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Onwubiko: Democracy, or poverty of leadership

By Henry A. Onwubiko
19 February 2015   |   11:00 pm
THERE is a certain streak of melancholy which representatives of that daring generation who invested all their youthful energy to campaign for Democracy in Nigeria exude at rare moments, but most often conceal deep in their hearts. I am referring to the Bamidele Aturus, Chima Ubanis, Emma Ezeazus, Ogaga Ifowodos, Rafsanjanis, Odion-Ahkaines, Mayegun and numerous…

THERE is a certain streak of melancholy which representatives of that daring generation who invested all their youthful energy to campaign for Democracy in Nigeria exude at rare moments, but most often conceal deep in their hearts. I am referring to the Bamidele Aturus, Chima Ubanis, Emma Ezeazus, Ogaga Ifowodos, Rafsanjanis, Odion-Ahkaines, Mayegun and numerous others. Among their elders was Beko, who doubled his residence at 8 Imaria Street as the campaign’s headquarters and faced sleepless nights and the wrath of the military, police and security agents, with his comrades. There were also Alao Aka-Bashorun, Falana, Toye, Iyayi, Saro-Wiwa, Gani, Agbakoba, Ayo Obe, Gloria Kilanko, and so on. They rose from the universities as the National Association of Nigerian Students and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, together with the Nigeria Labour Congress, PENGASSAN and Nigeria Union of Journalists, to provide the vigour behind Civil Society groups, such as the Civil Liberties Organisation, Women in Nigeria, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, the African Redemption Movement, the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, among others, that led to the social dynamic of mass protests and the termination of military rule which ushered in the political space for a dawn of Democracy. 

    But their determinant presence was largely supplanted by the present profligate Nigerian ruling class, an alloy of the very military opposition, and a civilian wing of domestic servants of multinational corporations; descendant of past thieves and corrupt government bureaucracies. Under the supervision of Western agents, General Olusegun Obasanjo was hurriedly dressed in borrowed robes in prison, where he was held by the military junta and released to serve as an agreeable nucleus for the already percolating Peoples “Democratic” Party (PDP) faction of the corrupt ruling class, to form the dubiously elected foundation of Nigeria’s problematic Democracy. The campaigners for Democracy also experienced another setback, which paralysed their vigour to contend for power. It split into factions due to the introduction of tribal jingoism despite its past historical democratic centralism, well-known exhaustive and scientific means of deliberation. Such infighting weakened its capacity to galvanize national and international resources at the defining moment of power struggle to challenge corrupt plutocrats, and present themselves to the Nigerian electorate whose respect, they had won in the streets. 

   As consoling as the triumph in bringing democracy to Nigeria may be to its youthful and energetic campaigners, their melancholic displacement from the corridors of power by a composite class of embezzlers under a fraudulent constitution not only instituted corruption in the name of democracy, but ensured the perennial propagation of poverty of leadership, that had meant 16 years of misery and darkness for the Nigerian people. Given the singular, class and historic origin of the two chameleonic parties where their predominantly unprincipled members change parties and alignment without recourse to history, conscience, justice, patriotism or ideology, national salvation may not come from the pretext of spurious elections but through another generation of youths offering a Democratic Alternative that will purge this ruling class out of our democratic institutions and lay a new patriotic and just foundation for popular democracy, with all our resources invested in the equal development of all ethnic groups and citizens of Nigeria. 

    Nigeria has a bloated and very costly Democracy with the large bureaucracy of nearly 40 states, thousands of Ministers, Commissioners and Councilors, in addition to the huge number of Senators, House of Representative, the Executive and Judiciary members; one wonders how much funds from the sold mono-commodity of crude oil is left for social development projects after feeding this unproductive and corrupt bureaucracy. This fat government bureaucracy obviously needs to be trimmed to half its present size by restructuring the country to free the necessary funds for the nation’s development. This has become necessary in view of the present economic downturn.

   Here, there is a Democracy, which true to the character of its conquering and entrenched ruling mediocre, it became sacrosanct to protect themselves against the people with a yet to be repealed constitution with an immunity clause which rewards and encourages the legislature and executive members – the custodians of Democracy – to loot the nation’s financial and natural resources, mostly in vogue, crude oil bunkering, and other crimes against the people. No wonder the Obasanjo administration was alleged to have rewarded Andrew Young and other Western agents with tankers of crude oil for their assistance in hoisting him from the clutches of the military junta to the position of president and foundation Chief executive of Nigeria’s Democracy.

   Nigeria has a Democracy in which the judiciary branch protects the executive minister of Petroleum Resources from being queried by the House of Representatives to account for her alleged use of the nation’s petro-dollars to rent luxurious jets for family vacations. Yet the same judiciary presides over the jailing of thousands of youths, our countrymen, and women for trivial offences, such as stealing food or money as a result of hunger and unemployment; some still awaiting trial for decades in our unventilated prisons and police cells. 

    Here is a Democracy in which trillions of Naira had been stolen from the people in the name of a bogus fuel subsidy and distributed to various business moguls – partners in crime with the government – who in collusion with foreign multinational oil giants sabotage the full functioning of our refineries. They send our crude oil outside the country and import back its finished products of kerosene and petrol to sell to the people at unscrupulous costs.

    The Nigerian state runs a Democracy where members of the legislative and the executive are above the law, but other citizens are punishable by law. That is why the past minister of Aviation was retired unpunished despite her alleged purchase of two bullet-proof vehicles with huge state money. She now prepares to return as senator to the legislative branch to continue to nurture this corrupt Democracy. Nigerian Democracy is corrupt from its faulty foundations; that is why the committee chairman of the House of Representatives investigating the companies involved in the fuel subsidy scandal, after receiving millions of dollars in bribe was still retained as a sitting member of the House. His case is not different from that of former speaker of the House who embezzled millions of Naira belonging to the nation, for her vacation to the United States, but is still a free member of the House of Representatives. Here is a Democracy where the constitutionally stipulated terms for elected leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives expires with new members elected, but are refused entry, deprived of their seats, and prevented from representing the people in the legislature. Can it be guaranteed, that sitting and serving members of the executive, chiefly the president may willingly obey our national will to handover to a newly elected Chief Executive without sound and fury? The president is presumed to be the Chief nationalist, yet he owes allegiance to his ethnic, Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa or in this case Ijaw militants, who had sworn to go to war against the nation, without any form of rebuttal from the president. 

   Here is a Democracy where most of the nation’s population and its universities live 60 per cent of their lives without electricity and adequate water supply, yet are harassed monthly – even in the villages – to pay electricity bills. The same Democracy ranks among the 10 largest crude oil producers in the world, an easy source of convertible energy – a strategy utilized by blockaded Biafra in the Nigeria Civil War.  

   True, Democracy is a developmental process. But its dominant character is defined by the quality of its foundational leadership; how well that foundational leadership reflects the needs and aspiration of the people. The Democracies of India, the United States, Kenya, and in recent times Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and Nicaragua can be considered relatively successful and stable because their foundations were built on the shoulders of patriotic, selfless and genuine leaders who reflected the true aspirations and conditions of their people. Other nations where Democracy has been implanted from the West by supplanting the People’s genuine leadership, drawn from their social struggle, and the subsequent imposition of individuals to leadership positions on elections whose results is largely determined by money, multinational finance capital and its forces or “stomach-infrastructure” does not lead to popular Democracy but the poverty of leadership. Among these failed nations are Iraq, Libya, Egypt and more pertinent, Nigeria. 

    The Nigerian nation is once more approaching its boiling point, as was the case during military rule, which brought fought the Campaign for Democracy and the present corrupt dispensation. Unemployment has reached unprecedented heights. Our crude oil has plummeted from above $100 per barrel in the World market to below fifty dollars. While raw hunger and other indices of mass poverty are widespread in all armpits of the nation, this reality is starker in the Northern states where hungry people are vulnerable to religious rhetoric misplaced as an explanation to this economic apocalypse, by reacting to the call to arms and terror as a solution. The corrupt Nigerian ruling class is also immersed in contradiction with the coming general election in the fight for various social privileges. Also the government has reacted by unleashing more gruesome austerity measures upon an already impoverished population. History thus appears to be repeating itself as when the military junta imposed its IMF prescribed Structural Adjustment Program that woke the people from their slumber and ignited further their rage to campaign for Democracy. But one thing appears to be missing: the patriotic new campaigners for democracy who will infect another generation that will sweep away the putrid foundations of Nigeria’s present corrupt democracy, and replace it with a patriotic leadership that reflects our hopes for development and justice; a new Democracy that can serve as the graveyard of the corrupt and lazy, but a beckoning light for the people into the future. 

• Onwubiko is a Professor of Biochemistry, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.