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OPINION: How a democracy dies



OPINION: Buhari’s presidency at Nigeria’s expense [1]

STRICTLY speaking the above headline is not original to me. It is an adaptation of a seminal book written in 2018 by two highly regarded Harvard University scholars on political science, history and democracy, Profs. Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky. The widely acclaimed book was entitled ”How Democracies Die”. It explored how the complacency and weaknesses of liberal democracies in Europe and Latin America allowed the rise of dictators in Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba and recently in the United States of America. Indeed, it was the emergence of the immediate past American President, Donald Trump and his brand of democracy that inspired the book. The authors also dissected the implications and consequences to American democracy and civilisation of the possible return to office of Trump in the elections of 2024.

Among the key highlights of this book are the findings that ”the abdication of political responsibility by existing leaders often marks a nation’s first step toward authoritarianism”, and that “since the end of the Cold War, most democratic breakdowns have been caused not by generals and soldiers, but by elected governments themselves. Like [Hugo] Chavez in Venezuela, elected leaders have subverted democratic institutions in Georgia, Hungary, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Ukraine. Democratic backsliding today begins at the ballot box”. CNN anchor, Fareed Zakaria captured the essence of the work when he wrote in a snippet of his review that it was: ”A smart and deeply informed book about the ways in which democracy is being undermined in dozens of countries around the world, and in ways that are perfectly legal”.

Though the authors of this book are experts in studying and analysing and predicting trends of democracies in Europe and Latin America, there are lessons to draw from them to which we will add our local peculiarities to arrest the obvious decline in our democracy and then stop politicians from killing it sooner than later. Apart from the ongoing and not too subtle weakening of critical institutions including the judiciary and the Press, the political elite and our political parties constitute a clear and present danger to the sustenance and survival of Nigeria’s democracy.

Allowing for a healthy dose of trepidation and caveat, it would be safe to say that the generals and soldiers no longer present a potent threat to the survival of our democracy. The threat is now essentially from politicians and their collaborating elite from sundry sectors including business. Close to 2007 when his tenure would elapse, a pseudo- democrat, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, who was then the President, reportedly made a move for an unconstitutional third term which could have led to a possible life presidency.The attempt failed. Though Obasanjo later denied the existence of the plot, but the then Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu, who was the arrowhead of the tenure extension plot and an acolyte of Obasanjo, confirmed it before he died. This could be the reason why the incumbent President, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, has seized every available platform to disavow any contemplation at tenure elongation for him. However, the frequent denials somehow perpetuates the impression that Nigerians are still just a breath away from unscrupulous politicians invested in subverting the Constitution and our liberal democracy.

Though the danger of dictatorship or authoritarianism or even fascism lurks in the corner given that we are practicing democracy with a preponderance of undemocratic leaders and followers, the possible death of our democracy would come from elsewhere. For a start, there is a growing feeling among many Nigerians that democracy is not delivering the expectations of the majority in spite of almost a quarter of a century of this dispensation. Study after study has shown that the quality of life of a majority of Nigerians has been moving south since 1999; their standard of living has been on a rapid and frightening decline; while the cost of living is becoming unbearable. Nigerians are worried, and rightly so, that democracy, thus far, has not delivered in securing life and property. Indeed, democracy appears to have worsened their state of insecurity in the face of kidnappings for ransom; armed robbery; herders terrorism; Islamist insurgency; separatist and self determination agitations and the consequent bloody repressions by state security agents; festering terrorism both domestic and external; and other unsettling developments in our polity.

The growing penchant since 1999 of our politicians and political parties to make promises of delivery and then fail woefully to deliver on promises diminishes from democracy. And the faith of Nigerians in democracy. We could say that deceit and lying is in the DNA of politicians in virtually all jurisdictions in the world, but Nigerian politicians appear to have taken them to a level that threatens democracy itself. The Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] started the regime of lies which left Nigerians despondent. However, nothing prepared our people for the gargantuan fraud in terms of unfulfilled promises in the wake of the advent of the extant regime of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress [APC]. It was not just that the APC failed to make demonstrable attempts to deliver on its promises to Nigerians prior to the 2015 elections that brought it to power, but that the candidate that ran and was elected on the party’s platform repudiated the promises soon after his accession to power. Buhari looked Nigerians in the eye and told them pointedly that the promises were made to them by the party, not him.

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That aside ignorance, poverty and lack of formal education will pose yet another threat to the survival of democracy in our country, going forward. The other day, one of the prominent presidential candidates, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku of the PDP boasted that a majority of the people from his part of the country and who he expects would vote for him were not part of the Internet craze and so cannot be reached through the social media. Not being a player in the Internet is not a handicap and does not translate to lack of formal usable education. But for a supposed leader who should provide the platform for his people to be active participants in the dynamics of a changing world to gloat over this exclusion is a sad commentary on him. But it is in line with the sheer wickedness of our so-called leaders who have ensured that at the latest count over 20 million Nigerian children are out of school. The preponderance of these hapless children are from the north, the same geo-political zone of the former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.

In just over a decade and half or so and unless they get remedial education along the line, the 20 million uneducated Nigerians would be captured as voters, other things being equal. The quality of their choices for political leadership would be frightening. But do we really have to wait for 20 years? No. The effects are already taking a toll on our polity. A sizeable population of the legendary cult followers which helped to propel Buhari to the presidency for which the country is suffering today fall into this group of the ill, or out rightly, non educated fellow citizens. For them the slogan ‘‘Sai Baba’’ was enough. For the sake of the truth, I must acknowledge that the ”Sai Baba” group with its herd mentality was not alone in the making of Buhari. Well educated persons who were sufficiently exposed and some of whom were adults in Buhari’s first incarnation as military usurper head of state between 1983-1985 also helped for various selfish reasons to foist Buhari on Nigeria. Nobody needs a crystal ball to know what would ultimately be the consequences of serial bad and uninformed choices in the election of our political leaders. The likelihood of welding a nation out of our country will be a mirage, and the possibility that Nigeria will collapse under the weight of its many internal contradictions will be very high.

Yes, we have democracy without democrats because of where we are coming from. Before independence, and indeed up till today, a significant part of Nigeria lived, and lives, under feudal system. Feudalism and democracy are strange bedfellows. Add to the mix that our country was under command and control military rule for a long time. Feudalism and military rule have combined to deprive us the room to nurture the norms and mores and temperaments required to build and sustain a democracy.The military phrase ”with immediate effect” is just beginning to wear out in government circles and our governance lexicon. Even in this democratic dispensation, we have had to operate a form of diarchy [military-civilian partnership] for what will turn out to be 16 years in 24 years by 2023, with the combined presidency of Gens. Obasanjo and Buhari. In spite of our pretentions, it is a very long way to making a nation out of the nations in Nigeria and then begin to practice democracy. We should be concerned. Even the United States of America with long years of experience almost had its over two centuries of democracy upended in 2020 by one man, Donald Trump, who the country elected as its president. And the threat is far from over.


Articles published in our Graffiti section are strictly the opinion of the writers and do not represent the views of Ripples Nigeria or its editorial stand.

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