What manner of democracy is this?

Symbolism with Simbo Olorunfemi

Email: simboor@yahoo.com Twitter: @simboolorunfemi

Simbo QED“Each nation gives life to democracy in its own way, and in line with its own traditions” – Barack Obama

Democracy must be the most sought-after bride in the world. Everyone lays claim to her. Everyone trumpets an undying love for this highly desired bride. Even the meanest form of dictatorship never shies away from showcasing to the world elements in its mode of governance in which it sees any semblance to the tenets of democracy.

Bernard Crick best captures it. Democracy, he says, is “perhaps the most promiscuous word in the world of public affairs. She is everybody’s mistress and yet somehow retains her magic, even when a lover sees that her favours are being, in his light, illicitly shared by many another.”

In other words, democracy is often whatever you deem it to be. Given the fact that the conditions precedent to the attainment of true democracy are often difficult to meet, Lenin cynically wrapped the western form of democracy in the garb of utopia, one impossible to attain. He argues that true democracy is only possible if class domination is eliminated.

Lenin’s argument is difficult to fault and he provides ample ammunition for that – “If we look more closely into the machinery of capitalist democracy, we see everywhere, in the “petty” – supposedly petty – details of the suffrage, in the technique of the representative institutions, in the actual obstacles to the right of assembly, in the purely capitalist organization of the daily press, etc., etc., – we see restriction after restriction upon democracy. These restrictions, exceptions, exclusions, obstacles for the poor seem slight, especially in the eyes of one who has never known want himself and has never been in close contact with the oppressed classes in their mass life (and nine out of 10, if not 99 out of 100, bourgeois publicists and politicians come under this category); but in their sum total these restrictions exclude and squeeze out the poor from politics, from active participation in democracy.”

A few months to the presidential elections, the results are virtually decided, safe for a miraculous intervention by Nigerians to courageously stand up to challenge the status quo. According to INEC guidelines, the period for campaign is not upon us yet. Political parties cannot even conduct primary elections to decide on their candidates until the final quarter of the year. Yet, the sitting President, Goodluck Jonathan, who already enjoys a massive advantage by virtue of his office, and most likely to run in the elections, is way ahead of everyone else, with a media campaign that has been in our face for almost a year now. Indeed, those behind the campaign are quick to tell us they have not jumped the gun, teasing us that what they have running is not a campaign. Wonder what it would be like when the campaign really starts.

The advertising campaign by Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN) and her co-travellers, obviously well-oiled from an abundance of unexplained resources, has been running for over six months now. The government has nothing to do with it, we are told, yet the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, always finds time to be at these rallies to receive a pile of signatures. The President has nothing to do with it, yet his Ministers, from time to time, abandon their duty posts to partake in this ritual. Even Ministers Adesina and Okonjo-Iweala could not help but leave their busy desks to partake in rallies at Ibadan and Port-Harcourt. It is no campaign, we are told. We believe them. If one might ask, though – At whose expense are they making these trips?

The rally in Port-Harcourt was so urgent that public health risks from the Ebola Virus Disease could not make the Transformation Ambassadors quarantine their desperation over 2015 and shelve it. Not even the advisory from the President for Nigerians to restrain themselves from large gatherings counted for anything with the Transformation Ambassadors. They will rather defy the President’s directive and put lives at risk in order to convince him to run. To them, all that matters is winning the 2015 elections.

But do you blame the Transformation Ambassadors? Don’t! You will think with rules in place, the umpire will be up and doing with enforcement. But not INEC, it seems. INEC will rather pretend that it has not noticed what is going on. When it comes to standing its ground against infractions by the party that has promised to be in power for 60 years, INEC suddenly catches cold.

But when it comes to bullying other political parties, withholding recognition of one, in clear defiance of valid court pronouncement, INEC finds its voice. It is bad enough that the field is not level for all players within the political space. To make an open show of it, as the case is now, is simply obscene. It is like a case of putting two boxers in the ring with the hands of one of them tied behind him.

Even though one concedes that democracy, in every place, is a work in progress, the challenges it faces in Nigeria are such that to call what we have a democracy amounts to a travesty.  For those who think that what we have in Nigeria is democracy, simply because we are able to hold elections, flawed as that might be Barack Obama has a response – “This is about more than just holding elections. It’s also about what happens between elections. Repression can take many forms, and too many nations, even those that have elections, are plagued by problems that condemn their people to poverty. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves…or if police…if police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top…or the head of the Port Authority is corrupt. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy; that is tyranny, even if occasionally you sprinkle an election in there. And now is the time for that style of governance to end.”

To bring impunity to an end, Nigerians will have to take a stand to demand for change. It is not enough to simply desire freedom and true democracy; citizens are expected to possess what Heater calls an ‘educated sense of political responsibility’. This “entails a positive interest in public affairs, a sense of responsibility to use one’s political rights for the public good, a certain minimum of education in order to be capable of making a responsible and independent political judgement, and finally, the existence of political debate to stimulate thought”.

Again, the words of Bernard Crick ring true. If democracy alone prevails, the result, he says, is anarchy and could offer the opportunity for demagogues to become despots. It should be apparent now that what we have now is not the kind of democracy we deserve. But we won’t be bringing about change by not engaging with the system.  As we all know, power will not simply fall on the laps of ‘good men’ by wishful thinking. The days of sitting back, pontificating at beer parlour and isi ewu joints over the many ills plaguing the country, without standing up to positively engage with the political process and place what you have in support of what you believe in, are long gone.

It is time to take the country back from those whose only obsession is winning elections and attaining power for purposes not in tandem with a meaningful developmental agenda for the country. You cannot simply appropriate Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King as your pals, hoping to fool the people. You cannot keep harassing us with disjointed lies, patched together to con the gullible, and sell that to us, because you have the resources to beat the gun, and expect us to believe you have some altruistic objectives for the country.

A democracy practised with rigged dice cannot give birth to national transformation.