One thing the last few weeks in Nigeria has achieved to near conclusive finality is the disillusionment of Nigerians to the realities of our existence, first as a democracy and then, as a country bound together and united by shared ethics and values.
The past weeks have been tumultuous for Nigeria. We have seen the very best of Nigeria, manifested in young persons finding voice, summing up courage, jolting themselves out of usual docility to galvanizing around a common goal, literally taking the bull by the horn by exercising constitutionally guaranteed, legitimate rights of assembly to demand through peaceful protests and acts of civil disobediences, actions from their government.
They organized in ways as have not been seen in recent Nigerian history. They rekindled hopes in many that a new Nigeria is possible, built upon the passion, the drive, the sweat and blood of a defiant coconut-head generation.
Nigeria’s bad side was also on parade. Government, bereft of ideas how best to engage its 20 year-old citizens, resorted to hiring touts, ferrying them (sometimes in official government vehicles) to attack the largely peaceful protests under the watch and directions of agents of State. There is verified pictorial evidence to this. Government’s intent, it was clear, was to discredit the protests as having turned violent or hijacked by hoodlums. This was a pretext to classifying the protests as acts of insurrection so to justify violently crushing them.
Then, we saw the worst of Nigeria when the State unleashed its official thugs who shot at and massacred unarmed Nigerian citizens while they sang the National Anthem and waved the Green and White at the Lekki Toll Plaza. Participation by the State was brazenly denied and shouted down by vociferous propaganda in a most daring attempt at perfidy. Event was tagged fake news. Then, at different times, the claims changed. Soldiers were not there; those there were thugs dressed as personnel. Then, soldiers were there but only shot empty shells at the protesters to scare them. No one was murdered; “ONLY two persons were murdered.” These all run contrary to available evidence, real and circumstantial.
Our democracy is further put to test when the State, which had in the one breathe claimed intent at engaging the demands by the protesters and committed itself to resolving issues raised therein, began a manhunt against prominent figures of the protests. Many have been arrested, arraigned and detained at the instance of a Magistrate who adjourned their cases to very long dates which, apparent on the face of it, is aimed solely at “dealing with and teaching hard lessons” to those detained. Some others have had their bank accounts frozen upon court orders obtained ex-parte, unsettling judicial panels of inquiry set up by States governments at the behest of the central government. These orders, as has been suggested by many treatise upon it, call to question rational for their being made to way longer than the court could have granted by its own rules. Those targeted are blamed by the State for the consequences of actions of hoodlums introduced into the protest by State actors, as evinced.
There has also been a proliferation of frivolous litigations by clearly meddlesome overzealous faux patriots who betray understanding of what democracy means or imply.
These events which are reminiscent of and bring back dark, traumatizing memories of days of Nigeria’s military juntas when forced disappearances, intimidation and citizens fleeing to exiles for their safety –as in DJSwitch’s case- etc was replete, invite us to deep introspection and interrogation whether ours is a democracy, properly so-called.
There is more to democracy than periodic elections. This is the bare minimum. Even by base standards of elections, can it be argued that Nigeria aspires to a democratic society? Are our elections a free, fair, credible and transparent process meeting minimum standards of poll integrity in which results reflect the will of the people freely expressed through their franchise? We recently witnessed the 2020 elections in the US. We have seen elections in Europe. We have seen elections in India. Can we in honesty convince ourselves that our elections compare against or aspire to that in any of those countries? We may even look towards Africa. Do Nigeria’s elections compare to elections in South Africa or to elections in Zimbabwe?
Toes an objective assessment not put Nigeria’s elections at par with recent controversial exercise in Ivory Coast which were heavily militarized exercises in which power is seized from the people through force, brigandage, inducement and active connivance of supposed electoral umpires, security agents and willing tools with a gavel?
A proper democracy comprises other elements which are in themselves, sine qua non to the very validity of the system of governance. In a democracy, rights of citizens are sacrosanct and the State does not unreasonable harangue them, threaten them or breathe down their necks at every turn for merely daring to exercise those rights. Democracy respects the rights of freedom of the press to disseminate facts to the public and gauge the public opinion without an agency of State bullying them for discussing those facts. Democracy presupposes that arms of government are separate, independent and act in ways as counter-check against the excesses of the other with a view to preserving the rights of citizens as are enshrined under law.
Democracy guarantees a virile, free and independent judiciary, one not easily availed as tools with which government oppresses citizens. Democracy anticipate strong institutions of State which exist for the preservation of the people as against serving at the pleasure of strongmen and politicians. In this regard, the military, the police, important offices like the office of the Attorney General and Public prosecutor owe loyalty to the people, not to personages in government.
Consensus is that a government which though christened “democratic” lack in above attributes is anything but. Mere pretensions to periodic elections at best confers upon a government status as a civilian ruler-ship.
One attribute of a civilian ruler-ship (read: dictatorship) especially one in which politicians do not derive power -and by extension legitimacy- from the people through popular votes is that such governments are quick to disregard the people at every turn and operate like a serfdom in which they (the government) are gods and the people are slaves. Here, the people mean nothing, have no power and must accept whatever is handed to them by the magnanimity of their government.
Through history, governments fall back to their source of power to preserve power. In a proper democracy, one in which the people are the foundation upon which government derives legitimacy, government relies upon the goodwill of the people to sustain itself. Government respects, listens to and engages with the people in a most civil manner which recognizes the people as source, creates a sense of ownership of and participation in governance by the people. Guns and devious coercion tactics are alien tools to getting the people onboard government policies, actions and decisions.
Again, we must interrogate these questions to determining for ourselves if ours is a democracy. I have no answers. You be the judge.