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‘Why Nigerians should interrogate their leaders’



The Acting Executive Director of the Kukah Centre Foundation for Leadership, Dr. Arthur Martins Aginam, says Nigeria has stagnated because the people have failed to hold their leaders accountable for their actions while in office. The former Deputy Features Editor in the rested National Concord, and lecturer at the Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada, also spoke to MOHAMMED ABUBAKAR in Abuja on the need for violence-free elections.

Why Nigerians keep coming back to the same issues during election season

I GOT talking with somebody the other day, a fellow from the National Democratic Institute (NDI), that there are a lot of things we need to do outside the season of election, to prepare ourselves in the long term for a sustaining democracy. 

  A number of reasons why these issues come up in the election time is that Nigerians tend to be much more aware; they tend to tune into the news; they tend to follow much more actively what is involved. 

  And also, in all fairness, we keep going back to these issues every election cycle because they have not been addressed. If the leadership had taken care of these issues, then we have to move to other issues. 

  But if something as fundamental as basic health care, basic education, providing basic infrastructure are not address, the election time is about the time when Nigerians are wired to begin to ask these questions in concrete terms; otherwise, they are often overwhelmed by the challenge of putting the bill on the table. 

  So, I agree that there are a lot of things we should be doing outside the election season to prepare both the populace and the politicians for the election seasons. 

  But it’s unfortunate; that is the reality, that in the world we live in, if these fundamental issues have not been addressed, that means we have to always go back to them over and over again, and I guess the election time is about the time that everybody tunes in and begins to think more seriously about these issues.

The role of NGOs/CSOs in advancing the course

  The NGOs are very important. If there is one group in Nigeria that has been in the forefront of the democratisation or election process, it is the civil society, whether it is under the military pushing towards a more inclusive political process or even now that we are in a democracy. 

  My fear is that since the return of civil rule, understandably so, the NGO community has gone asleep; it should be awake and be vigilant and to hold the politicians accountable. 

  Part of the things we are doing in The Kukah Centre is that we have been holding Roundtables, where we got the experts across various sectors to identify what the key issues are, be it in the economy, job creation and resources management; be it in the governance and public service; be it in the national security; be in the gender and human rights. 

  We are trying to identify what the key issues are; we are trying to set the agenda for the politicians to begin to address in very concrete ways, providing actionable plans for solutions to these problems. 

  I believe a lot of NGOs and CSOs are also doing that but it is our responsibility because we all own this country. 

  Like Desmond Tutu, the Anglican Archbishop of South Africa, used to say, “politics is too serious a business to be left to politicians,” it is our responsibility to hold our leaders, to make them accountable and to try to get them to address these concrete issues that Nigeria is facing. 

  At The Kukah Centre, we are in the forefront of doing that and I’m also aware that a number of other organisations doing that. For instance, in this our event, what we planned was that at the agenda-setting Roundtable, we itemised all the issues raised by the experts and made the forum as interactive as possible. 

  Since we itemised the issues raised, we intend to pass them on to the different political parties sand insist that they provide answers in terms of the solutions to these, and what their party platforms are doing in respect to those issues. 

  Beyond that, we also intend to pass on that to the various media houses, so that whenever they have the opportunity to interrogate these people, they should ask them concrete questions in respect to what solutions they have to these specific and concrete issues.

Impression on the coming elections

  I don’t know how it will go. I’m not a futurologist; I don’t see the future and I’m never claim to have any prophetic insight. But I think we have stagnated for almost 15 years, since the return of democracy in 1999. 

  I’m a little bit appalled, a little bit disappointed at where we are in terms of the dividends of democracy and its trickling down to the average person in the street. 

  For me, this is almost as good as basically in 1999 when the military were getting out of power. It is a shame that the political class — and also as citizens — we have not been able to change the course of this country: the political class because they are the ones running the show; the citizens because we have been very apathetic to holding them responsible. 

  The good thing about democracy is, as somebody comes in there, if he is not good enough, you have a chance of throwing him out after four years. But what has happened? 

  We have become so apathetic and despondent, as citizens that sometimes, a bag of rice makes a difference in a person’s life or just a little money that is thrown in your way. 

  What we have to plead with Nigerians is that we are in this thing for a long haul and we have to understand that we cannot mortgage our future for a mess of porridge: one politician comes and gives you maybe N5,000, which you can use to feed yourself for a day or two and it’s over again. 

  It’s high time we started thinking in terms of very sustained and lasting policies that have to be put in place to take care of the future generations. 

  In social democratic societies, which Nigeria is one — because there is no fundamental difference between the two political parties in terms of their platforms except that it is just a bunch of people seeking political power, that why if you lose out in APC, you go to PDP; you lose out in PDP, you fall back into Labour Party or APGA, just to be able to realise your political ambitions — it is important for them to understand there is so much suffering and penury in this country. 

  However, Nigeria, as a country, has no business with poverty because we have so many resources in this land. But for decades now, we have frittered away all those resources and they ended up in very few hands. 

  You see people, who are stupendously wealthy and you see majority of Nigerians wallowing in abject poverty and penury. Their kids go to school, and if they are fortunate enough to have someone to pay their tuitions, they come out with no hope for jobs. 

  The children still die from basic preventable diseases like malaria simply because there are no strong and sustained governmental policies to deal with these issues. 

  So, I really feel that this is a critical election for Nigeria. And I’m not saying this in a loose way because every election is the most important and most critical for us. We should be able to make a definitive statement, whoever wins, to hold that person accountable. 

  Politicians in Nigeria get away with a whole lot and their actions don’t have any consequences. 

  If you know that when you break the law, you are going to get away with it, then you break the law with impunity. 

  But if your actions have consequences, and if we have a very vibrant and alert citizenry, then the politicians will sit up because they know the consequences of not performing — they will be thrown out after every four years. 

  That is the beauty of democracy.

The 2015 elections and violence-prone campaigns 

  In the weeks of the campaigns, virtually what we have heard is a lot of very caustic and vitriolic comments from both parties, and that is a very dangerous thing coming from the leadership. 

  Virtually, you are directly or indirectly encouraging your supporters to take laws into their hands, and that had happened in so many ways. 

  It is more disturbing when all the key actors, including the presidential candidates, have signed a non-aggression pact. 

  What we should be dealing with is issue-based campaign. There are a lot of fundamental security and developmental problems, which the country faces and if these guys are serious about ruling Nigeria, they should systematically and scientifically begin to identify what the issues are and the solutions to them. 

  Unfortunately, we are not seeing that and I’m getting very worried. I think caution should prevail.

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