Nigeria has been at the democracy game for a good number of years now and a lot of talk goes on about the ‘dividends of democracy.’ This makes it sound like democracy is some kind of equation where D (democracy) + SS (sovereign statehood) = DoD (dividends of democracy)
So I tried to work out, why is Nigeria a democratic country? (and I am using the term democratic as loosely as possible. There are a number of other names Nigeria’s political system could be called: Civilian autocracy? Subgroup oligarchy? Pseudo cipher democracy? Elite plutocracy? Or a confusion of people led by an embarrassment of politicians?) Are we democratic because we, the people of Nigeria, want to be democratic? The answer to the latter question is no. What the people want has no impact whatsoever on the systems of government in a country. (A critical study of history will reveal this)
However, to step into the arena of international relations, a government has to prove itself to be suitably amenable to standards acceptable by the big wig country (except you have oil like Saudi Arabia, then no one will dare tell you, that you cannot be a monarchy, or that you must not behead people, or that women are people. You know minor stuff like that. Remember when Abacha empowered ECOMOG as regional peacekeeper, (costing Nigeria millions) to keep the eyes of the world from his internal machinations – beheading people). To borrow money from the international financial institutions one has to exhibit a modicum of democracy. Then the millions are released to the leaders who spirit the money away to the ubiquitous Swiss accounts that dot the Zurich landscape. And then pretend to build roads, schools, hospitals to win elections to collect money, ad infinitum…
A quick study of the history of countries and their welfare of their people reveals that democracy is not a cure for our ills but may be an occlusion of our woes, while we fight the ballot box and watch for the councillors and congressmen we obscure true problems. While the country is wrapped in a bubble of pseudo-democracy, the world can rub its hands in self adulation while death and destruction continue within a state.
Examine the following ecamples:
- Under a flag of democracy, the US (and several other ‘civilised’ countries) traded in human lives, locking human souls in the holds of vessels to endure the horrors of the middle passage, which only half of them survived. The injustice of it was continued and compounded when the south went to war in indignation when their right to keep, sell, rape, and kill other human beings was challenged. Behold, the dividends of democracy.
- In 1948, by means of the popular vote in South Africa, 70% of the population was forced onto 3% of the land. The world watched in relative nonchalance and indifference as black men and women were killed, tortured and treated like thrash. Behold, the dividends of democracy.
- The largest democracy in the world, India, continues side by side with democratic government to allow the idea of untouchability and the burning of brides unable to pay their dowries. Rape of women in India is a national tragedy. Behold, the dividends of democracy.
- Germany was democratic when six million Jews were burned, many thousand human beings experimented on. Unspeakable atrocities contemplated, coldly deliberated, dispassionately carried out on human lives. Behold, the dividends of democracy.
- In 1948 Israel’s democracy forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes. And have kept them out. Deprived them of a homeland. Behold, the dividends of democracy.
- In 1945, a democratic government deliberately killed 64, 000 in Nagasaki and Hiroshima tainting the land for years. Behold, the dividends of democracy.
And the dividends of the above examples still persist and inform our polities. Slavery still speaks. South Africa remains divided. Nagasaki still weeps. The Holocaust denied. We are all scarred. Behold, the dividends of democracy.
Am I saying no to democracy? No I am not, but making it a benchmark when it is no guarantee of rights or fair treatment is like calling a dog a cat so you can give it milk. If asked, any Nigerian will tell you she wants security of person, food, employment. I think it is rare person who will plead for democracy bereft of any advantage. Democracy is the structure through which we wish to access freedom. We should not privilege the structure of our freedom over our actual freedom. What is happening now is that we are being given a rude imitation of what we didn’t ask for.
Without good people, democracy is a coal pit, a mirage that people chase and never catch, an illusion – deceptive and false, a leaking umbrella, a car with four punctured tyres, a distorted mirror, more dangerous than having nothing, because having no knowledge is better than a lie. When the structure does not do what it is created for, the existence of the structure is no comfort.
Furthermore, we often confuse democracy with the mechanisms used to evidence it. Then we suggest that democracy is a Western concept. Because we forget what democracy is for. Democracy is meant to build for us a society that works for us. This is a what we all want. Freedom, peace and liberty have no nationality. Freedom knows no lines on the ground. Liberty has no flag. We must decide how we become free. We are not yet free.
We, the people of Nigeria, are the owners of Nigeria, we should not be distracted by ethnicity to the detriment of peace and prosperity. The politics of tribalism and religion is the price of our servitude.
God bless Nigeria.