NIGERIA: STILL IN SEARCH OF DEMOCRACY, 57 YEARS AFTER

Kenneth Jude

It is a routine. It’s akin to how we sung the National Anthem during morning devotions in elementary school back then. Today, whatever the outlook or prognostication may be, we’ll inevitably roll out drums of different shapes, sizes, sound and make to mark Democracy Day. Since it’s what we just have to do, we go about it with remarkable perfunctoriness.

Compare it with a married woman who’s just ‘managing’ her marriage. When the husband, having drunk himself to stupor at the beer parlour down the street staggers home, and all he wants is to hop on the wife with all the alcoholic stench to boot, she is left with no choice but to play ball. He cares little or not all how the innocent woman feels. To him, he’s the head of the house hence his conjugal right should not be toyed with. The woman, intent to keep her home and the errant husband, gives in. She lies there like a log of wood and the man, smarting from a drinking binge and having left his thinking cap at the bar, pounces on the woman with the rage and speed of a long starved dog who has just been presented with its best meal.

So, in practised but hellish endurance, the woman takes in everything, the smell, and every other thing. She’s the wife. The Bible says she should be submissive to the husband. Not to be seen as being disrespectful, she gives in without withholding anything except that she’s not helping the man know if he’s doing anything. Her submission is not because she loves the man. We are not sure. But she’s doing it because, one, if she doesn’t, the man who now has another spirit controlling him may take it by force just the same way the Kingdom of heaven suffered violence and the people took it by force. We always have a Scripture to cover our peccadilloes. Two, she fears the man may choose to ease off outside. In local parlance, we call it away match. She knows that when a man’s staff of office is in need of rest, anything goes. Even the housemaid. Yes.

My point? Sometimes, we do things just because it’s some obligation. We may not be happy doing it but we do it. In elementary and secondary school then, some pupils went naughty when reciting the pledge. When it gets to the point of “to serve Nigeria with all my strength,” they turned it upside down thus: ” to serve Nigeria is not by force.” If this is not mischievous, then what is?

As early as then, some folks just recited the pledge because it was a routine exercise not necessarily because of their love for the country. But it’s not impossible that they may have seen what most people did not see at the time. Talk of prescience.

Several years after, can we say that democracy, as practiced here, dovetails with what it should ordinarily be? It’s supposed to be government of the people, by the people and for the people. But I wonder if any right thinking Nigerian can thump his/her chest and say with a refreshing and assuring voice that we have entrenched democracy here.

See, our elites who have fed fats on our collective patrimony for years on end like an uncaring fellow who snatches a baby’s lollipop, they only think our use is at the polls. This is the time the embody humility. They can even prostrate before us just to get that vote. Trust our women. They are always there. No political gathering is complete without them. They don’t just come to make up the numbers. They are active participants. To be sure, they come in finely sewn uniforms and shouts to the high heavens even when it’s not necessary. At the end, rice is shared as if all there is in life is rice. Who rice epp? Pittance is shared too. God help you if your group leader is the insincere type.

After the polls, their lines are either busy, not reachable or outrightly off. But trust them not to fall hands for too long. To bring back smiles on disconsolate faces, one empowerment scheme is set up. If you’re a farmer, take this hoe. If you’re a tailor, take this thread. If you’re a wheelbarrow pusher, get maintenance money to keep your ‘mini truck’ in good shape. The other day in Benue State, governor Ortom empowered some persons with wheelbarrows. Not a few people were shocked to the bone. But was it not empowerment? So, if you didn’t have a wheelbarrow and you are given one, won’t you be happy to collect?

As if to respond to the flak that came his way on account of what many described as mocking the poor, the governor said he did not order for anything to be inscribed on the wheelbarrow as an empowerment from him. He stopped there. He did not deny that he doled out the neat-looking wheelbarrows. He got what he deserved from Sen. David Mark and Nigerians.

Away from all that crab, when we talk about election, does it hold here? When did we ever have a free poll where the winner won on merit at the ballot and the loser congratulates him for a deserved victory? What holds swear here is selection. A cabal peopled by men who see themselves as lords of the manor choose who takes what, goes where and sits where. Recall that all PDP presidential aspirants were coerced to drop their ambitions for ex president Jonathan in the run up to the 2015 polls. One ticket was made available just for him. No primaries. Internal democracy died. When you cannot lead your home well, how can you lead a larger spectrum of the society? Is it not said that he who must change the world must first of all change himself? At the polls, needless to say, he lost.

In came Buhari. A man who was obsessed with being president of Nigeria. On three occasions he contested and lost. After his third defeat, he caved into emotions and vowed never to run for the presidency again. But humans are not known to keep to their words. He came back. And with a strong alliance with the strongman in Lagos State, Tinubu, plus the cult followership he enjoys in the northern part of the country, he swept to power at the fourth time of asking on the wings of change. Two years in the saddle, the change has changed things indeed. It has changed the rate of naira. Changed food prices. Changed everything. Living has become tough and rough. Misguided youths who are not able to bear it all have all but taken to petty crime. Snatching of phones has become a mainstay here.

The other day in Uyo, two promising young minds were cut down in their prime. The one, a female had her stomach ripped open with a knife in her burgeoning boutique after being robbed of her phones, money. The other, a popular and fresh-looking photographer who went with the appellation, ‘Sammy Paparazzi’ was shot and killed by a gang of robbers who had paid him an unwanted visit at night. They had got his phones and made to go away with his laptop and camera, he refused. That was his life. The camera, laptop. Surrendering it just like that pained him to the marrow. Many things surely ran through his mind, “if I give them these gadgets, when will I buy it again? How about people’s work that I’ve collected money and what’s left is only to deliver the job? What will I tell them?” Determined not to give in just line that, he reportedly threw the laptop and camera away. Incensed, the marauding goons shot him at close range. End of story. He passed on. The robbers made away with everything but left blood , sorrow, agony and tears in its wake. Debased and savaged minds.

Will one say that this is a manifestation of the biting hunger and the high rate of basic commodities in the land? To an extent, yes. But hunger and deprivation is no excuse for crime. It nurtures it though. And it finds expression in those whose milk of human kindness had long dried up like a pond deprived of water.

In the no distant past, we were said to be the happiest people on earth. Today, I don’t know how we can reconcile that. In fact, were we even happy before? When was that? Sometimes you wonder where these people get these statistics from to grade a nation on its level of happiness or otherwise.
Let’s forget about our state of mind and facial expression please. Can we?

Back to Buhari. He has been unfortunately hamstrung by poor health as president. He has been in and out of the country in recent times on health grounds. Today, he’s away in UK for medical attention. When he will return is left for the doctors to decide. One hopes he gets well soon. The thing is that he should be strong and alive to complete his first term. Those who say he’ll rule till 2023 form part of that shadowy cabal that’ll rather have a frail president totter and stutter under the weight of ill health to govern the nation than allow a healthier person mount the saddle. To them, the nation can waddle at snail’s pace so long as they get unfettered access to the public till.

For yours truly, Buhari, considering his weak health and age, should govern for a term, (if his health permits) and then leave the stage for a vibrant person to run on the platform of his party. We must stop deceiving our selves or play politics with the President’s health. In 2010, the ship of State swayed and swivelled because of the late Yar’ Adua. Must rain always beat us in the same spot? Let’s grow please.

As we mark this day with the usual pomp, glitz, long winding semantics and grandeur, it is pertinent that we look inwards with a sincere mind and hasten to right the wrongs that have left this giant with broken beaks and limbs. It’s a narrative we can change if we want.

Let’s think of how we can gainfully engage our perpetual ‘future leaders.’ It shouldn’t end in the forever but clich├ęd line of “leaders of tomorrow” that now appears clearly like a mirage and a well crafted ploy to keep the youths away from ever getting into serious positions in the country.

Elections shouldn’t be war. Basic amenities must be put in place. We have the resources. Power supply should be made a priority. Politics of hate, bitterness and ethnic strife must be eschewed. We live with abundance but squirm and swim in squalor. A time comes when enough must be enough. Let us practice this democracy and be seen to be practicing it in word and in deed.

Happy Democracy Day, fellow Nigerians!

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