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As democracy dies in Nigeria


Unemployed youth

‘How democracies die’ is a new book by two respected political science scholars teaching in one of the Ivy League universities in the United States of America- Havard University, Professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblat.

A polish commentator by name Stan Tetenman did a very brief commentary on this important work of scholarship which follows the comprehensive scholarly work done earlier by Professor John Keane which he titled “the death and life of democracy.”

Tetenman whose write up featured in the,  said the book, “How Democracies Die,” is an interesting analysis of what is happening in this country (USA).  The authors say norms are important to a society. Two of the most important are mutual toleration and institutional forbearance.

The reviewer reported the  authors as affirming that there are “Four measures on our litmus test for autocrats 1. Weak commitment to the democratic rules of the game (claiming voter fraud, wouldn’t accept results of election); 2. Denial of the legitimacy of one’s opponents (birther problem against Obama, locking up Clinton); 3. Toleration or encouragement of violence; (embraced and encouraged violence at rallies); and 4. Readiness to curtail the civil liberties of rivals and critics (threatening media, claiming media lies).”


The reviewer quoted the duo as stating In their powerfully written book ‘How Democracies Die that President Donald Trump and many Republicans meet those four tests. How can they credibly defend this country’s democracy?, he asked rhetorically.

“Politics should not be an “I win, you lose” situation. Politics should be reaching what is the best compromise for the good of this country. Rivals in the political process should be treated with mutual toleration and respect. Those are not in the Constitution. They do set a standard for how politicians should behave to make democracy function”.

“Partisan hatred threatens the spirit of the Constitution. It can subvert the system of checks and balances. If norms of mutual toleration and respect are abandoned, this nation will cease being a democracy.”

But wait a minute! These authors could have expanded the scope of their academic enterprise to go beyond the shores of the Trump’s America and to capture the developing trends in a place like Nigeria which Donald Trump once called “a shithole country”.

Be that as it may, the writers of this scholarly work have also covered the broad representation of how Nigeria’s democracy is dying incremental death. All those four factors highlighted in the new book by the two Harvard university professors of Political Science, as significant signs of dying democracies are present in huge quantity in Nigeria as I write.

First, the fundamental indices alluded to in that book are in large supply in Nigeria of today and many more are replicated such as the persistently annoying blame game that the current government in Abuja has elevated to a statecraft. For the better part of the last three days, Nigerians have been inundated by a government sponsored propaganda and campaign of calumny targeted at the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party which had peacefully handed over power to this administration in 2015.

Secondly, as Nigerians have been told to take a holiday on May 29th 2018 to mark the so-called democracy day, Nigerians in their millions are in total agreement that democracy is fast collapsing under the watch of the man some few percentage (15 million out of 180 million) gave the mandate in the year 2015 to run the administrative structure of the federal executive arm of government for four years.

Recently, a poll conducted by one of the respected online newspapers has it that majority of Nigerians think that corruption, has become widespread even as insecurity and unemployment have expanded in the last three years. The popular online medium reported the majority opinions of those who participated in the opinion poll as arguing that the economy is at an all time low. These feelings of a collapsing economy even has some semblance of official stamp going by the frightening statistics that emanated from the International Monetary Fund (IMF); World Bank and the local National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Even by the very modest and indeed conservative estimation of the publicly funded National Bureau of Statistics, the rate of poverty and unemployment amongst Nigerians have ballooned beyond control just as the stark reality of job losses in the last three years have become very disturbing. Nine million Nigerians have lost their jobs in the last one year.

By some considerable estimate, it is stated that virtually all the states but few are insolvent and can’t meet their financial obligations without federal allocations. Some States that got the so called Paris Fund refund running into billions of Naira couldn’t still pay their workers due to manifest corruption on the part of the State governors. One of the governors who is even the Chairman of the cartel called Nigerian Governors Forum was accused of diverting billions of cash from his state’s treasury and is building a hotel in Lagos even as he had recently bought up a choice housing assets in the United States of America. Die to the existence of section 308(1) of the Constitution which grants some 76 executive power holders in Nigeria (President; Vice president; Governors and their deputies) this indicted governor from one of the poorest states in the North is still walking around a free man. That section of the Constitution I cited is the beginning of the institutionalisation of inequity in Nigeria.


Sadly, inequalities and inequities have widened beyond control just as the rate of violent killings of the citizenry has become a common place thus negating the primary purpose of government which is the protection of lives and property.

Nigeria under the current dispensation has also become a large killing fields with crimes and criminality becoming the order of the day with the heads of the various security organizations unable and unwilling to discharge the legal functions for which they were appointed to do in the first place.

The reoccurring decimal of official corruption and the total lack of transparency in the procurement mechanisms applied by government, have led to the expanding frontiers of insecurity and collapse of good governance in all of Nigeria without exception. The defence sector and the police are some of the most corruptly administered agencies of federal government. Almost all of the major defence procurement are marred by massive corruption.
To be continued tomorrow.

• Onwubiko is head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURWA).

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