Do the ruling elite want a better Nigeria?
As we recently marked the 61st anniversary of our nation’s independence, it seemed appropriate to do some introspection. This is appropriate not simply because it is customary so to do but mainly because after we celebrated the 60th independence anniversary last year with subdued fanfare because of COVID-19 the lessons of how to build a virile nation would have sunk into us. But as we speak today the country is still speeding its way towards the precipice. Not much has changed. Not the direction, not the vehicle, not the speed. Everyday people are being mindlessly slaughtered in the North East by Boko Haram, North West by bandits, South East by IPOB separatists and elsewhere in the country by unknown gunmen, a freshly minted expression that encapsulates an assortment of characters including but not limited to armed robbers, assassins, kidnappers, rapists, herdsmen etc.
Everyday persons known and unknown are delivered to the mortuaries by these evil men who have defied every effort made by the security agencies to cage them. Everyone now lives in fear. People are killed in their homes and on the streets daily. So no place is really safe, your home or your street. Only God can save you. There are all kinds of travel advisories issued by security agencies, warning people on what to do and what not to do. Of course, the bad boys also read these pieces of advice and they make appropriate adjustments to ensure that they continue to succeed in their evil business.
Obviously, the security agencies are doing their level best. These hoodlums have targeted many of them. Many of us have lost some family members serving in the Armed Forces as our beloved country seems to be permanently in the eye of a tornado. Every death becomes for us a wake-up call as we continue to wrestle with sorrow, not knowing when this phase of our nation’s life will be over. As these deaths occur daily from an assortment of criminals, all government hospitals in the country have been paralysed by a doctors’ strike that has been going on for months now. So while some persons are killed by criminals others are dying by neglect occasioned by the government’s failure to pacify our angry doctors who are obviously badly treated by the system. Some of these doctors are leaving in droves to other countries where the pasture is greener than Nigeria’s.
My worry today is actually whether the people matter in this democracy and whether the ruling elite sincerely want a better country. Looking at Nigeria today it is doubtful whether Edmund Burke was right when he said that “the people are the masters.” In Nigeria’s democracy, they are not. A few examples will suffice.
A few years ago, the people clamoured for the ruling party, APC, to do what it said it would do to bring about true federalism. The ruling elite made a feeble denial that any such covenant existed. Then realising the futility of its denial it buckled under and despatched a high powered team led by Governor of Kaduna State, Mr Nasir El-Rufai on a road show. The team travelled all the six geo-political zones, gathered memoranda, recorded verbal contributions from the people. It assessed these documents and contributions and informed us that the people wanted the country restructured for efficiency. We were also informed that to stem the tide of insecurity the people had recommended the establishment of State Police. The ruling party crowed about the success of its project. We thought this was a big step towards moving away from the asphyxiating centripetalism imposed on the country by the 1999 Constitution. We all rejoiced with the enthusiasm of a convert.
Three years down the road, nothing has happened in that direction except that since Nigeria actually truly, realistically, strategically needs a second police force some geo-political zones and states have decided to help themselves. Now we have Amotekun in the South West, Ebubeagu in the South East as well as a coterie of state funded “police systems” by whatever names they are called in several states. Isn’t it funny, even stupid, that while we deny that there is the need for state police, individual states and zones can set up whatever contraption they want, call it whatever name they want but allow them to perform the same functions as state police demanded by the people. It is a desideration for the success of policing in a large, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic country such as ours. With the resistance of the ruling elite against state police it is clear that the people are not the masters as Edmund Burke posited. Rather, in our system it is Frederick the Great of Prussia (1712-1786) that has won. He had said: “My people and I have come to an agreement which satisfies us both. They are to say what they please and I am to do what I please.”
The only difference here is that the people of Nigeria never had any such covenant with its ruling elite.
Their covenant was that the voice of the people would be supreme. Now that voice is supine. The ruling elite are now playing hard ball and treating the people of Nigeria as their foot mat. The people of Nigeria often go out to vote during elections whether it is raining or shining. That is evidence that they want their votes to count, they want elections that are free, fair and credible. At the end of the day they are never certain whether their votes were counted or even counted in the announcement of the results. Politicians have, over the years, instigated violence, ballot box snatching and all forms of election rigging because of their greed for power and the inexactitude of the election process. Over the years the people have clamoured for electronic voting and transmission of results, which would make our elections more transparent and credible.
Now the 9th National Assembly had a historic opportunity to bring this idea to fruition recently by approving this in a revised Electoral Act. They, instead, fenced off the idea with ifs and wherevers, a definite design to guillotine the idea and leave our elections riggable as before.
So who wants a better Nigeria where elections are free and fair, the political elite or the people? A lot more intriguing things are happening. A lot of people are concerned about the mindless violence in our country and the dark feeling of uselessness it has imposed on us as individuals and as a nation. They thought if you could locate the sources of the funds and the perpetrators of this mayhem we would be on the way to solving the problem. Now the government says it knows the funders but will not name and shame them because it will jeopardise investigations. Oh yeah? What if others especially the advanced countries already have the list? In any case, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has already published its own list of terrorist funders in Nigeria.
Our government officials pretend that they have a monopoly of information in today’s world. They don’t. I believe it is more important for the government’s credibility to publish whatever names they have and put the funders on trial now so that people do not get the impression that there is a desire for a cover-up.
In the same manner, the idea of pardoning terrorists and bandits who have killed thousands of people, burnt down a number of houses in villages and towns seems patently objectionable. First, there can be no criminal offence without punishment. That is objectionable in any sane society. Pardoning a criminal suspect without going through the process of trial and conviction can set an ugly example for society. It would mean that pursuing that philosophy to its logical end would mean the freeing of all those already convicted or those criminal suspects awaiting trial in various detention centres. That would be a weird philosophy of crime management.
Every crime must be investigated and the suspect put through the justice system for the sanity of society. But some members of our ruling elite think these criminal suspects who had committed murder, rape and arson in various communities can be reabsorbed into those communities to live in peace with the victims of their past atrocities. How is that possible? Who wants a better Nigeria, the ruling elite or the people? Since the beginning of the 9th National Assembly our legislators have proposed several obnoxious and toxic bills that are aimed at strangulating the media that fought for the freedom that we now enjoy. Without the press and the civil society groups, and human rights activists, Nigeria might probably not have escaped from the thraldom of military authoritarianism.
Now freed from the forces of dictatorship our legislators have turned themselves into the new oppressors who want to march the press under their feet in the name of regulation. The amazing thing is that they did not canvass such legislation before their people when they were asking for their votes nor did they ask for their opinion before presenting these obnoxious bills. The idea is to stifle the press and make the task of holding the government accountable to the people herculean. So who is fighting for a better Nigeria, our ruling elite or the people? I have said several times in this space that our civilian politicians are no better than their military counterparts. The military boys wanted nothing but power. The civilians want nothing but power. Don’t be misled into thinking that their interest is in democracy. It is not. They want power, not democracy, pure and simple. As people who wear the scars on the arms of our authoritarian past, we must wear a new badge of severe scrutiny of our nascent democracy and its managers so that we do not mistake illusion for reality. We must stand guard over the way our country is run by the ruling elite. We must keep asking: Do the ruling elite want a better Nigeria?