terminate with time.
Socio-economic growth and development, which is the real measurement of the human essence does not come on a platter of time. Time, and perhaps, natural endowments, which are irreducible in the calculus must combine with other human induced variables to attain a higher grade of existence. In other words, development is not a free gift of nature as in crude oil and solid minerals deposits, which could come independent of efforts. People must work at development and cause it to happen.
Great nations did not become great by waiting on time to change their fortunes. At independence on July 4, 1776, the US, which has today become a global reference point in most things good, did not have a perfect template. But first, they were a people struggling to break away from the oppressive monarchical order in most of Europe at that time and conscious of this purpose, they did well to adopt the guarantee of civil liberties as the basis for the emerging union.
Even at that, there were real contradictions, notably segregations on the basis of race, sex and religion. These had taken them through the upheavals of a civil war and a fierce civil rights movement. Other times, deliberate and rational decisions were taken by the political leadership to fine-tune the Union for smoother operation. Of note were; the historic Emancipation Proclamation Order issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, which proclaimed freedom for slaves mainly in the South and the Civil Rights Bill signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964 to expand black participation in American public life.
The so-called American exceptionalism lies in the capacity of the country to fine-tune to meet prevailing challenges. Even now, the issues defining the debates of the American presidential election in November are not too different. The point I am making is that great nations worked to achieve greatness. They do not sink under their challenges and remain frozen in perpetual lamentation. They rise to set rules to help themselves to the glory of God. For instance, tenure limitation was not part of the American Constitution from the very beginning. But after President Franklin D. Roosevelt had been elected to both third and fourth terms and it became manifest that the American democracy could spin into autocracy if not controlled, the 22nd amendment was proposed and adopted to limit the tenancy of the White House to only two terms of four years each.
In great societies, laws are reworked and new ones created to engage the changing dialectics for larger good. Leaders are also prepared to make sacrifices for an enduring heritage. Today in Syria, for the desire of just one man to retain political power, the entire nation is being obliterated in a most horrendous civil war that has claimed about half a million lives and displaced15 million others. The question to ask is, what is it about the ambition or even the life of President Bashar al-Assad that cannot be sacrificed to save Syria?
David Cameron recently resigned as Prime Minister to lower the political temperature in UK following the decision of the British public to exit the EU in a referendum. That is the stuff of great leaders. Currently, the political temperature in Nigeria is also high and requires some cooling but nobody is making good effort. If anything, the ensuing heat from the high-wire intrigues in the PDP camp appears entertaining because it is serving the immediate need of certain elements in the ruling APC, who wish to surreptitiously decimate the opposition ahead of critical electoral contest in Edo and Ondo States.
And so, the inability of the PDP to get around a maze of judicial pronouncements and hold its convention to appoint leaders to prepare it for the next general election in 2019 is not seen for what it is. Rather, it is interpreted as the party’s internal crisis for convenience. Others may even call the use of subterfuges and executive clout to destabilize opposition and gain advantage good politics. Except to add that whatever bestows immediate advantages but in the long run destroys the tenets of democracy cannot be called good politics.
The Americans, especially the Republicans, did not call the bugging of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington DC by a Republican President, Richard Nixon good politics. It was aptly seen as a threat to democracy and the good health of the Union and it was nipped at the bud. In one accord, the politicians of that era rose above partisanship to force Richard Nixon to resign as president on August 9, 1974. They acted to save democracy not a party or individual.
In spite of his numerous failings, former President Goodluck Jonathan may stand out on just one score – his ability to checkmate the destructive power bug in African leaders from overwhelming him. He subordinated himself to the democratic process and in the end it was victory for Nigeria and democracy.
Given the enormity of the powers of a Nigerian president, there were so many things Jonathan would have done to swing the variables in his favour and foist a different narrative in the build-up to 2015 presidential election. To mention a few, it was within his powers to permanently frustrate the registration of the APC, entangle INEC and create conditions generally to make the May 29, 2015 transition happen differently. But he didn’t, which to me, is about the only reason he is rising in international acclamation in spite of all the many domestic studs in his way. Even President Muhammadu Buhari has not missed any opportunity to stress this point.
Either by expiration or exhaustion, the current political actors will not be tenable in another 50 years at most. And since we are this finite in the scheme of things, I will say, it pays very little to mortgage a golden future for the tiny benefits of the present. Today, there seems to be a fundamental objective to turn Nigeria to a one-party democracy and some federal high courts are helping with ceaseless orders.
Elders, including so-called fiery and human rights lawyers and professors, are conspiratorially silent when they should be on the roof tops with megaphones. They have abdicated when it matters most. It now pays for hitherto defender of the national conscience to steal into Aso Rock on courtesy visits, pose with the President for press photographs, have very warm handshakes and return home cool to engage in equivocations that offer no help.
In the very long run, we shall all be dead said the English economist, Lord John Maynard Keynes. What will defy mortality is the unending future. My call, therefore, is for all sides to rally now to save democracy from the impurities of the moment. We are forever doomed if for the gains of today we kill democracy for tomorrow. If that happens, I can predict that the succeeding generation shall not forgive the subsisting generation.