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At 18, this democracy contradicts democratic ideals, says Lori-Ogbebor


Rita Lori-Ogbebor

Igba of Warri Kingdom, Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor, in this interview with SEYE OLUMIDE, spoke on her impressions of the country’s democratic experiment.
How would you describe Nigeria after 18 years of democratic rule?
The truth is that what we call democracy in the country today is a complete distortion of the true, workable and effective democratic government, which the founding fathers of this nation gave to us in the First Republic.  This current democracy separates governance from the governed.
So, I would say that we are currently practicing a democracy that contradicts the ideals of those who knew, understood and appreciated the principle of democratic government. Nigeria’s founding fathers provided the structure for elective government, and I commend their efforts because they understood the morality of democracy, implemented the values and also ensured it worked throughout the regions, and there was really no cause for any suspicion, doubt or agitation of any kind among the geo-political units, until the military came in 1966 to distort, destroy that arrangement, and put us in this dire situation.
In those days, we talked of healthy competition, but in today’s democracy we are witnessing bitterness, hatred and unhealthy competitions among the geo-political zones. This is a complete departure from what we had in the First Republic.     
So, we cannot be talking of 18 years of democracy and isolating where we are coming from, and what the basis of our challenges as a nation are. Even in 1999, when the military wanted to hand over power to a civilian government, founders of our democracy were shortchanged because they never trusted that the military would go; therefore majority of them stayed back. This gave the military class that opportunity to hand over power to those they felt could be controlled and manipulated.
Those administering this current democracy were not real democrats, who yearned for the needs and development of the masses. This is a big minus that we have since 1999.
Are democratic institutions entrenched enough to inspire citizens’ confidence and participation in democracy?
This is a thought provoking question and I will say no in the light of the situation that we have found ourselves today.Let me start from the executive arm. The current presidential system that we are running is a military superimposed one. And I can say without fears that it is in shambles. I doubt if the system will take us far, or as expected.
I am always baffled anytime I think about the nature of legislature that we have in this country. As I said earlier, many politicians of integrity stayed back when the military wanted to handover power in 1999 because they doubted the sincerity of the transition arrangement.
Today, we have a lot of charlatans in the National Assembly who cannot even read and write. How I wish they challenge me on this allegation, then I will go ahead and mention some names. Some of the so-called lawmakers do not know anything about the mechanism of government; they don’t have any meaningful vision for the country.
Majority of them do not know anything about budgeting not to talk of making concrete contributions to it.
Many people have spoken about the rot in the judiciary. Yes, I agree with them, but it is the rot in the legislative arm that has impacted negatively on the judiciary. The judiciary used to be the last hope of the common man, but today that is not the case. If any judge tries to be upright and do what is required of him or her, these same lawmakers will gang up against such a judge and frustrate him. The crisis in the judiciary today is part of the consequences of the rot we have in the legislature.
So, I would say that the beginning of real democracy is based on the sanctity of the court, where laws are interpreted and administered based on the constitution. I am uncomfortable with the present legislative arm of government.


From the picture you have painted, it appears you still harbour fears for this country after 18 years of democracy?
Let me correct you, what you call democracy is a civil rule. It is a mixture of civilian and military personnel and their aims and objectives in government are miles apart from that of the country’s founding fathers, who were compassionate about the people they governed. If I am wrong, take a look at the level of development that the country witnessed during the First Republic and compare it with what we have now.
Some people still believe that this country cannot fall apart, but if the centre continues the way it is; one day it will no longer hold and things might go the way we least expected. Our prayer is we would not get to that stage before God intervenes.

Some are of the view that the June 12 struggle has failed. What do you think of the struggle?
If I say otherwise, then let us compare what the country was socio-economically before we returned to civil rule in 1999, and what the situation is now. Are Nigerians faring better?

In this article:
Rita Lori-Ogbebor
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